50 games you should know: Morphy vs. Duke of Brunswick, Count Isoard

by Johannes Fischer
10/18/2017 – Occupying the center, developing pieces, opening lines, mating the enemy king: Paul Morphy knew how to win quickly. His most famous game also followed this pattern. Morphy played it November 2, 1858, against the Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard in the Duke's loge in the Paris Opera. Morphy's brilliancy is more than 150 years old but the strategic pattern is still relevant. As Magnus Carlsen knows. | Photo: (left) Engraving by Daniel John Pound, based off a photograph by a Parisian photographer named Thompson) was first published in "The Drawing-Room Portrait Gallery of Eminent Personages," vol. II, London. 1859 | (right) Morphy in New York City, 1857 by Mathew Brady

Master Class Vol.9: Paul Morphy Master Class Vol.9: Paul Morphy

Learn about one of the greatest geniuses in the history of chess! Paul Morphy's career (1837-1884) lasted only a few years and yet he managed to defeat the best chess players of his time.


Morphy: simple, powerful, strong

Morphy's opponents often played badly, yet his aggressive and dynamic chess still seems almost perfect. Every move develops a piece, creates a threat or captures an enemy piece, in this case culminating in a queen sacrifice that leads to mate.

The following game was played in 1858 at an opera house in Paris, in the Duke's private box, while they were ostensibly watching a live production!


The Black Lion — an aggressive version of the Philidor Defense

Looking for an interesting, exciting, aggressive and flexible opening to play against 1 e4!? Then the Black Lion is just the opening for you! The Lion gets ready to roar after 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 e5 4.Nf3 Nbd7 5.Bc4 Be7 6.0–0 c6 – and now Black wants to attack with an early ...g5. Grandmaster Simon Williams suggests a simple to learn, yet deadly system of development for Black. He explains the main ideas of this opening in an easy and entertaining manner, using examples from such maverick players as Baadur Jobava. In what other opening do you get a chance to attack White’s castled King with an early ...g5? Let the Lion roar and the fun commence!


Carlsen in the style of Morphy

Today, grandmasters win such games only in simuls. But even top grandmasters can lose quickly if they do not develop their pieces. One example of many is a game between the young Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Dolmatov — the World Junior Champion in 1978 and World Championship Candidate in 1991 — played in Moscow, 2004 at the 3rd Aeroflot Open.


Master Class Vol.8: Magnus Carlsen

Scarcely any world champion has managed to captivate chess lovers to the extent Carlsen has. The enormously talented Norwegian hasn't been systematically trained within the structures of a major chess-playing nation such as Russia, the Ukraine or China.


Historical notes

Paul Morphy in New Orleans, 1870Paul Morphy was born June 22, 1837, in New Orleans, into a wealthy, respected and influential family. Morphy learnt the rules of chess early and at the age of 13 he arguably was already the best player in America. He convincingly won the 1. American Chess Congress 1857, and one year later, 1858, he travelled to London and Paris to challenge the best European players. Here, too, Morphy proved to be superior and defeated Adolf Anderssen, Johann Jacob Löwenthal and Henry Edward Bird convincingly. Morphy also challenged the English top player Howard Staunton to a match but Staunton again and again found reasons to avoid Morphy.

After his return to the United States Morphy worked as a lawyer, though without much success. He only rarely played chess and in 1867 he completely withdrew from the game. (Photo at right from New Orleans, 1870.) Morphy, who increasingly suffered from mental disorders, died on July, 10, 1884 in New Orleans.

Charles II, Duke of Brunswick

Charles II, Duke of Brunswick was born October 30, 1804 in Brunswick. Both parents died when Charles was still underage and only when he turned 19, October 30, 1823, did Charles became the official ruler of the Duchy. But things did not go his way and after a revolt in September 1830 the Duke fled into exile. But though he lost political power he still kept his considerable wealth.

After fleeing from the Duchy of Brunswick Charles II lived in Spain, England and France until he finally settled in Geneva, Switzerland, where he died August 18, 1873. He bequeathed his fortune to the city of Geneva which in turn erected a memorial that still pays tribute to the Duke.

The Duke was a passionate chessplayer and a strong amateur — even though this is difficult to see in his most famous game. But Tim Krabbé unearthed other games of the Duke (Chess Diary, Entry 217, June 9, 2003) and in one of these games Charles II drew against Daniel Harrwitz, at that time one of the world's best players.


Count Isoard was born October 6, 1804, and comes from the house of d’Isoard-Vauvenargue. Information about his life is scarce but he graduated in 1822 and in 1829 he was distinguished by Pope Pius VIII at the conclave 1829. His death was announced on December 16, 1883, descendants are not known. As Martin Weteschnik found out during his research about the life of Count Isoard the castle of the family of d’Isoard-Vauvenargues was later acquired by Pablo Picasso, who is buried there.

A great fan of Morphy's game against the Duke of Brunswick and Count Isoard was Bobby Fischer. In the following video he shows it on Yugoslavian TV. Translator and moderator is the Serbian journalist Dimitrije Bjelica.

More information about Morphy offers Gisbert Jacoby who revised the historical part of the ChessBase Mega Database 2017, adding a lot of unknown games and historical material. In the following video he presents his findings about Morphy.

Correction October 19 — The Duke of Brunswick became ruler of the Duchy from his 19th birthday in 1823, not (as originally stated) on his birthday in 1815 when he would have been just 11. In fact 1815 was the year his parents died, but he did not become the ruler for a further 8 years. 

Master Class Vol.9: Paul Morphy

Learn about one of the greatest geniuses in the history of chess! Paul Morphy's career (1837-1884) lasted only a few years and yet he managed to defeat the best chess players of his time.


50 games every chessplayer should know...

  1. McDonnell - Labourdonnais
  2. Anderssen - Kieseritzky, The Immortal Game

See also

Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".
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Pieces in Motion Pieces in Motion 10/23/2017 01:27
The only game I've memorized. Morphy's gem is truly one for the ages. I'm glad there's finally a Master Class DVD on the great man.
Grad Grad 10/20/2017 12:26
On the second image: Garry Kasparov "himself".
macauley macauley 10/19/2017 11:15
@BKnight2003 - Thanks, corrected.
BKnight2003 BKnight2003 10/19/2017 03:14
There's a mistake in Duke of Brunswick's info: it says he was born in 1804 and became the official ruler of the Duchy in 1815, at the age of 19. The math doesn't match.
macauley macauley 10/19/2017 02:30
@kramnikstudent - You can embed "live diagrams" in comments, but not whole PGNs. However if you want to send it in to editor@ I'll be glad to have a look and perhaps add an update.
macauley macauley 10/19/2017 02:27
@KodiakChess - This is a new series, so there have only been a couple published so far, and they are linked at the bottom of this story under "Links" where you will usually find a few items of further reading or sources in News stories. There is also a "Topics" section, which includes related tags, and we've created a "50 Moves" tag which will aggregate all stories in this series: http://en.chessbase.com/tagged?tag=50%20games
KodiakChess KodiakChess 10/19/2017 05:33
OK, so where is the listing of the 50 games?
kramnikstudent kramnikstudent 10/19/2017 12:13
I annotated the Morphy game a lot deeper than I have seen in any other source with engine help of course). Dont think there is a way to share the pgn here
mc1483 mc1483 10/18/2017 08:59
It's interesting trying to guess, from this game (and of course others like this one), what the real force of Paul Morphy should be today, in ELO terms. My idea is that such combinations cannot be spotted under the Master level; but also we should remember that Morphy's opponents were just strong amateurs. I think Morphy was perhaps at 2200-2300 ELO points.
Danstacey Danstacey 10/18/2017 03:28
What a beauty... only game I have learned by heart. And Fischer's video is fascinating too.