It’s very odd when you hear sorrow and pride in the same sentence. But when it came to discussing Paul Morphy, it is very justified. Paul Morphy is the first star of the chess world. He was very talented in the rapid build-up. He was the greatest chess player of his era with an unofficially second chess world champion’s crown on his head. Well, this is the part of ‘Pride’. He retired too early in his young age and his chess career was disrupted by the American Civil War in 1861. Let’s see his journey.
Paul Morphy was born on June 22, 1837, and he was an American chess player considered to have been the greatest chess master of his era and an unofficial world chess champion. He was the chess prodigy. Morphy was born in New Orleans Louisiana to a wealthy and distinguished family. He learned to play chess by simply watching games between his father and uncle. His family soon recognized the boy's talent and encouraged him to play at family gatherings and by the age of nine, he was one of the best players in New Orleans.
At just 12 years of age, Morphy defeated the visiting Hungarian master Johann Löwenthal's in a match of three games. Morphy’s family invited Löwenthal to their home to play a match with young Paul Morphy. In the First game, Morphy has shown a wonderful game against Löwenthal’s modern Petrov Defence. Morphy sacrificed two pieces for a Rook and was shown the best Rook-Pawn endgame and won the game in 55 moves. Löwenthal was surprised by the 12-year-old Morphy’s moves. Morphy has again shown his skills and techniques against Löwenthal’s Sicilian Defence and immortal Dark Square Bishop. The third game’s records weren’t saved but this match was enough to know Morphy was a Chess Prodigy.
The inaugural Chess Congress was held in New York when Morphy was only 19 years old. At the time it was the strongest chess tournament in American history. The inaugural chess congress tournament took place on Broadway in New York City. Among those competing was the American chess champion Charles Henry Stanley, New York state champion Samuel Calthorpe, New York chess club champion Napoleon Marache and the German chess master Louis Paulsen.
Morphy successfully moved through the first three rounds achieving a combined score of nine wins, no losses, and one draw. In those wins, the first game against master James Thompson was ended in just fifteen minutes. He defeated Alexander Meek in the second round. The semi-final was quite a show for chess fans. Theodore Lichetenhcin was the first player who made Morphy draw a game. The final round of the tournament was played between Morphy and Paulsen. Despite playing well in the first game Morphy suffered in the next two games. One of those final games lasted hours reportedly because Paulsen moved so slowly. Morphy’s unbeaten tag got vanished in the third game. By accepting the first defeat of his career, Morphy dominated Paulsen winning five games, and achieving a draw for the two games.
Morphy travelled to London in 1858 intending to play Staunton. Howard Staunton was one of the Brilliant Chess players in Europe. Staunton agreed to the match and published the terms in the London Illustrated news. Morphy stayed at Staunton’s house. Staunton invited two of his friends who were legendary chess masters, Samuel Boden, and Mra Barnes. If you are a chess player you might be familiar with Boden’s mate, which was assembled by Samuel Boden with two bishops where one bishop slicing the one way and the other delivers checkmate. So, people had expectations from Samuel Boden to have the upper hand against Morphy; but the real challenge was given by MrMr Barnes. He was too aggressive player and he was the one who gave a real challenge to Morphy in Morphy’s entire chess career. Despite suffering against Mr. Barnes, he managed to defeat him and he demolished Samuel Boden.
At Queens College in Birmingham England, Morphy played eight chess masters at the same time. They were led by Lord Littleton, President of the British Chess Association. Morphy won six games, lost only once, and tied another. The achievement understandably shocked the British chess world. After that Morphy sailed to France. While there he gave an eight boards blind simultaneous exhibition against members of the chess venue Café de la Régence, sitting alone for ten hours. He scored six wins, no losses, and two draws. He eventually won a repeatedly delayed match against the Café de la Régence champion Daniel Harrwitz. Morphy was a guest of Paris and accepted an invitation from the King and Queen of France, Emperor Napoleon the third, and Empress Eugenie. In Paris, Morphy suffered from a bout of gastroenteritis. Under 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. At that time Morphy was still aged 21. 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. Morphy was already considered the strongest player in the world and Staunton was accused of being a coward.
Morphy played with the utmost honour, he never dodged a game, not even when sick, and never made any excuses. He was also known for his ability to adapt. He always treated his opponents with proper respect regardless of their disposition towards him. Morphy played anyone under any conditions. In matches, he accepted every term or demand from his opponents and made no demands in return, except one universal request, that the match is played for honour rather than stakes, a request to which only Anderssen agreed. Even playing blindfold against multiple opponents, Morphy always tried to obtain the strongest opponents. He seems to have more to prove to himself than to the rest of the world.
In Europe, Morphy was generally hailed as a world chess champion. In Paris, at a banquet held in his honour on April 4, 1859, a laurel wreath was placed over the head of a bust of Morphy, carved by the sculptor Eugène-Louis Lequesne. Morphy was declared by the assembly "The best chess player that ever lived." At a similar gathering in London, where he returned in the spring of 1859, Morphy was again proclaimed "Champion of the World” in the presence of Queen Victoria.
After returning home in late 1859, Morphy retired from an active chess competition. He joined Law office to work but was unable to successfully build a law practice. Despite his retirement from chess in 1859, Morphy was still generally considered world champion until Steinitz was awarded that honour after his victory at the 1873 Vienna Chess Tournament.
Morphy lapsed into a state of delusion and paranoia, he believed that he was being persecuted by his brother-in-law. His best friend Charles Maurian noted in many letters that Morphy was “Deranged” and “Not right mentally”. In 1882, his mother, brother, and a friend tried to admit him to a Catholic Sanatorium, but Morphy was so well able to argue for his rights and sanity that they sent him away.
On the afternoon of July 10, 1884, Morphy was found dead in his bathtub in New Orleans at the age of 47. According to the autopsy, Morphy had suffered a stroke brought on by entering cold water after a long walk in the midday heat.
It's pointless to argue who was the greatest chess player of all time. In Morphy's case, it's sufficient to say that during his brief chess career he attempted to meet the greatest players available, and those he did meet; he beat on their own terms without so much as a close match. Morphy's legacy to the game of chess was extraordinary. Chess master Adolf Anderssen said, “I consider Mr Morphy the finest chess player who ever existed.” Emanuel Lasker is quoted as saying no one ever was so far superior to the players of his time. The first United States Champion Charles Henry Stanley named his daughter ‘Pauline’ in honour of Paul Morphy. And the great chess champion Bobby Fischer is reported to have said the following of Morphy perhaps the most accurate chess player who ever lived. The sorrow of chess history will always be that Paul Morphy ended his career so early despite having one of the greatest chess minds of all time.
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