Paul Morphy - Pride and Sorrow of Chess

Paul Morphy
Paul Morphy
Paul Morphy (June 22, 1837 - July 10, 1884) was unquestionably one of the most important figures in chess history. Known as the Pride and Sorrow of Chess, Morphy was a chess genius who acted as a bridge between the romantic era and the classical era.

In contrast to Henry Bird, Morphy was a great advocate of the open game and excelled in this. His style was less flashy than other leading players of his time. He concentrated on quick and early development.

He was blessed with an innate ability to instantly size up the nature, problems and possibilities of a position at a mere glance. Over the board he simply had no equal. He demonstrated this in England and France by hammering the masters of London and Paris.

He was gifted with extraordinary intellect and aptitude which he applied to chess with such incredible effect. But equally he was a troubled soul and this prevented him from realizing his full potential both as a player and as a man. Share a story on Morphy.

Young Paul

Chess Masters: Young Paul
Young Paul
Paul Morphy was born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1837. He came from an aristocratic background. His father Alonzo was a Supreme Court Judge who at one time had been elected to the House of Representatives. His mother Louise (maiden name; Le Carpentier) was a talented musician from a distinguished Creole family.

Morphy grew up in a refined existence. The family would typically while away the evening with pursuits such as music or a good game of chess. Young Paul picked up the rules simply by watching older family members play.

He stunned everyone one day after his father and uncle played out a long draw. "You should have won Uncle Ernest", he said. They hadn't realized he even knew the rules. Then he reset the pieces and showed them the victory Ernest had spurned. He quickly became regarded as the best player in New Orleans.

First American Chess Congress

Paul played in the First American Chess Congress in 1857 in New York
Paul played in the First American Chess Congress in 1857 in New York
Although only those closest to him would have realized, chess was no more than a random outlet for Morphy's ingenuity. The game itself was in fact little more than a passing interest to him. He saw it as nothing more than an innocuous pastime. During his schooling, he studied meticulously and rarely played chess at all.

You had to be 21 to practice law. So even though Morphy was qualified by the summer of 1857 he had more than a year to wait. He needed a pursuit to fill his time. He took up an invitation to the First American Chess Congress to decide the US champion. He humbled all opposition including up and coming master Louis Paulsen in the final to take the championship.

Morphy Challenges Staunton

Chess Masters: Howard Staunton would not play Paul Morphy
Staunton would not play Morphy
In the 19th Century Europe was the hotbed of world chess. America at this time did not have any pedigree in comparison. Now they had found a gem who could rock Europe to it's foundations and establish a new world order.

With his free year, Paul Morphy had a burning ambition. He no longer played any American without giving odds. He wanted to travel to Europe, test himself against the best and beat the best.

He arrived by steamboat in Liverpool in the summer of 1858 and from there traveled to Birmingham to play against top English masters. He didn't play in the Birmingham tournament but later beat all serious players in England. All except Howard Staunton who refused to play Morphy after seeing him in action.

Café de la Régence

Paul Morphy playing Jacob L�wenthal
Morphy vs Lowenthal
Morphy eventually tired of trying to get a match from Staunton who was continually stalling. He had beaten the best of the rest in London like Lowenthal and Owen. He decided instead to cross the English Channel to take on the best players that France had to offer.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries France had been the premier chess nation having wrested the mantle from Italy and Spain. With players like Legall, Philidor, Deschappelles and La Bourdonnais to mention the very strongest, France for many years had been peerless.

And now even though the French star had faded slightly it was still a world power. The famous Parisian chess club, the Café de la Régence was still attracting many of Europe's most celebrated players. Morphy headed straight for this club. It was at an opera in Paris that Morphy played one of the most famous chess games ever. This game became known simply as A Night at the Opera.

World Champion

Changing of the Guard - Morphy dethrones Anderssen having already dispatched Harrwitz
Changing of the Guard - Morphy dethrones Anderssen having already dispatched Harrwitz
The best player in the Café de la Régence at that time was a man from Breslau (now Wroclaw) called Daniel Harrwitz. Harrwitz was initially dismissive of Morphy. Harrwitz turned down Morphy's request for a formal match but agreed to a casual game. When he won that he quickly changed his mind and organized a match. Morphy lost the first two games but then began to overwhelm Harrwitz. When Harrwitz saw he couldn't turn the tide he resigned the match early.

Morphy sent the stakes from this match to another native of Breslau, Adolf Anderssen. Due to his win in London in 1851 in and his domination of European chess since, Anderssen was generally regarded as the best player in the world. Morphy despite being quite ill met Anderssen over the board in Paris and won decisively. He was hailed in Paris, London, at home in America and across the chess world as the unofficial World Champion.

Morphy Quits

Paul Morphy gave up competitive chess
Paul Morphy Gave Up Competitive Chess
Paul Morphy had arrived at the pinnacle of chess. It seemed as though he had lost any reason to continue playing the game. Chess itself was just a game to Morphy, no more no less. He felt it was time to tackle more serious pursuits. He aspired to put chess away and practice at law but the world just didn't see him in this light. As time went by he found the constant adulation for Paul Morphy "the chess player" more and more irksome.

There were banquets in France and England and later America when he returned home. Everyone wanted to raise a toast to the "World Chess Champion" and see him play for them. Paul played less and less chess as time went on and only when giving odds.

He began to go to great lengths to avoid playing at all. This displeased many but eventually people came to be resigned to the loss of Paul Morphy from the chess scene. By 1860 Paul Morphy had permanently exited competitive chess.

Death of Morphy

Chess Masters: Paul Charles Morphy (June 22, 1837 - July 10, 1884)
Paul Charles Morphy (June 22, 1837 - July 10, 1884)
Morphy's later years had been personified by frustration and sadness. He had tried to start a legal practice but this failed due to his political position on the Civil War. Paul Morphy, although a proud Louisianan, had opposed secession from the Union. This made him unpopular in his native city of New Orleans.

On July 10 1884, Paul went for a walk as he liked to do on a daily basis. It was a particularly hot day and when he returned he took a cold bath. This was believed to have brought on a seizure which proved fatal.

Morphy had always been delicate and was prone to ill health. He was 47 when he died. He was buried the next day.

Legacy of Morphy

Paul Morphy's influence on chess is still felt today
Paul Morphy's influence on chess is still felt today
Paul Morphy arrived in the Romantic Era taking on very creative opponents who were skilled in building beautiful attacks. His contemporaries had nothing to learn in the art of tactical sacrifices and combinations.

They were not versed in positional realities and furthermore barely considered the concept. Morphy saw what they couldn't see. His play seemed a little conservative when compared to some of them.

He consistently followed a formula of quick development, King safety and then attack. His positional solidity would protect him against their imperfect attacks and then before they knew it, his pieces would be swarming their citadel.

Many of his opponents would no doubt be scratching their heads wondering where it all went wrong. He and a few other great masters paved the way for positional chess to sweep aside the all out attacks of the Romantic Era.

Share Your Paul Morphy Anecdotes and Games

The problem with biographies is you must concentrate on breadth and can never go as deep as you would like. You can mention the major events in someone's life but can't allow yourself to indulge in intricate detail. And Paul Morphy is someone who lived a very interesting life. There must be countless anecdotes and interesting accounts of different episodes and incidents throughout his time. Many of these stories would have originated from among the great many people that he would have met in different parts of the world. Some of these accounts give us an insight into what kind of man he was, what made him tick. Or if you prefer you could annotate one of his games, reflecting his genius over the board. Do you know of an interesting story or game from the life of Paul Morphy? Share Your Paul Morphy Anecdotes or Games With Us.

Paul Morphy Anecdotes and Games Left by other Lapocites

Click below to see Paul Morphy Anecdotes and Games from other Lapocites...

Morphy Child Prodigy 
When Paul was 8 years old, a distinguished gentleman, General Winfield Scott visited New Orleans. He requested that his hosts find a strong local chess …

Morphy Meets Prince Not rated yet
Paul Charles Morphy possessed great intuitive capabilities to think ahead of his time and during the peak time he dominated his contemporaries much better …

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Moving On

Joseph Henry Blackburne
Joseph Henry Blackburne
Morphy was an enigma. Many times in human history we have seen examples of remarkable talent go unfulfilled because of emotional or psychological issues such as the demons that Morphy battled with. A child prodigy who was beating masters from the age of 9 or 10 and who had humbled the chess world in a matter of twelve months and then would vanish just as quickly of his own volition.

He may have dominated chess for another 30 years if he had wanted to but that's just it, he didn't want to. The Pride and Sorrow of Chess sums him up perfectly for his personal tragedy goes far beyond chess. His loss was that the things he really wanted from life eluded him.

He could attain whatever he wanted on a chessboard but where it really mattered to him, off the board, he couldn't succeed in his goals. Here is a great piece on Morphy by AJ Brown from New York.

Morphy's time in England was a boost for the game there resulting in the emergence of many great masters. One of these was Joseph Henry Blackburne.