The “Opera House” chess game

One of the best things about chess is the history of the game. Due to the notations used for recording moves, players from today are able to enjoy games from the past. One of the most famous chess games of all time is the Opera House chess game, played in 1858 between American player Paul Morphy and two Paris amateurs, Count Isouard and the Duke of Brunswick. Paul Morphy (1837-1884) was a brilliant player who had beaten all of the best players in the United States the year before, and was on a European tour to play against the best players in the world. The Opera Game was played while Morphy was visiting the Paris Opera on the 21st of October. According to stories from the time, Morphy was keen to watch the opera being performed rather than play an off-hand game of chess, which may explain why he played such brilliant attacking chess, in order to finish the game as quickly as possible. This game has been used many times in chess books to explain some of the key elements of the game – development of the pieces, sacrifices and tactics. Now with Youtube, graphics and commentary can make the analysis and comments about the game accessible to everyone. I found at least a dozen videos which analyse this game. I first came across the game when I was starting to learn about chess as a teenager in the mid-1970’s. I remember borrowing a book called the “The Golden Treasury of Chess” by IA Horowitz, which had this game inside, along with many other great games from chess history. This game, along with the other games, ignited my passion and love for chess, which continues to this day.

By the time Morphy finished his European tour in 1859, he was acknowledged as the “unofficial” world champion. He then gave up the game, and tried to set up a legal firm in New Orleans, his home town. These plans were disrupted by the US Civil War, and when it appeared that the firm was on a firm footing, visitors and prospective clients wanted to talk about Morphy’s chess career, rather than their legal affairs. The legal firm foundered, and Morphy spent the rest of his life in quiet seclusion, refusing all offers to return to the chessboard.

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