THE LIFE AND CHESS OF PAUL MORPHY                                                                                                                                                                   Wilhelm Steinitz on Paul Morphy




 Thursday                                                                                                                   March 22        


Mr. Steinitz's Experience with Morphy - Changes in the Game - Great Players

     Mr. Steinitz, "said a TRIBUNE reporter to the chess champion recently, "it has been stated that you sought an interview with Morphy under the pretence of being a lawyer interested in his legal troubles. Is that so?"    

     Certainly not," was the answer; "that would have defeated the very object I had in seeing him. Morphy is a pretty shrewd man, and would soon have detected the imposition. The truth is I have been interesting myself lately in international law, with the intention in the near future of writing a short treatise on it. When in New-Orleans a few weeks ago, knowing that Morphy was a lawyer, I wrote to him. On getting no answer, the first time I met him in the street, I stopped him and presented him with my card. He took it and read it, giving me a wild, questioning look for the moment. Immediately recovering himself he shook hands with me, saying that my name was well known to him and then he entered into conversation with me. Twice after that I met him, and on each occasion he was exceedingly pleasant and agreeable.
     As a crowd collected round us on each occasion, he excused himself on the score of pressing legal engagements. I am very angry with that crowd still for interrupting us; Morphy is a most interesting man to talk to. He is shrewd and practical and apparently in excellent health. I am convinced that his derangement is purely local and quite curable if he would place himself under medical treatment. If his derangement were general, his bodily health would suffer and he would knew [sic] that he was ill. At present he does not know it. His misfortune was to be born too rich. When he lost his money he could not stand it, and he now has the idea that there is conspiracy against him to keep him penniless. I took the opportunity of remonstrating with him. And told him he had a number of legal friends; if he would allow them they would thoroughly investigate his business matters, and if he had a chance to recover his property, would tell him so. 'Though, 'I added, 'even Morphy may be mistaken, and you may not have taken a correct legal view.' 'That is it,' he answered; 'people think I am nothing but a chess-player, and that I know nothing about law.'"

"Will Morphy ever play chess again, Mr. Steinitz?"

     "Probably, if his friends go to work in the right way. At present he will not look at a board and never visits his club, under the apprehension that they will make him play. I myself know what his feeling is. In 1867 I suffered from a sunstroke. For weeks I could not concentrate my energies on anything, least of all on a concrete science like chess. At last I determined to do it, believing the effort would cure the affliction. It was torture at first, but it succeeded. The concentration required took the mind off itself. Now Morphy, when he sits down to a board, finds he cannot concentrate himself. Then for the first time he feels that there is something wrong with him; rather than confess it, he gets up abruptly, alleges an engagement, and rushes away. What I said to the men at New-Orleans was: 'Do not ask Morphy to play; let him sit and watch you play, perhaps one of his own old games. Presently he too will take to the board again, and the effort required will take his mind off his trouble.'"

"Why does the loss of his money affect him so much?"

     "That is another curious thing. Morphy wants to get married. He is perpetually having love affairs. All the people in New-Orleans know it and humor him a little. Mind you, he is the most chivalrous soul alive. He is a thorough gentleman. But if he sees a strange face in the street that pleases him, you will see him lift his hat and give a bow. Sometimes the lady will stop kindly and speak to him or smile and pass on. Then he will follow her at a distance - sometimes for hours - and when she enters her house, take out his note-book and enter the address. He regrets his loss because he wishes to be married, and the cure is, I think, the same as in my own case - to play chess again determinedly."

"How would Morphy compare with the players of the present day?"

     "Well, the game has made immense strides since his time. For one first-class player then, there are twenty now, and the science has developed. Morphy would have to alter his style to suit the new conditions. For instance, Morphy considered the king as an object merely of attack and defence, while the modern view is that it is itself a strong piece, to be used throughout the game. You see how frequently I will move my king all over the board to capture a pawn. In the old days that was never done. It sometimes loses me a game on account of the extraordinary foresight required. That is, in a match game it may do so, but in a game by correspondence never."

"Then a game by correspondence is the fairest test of skill?"

     "Yes; and a match game is fairer than a tournament. In a tournament 'draws' are allowed to count. That is wrong, for a good player is immediately handicapped if his opponent determines to play for a draw. Another objection to tournaments is that the time is too limited, necessarily; the series between any two players cannot be long enough to constitute a true test."

"Whom do you consider the strongest players living?"

     "Well, that is a matter more or less of private judgment. I should say that Zukertort, Martinez and Mackenzie are as strong as there are. Mason, too, might be mentioned. As for Mackenzie, I believe he is a genius. I have only one fault to find - he will not study the modern game. In fact, he has always been so successful, and so easily successful, that he has not found it necessary, and, to my grief, persists in the old Morphy game."

"Who gave you the hardest fight that you have ever had?"

     "Anderssen in 1866 in London. That was the first of my victories, and, I think, the hardest."

"Are you a stronger player now than you were then?"

     "No, I think that I was playing a stronger game in 1872 and 1873 than now. My chess career began in 1862 in London. On that occasion I was the last on the list. Four years later I succeeded in defeating Andersen, who had been first in 1862. In 1867 I had the sunstroke I spoke of, and did not play again in a tournament until in the one held in London in 1872, when I came out first. Next year I played in a tournament in Vienna and was again first. From 1872 till 1874 I had control of the match by correspondence between London and Vienna which lasted twenty months. In 1877 I had a relapse due to the sunstroke of 1867, and I have not recovered completely yet. Still in the second Vienna tournament of 1878 I managed to come out just equal, though not feeling well. Now I feel that I am getting stronger gradually and clearer, and soon hope to get completely over my illness. I wish Morphy would try to cure himself in the same way that I did. But it won't do for me to talk any more of myself." added the champion with a laugh. "I will leave it for my friends. No: I have never lost a match game yet."

     Mr. Steinitz has gone to Havana. He will return in about two weeks to sail for Europe. He stated that he would not be likely to play again in New York.