Biography of Chess Player Paul Charles Morphy Part 1

About one of the greatest chess player Paul Charles Morphy, biography and history of the footnote figure.


Wizard of Chess

Paul Charles Morphy is the greatest chess player known to history, and it is doubtful if there will ever be a better one. He is to chess what Shakespeare is to poetry, or Bach to music, but even these comparisons are inexact, for there is no one like him in the sense that Marlowe is akin to Shakespeare, and Beethoven comparable in stature to Bach. Morphy's superiority was so immense that he seemed to be speaking another language. It never seems remarkable that he defeated his immediate opponent. What it does seem is that he defeated the game of chess.

Although Morphy possessed one of the most remarkable intellects ever known in America, he is all but unknown except among chess players. And even among chess scholars who know and admire his games, there are all sorts of misconceptions about Morphy and what happened to him. He played publicly during two periods lasting only a few months. Virtually nothing is positively known of him apart from these two periods.

This was all according to plan, for above all, Morphy did not want the story of his life to be known. Nor did he wish to be remembered only as a chess player, or even as the greatest chess player who ever lived.

This much is known about Paul Morphy: He was born in New Orleans on June 22, 1837, into one of those French-speaking New Orleans families of French and Spanish descent who migrated to the U.S. during the Negro revolutions in the West Indies. His father, Judge Alonzo Morphy of the Louisiana Supreme Court, a banker and president of the Louisiana Planters Association, was a good chess player, and one of Morphy's uncles was considered the best player in New Orleans. When Morphy was 12, there appeared in New Orleans a brilliant Hungarian chess master with a world reputation, Johann Jakob Lowenthal. He played Morphy privately in the Morphy home, and the boy defeated him. But the victory was not conclusive, for Lowenthal was ill and almost prostrated by the New Orleans heat.

Morphy studied at Jefferson Academy in New Orleans, where he was considered to be like everybody else except for his uncanny skill at chess and where the only sport he enjoyed was fencing. He was graduated from a Jesuit college at Spring Hill near Mobile, Ala., and remained an additional year to study advanced mathematics. As a young man he was genial, with a warm, unstudied humor. He wrote well and was a master of understatement in an age that was overflowing with flowery Southern oratory. Fluent in four languages, Morphy at one time planned to enter the foreign service. After his postgraduate year at college, he studied law. He had passed his bar examination and was waiting to start his law practice after his 21st birthday when he suddenly became a prominent figure in the chess world.

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