05 November 2012

Morphy's Mate

Lesson of the Week

Morphy's Mate is a checkmate pattern inspired by a game in which it did not occur. It could have appeared if Morphy had found the strongest finish after his game winning sacrifice. The position after White's seventeenth move is the first position presented in the Anthology of Chess Combinations. In the solution in the Anthology, the actual moves of the game are presented as a variation.

The checkmate pattern employs a bishop and rook working together in a manner similar to Pillsbury's Mate. How these two patterns are distinguished is not clear. Does it matter whether the bishop or the rook is the checking piece? In Morphy's signature game from which the pattern takes its name, both pieces are giving check and there is a second bishop in the attack. Perhaps Morphy's queen sacrifice is the defining feature.

For young players needing to learn how to use the chess pieces in a coordinated fashion, the nomenclature is unimportant. Pillsbury's Mate and Morphy's Mate may be learned together and understood as variations upon a single pattern.

Paulsen,Louis -- Morphy,Paul [C48]
USA–01.Kongress New York (4.6), 1857

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bb5 Bc5 5.0–0 0–0 6.Nxe5 Re8 7.Nxc6 dxc6 8.Bc4 b5 9.Be2 Nxe4 10.Nxe4 Rxe4 11.Bf3 Re6 12.c3 Qd3 13.b4 Bb6 14.a4 bxa4 15.Qxa4 Bd7 16.Ra2 Rae8 17.Qa6

Black to move

17...Qxf3! 18.gxf3 Rg6+ 19.Kh1 Bh3 20.Rd1 Bg2+ 21.Kg1 Bxf3+ 22.Kf1

Black to move

What is the strongest continuation? Morphy missed it.

22...Bg2+ 23.Kg1 Bh3+ 24.Kh1 Bxf2 25.Qf1 Bxf1 26.Rxf1 Re2 27.Ra1 Rh6 28.d4 Be3 0–1

Tactics for Beginners

Morphy created a threat that is apparent if we postulate a move that Paulsen never would have considered. For my beginning students, however, it may prove instructive. If Paulsen had played 17.Qc2, what was Morphy's threat?

Black to move

The end of the combination that might have been may be solved by beginning students. It is checkmate in one move.

Black to move

Another six problems offering training in elementary tactics will be offered to the young players at the start of each club meeting this week. The first of these offers an important lesson.

White to move

White could capture the rook and be ahead a pawn, but the resulting pawn ending is drawn. One need not understand pawn endings, however, to see that White can win the rook with no loss of material. Pile on the pinned rook, and then capture it with the pawn.


  1. 22...Rg2, 23.d4 Rxh2 with Rh1 mate to follow.

    Morphy played fast, so that if he did something brilliant, then his opponent may have been taking forever. If Morphy missed something, his opponent may have been playing quickly with Morphy playing to the beat.

    1. The Anthology of Chess Combinations gives 22...Rg2 23.Qd3 Rxf2+ 24.Kg1 Rg2+ and mate next move.