THE LIFE AND CHESS OF PAUL MORPHY                                                                                                                                                                                    The Birmingham Meeting

 

 

The match with John Owen took place the week during which L÷wenthal was recovering from his illness. After the L÷wenthal match ended, Morphy's attention again focused on Howard Staunton and he wrote Staunton a brief note:

August 14, 1858

Mr. Howard Staunton
Dear sir,
     As we are now approaching the Birmingham meeting, at the termination of which you have fixed our match to commence, I think it would be advisable to settle the preliminaries during this week. Would you be good enough to state some early period when your seconds could meet mine, so that a contest which  have so much at heart, and which your eminent position excites so much interest in the chess world, may be looked upon as a fait accompli.
                                                                                                                       I am dear sir, yours very respectfully,
                                                                                                                                       Paul Morphy


During the wait for a reply, Morphy played a series of games with Henry Bird, winning 10, losing 1 and drawing 1.

 

Staunton replied that he needed an extension to finish preparing, but Morphy, growing weary of his vagueness and wanted a definite answer:

August 21, 1858

......It is certainly a high compliment to so young a player as myself that you, whose reputation in the chess arena has been unapproached during so many long years, should require any preparation for our match. Immediately on my arrival in England, some two months since, I spoke to you in reference to our contest, and, in accepting the challenge, you stated that you should require some time to prepare, and you proposed a period for commencing which I accepted.
I am well aware that your many engagements in the literary world must put you to some inconvenience in meeting me, and I am therefore desirous to consult your wishes in every respect.   Would you please state the earliest opportunity when those engagements will permit the match coming off, such time being consistent with your previous preparation.
The few weeks referred to in your favor seem to be rather vague, and I leave the terms entirely to yourself. I remain dear sir.
                                                                                                                                            yours very respectfully,
                                                                                                                                                      Paul Morphy

Staunton left for the Birmingham meeting without replying.

 

Originally, Staunton had declared that he wouldn't enter the tournament but would be present to play to consultation and at odds games. While his motives can't be presumed, it's note-worthy that once he arrived at Birmingham (and learned that Morphy wouldn't be playing), he signed up to play.

One irony of this situation lies in the fact that Morphy publicly offered the Birmingham tournament as the reason for his trip to England. But everything points to the idea that the expected match with Staunton (and with other players) was his main reason. For whatever reasons, his family  (which prior to Alonzo's death didn't seem too concerned about the custom of stakes since Ernest and Charles Le Carpentier both not only put up stake money but advertised for matches with Paul for stakes) had expressly forbidden Paul to play for stakes before allowing him to leave for Europe. Paul apparently felt compelled to use the tournament as his reason for going abroad, knowing that once away from his family he could exercise relative freedom to do as he wished. But Paul himself was against the idea of stakes which he considered a devise that reduced the nobility of chess. In order to satisfy this conflict, he devised the logical custom of returning the winnings in some form, apparently concluding that if he didn't keep the money, then he wasn't playing for stakes.  Now that the tournament arrived, Paul realized he couldn't participate. In order for the match with Staunton to come off, he had to avoid any potential games against the man, casual or tournament, which could, in turn, be used as a further excuse for Staunton not to play. According to Edge, no matter what the outcome of any game with Staunton, Staunton could twist the result to his favor: "I have beaten Morphy, what's the use of further contest? or He has beaten me, I am consequently out of play. It would be madness to attempt a set match."

Morphy had offered to give an eight board blindfold exhibition at Birmingham. He also planned to arrive too late to be pressured into entering the tournament. The tournament had begun on August 24 and Morphy arrived on the evening of August 26. He was met again by Thomas Avery see note  who arranged with Morphy to play J. S. Kipping see note, a couple games of chess. Morphy won both games, both Evan's Gambits, first as black, then as white. Outside the blindfold games planned for the following day [at Queen's College August 27, 1858], these were the only games played by Morphy at the Birmingham meeting.

Several strong players were there for the tournament. Among them were St. Amant and Ernst Falkbeer, the famous Austrian player. The event was won by Lowenthal, who was still recovering for his terrible match loss to Morphy.

Morphy had a surreptitious reason for attending the Birmingham meeting. Knowing that many of the movers and shakers of British chess society would be in attendance, he wanted to use this opportunity to gain a firm commitment for Staunton before such witnesses. When he finally met with Staunton in the courtyard of the college where he was walking with Lord Lyttelton, Thomas Avery and Mr. Wills. Staunton immediately took the initiative, asking for more time, citing his urgent business and his publisher's pressure, etc.

Morphy, exasperated, asked, "Mr. Staunton, will you play in October, in November, or December? Chose your own time but let the decision be final."

Staunton replied, "Well, Mr. Morphy, if you will consent  to the postponement, I will play you the beginning of November. I will see my publishers and let you know the exact date in a few days."

Thinking he had accomplished something tangible, Morphy set off to the rooms in Queen's College where the blindfold exhibition would take place.

Morphy was hoping for the strongest players to take the eight boards, but he had trouble getting volunteers.

 Eventually, the list was:

Lord Lyttelton (president of the British Chess Association)
Thomas Avery (president of the Birmingham Chess Club)
Rev. G. Salmon (one of the best players from Ireland)
Mr. Carr (secretary of the Lexington Chess Club)
Dr. Jabez Freeman (former president of the Birmingham Chess Club)
Mr. Rhodes (a member of the Leeds Club)
Mr. J. S. Kipping (secretary of the Manchester Chess Club)
Mr. W. R. Wills (secretary of the British Chess Association)

The exhibition lasted from 1:00 p.m. until 6:15 p.m.      Morphy won 6, lost to Kipping and drew with Avery.

Concerning Morphy's incredible memory, Falkbeer, in the June 1881 issue of Brentano's Chess Monthly, had this to say:

I was at the time editing the Chess Column of the London Sunday Times and anxious to reproduce them there [the Morphy-Lowenthal match games]. In order to obtain the requisite information, I had to apply to one of the contesting parties [the games were kept as the participants' intellectual property]. I first went to Morphy who received me most cordially, and declared his entire willingness to dictate the last partie, played the day before. I begged him to repeat the game on the board as I would, in this manner, be better able to follow the progress of the contest. Morphy consented and at the 10th move of Black (Lowenthal), I asked him to stop for a moment, since it seemed to me at this particular point, a better move might have been made. "Oh, you probably mean the move you yourself made in one of your contests with Drufresne? answered Morphy in his simple, artless way of speaking. I was startled. The partie mentioned has been played in Berlin in 1851, seven years before and I had totally forgotten all its details. On observing this, Morphy called for a second board and began, without the least hesitation, to repeat the game from the first to the last move without making a single mistake. I was speechless from surprise. Here was a man who attention was constantly distracted by countless demands on his memory and yet had perfectly retained for seven years all the details of a game insignificant in itself and moreover, printed in a language and description unknown to him. [having been published in the Berliner Schachzeitung, 1851]

The match with Staunton postponed yet again gave Morphy a window of opportunity to travel to France where he wished to play Harrwitz in Paris and possibly Anderssen in Germany.

 

 

Paul goes to France