01 February 2015


One of the hallmarks of modern opening play is to aim for maximum flexibility. That is, you want to use the move order that will achieve a position where you have excellent choices of how to proceed.
Edmar Mednis*
My study game this week is the second match game between Paul Morphy and Alexander Meek at the First American Chess Congress, 1857.** Friday morning, I played Rashid Ziyatdinov's Position 152 (GM-RAM: Essential Grandmaster Knowledge) against Rybka 4 and managed to win. Today, I am mulling over the initial moves in the game.

Morphy,Paul -- Meek,Alexander Beaufort [C01]
USA–01.Kongress New York (2.2), 16.10.1857

1.e4 e6 2.d4 g6 3.Bd3 Bg7 4.Be3

Up to this point, the moves are identical to those in the fifth match game between Adolf Anderssen and Howard Staunton at the London International Chess Tournament, 1851 (see Anderssen -- Staunton 1851).


Is Meek's play superior to Staunton's?

5.Ne2 b6 6.Nd2 Bb7

White to move

This position offers aesthetic appeal and also anticipates the twentieth century struggles of the hypermoderns. White occupies the center, while Black seeks to contest the center from a distance.

Morphy violated the not yet formulated rule that knights should be deployed before bishops, and also posted his knights on slightly less active squares than the more usual c3 and f3. In doing so, however, his f- and c-pawns remain unimpeded.

François-André Danican Philidor considered it an error to block the f-pawn, but few chess players have agreed with him on this point. Philidor was concerned about reducing the flexibility of the pawns. In the diagram position, Morphy's f- and c-pawns are prepared to advance one square to support the center, or to advance two squares to claim more space on the chessboard.

White's bishops are also more flexible than Black's. Dan Heisman employs the term "two-way bishops" in Elements of Positional Evaluation (2010), quoting Aron Nimzovich. Nimzovich offers an example of defending pieces with "slight elasticity (capacity for maneuvering) ... in the case of a sudden attack on another wing, they will not be able to equal the attacking pieces in rapidity of motion" (My System [1947], 147).

Each of Black's bishops occupies a long diagonal and strikes towards the center. White's bishops on the other hand, occupy the center and are able to strike in either direction. As this game developed and the center closed, Black's light-squared bishop was locked out of the action. In Morphy's game against Meek, this bishop took no part in the battle. In my game against Rybka (beginning at move 19 in Morphy's game), this bishop became Black's last piece, defending a hopeless position against a knight and two pawns.

White's knights impede the mobility of the queen and are themselves less mobile on the second rank than the third. On the other hand, both knights are poised to maneuver to either wing.

*"What Price Flexibility?" Inside Chess (13 November 1995), 14; as quoted in Dan Heisman, Elements of Positional Evaluation: How the Pieces Get Their Power, 4th. ed. (Milford, CT: Russell Enterprises, 2010), loc. 869 (Kindle edition).

**I describe my this aspect of my current study plan in "To Know a Position."

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