CHAMPION ON AN EX-CHAMPION
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
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.