Paul Morphy title
Through legend, into history”

Paul Charles Morphy was born on June 22, 1837 in the city of New Orleans to a wealthy and distinguished family. His parents were Alonzo Morphy, a successful Lawyer and Judge of the High Court of Louisiana and Thelcide Carpentier, a west Indian Lady whose father Joseph Carpentier was French. Morphy’s father nationality was Spanish, but he was of Irish origin. He had two sisters, Mahrina and Helena, and a brother, Edward. Paul MorphyHe learned to play Chess before the age of ten when his father taught him although his uncle Ernest Morphy claimed that no one formally taught Morphy how to play Chess and he learned by simply observing games between his father Alonzo Morphy and himself. His family soon realized the boy’s talent and encouraged him to play. In 1849, before he reached the age of twelve his play begins to emerge through legend into history. By the time he was thirteen, Morphy was the best Chess player in New Orleans and one of the best players in America. After an early education at the Jefferson Academy in New Orleans, he went to the Jesuit establishment St. Joseph’s College at Spring Hill near Mobile Alabama in December of 1850. He graduated in 1854 but remained another year in the College studying mathematics and Law. Later, Paul Morphy decided to follow the legal profession at the University of Louisiana. In April 1857 he was admitted to the bar. Paul Morphy was fluent in four languages: English, French, Spanish, and German, and could recite from memory nearly the whole Civil Code of Louisiana. It cannot be said that playing the game of Chess was a factor to interfere with Morphy’s general education.

At age 17, he won six games against Judge Meek, President of the American Chess Congress. In October, 1857 Paul Morphy went to New York to play in the first American Chess Congress (the top 16 players in America were invited.) Morphy easily defeated them all and won the event. He refused the $300.00 first place money. Instead, he accepted a silver pitcher, four goblets, and a salver. The salver was engraved with a picture of Paul Morphy in the act of winning the decisive game against Paulsen and had an inscription declaring him victor in the tournament, while all the pieces bore the monogram P.M.

He defeated Charles Stanley, the next best player in America, giving him odds of pawn and move. Morphy gave the $100.00 prize money to Stanley’s wife and children. As a mark of gratitude, she named her next daughter Pauline. In December, Morphy left for home having a record in New York of 100 level games played with only five losses (including the one tournament game lost to Paulsen). After Morphy’s amazing victory at New York, some people suggested that a European master should come to America to play him.

When the great British master Howard Staunton heard this (Staunton was considered the best Chess player in the world), he wrote in his weekly paper column, “The best players of Europe are not Chess professionals, but have other and more serious things to occupy their minds with.
Paul Morphy’s friends in New Orleans did send a challenge to Howard Staunton to come to America, but Howard Staunton rejected it. He did say that if Paul Morphy came to Europe, he would find him ready.

In June, 1858 Paul Morphy went to Europe to challenge the best Chess players. The New Orleans Chess club suggested to pay Morphy the amount needed for him to participate in the Birmingham tournament, to be held in England, but Morphy declined the offer, as he did not want to be considered a professional Chess player. In July, 1858 Paul Morphy played four ‘consultation games’ soon after his arrival in London. Two of those games are recorded as Morphy-Barnes vs. Staunton-Owen, having Morphy the satisfaction of being on the winning side both times they did so.

Although Morphy had an ally to assist him in each occasion, the outcome of his side of the game may fairly be attributed to the American Champion, whom he had crossed the Atlantic to play. These two games are far from being an official match between Paul Morphy and Howard Staunton. As is well known, they never met over the board again. He stayed in England for three months trying to arrange a match with Staunton. But Howard Staunton claimed he had more serious things to do, albeit he participated in the Birmingham tournament at the same time.

Staunton also continued to smear Morphy in his newspaper Chess column, claiming Morphy was chasing money, among other things. In the last letter that Morphy send to Staunton, he writes “Allow me to repeat, what I have constantly declared in all the Chess circles I have had the honor to participate. That I have never wanted to make any skill I may possess, a tool for making a profit. Paul Morphy had to give up the idea of a match against Howard Staunton and went to Paris, where he defeated Lowenthal, Harrwitz, and Anderssen within a space of six months.

Having defeated Harrwitz, he even rejected receiving the prize of 290 francs. But he was forced to and later used the money to pay Anderssen’s journey to France. When he arrived in Paris to play Anderssen, he was suffering from the flu. His medical treatment consisted of being leeched. He lost four pints of blood and was too weak to leave his hotel bed. Anderssen’s friends had told him not to damage the German prestige by traveling abroad to play a match against this young man (Paul Morphy) without official recognition.

But Anderssen felt otherwise, and when his friends asked him why he didn’t play as brilliant as he did in his famous match against Dufresne, Anderssen replied “No, Morphy would not let me. Morphy himself, was playing the second strongest Chess player (Anderssen) in the world from his hotel bed suffering from the flu, and still won the match with a seven to two score. In April, 1859 Morphy played up to 8 blindfold simultaneous games against top players of each Chess club he visited.

By December, 1859 he had given up serious Chess. Morphy did not fight for the South during the Civil War and stayed out of the war. He traveled to Cuba, then to Paris in 1863. He returned to New Orleans a year later. In 1867 his mental state was alarming, and his mother persuaded him to go to Paris, hoping that the change of environment would help him. Morphy had now come to hate Chess, and he never approached the Chess clubs where had earlier celebrated his greatest triumphs.

He stayed in Paris for 18 months before returning to his home. Morphy withdrew from society and suffered delusions of persecution in his later years. According to his niece, he had in a period the strange habit of walking up and down the porch saying “Il plantera la banniere de Castille sur le murs de Madrid, au cri de Ville gangnee, et le petit roi s’en ira tout penaud, in English, “He will plant the banner of the Castille on the walls of Madrid, screaming : The city is conquered and the little King will have to go.

Two years before Paul Morphy died, he was asked if it was okay to include him in a book about famous Louisiana citizens because of his achievements in Chess. Morphy was outraged by being connected with Chess, and answered, that his father, judge at the supreme court of Louisiana, Mr. Alonzo Morphy, at his death, had left a sum of $146.162 dollars and 54 cents. But that he (Morphy) did not have a profession at all, and thus had nothing to do in such a book. On July 10, 1884 Morphy died of a stroke while taking a cold bath. He was just 47 years old.

Paul Morphy played 227 competitive games during his life- time, winning 83 percent of his games. 

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