“The Opera House Game”
The Opera House Game took place in the The Italian Opera House in Paris, France, where Paul Morphy executes a magnificent Queen sacrifice checkmate!
The Italian Opera House, Paris, France, November 2, 1858
In 1858, Paul Morphy visited The Italian Opera House in Paris, called Salle Le Peletier, which was designed and built by French architect Francois Debret in 1821. In 1822, innovative gas lighting was installed. On October 29, 1873, a raging fire, started by the new gas lighting, destroyed the theater. The theater burned for 27 hours. A sad loss.
Paul Morphy, the American chess master, and de facto world chess champion before a championship cycle existed, traveled Paris in 1858. He attended the opera Norma as the guest of the Duke of Brunswick, Karl II and his friend Count Isouard, two French aristocrats. The game was played in the Duke’s private box just above the stage in The Italian Opera House in Paris, France, during the performance of Bellini’s opera, Norma.
Morphy is playing the White pieces. Here is the position after Move 15. Bxd7+ Nxd7.
THE PROBLEM: Playing the White pieces, Paul Morphy to move, and checkmate the Duke and the Count in two moves, forced!
See below for the Solution!
White: Paul Morphy Black: Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard
Opening: Philidor Defence
1. e4 e5
2. Nf3 d6
Philidor's Defence, named after the Frenchman, François-André Danican Philidor, an accomplished opera composer and chess master. A solid opening, but Black finds it difficult to develop the King’s Bishop on f8 as this game shows.
3. d4 Bg4?!
Weak. Bg4 allows White to trade his Knight for the Bishop.
4. dxe5 Bxf3
Best. If 4...dxe5, then 5. Qxd8+ Kxd8 6. Nxe5 and White wins a pawn and Black cannot castle.
5. Qxf3 dxe5
5. gxf3 dxe5 6.Qxd8+ Kxd8 7. f4 is also good, but Morphy prefers to keep the Queens on the board.
6. Bc4 Nf6
White was threating Qxf7#! Black could have protected the f7-pawn with the queen, making White’s next move less threatening.
7. Qb3! Qe7 White was attacking both f7 and b7! (See diagram below.)
Black's Qe7 saves the Rook: 8.Qxb7 Qb4+ forcing a Queen trade. However, Black blocks the f8-Bishop, and neglects king-side castling and King safety.
8. Nc3 c6
With …c6, the Black Queen now protects b7. Morphy prefers development, initiative and attack!
9. Bg5 b5?
Black tries to chase away the Bishop.
10. Nxb5! cxb5
Morphy sacrifices the Knight to attack the un-castled King!
11. Bxb5+ Nbd7
12. 0-0-0 Rd8 (See diagram below.)
Black’s two Knights are pinned! And, White has an open file for his Rook that leads to mate.
13. Rxd7 Rxd7
Now Morphy pins the Black Rook to its King, removing another back-rank defender.
14. Rd1 Qe6
White’s pieces are active; Black’s pieces are idle. Black’s …Qe6 unpins the Knight and offers a Queen trade.
15. Bxd7+ Nxd7
Morphy’s Bishop check "forks" the Black Queen & King, with a forced checkmate to follow in two moves after Black’s Knight captures the Bishop!
THE PROBLEM AGAIN: White to move and checkmate in two moves!