legend, into history”
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.
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
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.
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
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
June, 1858 Paul Morphy went to Europe to challenge the best
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
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.
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.
played 227 competitive games during his life- time, winning 83 percent of