THE LIFE AND CHESS OF PAUL MORPHY                                                                                                                                                                                Edge to Fiske

 

  

From The Encyclopaedia Of Chess  by Anne Sunnucks  1970


MORPHY, Paul (1837Ś1884)

     'The Pride and the Sorrow of Chess'. For a brief moment he appeared on the chess scene and brilliantly defeated the world's leading players. In the flower of his youth he withdrew from the game, if not indeed from life itself, and he died at the end of a long decline.
     Born in New Orleans on 22nd June 1837, the second son of a High Court judge, he learned chess at the age of 8. Four and a half years later he played three games against L÷wenthal, winning two and drawing one. Chess did not interfere with his studies. He was an apt pupil, gifted with a fine memory and fond of dramatics and music. He passed his examinations with honours, graduating in law at Louisiana University before he was 19. Soon afterwards his father died.
     Not yet permitted to practice law, he gave his time to chess. He came first at the New York tournament, 1857. He crossed to Europe, and in 1858 he decisively beat L÷wenthal, Harrwitz and Anderssen, respectively the best players in England, France and Germany. He also defeated the other leading players of London and Paris, except for Staunton, who, out of practice and past his best, declined a match. Morphy attached some importance to a public declaration that it was through no fault of his own that a match had not come about; but neither then nor since has anyone doubted that Morphy had proved himself by far best player the world had yet seen.
     Lionized and feted, he lingered in Europe and the northern states, at length returning home in response to the pleas of his mother in December 1859. He commenced editorial work for The Chess Monthly; he conducted a chess column in the New York Ledger for a year, ending on 4th August 1860, for the sum of $3,000. He went north again, returning home in November. This was the end of his chess career.
     Two and a half years had passed since he had come to man's estate, when he should have attended to his profession; when, as his mother and family had expected, a grown man and a southern gentleman who might in his leisure hunt or shoot, would not have demeaned himself taking seriously a board game, let alone giving public displays. And his mother now extracted a promise from him, which he kept, never to play chess in public.
     Louisiana seceded in January 1861, and the Civil War soon followed. Morphy finally set up as a lawyer in November 1864. One story has it Morphy was deeply wounded by a lady's scorn: she would not marry a mere chess player ". Dapper, well- dressed, short of stature, a beardless face and small white hands "veined like those of lady", uncommunicative, disliking outdoor activities, Morphy was not the model of a southern beau. Moreover, almost alone amongst those of age, he did not enlist in the Confederate cause.
     The economy of the South was shattered, and his practice failed. stifled by his environment, deprived of chess, in which however he maintained a secret interest, unsuccessful in law and in life, he lacked the strength of character either to overcome his difficulties in the South or to opt for chess somewhere else. He became increasingly alienated, refusing to meet people, and emerging from his mother's house only to take a
walk or to go to the opera. Delusions of persecution followed, the sad end came when he died of a stroke on 10th July 1884.
     About 35 books and pamphlets have been written about Morphy. These include a novel, The Chess Players, by Frances Parkinson Keyes, and a 23-page essay in The International Journal of Psycho Analysis, 1931, by Dr. Ernest Jones.


 

             Match Record (against masters)

Year   

Opponent 

Result Won.    Lost   Drawn  
1850 L÷wenthal Won 2 Ś  1
1857 Paulsen Won 5 1 2
1858 L÷wenthal Won 9 3 3
1858 Harrwitz Won 5 2 1
1858 Anderssen Won 7 2 2
  
     D. HOOPER

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