Recently I pointed out that Bobby Fischer employed the KING’S GAMBIT on 3-occasions and scored 3-0, referring to my article on THE AMERICAN CHESS QUARTERLY. Fischer played 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 whereas his “Bust of the King’s Gambit” was based upon the 3.Nf3 variation. During his development, Fischer did a study of many historic battles and in another article where he named the 10 greatest players in chess history picking both Morphy and Staunton among them which drew criticism from the modern chess elite, he defended Staunton inclusion based upon his modern approach to the opening where he said Staunton would have fared quite well in a match with Morphy and the result would be closer than most believed. He based that upon the modern understanding of the chess position of Staunton and said he believed Morphy had some difficulty handling those types of positions. Of course Fischer was always seemingly under the gun for his comments that often came in off-the-cuff remarks but this was a written article. As I said once, perhaps Fischer was referring to those who were giants in their era and whose contributions went beyond just the game play. Certainly in that case, Howard Staunton was a giant and leading player in England.
Lets return to those days and take a look at one of the chess stars of that period, namely here 1845 chess dual, game 2, of the match between Daniel Harrwitz and Adolf Anderseen in which Harrwitz as white essayed the King’s Gambit offer and Anderseen accepted the challenge as defender.
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Bc4 Qh4+ 4.Kf1
A necessary move because on 4.Ke2 is met by ..Qg4+ and the spicey looking 4.g3 ? fxg3 5.Qf3 g2+ 6.Ke2 setting up a neat trap as …gxh1(Q) 7.Qxf7+ Kd8 8.Qxf8 mate. But the spoils of war can turn on a turn and so it does here with the very nice shot …gxh1(N)+!! A cute way of saying Q-promotion is not always best!
4. … Bc5
I don’t like this move and a player of Anderseen’s strength makes me wonder why he would play it instead a more adventureous counterattack directly in the center with …d5!? Now, white proceeds to achieve a tempo gain and establish a strong pawn center which is a main goal of King Gambit lines. Was it to say to Harrwitz, “I can play a move known to be bad and create a worry for you that I have found an improvement for the defense.” Or, could he simply be hoping for a blunder like 5.Nf3 Qxf2 mate?
5.d4 Bb6 6.Nf3 Qe7 7.Nc3
After 7.Bxf4 Qxe4 8.Bxf7+! (see my article on the f7 square inherent weakness.) ..Kf8 9.Bg3 Nh6 10.Nc3 gaining a square count advantage.
7. … Nf6 8.e5 !? Nh5 9.Nd5
The logical followup to 8.e5. Now the question is where does the Queenie go? She is in a tight box that hinders her power.
9. … Qd8 10.g4
Exciting chess! Harrwitz starts action that disables Black from hoping to castle.
10. … fxg3 11.Bg5
Again square count and noting Capablanca’s “combining development” theory expressed in his book CHESS FUNDAMENTALS. Note how the idea of SqCt aids the player to find good moves.
11. … f6 12.exf6 gxf6 13.Ne5 O-O 14.Qxh5!!
Harrwitz is interested only in crushing Anderseen’s sheepish play. And his stubborness in pursuing this makes this example of the KG Accepted variation in that era truly spirited.
14. …fxg5+ 15.Nxf6+ Kg7
Suddenly Black finds the monarch almost without clothes. Harrwitz shuts the door on the King’s mobility.
Never resign while there is a hope of salvation through the infamous “blunder” escape. Now, 17.Qg6+ would be met by 17…Ke7+.
Daniel Harrwitz was a European master, just one of whom Staunton referred in his letter inviting Morphy to visit Europe where he would meet the chess elite of the day. Excellent books of Morphy’s chess adventure to Europe have always been in fashion and are popular even today. Frances Scott Keyes wrote a fictional book THE CHESSPLAYERS that gives life to a period of chess heroics and captures the spirit of the times in Morphy’s life. She bought the Morphy estate where he lived until his death and was an excellent author.
One of my correspondents asked me how I viewed the likes of the Morphy era with that of today in terms of chess quality. I think it is like trying to compare oranges and apples or pecans and walnuts. The availability of, let alone the rarity of such published literature, and the travel requirements so vastly different as well as playing conditions (see my articles on the Staunton-St. Amant match) is difficult as a judgment call. For example, the whole of the Russian crowd or former USSR players had access to coaching, sharing analysis, playing regularly in top competive contests that kept and sharpened their game and or added much to theory. Bobby Fischer on the other hand rose to the top through many tournaments in the United States and rapidly improved his game by sheer desire to achieve his dream of someday returning the world crown to America. He basically achieved this through literature from the Soviets as well as competitions in the leading tournaments in the USA and participation in foreign events where he had the opportunity to test his skill among the best in the world. No matter what people think about Fischer, he did it alone, his way, and with a spirit that accepted rarely nothing but victory and pressure applied to his opponents. As he once said, “I like to see’m squirm!”
Today many top notch players exist and the elite continues to grow. Talent abounds. In the era of Staunton, Morphy, Harrwitz and Anderseen, the styles were strictly fighting chess where gambits and sparkling attacks ruled the day. One reason for this was the fact that many of these games were played with onlookers watching and games that ended in sharp attacks or brilliant moves saw coins tossed on the board as reward for such brilliance. Perhaps the fact that so many gambits ruled the spirit of combatants in those days was for that very reason. Whereas playing conditions today more or less limit onlookers close to the boards and players, years ago onlookers often surrounded the table of favorite players. The time clock changed the conditions as well over the years.
Truth be told, Paul Morphy was perhaps the most gifted player in the world. Had he lived in modern times of the Fischer “boom” and having access to all the modern weaponry available to achieve tournament preparation, he would be on par with Fischer, Spassky, Karpov, Kramnik and Kasparov. That most likely would also be true of his own peers.