THE LIFE AND CHESS OF PAUL MORPHY                                                                                                                                                                                         The Staunton Challenge


From the January 1858 edition of Chess Monthly:

Mr. Morphy extends the challenge sent to the New York Club so as to comprise all the leading practitioners of the Unites States.  He proffers any American player the odds of Pawn and Move and will be glad to arrange a match upon those terms.

David Lawson adds, without explanation, that by May, Morphy's "challenge to any American player, offering the odds of Pawn and Move in a match for one hundred dollars a side, received no response."

After his success at the American Chess Congress, Paul was satisfied that he was strong enough, and now qualified, to challenge the more experienced players in the Old World. When he returned to New Orleans, he still had time to kill waiting to be old enough to practice law. He spent a lot of time in the New Orleans Chess Club where he developed his blindfold skill. No games remain, but it was reported that at one instance he played a seven board blindfold simul winning six and losing one. An other report announced an upcoming eight-board blindfold exhibition.

His fellow chess players, also convinced of Paul's great chess strength, wrote a letter to Howard Staunton, the foreign player best-known in America due to his fame in beating St. Amant in 1843 and to his literary achievements. They invited Staunton to come to New Orleans and play Paul for stakes of $5,000. Part of the terms provided that he would be reimbursed $1,000, should he lose, to cover expenses.

Samuel Boden, the chess editor of the London Field had some comments concerning the selection of Staunton as representing the best that Europe had to offer:

...Now, we can see no possible objection to the acceptance of this challenge by Mr. Staunton, as a private individual, if he thinks it proper, and we have no doubt it was made in good faith by the New Orleans Chess Club; but.... we cannot avoid entering our protest against the selection on the part of our rivals of a champion for our side....that he is champion of even London alone, over the board, we unhesitatingly deny ... while on the Continent the idea of being considered the champion of Europe would be ridiculed as the height of absurdity....

Staunton replied most courteously to the challenge:

     In reply to your very courteous proposal for me to visit New Orleans for the purpose of encountering Mr. Paul Morphy at Chess, permit me to mention that for many years professional duties have compelled me to abandon the practice of the game almost entirely except in the most desultory manner, and at the present time these duties are so exacting that it is with difficulty I am enabled to snatch one day out of seven for exercise and relaxation.
     Under the circumstances you will at once perceive that a long and arduous chess contest, even in this Metropolis, would be an enterprise too formidable for me to embark in without ample opportunity for the recovery of my old strength in play, together with such arrangements as would prevent the sacrifice of my professional engagements for the sake of a match at chess, and that the idea of undertaking one in a foreign country, many thousand miles from here, is admissible only in a dream.
     With friendly greetings to my proposed antagonist, whose talent and enthusiasm no one can more highly estimate, and with compliments to you for the honor implied in your selection of me as the opponent of such a champion, I beg to subscribe myself, with every consideration.
                                                                                                                                                Yours obediently,
                                                                                                                                                 H. Staunton


At the same time Staunton published in the Illustrated London News, where he had a chess column:

if Mr. Morphy - for whose skills we entertain the highest admiration - be desirous to win his spurs among the chess chivalry of Europe, he must take advantage of his proposed visit next year; he will then meet in this country, in France, in Germany and in Russia, many champions whose names must be as household words to him, ready to test and do honor to his prowess.      

Morphy took this as an implication that Staunton would play him if he were the one to travel. Even if Staunton didn't intend this, he never once disavowed Morphy of this belief.


While in New York, Paul had taken a position as co-editor of Chess Monthly. It was originally conceived by Daniel Willard Fiske and Miron Hazeltine. Hazeltine seemed to have been supplanted by Morphy. Morphy's chief job was to provide annotated games, a duty he didn't appear to take very seriously. During the interim of the letter exchanges, Morphy played many at odds games, annotated a few games and played  with visiting Mexican master, T. H. Worrall, giving him knight odds. Worrall was able to win 8 out of 15 at those odds.
In a letter to Fiske, Morphy mentioned that he was informed of the formation of Morphy Chess Clubs in both Texas and Maine.

All this while, Morphy was trying to procure permission for his family to travel to Europe for the purpose of playing Staunton in London and attending the tournament in Birmingham. On June 22 Morphy would be of legal age and his family was concerned that such a trip would interfere with the establishment of his professional career. Ernest Morphy and Judge Meek helped convince the rest of his family to allow Paul's trip to Europe and at last they relented.
       Daniel Willard Fiske


Morphy left for New York on  May 31, 1858 where he took the steamship, Africa see note, bound for Liverpool, on June 9. 

Paul goes to England