|Garry Kasparov (1963-) did play a game of chess against Paul
Morphy (1837-1884). It's true. Without a doubt. How do I know, you ask? I
was there. I saw it. Let us see the game, you say. Well, as a matter of
fact, I have it. I'll show it to you -- the whole thing. Ah, but I am
getting ahead of myself. I must back up to tell you how this all came
about so that, if possible, you just might believe my story.
One late night I went to bed, being particularly tired from a hard day's
work, and I quickly dozed off into what must have been a very deep sleep.
It was at this time that I had a vivid dream -- a dream that I had died
and ascended to Heaven. One rather singular aspect of this dream was that
I was afforded the opportunity to stand before The Almighty. We had a
wonderful conversation. And during the conversation, the subject of chess
came up. God asked me if I would like to return to earth and fulfill any
chess wish that I desired.
Suffice it to say that I asked God if I could please see Garry
Kasparov play chess against Paul Morphy, and He said yes! He told me that
I could return to the universe of space and time, find Garry Kasparov,
and that I could accompany him back in time to meet Morphy in New
Orleans. So, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye...
Oh, wait -- I am under direct orders to not tell you anything about what
Heaven is like, or how to get there, other than to say, "If you want to
know, read your Bible." But that's another story.
This story concerns The Game.
Saturday, May 10th, 1997. Central Park. New York City, New York. United
States of America. Earth. I found myself standing in the south end of
Central Park, near the Park Plaza Hotel. A horse and carriage, carrying
an amorous couple, clip-clopped by. Then I saw Garry Kasparov striding
toward me, head down, walking slowly, hands clasped behind him,
apparently lost in deep thought. Kasparov had the habit of taking long
walks in Central Park during his 1997 match with Deep Blue.
"Excuse me, Mr. Kasparov," I said apologetically, genuinely sorry to
disturb him. He stopped.
"Yes?" he said, his face stern.
"You're going to think I'm crazy, but.... Well, do you believe in
God?" I blurted.
"Of course I do," he shot back.
"Well, uh, Garry, I... God has told me that He's going to allow you to
play chess with Paul Morphy." There was a long silence. "Tonight," I
added. I expected him to wheel about and hurry away.
"God? Me, play Morphy?" His countenance softened. "You know, I
have always wanted to play Morphy.... even... even more than Fischer.
So... how will I play him? You know, I'm playing a match with Deep Blue,
and the last game is tomorrow, and --"
"I know, and I'm sorry about that," I said, "but God chose the date to
send me here. You have to play him tonight, or never."
"Let's do it," said Kasparov, with suppressed excitement showing
through a serious face. "Where do we play?"
"I think this is where we stand with our eyes closed," I said. In the
very next moment, daylight hit our faces, and we were standing on the
corner of Canal and Baronne Streets in New Orleans. The air felt cold,
and the sun shone high in the sky.
"I can't believe this! I can't believe this!" cried Kasparov, as he
looked about. "We are in New Orleans! I am going to play the great
Morphy!" He stood, taking in the sights and sounds of old New Orleans, as
the full import of what he was about to take part in settled over him.
"What year is it?" he suddenly asked. "Just where is Morphy in his chess
career at this point?" A tall man in a long coat and top hat hurried past
"Excuse me, sir," I said. "I -- I have this terrible memory, and --
well, could you please tell me, what is the date?"
"Why, it's December 14th, young man!" he answered.
"But, the year, sir... What is the year?" I implored. The man looked
at me, his head slightly cocked to the side, as if he'd never heard such
a question. He looked at Kasparov, then back to me.
"Young man, it's Eighteen-and-fifty-nine! You'd best get inside before
you catch a cold and forget your own name!" And with that the stranger
hurried off, but not without looking back at us and shaking his head.
"Eighteen-fifty nine!" Kasparov mused. "In 1859 Morphy had returned to
the U.S., having beaten the best players in Europe! He is at the top of
"Come on," I said. "We've got to get moving. We need to find Royal
Street. I know that's where he lives." We walked briskly, crossing
"Should I be white, or black?" muttered Kasparov. "If I'm white,
should I play e4 or d4?" I wanted to make a suggestion as to what opening
he might try, but I thought I'd better not. I didn't want to influence
this great moment in history -- or was it in history? "I think it would
be a great feat to defeat him with black, more than with white." Kasparov
continued his soliloquy uninterruped. "I think I'll take black."
Finally I found the nerve to speak. "What will you do if Morphy plays
e4 on his first move?" I asked, as we hustled past a dress-maker's shop.
Kasparov looked at me for the first time since we started walking.
"What do you mean, 'if'? He will play e4 on his first move. Haven't
you studied Morphy's games?"
I felt two feet tall. "Right. I knew that." I could see Royal Street
ahead of us.
"I will play the Sicilian. I'll play the line I've prepared for Deep
"The Najdorf?" I asked.
"No. Deep Blue is too booked up for that. No, I found a line that most
computers play quite poorly, and I think that Deep Blue won't know how to
handle it. And, most likely, neither will Morphy." Suddenly he stopped
and turned toward me, looking at me for only the second time since
we left New York. His large frame seemed to tower over me. "You will not
say a word to anyone about the Sicilian line I plan to play tomorrow
against Deep Blue. Feng-Hsiung Hsu has spies everywhere, I know it." I
knew I had received a command. I assured him that I would tell no one. At
the stone obelisk that read "Rue Royal," we turned left.
"We're almost there," I told Garry. He seemed lost in thought. His
rapid gait had slowed a little.
"Perhaps I should offer him a draw when it appears that I will win. I
love to win, yet, somehow, I would feel sad to defeat the great Paul
Morphy. He was a true genius. But --"
We were in front of what I knew to be the Morphy home, because it's
the same building that later became the famous Brennan's restaurant in
the late Twentieth Century. I looked at Kasparov, his eyes fixed on the
door like a little boy about to meet his idol. A large brass knocker hung
in the middle of the door. Kasparov just stood there, so I grabbed the
knocker and made three loud raps. It seemed like we'd waited forever
before the door opened. A handsome woman who appeared to be in her
sixties stood before us, wearing a long, Victorian style, green velvet
dress with a high lace collar.
"Gentlemen? How may I help you?" she asked.
I cleared my throat. Kasparov looked nervous.
"Madame," I said, trying to pronounce it as I thought the French
would, accenting the last syllable, "we have come a long way, in the hope
of gaining an audience with Mr. Paul Morphy." The woman's eyes
seemed unapproving. "This man beside me is without a doubt the strongest
chess player that Mr. Morphy will ever face," I added quickly. Apparently
she did not have much appreciation for this statement, because the door
began to close.
"I'm sorry, gentlemen, but Mr. Morphy is not entertaining --"
The door began to open again, and a small man looked out at us.
"And to whom do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" the man asked. Paul
Morphy stood before me and Kasparov. His boyish looks belied the great
chess mind which dwelt inside his slightly built body. I felt small next
to Kasparov, yet Morphy was even smaller than me.
"Kas-PAR-ov," said Garry, "Garry Kas-PAR-ov."
"I am pleased to make your acquaintance," said Morphy. "Please come
inside." I could see that Morphy wondered at the strange cut of
Kasparov's clothing. Morphy must have quickly determined who was the real
chess player here, for I don't think he ever laid his eyes upon me again
after he invited us inside. The Victorian woman had quickly disappeared
to another part of the house, and Morphy directed us up a staircase on
the right. Morphy made conversation as we ascended the staircase.
"So, Mr. Kasparov, if I heard correctly, you are a very strong player.
I always enjoy playing against strong players, but, alas, I have found
very few of them. Very few indeed."
"The honor is mine, I assure you," responded Kasparov. Morphy waved us
into a large library, which had a substantial fireplace at one end, and
high ceilings. A grand chandelier hung from the middle of the ceiling. A
table with chessmen sat between two high-backed chairs, and I was
delighted to see a third chair placed in just the right position for
watching a chess game.
"Where did you receive your chess training?" Morphy inquired. "I am
having trouble placing your accent."
"In Russia -- or, Armenia," answered Kasparov.
"Would you care for some tea?" asked Morphy. He was quite the
Just as I thought about how nice it would be to taste Nineteenth
Century New Orleans tea, Kasparov answered, "No, thank you. I'm fine."
"I'll bring some in, if perchance you should change your mind." Morphy
excused himself, and Kasparov walked straight to one of the massive
bookshelves. He scanned the shelves quickly, and within a few seconds he
reached out and pulled a chess book off the shelf. He held it as if it
were a priceless treasure.
"The Handbuch. Amazing!" Kasparov spoke with reverence, in
hushed tones. He pulled another book off the shelf. "Analyse du jeu
des Echecs, by Philidor, published in the mid 1700's," whispered
Kasparov. "This is worth many thousands of dollars today -- or, in 1997."
I looked at it in wonder. The book was in excellent condition.
"I received that as a gift from some of my Parisienne friends." Morphy
had returned to the room with a Sterling silver tea set and tiny cakes.
"I have a copy myself," said Kasparov. "But this one of yours is like
new." Morphy set the tray down on a small wooden cart near the chess
"Well! Shall we have a partie?" he asked. He sounded peculiarly
nonchalant, without emotion on his face, as though he merely asked,
"Shall we have dessert?" I stumbled upon the realization that, among the
three of us in that library, two fully understood the historical
implications of this game, two were Americans, two were World Champions,
and two were from the Twentieth Century.
"I would love to," Kasparov said, as he carefully reshelved the books,
threw back his shoulders, and strode to the little chess table.
Morphy motioned to the large chair on our right. "Please, be seated."
After Kasparov sat down in the large velvet chair, I took my place in the
simple wooden chair, and Morphy then slid himself into his large chair.
The white pieces were aligned on Morphy's side of the board. I was
delighted with my 50-yard-line seat. I helped myself to some tea and
cakes, while the chess players had not the least bit of interest in them.
"Ready?" Morphy asked, still unsmiling. Kasparov also did not smile.
He unbuttoned his collar. Morphy's gaze turned down to the chessboard,
and he picked up the white king's pawn and placed it on king four. "Bonne
chance," he said.
Kasparov then put his head in his hands, and he went into a long think on
his first move. I wondered why he did not move right away. Morphy, as
small as he was, sat up perfectly straight, and had an air of confidence
about him, while Kasparov, though larger, was hunched over, his elbows on
his knees, his tweed jacket unbuttoned in front. I was nearly finished
with my cup of tea when a log shifted in the fireplace. Kasparov glanced
at it as he moved his queen's bishop's pawn forward two squares. Morphy
touched his forefinger to his cheek and after a few seconds played his
king's knight to bishop three. Without waiting Kasparov grasped his
queen's pawn and shot it forward one square. I thought I saw Morphy nod a
bit with this move, and he glanced up for the briefest moment at
Kasparov, but without moving the angle of his head. He then placed his
queen's pawn on the queen's four
square. Kasparov took it with his pawn, and Morphy recaptured with his
knight. I noticed the Victorian lady standing in the doorway when
Kasparov picked up his king's knight and put it on his bishop three, but
by the time I looked up after Morphy developed his other knight to bishop
three, she was gone.
I wondered what Kasparov would play here. Certainly the Najdorf would be
a perfect choice for the World Champion of my day, since Morphy would
have never seen the variation. So great was my surprise when he reached
for his king's pawn, and slid it forward, not one, but two squares. So
this was his prepared line against Deep Blue! I wondered what other
secrets Garry had up his sleeve. Morphy, with no visible emotion,
contemplated the position before him. I am certain that he thought no
more than one minute before he brought his knight back to bishop three
again. Immediately Kasparov developed his king's bishop.
I couldn't help but admire these beautiful chessmen that were so
fortunate to be the actors in this historic stage play. Morphy versus
Kasparov! A match that chess enthusiasts could only dream of, and yet
here it was happening, and I had a ring-side seat! I would be the
arbiter, the judge, the scribe, the historian, the witness, I and I
alone. What a privilege! I glanced upward and whispered my thanks. Morphy
was thinking again, this time for about a minute. I couldn't take my eyes
off of the gaping hole on black's queen four. I knew that Morphy could
have never heard of a Boleslavsky hole. I pondered the possibility that
Kasparov had probably forgotten more
about opening theory than poor Morphy ever knew! Morphy slid his king's
bishop to queen bishop four. Very nice, I thought. White's setup was
classical, typical Morphy, typical Nineteenth Century. Black's was a
thoroughly modern-style defense, developed long after Morphy could have
ever studied it. Kasparov's face was intense, his eyes slightly narrowed,
his brow furrowed. He took off his watch and laid it beside the board.
Morphy was regarding the watch with interest when Kasparov noticed and
quickly picked it up and slid it into his breast pocket. Then Garry
castled, and Morphy played his queen's bishop to knight five. The
Victorian woman strode in and leaned over Morphy, whispering something in
his ear. He nodded without taking his eyes off the board, and Kasparov
glanced up at the woman as he slid his queen's bishop to king three. As
she turned and strode out of the library, Morphy picked up his queen and
quietly placed her on king two. Kasparov pulled on his chin, stroking his
five-o'clock shadow. He looked confident, typical Kasparov. He was in his
element, and in control. His eyes were narrow now as he seemed to be
looking deeply into the position, visualizing positions far away from
turning the pieces this way and that. I looked at Morphy. He was as calm
as if he were reading poetry on a Sunday afternoon. His gaze was
continual, his pose motionless. I wondered how these two confident,
irresistible forces would fare today, on this arguably greatest day in
Kasparov took a long think here. I was just considering excusing myself
to try to find where the restroom might be when finally, after what must
have been ten minutes, Kasparov slapped his queen onto knight three with
that unique sound that can only be made by a wooden chess piece striking
a wooden chessboard. Things were getting interesting. I don't know if I
was imagining it, but Morphy's eyes seemed to have a gleam in them as
they darted about the board. For five solid minutes, while the fireplace
crackled, Morphy seemed to be considering the right side of the board,
then the left, then the right. Kasparov struck a thinker's pose. Morphy
castled long. Kasparov raised his eyebrows. He seemed full of nervous
energy. He shifted his weight first to one side, then the other. He
leaned forward, then back. He tried to bite a piece of skin off of one of
his fingers. Then he snatched up Morphy's bishop, capturing it with his
own. He put the captured white bishop down where his watch had been.
Morphy quietly picked up the black bishop and softly placed his queen
onto the same square, placing the captured bishop on the opposite side of
the board from the other. Another five minutes went by, as Kasparov
pondered. He seemed weigh the pros and cons of an important move. Another
five minutes passed, and then with a swoop of his queen Kasparov captured
Morphy's king's bishop's pawn.
Morphy had given Kasparov a pawn!
Nobody can give Kasparov a pawn and get away with it! Kasparov, the
master of attack, and a tiger in defense! It was then that I realized
that Morphy's outdated style of sacrifice and attack would finally meet
its match, and it would succumb to the greatest World Champion who ever
lived. Morphy would go to his grave wondering what hit him. He would have
to rethink his whole approach to the game. I was lost in these thoughts
when Morphy played bishop captures knight, and Kasparov recaptured with
his bishop. I saw that Morphy could play rook takes pawn, and Kasparov
could remain a pawn up with queen takes knight pawn. I didn't see how
Morphy's attack could succeed.
But instead Morphy played what appeared, to me, to be a strange move. He
touched his right forefinger to his king's rook and slid it to the left
one square, protecting the knight's pawn. Kasparov exuded confidence as
he jumped his queen's knight onto queen's bishop three. Morphy was a
model of placidity as he carefully pushed his king's rook's pawn forward
two squares. Kasparov ran his fingers through his hair several times,
then put his hands on his hips and rocked slowly back and forth, then
grasped his bishop and pushed white's king's rook's pawn off of the
board. Kasparov was two pawns up, and Morphy was attacking. Morphy was
motionless. Kasparov, for the first time in the game, left his seat and
strode about the library, his eyes scanning the titles on the bindings of
the hundreds of books, but now and then stopping and studying the board
from afar. Then he returned to his
high-backed chair and leaned on the back of it, analyzing the position
from behind his chair.
Morphy hadn't thought long when he slid his queen's rook over two
squares, attacking Kasparov's queen. Kasparov played queen to king six,
check. Morphy moved his king to knight one. The World Champion -- er, the
current World Champion -- well, I should say Garry Kasparov gained
confidence with every move. He was a tower of strength. He was giving
lessons to a schoolboy. He was taking him to the woodshed. He moved his
bishop to bishop seven, attacking Morphy's rook. Somehow I felt that this
game could not end in a draw. It was too imbalanced. Both sides had
committed themselves to a game plan -- Morphy, to all-out attack;
Kasparov, to winning two pawns and exchanging into a technically won
endgame. Without much thought Morphy played rook to rook one, removing
the rook from danger. Kasparov needed only 30 seconds to retreat his
queen to queen's bishop four, and then I saw Kasparov staring across the
board at Morphy. His was a look of superiority, the look of a victor
regarding the vanquished. Black was offering to trade queens, when the
endgame would be hopeless for white.
Morphy, stoic, showing no sign of what was going on inside his head,
pulled his own queen back to king two. Kasparov quickly drew his bishop
to king's knight six, and now helped himself to a cup of tea. I wondered
if Kasparov would like what was now lukewarm tea. I felt a sadness well
up inside me, as I saw Morphy's attack,
which never really was an attack, come to naught. Yes, he had open lines,
but they were striking granite at their end points. Kasparov was
snatching pawns and pulling back at will. The Morphy era was over, and
scientific chess had replaced it. I began to wonder if Morphy should just
resign here. But of course that would be premature. A few more moves
would make the result clear, surely. Morphy thought a few minutes, and
then reached for his king
knight, then paused, leaving his hand suspended over the white wooden
horse. Kasparov glanced up at Morphy, then back at the board. Morphy then
grasped the knight and advanced it to king's knight five. It was an
obvious threat on black's king rook two. Black really only had one
Kasparov stared at the position. Four white pieces were trained at
black's king side. I glanced at Kasparov, to try to read his face. He
shook his large head back and forth. Suddenly he played pawn to king rook
three and leaned back in his chair.
Morphy sat, unmoving, staring at the board. Minutes passed. I knew that
Morphy must have been considering such attacking moves as queen to rook
five, or queen to knight four, or rook to rook three, or even rook to
bishop three. There were many attacking possibilities. Kasparov's queen
seemed to be blocked from the defense of her king. For the first time,
Kasparov seemed concerned. He was imperceptibly sliding down in his
chair, leaning way back, but his eyes still glued to the board. Both
players' eyes were fixed on the king's side.
I checked my watch. By my estimate, Morphy had been thinking right about
twelve minutes when he scratched his head, looked up at Kasparov for a
brief moment, and then picked up his king's rook and captured Kasparov's
rook pawn. My eyes went wide and my mouth involuntarily dropped open.
Morphy was sacking a rook against
Kasparov! Kasparov bolted erect. He shook his head, as if in a daze, and
clutched his head in his hands. He captured the rook. Without a moment's
hesitation Morphy slid his queen to rook five. Kasparov nudged his queen
forward, to queen's bishop five. I could see that Kasparov's move
defended his king's bishop two square and at the same time attacked
Morphy's remaining rook. Kasparov's queen had not landed centered on its
square. Morphy adjusted it, twisting it a half turn until it was
centered, and then slid his rook to king rook one. Morphy's eyes again
glanced up at Kasparov. Kasparov jerked his king's rook over to queen's
bishop one, and stood up. Morphy then played queen captures rook pawn. It
was now very clear, even to me, that Kasparov was being
mated. His king needed a flight square, but there was none to be found.
He pulled his bishop back to rook five, into the line of fire, to certain
death. What a futile move, I thought. Kasparov is dead lost, and he
doesn't have the heart to resign! Kasparov has been demolished by a
Nineteenth Century..... genius!
Morphy was without emotion. Morphy touched his queen's knight pawn
with his left hand and carefully moved it up a square. Garry Kasparov
gently laid his ebony king on its side and extended his right hand. It
suddenly dawned on me that the impossible was occurring before my eyes --
that two current World Chess Champions were shaking hands, and they were
born over a century apart. With a slight smile Morphy thanked Kasparov
for the game, and he escorted us to the door. As we stepped out and the
door was closing, I heard the Victorian woman say to Morphy something
about "pawn-and-move from now on."
Kasparov had lost in 24 moves.
Back in Central Park, it was late at night, and neither Kasparov nor I
said a word as we walked toward his hotel. My thoughts turned to
Kasparov's match with Deep Blue. The match was tied 2.5-2.5, and Game 6,
the final game, was tomorrow. Kasparov's head was down, and he was
walking slowly. He was obviously in a depressed state of mind.
"What are you going to play against Deep Blue tomorrow?" I asked quietly.
"You have black, right?" We stopped walking. Kasparov was quiet.
Then he replied, "I had specially prepared that Sicilian with 5...e5."
He paused. "Now I don't know what I'm going to play." We both stood there
for a while, saying nothing. Then Kasparov gave me a quick nod and walked
across the street to his hotel. I stood watching him.
Just before he got to the hotel doors shouted, "Garry!" He
stopped and turned toward me. "Tomorrow, why don't you try the Caro-Kann?"