Biography of Chess Player Paul Charles Morphy Part 5

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


Wizard of Chess

It was the Christmas vacation, and Anderssen had only two weeks before he had to be back at school. Anderssen was one of the greatest of all chess players. He is called by some eminent authorities the best, in terms of his character and ability. He himself had been ailing but made the effort to come to Morphy's side. He could hardly have arrived at a more critical moment. Edge had had to lift Morphy out of his bed, and Morphy was unable to stand up. Moreover, he had begun to develop the aversion to chess that soon became an obsession.

Morphy's physician would not let him play in public. The two sick masters squared away in a room in the Hotel de Breteuil for one of the most extraordinary and harrowing games in the history of chess. After 7 hours and 72 moves, in which Morphy's genius showed only in the nervous lightning dodges by which he tried to save himself, he was beaten. Of the 300-odd games in Morphy's collected works, this appears to be the only one in which he was thoroughly whipped.

The second game was drawn. On the third game Morphy seemed to be coming back to life. Sparks of his old brilliance appeared, and he won. Anderssen won 2 more games, but thereafter Morphy fathomed the nature of his opponent and won 12 games to Anderssen's 3. Some of these were as spectacular as any he ever played. Anderssen would bow his bald head and bony face over the board, radiant with admiration of Morphy's strategy, or even laugh outright at Morphy's astonishing inventions.

That ended Morphy's career. His brother-in-law, J.D. Sybrandt, arrived in Paris, bearing the Morphy family demand that he return home. When Morphy reached New York, the metropolitan papers gave him half their front pages; a gold and silver chess set was presented to him; Longfellow, Holmes, and lesser lights honored him, but he was through with chess. With unimportant exceptions, he never played again. One story is that he was in love with a New Orleans girl who was not interested in marrying a chess player. Whatever the truth was, he lived out his life a lonely, strange man in a gloomy cavern of a house, puttering about with his private concerns. He lived in constant fear of being poisoned, and refused to eat any food except that prepared by his mother or his sister. At one time an attempt was made to have him committed to an asylum, but he argued his sanity so convincingly that the authorities would not admit him.

Morphy was found dead in his bathtub at the age of 47. It was supposed that he had gone for a long walk in the intense heat of a July day in New Orleans and had jumped into a cold bath when he came home.

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