Paul Morphy’s Christmas Miracle

Position after 20...Nd5?White to move and win.

Position after 20…Nd5?
White to move and win.

When Adolf Anderssen arrived in Paris on December 15, 1858, Paul Morphy was gravely ill. Doctors were treating his influenza with leeches and blood-letting. Despite Morphy being too weak to stand from his bed, the two strongest chess players in the world decided to play a chess match as this encounter would likely be their last. No money was at stake, only honor. While very ill, Morphy outplayed Anderssen and eventually recovered his health. Below is game 7, “The Christmas Miracle”:

[Event “Anderssen-Morphy”]

[Site “Paris FRA”]

[Date “1858.12.25”]

[Round “7”]

[White “Paul Morphy”]

[Black “Adolf Anderssen”]

[Result “1-0”]

[ECO “B01”]

[Opening “Scandinavian”]

[Variation “Anderssen Counterattack, Collijn Variation”]

1. e4 {Notes by Chris Torres.} d5 {Anderssen, perhaps wisely, avoids 1 e4 e5 against which his opponent had a reputation of superior knowledge. Instead black chooses the Scandinavian Defence.} 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 {On a5 the black queen is hard for white to attack and if white plays d4 will be pinning the knight on c3.} 4. d4 {Black’s most aggressive reply and a specialty of Adolf Anderssen.} e5 5. dxe5 Qxe5+ 6. Be2 {Neither man wanted to trade Queens on e2.} Bb4 7. Nf3 {Paul Morphy prefers sacrificing a pawn to obtain a more speedy development of his pieces. Of course his pawn sacrifice is correct.} Bxc3+ 8. bxc3 Qxc3+ 9. Bd2 Qc5 10. Rb1 {Now we can clearly see Morphy’s lead in development.} Nc6 11. O-O Nf6 12. Bf4 {I would have played Bg5. But I am not the greatest attacking chess player who has ever lived.} O-O {Anderssen makes a wise decision not to bother with attempting to defend the c pawn. Doing so would have resulted in too much initiative for white’s attack.} 13. Bxc7 Nd4 14. Qxd4 Qxc7 15. Bd3 Bg4 {That pins nothing. Better would have been rook to e8.} 16. Ng5 Rfd8 17. Qb4 Bc8 {I can not think of any other way of saving the pawn on b7. If Anderssen plays …b6, Morphy could have swiped the h pawn with the knight. Perhaps best was kicking the knight away with …h6.} 18. Rfe1 a5 19. Qe7 {Always be suspicious when Morphy is willing to trade queens.} Qxe7 20. Rxe7 Nd5? {Adolf Anderssen makes a serious mistake. Nd5 may look as though it forces Morphy’s rook to leave the seventh rank but this is not the case. Better was …Rd7.} 21. Bxh7+! {Paul Morphy delivers a very instructive combination and a true Christmas miracle.} Kh8 22. Rxf7 Nc3 23. Re1 Nxa2 24. Rf4 Ra6 25. Bd3 1-0

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