Paul Morphy: Wikis


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Paul Morphy
Full name Paul Charles Morphy
Country  United States
Born June 22, 1837(1837-06-22)
New Orleans, United States
Died July 10, 1884 (aged 47)
New Orleans, United States
World Champion 1858–1862 (Unofficial)

Paul Charles Morphy (June 22, 1837 – July 10, 1884), "The Pride and Sorrow of Chess," was an American chess player. He is considered to have been the greatest chess master of his era and an unofficial World Chess Champion.[1] He was also one of the first chess prodigies in the modern rules of chess era.



Early life

Morphy was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to a wealthy and distinguished family. His father, Alonzo Michael Morphy, a lawyer, served as a Louisiana state legislator, attorney general, and Supreme Court Justice. Alonzo was of Portuguese, Irish, and Spanish ancestry. Morphy's mother, Louise Thérèse Félicité Thelcide Le Carpentier, was the musically-talented daughter of a prominent French Creole family. Morphy grew up in an atmosphere of genteel civility and culture where chess and music were the typical highlights of a Sunday home gathering.

According to his uncle, Ernest Morphy, no one formally taught Morphy how to play chess; rather, Morphy learned on his own as a young child simply from watching others play. After watching a lengthy game between Ernest and Alonzo, young Paul surprised them by stating that Ernest should have won. His father and uncle had not realized that Paul even knew the moves, let alone any chess strategy. They were even more surprised when Paul proved his claim by resetting the pieces and demonstrating the win his uncle had missed.

Childhood victories

After that incident Morphy's family recognized him as a precocious talent and encouraged him to play at family gatherings and local chess milieus. By the age of nine, he was considered one of the best players in New Orleans. In 1846, General Winfield Scott visited the city, and let his hosts know that he desired an evening of chess with a strong local player. Chess was an infrequent pastime of Scott's, but he enjoyed the game and considered himself a formidable player. After dinner, the chess pieces were set up and Scott's opponent was brought in: diminutive, nine-year-old Morphy. Scott was at first offended, thinking he was being made fun of, but he consented to play after being assured that his wishes had been scrupulously obeyed and that the boy was a "chess prodigy" who would tax his skill. Morphy beat him easily not once, but twice, the second time announcing a forced checkmate after only six moves. As two losses against a small boy was all General Scott's ego could stand, he declined further games and retired for the night, never to play Morphy again.

In 1850, when Morphy was twelve, the strong professional Hungarian chess master Johann Löwenthal visited New Orleans. Löwenthal, who had often played and defeated talented youngsters, considered the informal match a waste of time but accepted the offer as a courtesy to the well-to-do judge. When Löwenthal met Morphy, he patted him on the head in a patronizing manner.

By about the twelfth move in the first game, Löwenthal realized he was up against something formidable. Each time Morphy made a good move, Löwenthal's eyebrows shot up in a manner described by Ernest Morphy as "comique". Löwenthal played three games with Morphy during his New Orleans stay, losing all three.[2]

Schooling and the First American Chess Congress

After 1850, Morphy did not play much chess for a long time. Studying diligently, he graduated from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, in 1854. He then stayed on an extra year, studying mathematics and philosophy. He was awarded an A.M. degree with the highest honors in May 1855.

He next was accepted to the University of Louisiana (now Tulane University) to study law. He received an L.L.B. degree on April 7, 1857, in preparation for which he is said to have memorized the complete Louisiana book of codes and laws.[3]

Not yet of legal age to begin the practice of law, Morphy found himself with free time. He received an invitation to participate in the First American Chess Congress, to be held in New York in the fall of 1857. At first he declined, but at the urging of his uncle he eventually decided to play. He defeated each of his rivals, including the strong German master Louis Paulsen in the final round. Morphy was hailed as the chess champion of the United States, but he appeared unaffected by his sudden fame. According to the December 1857 issue of Chess Monthly, "his genial disposition, his unaffected modesty and gentlemanly courtesy have endeared him to all his acquaintances."


Morphy vs. Löwenthal, 1858

Soon after returning to New Orleans he was invited to attend an international chess tournament to be held in Birmingham, England in the summer of 1858. Still too young to start his law career, he accepted the challenge and traveled to England. Instead of playing in the tournament, however, he ended up playing and easily winning a series of chess matches against all the leading English masters except the veteran Howard Staunton, who was well past his prime, and who initially promised a match but eventually declined after witnessing Morphy's play.[4]

Staunton was later criticised for avoiding a match with Morphy. Staunton is known to have been working on his edition of the complete works of Shakespeare at the time, but he also competed in a chess tournament during Morphy's visit. Staunton later blamed Morphy for the failure to have a match, suggesting among other things that Morphy lacked the funds required for match stakes—a most unlikely charge given Morphy's popularity.

Seeking new opponents, Morphy crossed the English Channel to France. At the Café de la Régence in Paris, the center of chess in France, he played a match against Daniel Harrwitz, the resident chess professional, soundly defeating him.

In Paris, Morphy suffered from a bout of intestinal influenza. In accordance with the medical wisdom of the time, he was treated with leeches, resulting in his losing a significant amount of blood. Although too weak to stand up unaided, Morphy insisted on going ahead with a match against the visiting German master Adolf Anderssen, considered by many to be Europe's leading player. Despite his illness Morphy triumphed easily, winning seven while losing two, with two draws. When asked about his defeat, Anderssen claimed to be out of practice, but also admitted that Morphy was in any event the stronger player and that he was fairly beaten. Anderssen also attested that in his opinion, Morphy was the strongest player ever to play the game, even stronger than the famous French champion La Bourdonnais.

Both in England and France, Morphy gave numerous simultaneous exhibitions, including displays of blindfold chess in which he regularly played and defeated eight opponents at a time. Morphy played a well-known casual game against the Duke of Brunswick and Count Isouard at the Italian Opera House in Paris.

World Champion

Still only twenty-one, Morphy was now quite famous. While in Paris, he was sitting in his hotel room one evening, chatting with his companion Frederick Edge, when they had an unexpected visitor. "I am Prince Galitzine; I wish to see Mr. Morphy," the visitor said, according to Edge. Morphy identified himself to the visitor. "No, it is not possible!" the prince exclaimed, "You are too young!" Prince Galitzine then explained that he was in the frontiers of Siberia when he had first heard of Morphy's "wonderful deeds." He explained, "One of my suite had a copy of the chess paper published in Berlin, the Schachzeitung, and ever since that time I have been wanting to see you." He then told Morphy that he must go to Saint Petersburg, Russia, because the chess club in the Imperial Palace would receive him with enthusiasm.

In Europe Morphy was generally hailed as world chess champion. In Paris, at a banquet held in his honor on April 4, 1859, a laurel wreath was placed over the head of a bust of Morphy, carved by the sculptor Eugene Lequesne. At a similar gathering in London, where he returned in the spring of 1859, Morphy was again proclaimed "the Champion of the World". He was also invited to a private audience with Queen Victoria. So dominant was Morphy that even masters could not seriously challenge him in play without some kind of handicap. At a simultaneous match against five masters (Jules Arnous de Rivière, Samuel Boden, Thomas Barnes, Johann Löwenthal, and Henry Bird), Morphy won two games, drew two games, and lost one.

Upon his return to America, the accolades continued as Morphy toured the major cities on his way home. At the University of the City of New York, on May 29, 1859, John Van Buren, son of President Martin Van Buren, ended a testimonial presentation by proclaiming, "Paul Morphy, Chess Champion of the World". In Boston, at a banquet attended by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Louis Agassiz, Boston mayor Frederic W. Lincoln, Jr., Harvard president James Walker, and other luminaries, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes toasted "Paul Morphy, the World Chess Champion". In short, Morphy was a celebrity. Manufacturers sought his endorsements, newspapers asked him to write chess columns, and a baseball club was named after him.

Abandonment of chess

Having vanquished virtually all serious opposition, Morphy reportedly declared that he would play no more matches without giving odds of pawn and move.[5] After returning home he declared himself retired from the game and, with a few exceptions, gave up public competition for good. Unfortunately, Morphy's embryonic law career was disrupted in 1861 by the outbreak of the American Civil War. Opposed to secession, Morphy did not serve in the Confederate Army. During the war he lived partly in New Orleans and partly abroad, spending time in Paris and Havana, Cuba.

Possibly because of his antiwar stance, Morphy was unable to successfully build a law practice even after the war ended. His attempts to open a law office failed; when he had visitors, they invariably wanted to talk about chess, not their legal affairs. Financially secure thanks to his family fortune, Morphy essentially spent the rest of his life in idleness. Asked by admirers to return to chess competition, he refused.

In accord with the prevailing sentiment of the time, Morphy esteemed chess only as an amateur activity, considering the game unworthy of pursuit as a serious occupation. Chess professionals were viewed in the same light as professional gamblers. It was not until decades later that the age of the professional chess player arrived.[6]

Tragedy and twilight

Morphy's gravestone just outside the French Quarter, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA.
Morphy's crypt in Saint Louis Cemetery #1

On the afternoon of July 10, 1884, Morphy was found dead in his bathtub at the age of forty-seven. According to the autopsy, Morphy had suffered a stroke brought on by entering cold water after a long walk in the midday heat. The Morphy mansion, sold by the family in 1891, is today the site of Brennan's, a famous New Orleans restaurant.

Playing style

Today many amateurs think of Morphy as a dazzling combinative player, who excelled in sacrificing his queen and checkmating his opponent a few brilliant moves later. One reason for this impression is that chess books like to reprint his flashy games. There are games where he did do this, but it was not the basis of his chess style. In fact, the masters of his day considered his style to be on the conservative side compared to some of the flashy older masters like La Bourdonnais and Anderssen.

Morphy can be considered the first modern player. Some of his games do not look modern because he did not need the sort of slow positional systems that modern grandmasters use, or that Staunton, Paulsen, and later Steinitz developed. His opponents had not yet mastered the open game, so he played it against them and he preferred open positions because they brought quick success. He played open games almost to perfection, but he also could handle any sort of position, having a complete grasp of chess that was years ahead of his time. Morphy was a player who intuitively knew what was best, and in this regard he has been likened to Capablanca. He was, like Capablanca, a child prodigy; he played fast and he was hard to beat. Löwenthal and Anderssen both later remarked that he was indeed hard to beat since he knew how to defend and would draw or even win games despite getting into bad positions. At the same time, he was deadly when given a promising position. Anderssen especially commented on this, saying that after one bad move against Morphy one may as well resign. "I win my games in seventy moves but Mr. Morphy wins his in twenty, but that is only natural..." Anderssen said, explaining his poor results against Morphy.

Of Morphy's 59 "serious" games — those played in matches and the 1857 New York tournament — he won 42, drew 9, and lost 8.[7]

While Bobby Fischer considered Morphy to be the greatest player of all time,[8] some commentators disagree.[9][10]

"Morphy and Capablanca had enormous talent," – Bobby Fischer, Icelandic Radio Interview, 2006.[11]

Notable games

Chess zhor 26.png
Chess zver 26.png a8 rd b8 nd c8 bd d8 qd e8 kd f8 bd g8 h8 rd Chess zver 26.png
a7 pd b7 pd c7 pd d7 pd e7 f7 pd g7 h7 pd
a6 b6 c6 d6 e6 f6 g6 h6
a5 b5 c5 d5 e5 f5 g5 h5
a4 b4 c4 d4 e4 f4 pd g4 nl h4 pl
a3 b3 c3 d3 pl e3 f3 g3 nd h3
a2 pl b2 pl c2 pl d2 e2 f2 g2 pl h2
a1 rl b1 nl c1 bl d1 ql e1 kl f1 bl g1 h1 rl
Chess zhor 26.png
Position from Morphy-Anderssen, 1858 after 7...Ng3. White now sacrificed his Rook by 8.Bxf4.

See also


  1. ^ According to David Lawson, in Paul Morphy, The Pride and Sorrow of Chess, Mckay, 1976. Lawson says that Morphy was the first world champion to be so acclaimed at the time he was playing. Most chess historians, however, place the first official world chess championship in 1886, and so regard Morphy as having been the unofficial world champion when he soundly defeated Adolf Anderssen by 8 to 3. Morphy is considered the world's leading player between 1858 and 1861.
  2. ^ One of the games was incorrectly given as a draw in Sergeant's Morphy's Games of Chess and was subsequently copied by sources since then. David Lawson's biography corrects this error, providing the moves that were actually played.
  3. ^ Paul Morphy (1837 - 1884) - Find A Grave Memorial
  4. ^ According to Macon Shibut in Paul Morphy and the Evolution of Chess Theory, Staunton did play two consultation games against Morphy, losing both. Shibut also reports that in private letters Staunton conceded that the younger man was the stronger player.
  5. ^ In a match between two evenly matched Masters, a pawn advantage is considered a winning advantage.
  6. ^ Even as their reputation improved, however, chess professionals found it extremely difficult (as they do today) to support themselves by chess alone.
  7. ^
  8. ^ Jeremy Silman's Chess Page has comments from Fischer on Morphy.
  9. ^ "[Morphy's] glorifiers went on to urge that he was the most brilliant genius who had ever appeared. ... But if we examine Morphy's record and games critically, we cannot justify such extravaganza. And we are compelled to speak of it as the Morphy myth. ... Even if the myth has been destroyed, Morphy remains one of the giants of chess history." - Reuben Fine; see reading list.
  10. ^ "Discussions of who was the greatest ever player are always fun, but naturally will often collapse into partisan declarations of faith or endless gnawing at historical bones of diverse provenance." - Raymond Keene; World Chess Championship: Kramnik vs. Leko (page 73); Hardinge Simpole Publishing; 2004. ISBN 1-84382-160-5. Algebraic notation.
  11. ^ - Chess News - Speaking about Fischer


  • Paul Morphy, The Pride and Sorrow of Chess by David Lawson, 424 pages; Mckay,1976 - This is the only book-length biography of Paul Morphy in English. It is out of print, but corrects numerous historical mistakes that have cropped up about Paul Morphy, including the one about Morphy's score as a child versus Löwenthal.
  • Frederick Milne Edge: Paul Morphy, the Chess Champion. An Account of His Career in America and Europe. New York 1859- Edge was a newspaperman who attached himself to Morphy during his stay in England and France, accompanying Morphy everywhere, and even acting at times as his unofficial butler and servant. Thanks to Edge, much is known about Morphy that would be unknown otherwise, and many games Morphy played were recorded only thanks to Edge. Contains information about the First American Chess Congress, and the history of English chess clubs in and before Morphy's time.

Further reading

  • Paul Morphy and the Evolution of Chess Theory by Macon Shibut, Caissa Editions 1993 ISBN 0-939433-16-8. Over 415 games comprising almost all known Morphy games. Chapters on Morphy's place in the development of chess theory, and reprinted articles about Morphy by Steinitz, Alekhine, and others.
  • The Chess Genius of Paul Morphy by Max Lange (translated from the original German into English by Ernst Falkbeer), 1860. Reprinted by Moravian Chess under the title, "Paul Morphy, a Sketch from the Chess World." An excellent resource for the European view of Morphy as well as for its biographical information. The English edition was reviewed in Chess Player's Chronicle, 1859.
  • Grandmasters of Chess by Harold Schonberg, Lippincott, 1973. ISBN 0-397-01004-4.
  • World Chess Champions by Edward Winter, editor, 1981. ISBN 0-08-024094-1. Leading chess historians include Morphy as a de facto world champion, although he never claimed the title.
  • Morphy's Games of Chess by Philip W. Sergeant & Fred Reinfeld, Dover, 1989. ISBN 0-486-20386-7. Features annotations collected from previous commentators, as well as additions by Sergeant. Has all of Morphy's match, tournament, and exhibition games, and most of his casual and odds games. Short biography included.
  • Morphy Gleanings by Philip W. Sergeant, David McKay, 1932. Contributes games not found in Sergeant's earlier work, "Morphy's Games of Chess" and features greater biographical information as well as documentation into the Morphy-Paulsen and the Morphy-Kolisch affairs. Later reprinted as "The Unknown Morphy", Dover, 1973. ISBN 0-486-22952-1.
  • The World's Great Chess Games by Reuben Fine, Dover, 1983. ISBN 0-486-24512-8.
  • A First Book of Morphy by Frisco Del Rosario, Trafford, 2004. ISBN 1-4120-3906-1. Illustrates the teachings of Cecil Purdy and Reuben Fine with 65 annotated games played by the American champion. Algebraic notation.
  • Paul Morphy: A Modern Perspective by Valeri Beim, Russell Enterprises, Inc., 2005. ISBN 1-888690-26-7. Algebraic notation.
  • Life of Paul Morphy in the Vieux Carré of New-Orleans and Abroad by Regina Morphy-Voitier, 1926. Regina Morphy-Voitier, the niece of Paul Morphy, self-published this pamphlet in New York. Its value lies in its insight into Paul Morphy's life in the Vieux Carré.
  • The Chess Players by Frances Parkinson Keyes, Farrar, Straus and Cudahy; 1960. A work of historical fiction in which Morphy is the central character.
  • " Paul Morphy A Historical Character". Chess Player's Chronicle Third Series: 40. 1860.  
  • Paul Morphy: The Pride and Sorrow of Chess by David Lawson, David McKay, 1976. ISBN 978-0679130444.
  • The Genius of Paul Morphy by Chris Ward, Cadogan Books, 1997. ISBN 978-1857441376.
  • The Pride and the Sorrow by Matt Fullerty, 2008. A biographical novelization of Morphy's life.

External links

Preceded by
Charles Stanley
United States Chess Champion
Succeeded by
George H. Mackenzie


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Paul Charles Morphy (June 22, 1837 – July 10, 1884), "The Pride and Sorrow of Chess", is considered to have been the greatest chess master of his time, an unofficial World Champion and, is considered by many, including some grandmasters (see below) the greatest chessplayer who has ever lived.



  • "Chess is eminently and emphatically the philosopher's game." (The exact quote is "It is eminently and emphatically the philosopher's game," with 'Chess' as the antecedent of 'It'.)
  • "I am more strongly confirmed than ever in the belief that the time devoted to chess is literally frittered away."


  • "Help your pieces so they can help you."
  • "Checkers is for tramps."


  • "I consider Mr. Morphy the finest chess player who ever existed. He is far superior to any now living, and would doubtless have beaten Labourdonnais himself. In all his games with me, he has not only played, in every instance, the exact move, but the most exact. He never makes a mistake; but, if his adversary commits the slightest error, he is lost." ~ Adolf Anderssen, quoted by Frederick Edge in 1859
  • "Morphy will not let me." ~ former unofficial world champion Adolf Anderssen, when asked why he did not play as brilliantly as usual against Paul Morphy
  • "...Morphy was stronger than anyone he played with, including Anderssen" ~ Wilhelm Steinitz, International Chess Magazine 1885.
  • "In Paul Morphy the spirit of La Bourdonnais had arisen anew, only more vigorous, firmer, prouder... Morphy discovered that the brilliant move of the master is essentially conditional not on a sudden and inexplicable realisation, but on the placing of the pieces on the board. He introduced the rule: brilliant moves and deep winning manoeuvres are possible only in those positions where the opponent can be opposed with an abundance of active energy... From the very first moves Morphy aimed to disclose the internal energy located in his pieces. It was suddenly revealed that they possess far greater dynamism than the opponent's forces." ~ Emanuel Lasker
  • "Morphy's principal strength does not rest upon his power of combination but in his position play and his general style....Beginning with la Bourdonnais to the present, and including Lasker, we find that the greatest stylist has been Morphy. Whence the reason, although it might not be the only one, why he is generally considered the greatest of all." ~ José Raúl Capablanca, in Pablo Morphy by V. F. Coria and L. Palau.
  • "Reviewing the history of chess from La Bourdonnais to the masters of our day right up to Lasker, we discover that the greatest stylist was Morphy. He did not look for complicated combinations, but he also did not avoid them, which really is the correct way of playing... His main strength lay not in his combinative gift, but in his positional play and general style. Morphy gained most of his wins by playing directly and simply, and it is this simple and logical method that constitutes the true brilliance of his play, if it is considered from the viewpoint of the great masters." ~ José Raúl Capablanca
  • "[I play in] the style of Morphy, they say, and if it is true that the goddess of fortune has endowed me with his talent, the result [of the match with Emanuel Lasker] will not be in doubt. The magnificent American master had the most extraordinary brain that anybody has ever had for chess. Technique, strategy, tactics, knowledge which is inconceivable for us; all that was possessed by Morphy fifty-four years ago." ~ José Raúl Capablanca
  • "How much more vivid, more rich does the figure of Morphy appear before us, how much clearer does the secret of his success and charm become, if we transfer ourselves in our thoughts to that era when he lived and created, if we take the trouble to study, only a little, his contemporaries! London and in particular in Paris, where the traditions of Philidor were still alive, where the immortal creations of La Bourdonnais and McDonnell were still in the memory, at that time, finally, when Anderssen was alive, and with brilliance alone it was hardly possible to surprise anyone. The strength, the invincible strength of Morphy- this was the reason for his success and the guarantee of his immortality!" ~ Alexander Alekhine
  • "...Morphy, the master of all phases of the game, stronger than any of his opponents, even the strongest of them..." ~ Alexander Alekhine, in Shakmatny Vestnik, January 15, 1914
  • "If the distinguishing feature of a genius is that he is far ahead compared with his epoch, then Morphy was a chess genius in the complete sense of the word." ~ Max Euwe
  • "To this day Morphy is an unsurpassed master of the open games. Just how great was his significance is evident from the fact that after Morphy nothing substantially new has been created in this field. Every player- from beginner to master- should in this praxis return again and again to the games of the American genius." ~ Mikhail Botvinnik
  • "There is no doubt that for Morphy chess was an art, and for chess Morphy was a great artist. His play was captivated by freshness of thought and inexhaustible energy. He played with inspiration, without striving to penetrate into the psychology of the opponent; he played, if one can express it so, "pure chess". His harmonious positional understanding; the pure intuition, would have made Morphy a highly dangerous opponent even for any player of our times." ~ Vassily Smyslov
  • "A popularly held theory about Paul Morphy is that if he returned to the chess world today and played our best contemporary players, he would come out the loser. Nothing is further from the truth. In a set match, Morphy would beat anybody alive today... Morphy was perhaps the most accurate chess player who ever lived. He had complete sight of the board and never blundered, in spite of the fact that he played quite rapidly, rarely taking more than five minutes to decide a move. Perhaps his only weakness was in closed games like the Dutch Defense. But even then, he was usually victorious because of his resourcefulness." ~ Bobby Fischer
  • "Morphy, I think everyone agrees, was probably the greatest genius of them all." ~ Bobby Fischer, 1992
  • "We also remember the brilliant flight of the American super-genius Paul Morphy, who in a couple of years (1857-59) conquered both the New and the Old Worlds. He revealed a thunderous blend of pragmatism, aggression and accurate calculation to the world -- qualities that enabled America to accomplish a powerful spurt in the second half of the 19th century." ~ Garry Kasparov (2003). On My Great Predecessors. Gloucester Publishers plc. Vol. 1, p. 6. ISBN 1857443306.
  • "What was the secret of Morphy's invincibility? I think it was a combination of a unique natural talent and brilliant erudition. His play was the next, more mature stage in the development of chess. Morphy had a well-developed 'feeling for position', and therefore he can be confidently regarded as the 'first swallow' - the prototype of the strong 20th century grandmaster." ~ Garry Kasparov (2003). On My Great Predecessors. Gloucester Publishers plc. Vol. 1, p. 43. ISBN 1857443306.
  • "[Paul Morphy] just appeared from nowhere and it was only thirty or forty years later that people understood why he was so dominant. His understanding of chess at [that] point was at least forty years ahead of the rest of the world. For the era in which he lived the kind of chess he played was unbelievable." ~ Current World Chess Champion Viswanathan Anand, Interview with Shobha Warrier on his ten favorite chess players
  • "Morphy was the first positional player who, unlike his Romantic rivals, understood the strategic basis for attack. He wrote nothing more than a few game notes and played fewer than seventy-five serious games. But his exploitation of open lines prepared the way for Steinitz's scientific treatment of closed positions and the era of modern chess." ~ Richard Réti
  • "After the passage of a century, Morphy still remains the most glamorous figure that has ever appeared in the chess world." ~ Edward Lasker (in The Adventure of Chess, 2nd Edition, New York, 1959)
  • "Genius is a starry word; but if there ever was a chess player to whom that attribute applied, it was Paul Morphy." ~ Andrew Soltis (in Golombek's Encyclopedia of Chess, New York, 1977)
  • "It has been truly said that Morphy was at once the Caesar and the Napoleon of chess. He revolutionized chess. He brought life and dash and beauty into the game at a time when an age of dullness was about to set in and he did this at a stroke. Then he quit forever. Only two years from the beginning to the end. The negotiations for some modern matches have taken that long!" ~ J. A. Galbreath (American Chess Bulletin, October, 1909)
  • "La Bourdonnais [a great player, b. 1795 - d. 1840] died young in London, and the goddess of Chess, Caissa, very much grieved, mourned for him and forgot to inspire the masters with her sunny look. A dreary time then came over the Chess world. The masters played a dry style, without enthusiasm, without imagination, without force, and the Chess fraternity was full of the wrangles of the mediocrities. It is true, the goddess soon repaired her omission. She flirted – Goddess! pardon me this vulgar expression, but the coarse human language does not know the shades of meaning such as undoubtedly you would be able to express by means of Chess pieces – she flirted, I beg to say, with the English historian [and renowned authority on Shakespeare, whose name has been given to the style of Chess pieces we now use] Staunton and prevailed upon him to organize in 1851 an international chess tournament in London, during the great International Exposition of that year. And then – fickle Goddess – she gave her love to a young mathematician, the German Anderssen, and inspired him to superb combinations. And then -- oh the weakness of her – she spied with her great sunny eye in far distant Louisiana a boy, highly talented; she forgot all about Anderssen, guided the steps of the young American, fell in love with him, introduced him to the world and said triumphantly: “Here is the young Paul Morphy, stronger and greater than master ever was.” And the world listened and applauded and cried “Hurrah for Paul Morphy, the King of Chess!”

    In Paul Morphy the spirit of La Bourdonnais had arisen anew, only more vigorous, firmer, prouder. He never formed columns of Pawns for the purpose of assaulting a firm position as Philidor had taught, he always fought in the centre, only a few Pawns in front, and if he needed the lines open, he sacrificed even these few advanced posts. Should the adversary make use of Philidor’s maxims, Morphy’s pieces occupied the gaps in the oncoming mass of Pawns and opened up an attack, so as to leave the enemy no time for slow, methodical maneuvering. Paul Morphy fought; on good days and on bad days, he loved the contest, the hard, sharp, just struggle, which despises petted favourites and breeds heroes.

    But then the Civil War broke out in the United States and broke the heart and mind of Morphy.

    ...When Paul Morphy, despairing of Life, renounced Chess, Caissa fell into deep mourning and into dreary thoughts. To the masters who had come to ask her for a smile she listened absent-mindedly, as a mother would to her children after her favourite had died. Therefore, the games of the masters of that period are planless; the great models of the past are known, and the masters try to follow them and to equal them, but they do not succeed. The masters give themselves over to reflection. One of them reflects a long time and intensely on Paul Morphy, and gratefully Caissa encourages him; and the greatest landmark in the history of Chess is reached: William Steinitz announces the principles of strategy, the result of inspired thought and imagination...

    ...Principles, though dwelling in the realm of thought, are rooted in Life. There are so many thoughts which have no roots and these are more glittering and more seducive [sic] than the sound ones. Therefore, in order to distinguish between the true and the false principles, Steinitz had to dig deep to lay bare the roots of the art possessed by Morphy. And when Steinitz after hard work had bared these roots, he said to the world: Here is the idea of Chess which has given vitality to the game since its invention in the centuries long past. Listen to me and do not judge rashly, for it is something great, and it overpowers me...

    ... The world would have benefitted if it had given Steinitz a chance. He was a thinker worthy of a seat in the halls of a University...And I who vanquished him must see to it that his great achievement, his theories should find justice, and I must avenge the wrongs he suffered..." ~ former world chess champion Dr. Emanuel Lasker (1925 (in German), Dover edition (in English): 1960). Lasker's Manual of Chess. Dover Publications, p. 186-7. ISBN 0486206408.

External links

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Paul Morphy
Full name Paul Charles Morphy
June 22, 1837(1837-06-22)
New Orleans, United States
July 10, 1884 (aged 47)
New Orleans, United States
World Champion 1858–1862 (Unofficial)

Paul Morphy (22 June 1837 – 10 July 1884), called "the pride and sorrow of chess",[1] was an American chess master. He was the greatest chess player of his era and an unofficial world champion. This was widely accepted when he defeated Adolf Anderssen, by 7 wins to 2 with 2 draws, in 1858. Morphy was also one of the first great chess prodigies in the modern era.[2]p263

Morphy was a Creole of mixed inheritance. He was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, to a father of Portuguese, Irish,[3] and Spanish ancestry, and a mother who was a French Creole. His father was a lawyer, and his mother was musically talented. Morphy grew up in an atmosphere of culture where chess and music were the typical highlights of a Sunday home gathering.[1]p11


Chess career

[[File:|right|thumb|Morphy]] Morphy taught himself, and by nine he was good by the standards of the local players. At 12 he defeated the Hungarian professional Löwenthal in three casual games. Then he played little chess until he had qualified in law in April 1857. He then entered the first American Chess Congress in New York, and won it decisively. Next, he accepted an invitation to play in a tournament in Birmingham, England. That started his famous European tour. He beat everyone of note in England, though Staunton avoided a match.

In Paris he beat Harrwitz, the house professional, at the Café de la Régence.[1]p128 He then won easily against Anderssen, who was a bit out of practice. One of his feats was to play simultaneously against five masters, winning two, drawing two and losing one. In summary, he proved he was the best at that time. On his return home he toured the East Coast cities, accepting testimonials, banquets and applause. He wrote a chess column for a year in the New York Ledger in 1859–60. For this he was paid $3000, but he was lazy, and the work ended.[2]p263

Chess style

Quick and simple development leading to a direct attack: that was Morphy's method. His openings were first-rate for their time. He brought off some outstanding combinations and sacrifices, and his best games are still a model for young players. His games mark the high point of the romantic movement in chess, where players would play all out for direct attacks. This style was later squashed by better defensive technique, especially for the black side in the openings. Out of this came Dr Tarrasch's classical principles, and the idea that no game can be lost without a mistake being made. The chess of the 1890s came to look quite different from Morphy's games, partly because he had forced players to think more clearly about what they were doing.

The sad end

Morphy soon gave up chess, but his law practice was disrupted by the American Civil War (1861–1865). He was opposed to secession, and did not serve in the Confederate Army. Morphy travelled to Havana and to Paris, where he had a married sister, but refused invitations to play in public. His law practice never took off, and he never worked or played chess again. The last years of his life were marred by mental illness bordering on paranoia.[1]Chapter 24 He suffered from distrust, obsessions and delusions, and showed erratic behaviour.

Morphy died at 47, in his bathtub, perhaps of a stroke. He was the first of several great American players to have a short chess career. Pillsbury died young, reputedly of syphilis, and Bobby Fischer, like Morphy, stopped voluntarily, while still a young man. Fischer showed symptoms of mental illness of a similar kind to Morphy's.[4]p66


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Lawson, David 1976. Paul Morphy: the pride and sorrow of chess. McKay, New York.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Hooper, David and Whyld, Kenneth 1992. The Oxford companion to chess. 2nd ed, Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-866164-9
  3. The family name is a corruption of Murphy.
  4. In Bobby Fischer: the wandering King, authors I.M. Hans Böhm and Kees Jongkind write that Fischer's radio broadcasts show that he was "out of his mind ... a victim of his own mental illness". Böhm, Hans & Jongkind, Kees 2003. Bobby Fischer: the wandering King. Batsford, London. ISBN 0-7134-8935-9

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