Réti for Morphy

 I had made an entry called Réti on My Mind.  After reading it, Chess.com member gretagarbo, aware of my interest in Paul Morphy, most generously and thoughtfully sent me the text to Richard Reti's treatment of Morphy's chess from Réti's posthumously published book,  Masters of the Chessboard.

I enjoyed Réti's annotations of some of Morphy's games and figured others may enjoy them also.  Since they were expressed in descriptive notation, I tranferred everything into algebraic and put Réti's notes below (as well as the 21 move game in the game viewer) 



Judge Meek vs. Paul Morphy

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 


     A few words may be said here regarding the possible loss of tempi (time-units) arising from exchanges, which we shall frequently notice in the play of Morphy's opponents. 
   Although the move 3 . . .exd4 is not a developing move, it nevertheless does not represent the loss of a move since White, in order to recapture his pawn, will sooner of later have to play Nxd4.  This is not a developing move either, as it involves moving a previously developed piece, the Knight on f3. Should, however, Black after Nxd4, reply with Nxd4 such an exchange would involve a loss in tempo, inasmuch as White develops a hitherto undeveloped piece, with Qxd4.
   In surveying the position before this unsound exchange, it may be seen that both parties have developed a piece, White the Knight at d4 and Black the the Knight at c6.  After the exchange however,  White still has one developed piece, the Queen at d4 while Black on the other hand has no pieces develoed.  In such a way the loss of a tempo resulting from this exchange can be drastically demonstrated.
   The situation is entirely different, if White, as for instance in the center counter, conrinues after 1.e4 d5, with 2.exd5. It is true that for the moment Black gains an advantage in time with Qxd5, but the Queen is in a rather exposed position on d5 and White can readily and advantageously even up the score with 3.Nc3.
   The opening 1.e4 e5  2.Nf3 Nc6 34.d4  is known as the Scottish Game.  Inasmuch as d5 is attacked and cannot very well be protected, Blck has no better reply than 3 ...exd4.  The prevailing continuation is 4.Nxd4, seemingly giving White more ground and unhampered sway in the centre on account of the pawn on e4.  This should not prove a lasting advantage however, if Black consistently aims at the removal of the K pawn, either by means of direct attack or through exchange which after suitable preparations may be accomplished with the move d5.  The immediate 4 ...d5 would not be advantageous on account of 5.Bg5.
   We would like to use the example of this Scottish opening to demonstrate how much more important and advantageous it is to understand the spirit of an opening than to study variations.  After what we have said, it is evident that the best moves for Black are the developing moves attacking White's e4 and d5, since only in this manner is it possible to remove the pressure of the pawn on d4 and to enforce the move d5. On the other hand White's only hope of transforming his apparent  advantage into real gain lies in protection of these squares, in order to prevent, or at least retard, the early opening of Black's game by means of the move d4.
     It is logical therefore that both sides during the opening fight should endeavor to find moves attacking White's e4 and d5 squares.  The following continuation [after 1.e4 e5  2.Nf3 Nc6 34.d4 exd4  4. Nxd4...]  would therefore seem the most natural :  4....Nf6 (attacking White's e4 and d5 squares)  5. Nc3 (protecting these squares).  5. ...Bb4 (continuing the attack).  6.Nxc6, (this move in preparation of 7. Bd3, is White's only remaining possibility of protecting e4).  6. ...bxc6  7. Bd3 d5.  Black had achieved his purpose, the Pawn on e4 is being exchanged and the games are even.  An understanding of the significance of an opening thereafter, as we have seen, leads quite naturally to the tactics recommended by all the text-books, which many a beginner in chess has laboriously and mechanically learned by heart.


This move, sacrificing a Pawn in the interest of the more rapid development,  may be made without detriment to White and is characteristic of the Scottish Gambit.  As we shall see at once however, White here makes the mistake of playing the Gambit not for the sake of more rapid development, but in the interest of a premature attack on f7, in accordance with the ideas of the time, which were however exploded by Morphy.

4. ...Bc5
5. Ng5


     This is a mistake for two reasons :  In the first place White moves a second time with an already developed piece, thus losing a tempo and giving Black the advantage in development;  in the second place White forgets the fact that the opening is a fight for domination in the center and through the above move relinquishes the superiority of the center to his opponent.
     The best continuation here is : 5. c3 dxc3  6. Bxf7+  Kxf7  7. Qd5+

 5. ...Nh6

     Black defends himself with a developing move.  If instead he had made the more obvious move of 5...Ne5, simultaneously attacking and covering, he would only be repeating White's error of moving an already developed piece again.  As a result White would gain the upper hand by means of the combination which follows in the game.  See our comment in regard to move 9 of White.

6. Nxf7 Nxf7
7. Bxf7+ Kxf7
8. Qh5+


   White's combination will probably find the approval of beginners.  An experienced player, however, will from the first be suspicious of a combination, in the course of which all the pieces developed by White disappear from the board, only the undeveloped ones remaining.  It is evident that no lasting attack can result from such a method.

8. ...g6
9. Qxc5

   The consequences of White;s incorrect play are now plainly visible. The only piece developed by White is the Queen which will soon be exposed to attack, giving Black a decisive advantage.  If Black in the fifth move, instead of Nh6, had played 5....Ne5, the position of the diagram would have resulted by means of  6. Nxf7 Nxf7  7. Bxf7+ Kxf7  8. Qh5+ g6  9. Qxc5  with the essential difference however that Black  would not have a Knight developed on  c6 but an undeveloped knight on g8.  Black then would surely have to lose a Pawn and would be at a very serious disadvantage.

9. ...d6
10. Qb5 Re8
11. Qb3+


In moving about with the Queen, White is losing some more time.  From this juncture Morphy marches to victory in superior style.  White should certainly have Castled on move 11.

11. ...d5
12. f3 Na5
13. Qd3 dxe4
14. fxe4 Qh4+
15. g3 Rxe4+
16. Kf2  Qe7
17. Nd2


The following moves show some nice and not difficult maneuvers which depend upon the continued protection of the e2 square by White's Queen.

17. ...Re3
18. Qb5 c6
19. Qf1 Bh3
20. Qd1 Rf8


     Beginners who, in the heat of the fight only play with pieces that are already engaged in battle and often forget to call on their reserves, can learn a lesson from this move.

21. Nf3 Ke8



  • 8 years ago


       Batgirl I agree with You. I think your theory about evolution in chess is right. I walked this way. First I drawn attention to the material, and than to the attack, to finally understand the subtleties position.

      Morphy showed in this game how to win in a delicate way ,and in a subtle way. Today's masters play like this. When I look at Morphy's games ,think he understood the all rules modern chess. This game is the completely modern game.He used too early activity his opponent, to get the center. Morphy was a greate romantic player. Morphy was a greate positional player. He was an uniwersal player. The various dimensions of the chessboard complementary in his style of play. He knew when to use tactical and when positional tools.

      I have a theory too. I think that Morphy saw chess more generally than his opponents. In my opinion He was able to see chess more generally than today's grandmasters. But The, key to understand his style of play is that Morphy understood ,if you want to win you have to give something. Lose somethin,gain something. If you want to give somethenig, to gain something.Today's masters care about the safety position. Im my opinion it's not enough, to beat the best players. Chess is like life, you can't have everything. In life you can be or you can have. In chess ,if you want to win you, have to give something.Morphy knew what to lose ,to win. It's the key, to understand his style of play.

  • 8 years ago


    Batgirl, I think you are right about the individual chess-evolution mirroring historical chess-evolution. [There used to be a time when a similar theory was believed about darwinian evolution... ]

    Only, as you said things are more accelerated now...  nowadays the individual's initial chess evolution is much faster than it was say 40 years ago. One reason, I think, is that most beginners nowadays read some chess instruction material... or get beaten by other beginners who read chess instruction material, so that the non-readers also get some now basic instruction second-hand... [except for prodigies on the one hand and the chess-'tone-deaf' on the other, etc... ]

  • 8 years ago


    Thanks to both of you for this further insight into the development of "all of our chess games". The cleverness and improvisation (given the times) of Mr. Morphy is  on a par with Philidor and Lucena as to its importance to the continuing challenge that Chess presents to all who test themselves and their opponents with  their  next move. Mr. Reti recognizes Morphy's strength and his opponents weaknesses. As to the negative comment  about Reti, we must consider the difference (huge I think) in the strength of the opposition.

      I think it would not be out of line to see that Chess has been built by innovation then consolidation...then innovation...consolidation...etc. Anderssen;Staunton;Morphy;Steinetz;Lasker;Capablanca;Alekhine. This last 100 years has had a much bigger supporting cast to speed up the process to the  point where a 1300 player has games that look not too dissimilar from Morphy!!

  • 8 years ago


    Norma Jean, one must also take into consideration the idea that a middle-aged radical hypermodernist founder in 1930 was teaching a lesson inspired by a game conducted by a 17 year old conservative classiscist 75 years prior.  I have a theory, right or wrong, that the development of an individual chess player (except perhaps for a prodigy or some other anomaly) follows a path similar to that of the develpment of chess as a game. . .  and things go from simple to complex, purely tactical to positional/tactical, insanely aggressive to prudently cautious, in short, infantile to mature . . . and so, in that sense, I think beginners do play as Réti suggests  because once they gain sufficient knowledge, understanding and experience not to play in such a manner, they are no longer beginners.  I do think there has been, and will continue to be, an acceleration in the learning process, not just based on increased knowledge, but also on the increased availability of that knowledge.


    Thanks for your ever thought-provoking, interesting and well-considered comments.

  • 8 years ago


    These articles are snapshots of how modern chess theory was being built up by pioneers - a peek into the history of evolution of chess theory.

    To take just one example: Reti's comments on Meek v Morphy after 9.Q-R5 ch. [9.Qh5+ - excuse me for using 'classical' notation' :)] - just below the diagram. 'White's combination will probably find the approval of beginners.' - Reti writes. Nowadays, beginners would not approve, not after seeing the diagram following 9.Qh5+:  there is insufficient force for an attack. Why? No one is *born* with that knowledge, so of course even elementary instruction materialmanages to impart that feel.

    I've seen the same thing in mathematics and physics: pioneer effort is always clumsy. After concepts are discovered, over the decades/centuries they are better understood: pedagogy becomes a focus too: language develops to convey the concepts more clearly.. so what was unknown first becomes known, then better understood, then more easily communicable, ...

  • 8 years ago


    I always find it nice to see a game like this where the Black player has a "weak" kingside and still has the game in his hands.  Must not be so weak after all...

  • 8 years ago


    Batgirl, you have excellant taste and judgement to keep posting on Morphy.  One of the games of his that blows my mind is the N-odds match between Morphy and Thompson, particularly the fourth game.  If you notice, Morphy allows Thompson to set a "classical center" and then uses hypermodern tactics to abuse it (B's on b2 and g2, P's on c4 and f4, etc.).  I've always been amazed that someone so closely associated with classical chess would be able to play hypermodern theory sixty years before it was invented!  In my opinion, what Morphy understood about chess in 1859 would have enabled him to be World Champion right up until the advent of Tal.  Give Morphy a couple of months to review theory and no one at any time survives in a match with him.  Thank you.

  • 8 years ago


    ya Beautifull game.........

  • 8 years ago


    That game is beautiful, but if only reti played like morphy!

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