Of all the millions of chess games ever played, this game is perhaps the well-known and popular of all. Why? I’m glad you asked!
It’s because it features fast development, pins, forks, castling with gain of a tempo, a sacrifice of the exchange, a sacrifice of the knight, a sacrifice of the queen, and winning a miniature. It’s a lot of fun to play and to even fun to annotate.
But I can’t do a better job in fully annotating this game than Chernev or Sergeant. So I’ll just add a few notes and games to further illustrate the game and let them both have most of the fun.
[Chernev, 1000 Best Short Games, #441 ; Sergeant, “Morphy’s Games of Chess”, #LXXIX]
[Long considered a Morphy game, this game has far more value than a mere brilliancy. In all the vast literature of chess there is no game which equals this one in clear, simple instruction in basic principles. In seventeen moves we see such tactical themes as double attack, the pin, sacrifice of a Knight, Castling with gain of a tempo, adding pressure to a pin, sacrifice of the exchange, and (fortissimo) sacrifice of the Queen to force checkmate. Sprinkled throughout are moves that smite – captures or checks which cut down the choice of reply. Strategical concepts, such as rapid development of the pieces, interference with the opponent’s development, centralization, occupation of the open files, and control of the long diagonals are all graphically demonstrated. No wonder Marshall called this “The most famous game of all time!” – Chernev]
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Bg4 (This move deserves a “?” as it gives White the initiative. – RME.) 4.dxe5 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 dxe5 6.Bc4 Nf6
[Black can go very wrong at this point. Here are two examples.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Bg4 4.dxe5 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 dxe5 6.Bc4 Qd7 7.Qb3 c6 8.a4 Bd6 9.O-O Nf6 10.Nc3 O-O 11.Be3 Kh8 12.Rad1 Nh5 13.Rxd6 Qxd6 14.Qxb7 Nd7 15.Rd1 Qb8 16.Rxd7 Qxb7 17.Rxb7 f5 18.Rxa7 Rab8 19.h3 Rxb2 20.Bc5 Rg8 21.Bd3 g5 22.Bd6 1-0
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Bg4 4.dxe5 Bxf3 5.Qxf3 dxe5 6.Bc4 f6? 7.Qb3 Qd4?? 8.Bf7+ Ke7 [Stronger is 8…Kd8 9.Bxg8 (not 9.Qxb7 Qb4+ and Black cuts his losses to a single pawn..) 9…Qxe4+ 10.Be3 Bd5 +-. An interesting and fun line for White is 10…Rxg8? 11.Qxg8 Qxg2 12.Qxf8+ Kd7 13.Qf7+ Kc6 (not 13…Kc8 14.Qe8#) 14.Nc3!! +- and while Black can restore material equality after 14.Qxh1+ 15.Ke2! Qxa1, he is mated by 15.Qd5#.] 9.Qe6+ Kd8 10.Qe8mate 1-0 -RME]
7.Qb3 (Now threatening 8.Bxf7+ Kd7 9.Qe6# – Chernev) 7…Qe7 8.Nc3 (Morphy might have played 8.Bxf7+ Qxf7 9.Qxb7 – But, says Lasker, “that would have a butcher’s method, not an artist’s. – Sergeant) 8…c6 9.Bg5 b5?!
(Steinitz suggested Qc7. After the text-move all is over. – Sergeant. Koltanowksi faced 9…Qb4, and won after 10.Bxf7+! Kd8 11.O-O-O+ Kc7 12.f4 Qxb3 13.Bxb3 Bd6 14.Rhe1 Na6
15.Rxd6! Kxd6 16.fxe5+ Kxe5 17.Bf4+ Kd4 18.Rd1+ Kc5 19.Be3+ Kb4 20.Rd4+ Kc5 21.Rd5+ Kb4 22.a3mate 1-0, Koltanowski-L. Smith, 10 sec/move, Fort Worth, 1962. This might have been a blindfold game. Now back to the original game. – RME]
10.Nxb5! cxb5 11.Bxb5+ Nbd7 12.O-O-O (The right way to castle , as the Rook bears down on the pinned Knight without the loss of time. – Chernev) 12…Rd8 (Not 12…O-O-O as 13.Ba6+ Kc7 14.Qb7 is mate. – Chernev)
13.Rxd7! (Again to gain time for the other Rook to strike. – Chernev) 13…Rxd7 14.Rd1 Qe6 (Unpinning his Knight so that it may defend his Rook. – Chernev) 15.Bxd7+ Nxd7 16.Qb8+! Nxb8 17.Rd8mate! (No doubt the opposition was weak; but Morphy’s method of overcoming it was most beautifully logical – a Dasmascus blade cutting a silk cushion.- Sergeant) 1-0