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Paul Morphy vs James Thompson
Knight Odds match (1859) (unorthodox), New York, NY USA, rd 3, Jun-??
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Kibitzer's Corner
Mar-13-06  Autoreparaturwerkbau: Whole knight proved to be too much odds even for the great Morphy. Thompson simply refused every try of a surprise here.
Mar-13-06  SBC: .


<Whole knight proved to be too much odds even for the great Morphy.>

The words sound good, but they are hollow.

This was one game in a 9 game match in which Morphy offered Knight odds against an opponent who considered himself Morphy's equal. Thompson, a noted expert in the Evans Gambit who was more used to giving odds than receiving them and who was considered one of the likeliest contenders in the 1st American Chess Congress, had originally resisted playing Morphy at odds. Morphy won the match +5-3=1

J.J. Löwenthal expressed:

"I am decidedly of the opinion that his [Morphy's] winning the match at the large odds of a Knight to a player like Mr. Thompson, is the most marvelous feat which ever a master of his rank has performed. Neither La Bourdonnais, M'Donnell nor Philidor could ever have accomplished a similar task."


Mar-14-06  Autoreparaturwerkbau: Truely admirable story! Thanks, SBC.
Mar-14-06  SBC: <Autoreparaturwerkbau>

<Truely admirable story!>

Well, superficially, Morphy is an interesting person. Once you look beyond the surface, you find a Truly Interesting person.

Someone really needs to do an in-depth article on the subject of "odds." One tends to forget, since the practice is almost non-existant today, that it was once an integral part of competitive chess.

Premium Chessgames Member
  keypusher: I know, I know, I haven't forgotten.
Mar-15-06  SBC: <keypusher>

just a gentle reminder...

it would certainly be a valuable research.

Mar-16-06  OJC: I find it interesting playing over the match games in order. Morphy loses the first three games rather convincingly, all beginning with his usual 1.e4. He then switches to 1.f4 in the next two games and wins in fine fashion. From there he concedes only a single draw wins the match +5 -3 =1. Too bad the other games of the match were "lost".

As is usual for Morphy he takes a few games to figure the opponent out and then is virtually unbeatable the rest of the match.

Jun-01-06  Bartleby: own two books that devote sections on odds-giving.

The first is the Excellent Karl Marx Plays Chess by Andrew Soltis, a collection of various chessic potpourri from his "Chess to Enjoy" column spanning the late 70s throughout the 80s. Among the various offbeat topics and anecdotes there is some info on odds-giving:

Pawn and Move: The odds-giver takes black and removes his f-pawn. Amusingly, some players thought this was in fact a sneaky way to give BLACK an advantage, via castling and a rapid attack along the semi-open f-file!

Pawn and Two Move: The odds-giver takes black, removes his f-pawn, and white moves twice before play commences normally. This form of odds requires a lot of finesse because 1 e4 & d4 give white an impressive command in the center and freer development lines against an already semi-nude king-side.

Knight: Odds-giver takes white and (usually) removes his QN. Sometimes not as much of a handicap and one might think, as there have been a number of brilliancies based on white's ability to swing his a-rook to the center faster with one less minor piece obstructing his way.

Exchange: A rare 19th-century specialty, and favorite of Blackburne. The odds-giver takes white and typically removes his QR and his opponent removes his QN.

Rook: Odds-giver takes White and (usually) removes his QR. Soltis pointed out an interesting stipulation that either the a-pawn or the h-pawn was also bumped one square so that the pawn is naturally defended, though I can't remember this surfacing in any of the odds games I've gone over. Apparently, castling is also legal; white just leaps his king to the normal castling square, whether or not a rook does likewise.

Queen: The toughest form of normal odds, though according to Soltis playing a rookless game requires more skill. A good queenless opening is: 1) d4, 2) Nc3, 3) Bg5, and 4) 0-0-0

Soltis also spoke about a Marshall Club experimental tourney in New York where the participants gave odds based on their ratings and the results were encouragingly not as skewed as one might think (the odds-givers only lost once to their lower-rated handicap takers). Material isn't everything, apparently.

Opening theory also was a different bad of tricks. In pawn-and-move 1) e4 e5?? Is now a horrific blunder due to the devastating 2) Qh5+! 1) ... c5!? is actually an offer of a second pawn, also due to the queen check. 1) ... g6, Nc6, and e6 were common black approaches to pawn-and-move in 19th-century chess. Morphy favorites were 1) ... d6 with the idea of a Philidor-type position, and the whimsical ...Nh6!? which doubtless baffled a few of his victims.

Jun-01-06  Bartleby: The second book I own is Macon Shibut's Paul Morphy and the Evolution of Chess Theory, which IMO is the best book currently in print (Dover has done a nice reprint) on Paul Morphy, both from a biographical and a chess standpoint (it also includes a complete score of Paul Morphy's known games, including blindfold and at odds). It includes many fascinating chapters on such topics as "Morphy's Endgame," "Morphy's Blunders," a whole one on Thomas Barnes, the Victorian master who took the most full points off of Morphy, and various essays contributed by Steinitz, Alekhine, and others.

One of the chapters in on odds, and delves in greater depth than Soltis' book. Odds-giving, apparently, was the first informal rating system for players during the day. If a town or village included a chess master among its number, amateur challengers were given odds according to their respective ability. The old chess texts of the day assigned sobriquets such as "a rook-odds player" or "a pawn-and-move player" with the same implied denotion of strength as our "D player" or "A Player" titles today.

Odds was such a commonplace and accepted equalizer in Victorian chess that even openings books included whole swathes of opening theory to the "Knight Odds Opening," the "Pawn-and-Move Opening" and so forth. Louis Paulsen was even known to be studying openings for hours a day in preparation for undertaking a pawn-and-move match with Morphy (which never materialized).

The giving of odds has fashionably gone the way of the bowler hat and waistcoat, that is, rare and eccentric. Many players, even novices, feel insulted at being offered odds. There is an interesting double-standard at play, since most are adverse to receiving odds from the outset but absolutely relish the chance at snagging a decisive opening edge (which a would-be odds-giver can easily facilitate by playing garbage openings). Speaking for myself, I give and accept odds frequently when the gap in playing strength calls for it and my opponents are open to the possibility, though I'm the only chessplayer in my local cadre of players to do so.

According to Shibut's book, odds-giving started to decline due to a couple of factors: The rise of the Soviet Chess Establishment in the 20th century which strongly disdained odds-giving in chess as garrulous and unscientific in its approach to the game, harboring back to its decadent image as a 19th-century pastime played at stakes in smoky gentlemen clubs and cafes (and by the bourgeois nobles of the day). The second was the rise of the chess clock, which supplanted material odds-giving with time-odds, far more popular today. (personally I abhor time-odds, and find it doesn't matter as much, nor is it nearly as interesting, as giving material odds, especially when the odds-giver is rattling off nearly all his moves at breakneck speed anyway. That wouldn't be possible in odds-chess proper, if for no other reason that most openings need to be reappraised.)

There was another Morphy-Thompson knight-odds game where Morphy played a classically hypermodern Bird's opening, in such a style that strongly evoked Nimzovitch. It was especially fitting, actually, since in the Bird's opening the QN often has difficulty finding a happy home, and it's a closed system that deters early simplification. (and in that game Thompson was crushed)

Roughy 15% of Morphy's games were played at one form of odds or another. No other margin exists in any other major player's record. Morphy's mastery in taking the reins of incipient, disadvantageous positions in odds-games is another fascinating aspect of his historical legacy.

A pawn-and-move match against a player like Harrwitz or Lowenthal would have been especially interesting, as I believe those players employed a style that offered more resistance to Morphy than Andersson.

Jan-03-08  JimmyVermeer: SBC, since you requested an in-depth article on odds, here's what I came up with, although I'm sure it's far less than what you were looking for.

Going through all 11 known games in which Morphy played White and gave Thompson odds of knight, I find that Morphy won every time he played Bird's Opening. The best such example is: 1 f4 f5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 e3 e6 4 Be2 Be7 5 0-0 b6 6 b3 d5 7 Bb2 Ba6 8 c4 0-0 9 Rc1 c5 10 Qe1 Nc6 11 Ng5 Qd7 12 cxd5 Bxe2 13 dxc6 Qxc6 14 Qxe2 Rad8 15 Rfd1 h6 16 Nf3 Rd5 17 Ne5 Qe8 18 d3 Bd6 19 e4 fxe4 20 dxe4 Rxd1+ 21 Rxd1 Bc7 22 g3 b5 23 Kg2 Qa8 24 Nd7 Nxe4 25 Nxf8 Nc3+ 26 Qf3 Qxf3+ 27 Kxf3 Nxd1 28 Nxe6 Bb6 29 Bxg7 c4 30 bxc4 bxc4 31 Bd4 Kf7 32 Bxb6 axb6 33 Nd4 Nc3 34 a3 Nb1 35 Nc2 b5 36 Ke3 Kf6 37 g4 Nc3 38 h4 Nd5+ 39 Ke4 Nc3+ 40 Kf3 Nb1 41 g5+ hxg5 42 fxg5+ Kg6 43 Kg4 c3 44 h5+ Kg7 45 Kf5 Nxa3 46 h6+ Kh8 47 Nxa3 Kh7 48 Kf6 c2 49 Nxc2 Kg8 50 Nd4 Kf8 51 h7 Ke8 52 h8Q+ Kd7 53 Qb8 b4 54 Qb7+ Kd8 55 Qc6 b3 56 Ne6# This was the 6th game in the match, and in my opinion the best game ever in which Morphy gave Thompson these odds. I changed the ending at Black's 47th move to make it a little more interesting.

In all of the Evans' Gambit games (Normal Variation), Morphy won iff he castled on his 6th move.

Whenever Morphy started with e4, Thompson easily won by playing the Sicilian Defence. Morphy attempts the Grand Prix Attack, but without his QN, the attack fails. Here is the best example: 1 e4 c5 2 f4 e6 3 Nf3 Nc6 4 c3 d5 5 e5 Qc7 6 Bd3 Be7 7 Bc2 d4 8 Qe2 h6 9 0-0 Bd7 10 b3 Qb6 11 Kh1 g5 12 fxg5 hxg5 13 d3 g4 14 Ng5 f5 15 exf6ep Nxf6 16 Nxe6 Bxe6 17 Qxe6 Nd8 18 Qf5 Qe6 19 Qg6+ Nf7 20 cxd4 Qe2 21 Ba3 Rh6 22 Qg7 Qxc2 23 Rfe1 0-0-0 24 Rac1 Qf2 25 Bxc5 Bxc5 26 Rf1 Qxd4 27 Rf5 b6 28 Qxf7? Rxh2+ 29 Kxh2 g3+ 30 Kxg3 Qg4+ 31 Kh2 Qh4# This was the 1st game in the match and in my opinion, Thompson's best ever win against Morphy at these odds.

Jan-28-09  WhiteRook48: 28. c5?! is odd for Morphy
Jun-05-21  paulmorphy1969: WhiteRook48: 28. c5?! is odd for Morphy

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Featured in the Following Game Collections[what is this?]
28. c4-c5? seems like an outright BLUNDER!!
from Odds games #2 by WhiteRook48
1859.06.?? by deduction, this must be the 7th game
from Morphy's Knight Odds Match vs Thompson by Calli
7th match game played mid-June 1859
from Morphy 1859 New York by Calli

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