Last modified on 11 September 2014, at 08:01

Chess/Famous Games/Opera Game

The Opera Game is another very famous short chess game. It pitted Paul Morphy, one of the strongest American chess players of the nineteenth century, against two avid amateur players: Duke Karl of Brunswick and Count Isouard, who conferred with each other throughout the game. The game was played during the performance of Norma at the Italian Opera House in Paris. Legend has it that the Duke was criticised in the next day's papers for playing chess at the opera and talking!

Paul Morphy took the white pieces.

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8 {{{square}}} black rook {{{square}}} black knight {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black queen {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black bishop {{{square}}} black knight {{{square}}} black rook 8
7 {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black pawn 7
6 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 6
5 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 5
4 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black bishop {{{square}}} black king 4
3 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white knight {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 3
2 {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn 2
1 {{{square}}} white rook {{{square}}} white knight {{{square}}} white bishop {{{square}}} white queen {{{square}}} white king {{{square}}} white bishop {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white rook 1
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Diagram 1: Position after 3. ... Bg4?!
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8 {{{square}}} black rook {{{square}}} black knight {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black queen {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black bishop {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black rook 8
7 {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black pawn 7
6 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black knight {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 6
5 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 5
4 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white bishop {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 4
3 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white queen {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 3
2 {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn 2
1 {{{square}}} white rook {{{square}}} white knight {{{square}}} white bishop {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white rook 1
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Diagram 2: Position after 7. ... Qb3!
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8 {{{square}}} black rook {{{square}}} black knight {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black bishop {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black rook 8
7 {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black queen {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black pawn 7
6 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black knight {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 6
5 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white bishop {{{square}}} black king 5
4 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white bishop {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 4
3 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white queen {{{square}}} white knight {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 3
2 {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn 2
1 {{{square}}} white rook {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white rook 1
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Diagram 3: Position after 9. ... b5?
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8 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black bishop {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black rook 8
7 {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black rook {{{square}}} black queen {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black pawn 7
6 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black knight {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 6
5 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white bishop {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white bishop {{{square}}} black king 5
4 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 4
3 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white queen {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 3
2 {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn 2
1 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white king {{{square}}} white rook {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 1
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Diagram 4: Position after 14. Rd1
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8 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black knight {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white rook {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black bishop {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black rook 8
7 {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black pawn 7
6 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black queen {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 6
5 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white bishop {{{square}}} black king 5
4 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 4
3 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 3
2 {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn {{{square}}} white pawn 2
1 {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} white king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king {{{square}}} black king 1
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Diagram 5: Position after 17. Rd8#

1. e4 e5

2. Nf3 d6

This is Philidor's Defence, a solid but rather lacklustre opening for black that is rather uncommon today. It was, however, a frequently-used opening in the 1850s.

3. d4 Bg4?! (Diagram 1)

A dubious move. Although a standard line at the time, today theory dictates that black should take the pawn or develop the king's knight.

4. dxe5 Bxf3

4. ... dxe5 5. Qxd8+ Kxd8 6. Nxe5 loses a pawn.

5. Qxf3 dxe5

6. Bc4 Nf6

This move, although seems like a logical way to develop the knight, runs into a refutation that forces black to move his pieces into rather awkward positions.

7. Qb3! (Diagram 2)

The attack against f7, the Achilles' heel of the starting chess position, is strong. White threatens to play 8. Bxf7+ Ke7 9. Qe6#.

7. ... Qe7

An ugly move that blocks in black's king bishop, but there isn't anything better. 7. ... Qd7? 8. Qxb7 and 9. Qxa8 costs black a rook.

8. Nc3

White could have instead won a pawn with 8. Qxb7, but after ... Qb4+ he would have to trade queens. Morphy correctly decides that in this case development is worth more than a pawn, especially because black's king is stuck in the centre, unable to castle.

8. ... c6

Necessary to avoid losing a pawn. Unlike a move ago, black no longer has the ability to play ...Qb4+ and get the queens off the board.

9. Bg5 b5? (Diagram 3)

It appears that black can take some of the pressure off his weak position by driving back the bishop. However, the Duke and Count probably didn't foresee a bold piece sacrifice to keep the initiative alive.

10. Nxb5!

Black is given not a moment to rest.

10. ... cxb5?

Overly materialistic. Black should have taken the opportunity to get the queens off the board with 10. ...Qb4+, although white could still enter an endgame ahead a pawn and with good winning chances.

11. Bxb5+ Nbd7

12. 0-0-0

Both black knights are pinned.

12. ... Rd8

13. Rxd7! Rxd7

14. Rd1 (Diagram 4)

White replaces the rook with another one, this time sans the black knight.

14. ... Qe6

Black tries to get out of the pins, but it is too little too late.

15. Bxd7+ Nxd7

Or 15. ... Qxd7 16. Qb8+ Ke7 17. Qxe5+ Kd8 18. Bxf6+ gxf6 19. Qxf6+ Kc8 20. Rxd7 Kxd7 21. Qxh8 when white has a massive material advantage.

16. Qb8+!! 16. ... Nxb8

17. Rd8# (Diagram 5)

A very stylish checkmate.