Paul Morphy

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Paul Morphy

Morphy holds the highest rating of the Grand Masters with an overall record: 84.6%

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Paul Charles Morphy (June 22, 1837 – July 10, 1884) was an American chess player. He is considered to have been the greatest chess master of his era and an unofficial World Chess Champion. He got the absolut highest rating of all the Grand Masters. He was a chess prodigy. He was called "The Pride and Sorrow of Chess" because he had a brief and brilliant chess career, but retired from the game while still young.

Morphy was born in New Orleans, Louisiana to a wealthy and distinguished family. He learned to play chess by simply watching games between his father and uncle. His family soon realized the boy's talent and encouraged him to play at family gatherings and by age nine he was considered one of the best players in New Orleans. At just twelve years old, Morphy defeated visiting Hungarian master Johann Löwenthal in a match of three games.

After receiving his degree in 1857, Morphy was not yet of legal age to practice law and found himself with free time. He received an invitation to play at the First American Chess Congress in New York City and, at his uncle's urging, accepted. Morphy won the tournament which included strong players of the day, such as Alexander Meek and Louis Paulsen. Morphy was hailed as the chess champion of the United States and stayed in New York playing chess through 1857, winning the vast majority of his games. In 1858, Morphy travelled to Europe to play European Champion Howard Staunton. While negotiations for a match proved problematic, Morphy played every strong player in Europe, usually winning easily. While the match with Staunton never came about, Morphy was hailed by most in Europe as the world's best player.

Returning to the United States in triumph, the accolades continued as he toured the major cities playing chess on his way back to New Orleans. By 1859, on returning to New Orleans, Morphy declared he was retiring from chess to begin his law career. However, Morphy was never able to establish a successful law practice and ultimately lived a life of idleness, living off his family's fortune. Despite appeals from his chess admirers, Morphy never returned to the game, and died in 1884 from a stroke at the age of forty-seven.

 

Playing style

Today many amateurs think of Morphy as a dazzling combinative player, who excelled in sacrificing his  queen and checkmating his opponent a few brilliant moves later. One reason for this impression is that chess books like to reprint his flashy games. There are games where he did do this, but it was not the basis of his chess style. In fact, the masters of his day considered his style to be on the conservative side compared to some of the flashy older masters like La Bourdonnais and Anderssen.

Morphy can be considered the first modern player. Some of his games do not look modern because he did not need the sort of slow positional systems that modern Grandmasters use, or that Staunton, Paulsen, and later Steinitz developed. His opponents had not yet mastered the open game, so he played it against them and he preferred open positions because they brought quick success. He played open games almost to perfection but could handle any sort of position, having a complete grasp of chess years ahead of his time. Morphy was a player who intuitively knew what was best, and in this regard he has been likened to Capablanca. He was, like Capablanca, a child prodigy; he played quickly and was hard to beat. In an era before time control was used, Morphy often took less than an hour to make all of his moves, while his opponents would need perhaps 8 hours or more. Löwenthal and Anderssen both later remarked that he was indeed hard to beat since he knew how to defend and would draw or even win games despite getting into bad positions. At the same time, he was deadly when given a promising position. Anderssen especially commented on this, saying that after one bad move against Morphy one might as well resign. "I win my games in seventy moves but Mr. Morphy wins his in twenty, but that is only natural..." Anderssen said, explaining his poor results against Morphy.

Of Morphy's 59 "serious" games. Those played in matches and the 1857 New York tournament. He won 42, drew 9, and lost 8.

Former World Champion Bobby Fischer, noting that "Morphy and Capablanca had enormous talent", stated further that Morphy had the talent to beat any player of any era if "given time to study modern theory and ideas".Some commentators disagree, including British GM Raymond Keene and American GM Reuben Fine, who wrote that "if we examine Morphy's record and games critically, we cannot justify such extravaganza."

 

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