Biography of Chess Player Paul Charles Morphy Part 2

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


Wizard of Chess

The First American Chess Congress in 1857 ran into trouble because there were not enough players entered to make up eight games in the first elimination round. Morphy had been asked to enter, but at first refused. However, so many subscriptions were taken to the congress that a big hall on New York's Broadway, Descombes Rooms, was hired to hold the crowd. The lack of good players became critical, and pressure to attend was brought on Morphy through his New Orleans friends. Late in September, only a few days before the congress opened, he wired that he would be present. And on Oct. 5, 1857, the night before the first session opened, he suddenly materialized in time for the pairings at the New York Chess Club at 19 East 12th Street.

His record was phenomenal. The slight, dark-haired and black-eyed young man, only 5 ft. 4 in. tall, won his first game in 21 moves, almost in a matter of minutes. With matchless courtesy and self-possession he eliminated his first three opponents in nine successive victories, without being extended. He played rapidly, rarely deliberating over his moves-and in those days, when there was no time limit, chess masters pondered for hours and games lasted for days.

Morphy's only real opponent at the congress was Louis Paulsen, a German immigrant from Dubuque, Ia. Paulsen, then 24, was one of the world's great chess players. He was tall and thin, a slow player of elemental honesty and complete integrity whose methodical movements progressed inexorably and seemed to leave his opponents hypnotized. His background was the opposite of Morphy's. He was a poor boy. The chess congress was the great occasion of his life.

Morphy won his first game with Paulsen in 36 moves. The game was up to his usual standard of brilliance but is memorable for Paulsen's superb defense, which almost caused Morphy serious trouble. On their second game, Paulsen began to stall. He took as long as an hour and 15 minutes on a move. Before his 23rd move, he pondered 35 minutes. When the game was in its third sitting, Morphy inadvertently touched his queen. In chess, if you touch a piece, you must move it, and while Morphy afterward demonstrated that he could have won except for his error ("an unfortunate slip," says the official record), it cost him a draw. The third game Paulsen won handily. The fourth was a draw.

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