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Book Review - "The Genius of Paul Morphy" by Chris Ward

  • qtsii
  • | May 7, 2008 at 12:51 PM
  • | Posted in: The Q Factor
  • | 1459 reads
  • | 0 comments

 

I found this review to be interesting especially if you are looking for a book or books on Morphy. - QTS

 

"The Genius of Paul Morphy" by Chris Ward

 

"The Genius of Paul Morphy" by Chris Ward, 1997 
Cadogan Books, Figurine Algebraic Notation, 205pp., $21.95  
Reviewed by Glenn Budzinski
 
Paul Morphy may be dead for 113 years, but forgotten he's certainly not. 
Every few years a new book appears, purporting to explore yet another aspect 
of his life or games. Hot off the presses is the latest such work, British 
GM Chris Ward's "The Genius of Paul Morphy".  The book's seven chapters and 
205 pages include a total of 465 Morphy games, with 72 contained in Chapters 1 
through 6 and the remaining approximately 380 to 400 games in Chapter 7. 
Chapter 1 offers the briefest of biographies on Morphy (five pages total) that 
focuses mostly on general observations about him; Chapter 2 covers 
"Morphy Miniatures", 16 selected games won by Morphy in less than 20 moves 
each; selected games from Morphy's only major tournament appearance, the First
American Chess Congress, can be found in Chapter 3; a selection of Morphy's 
European games is contained in Chapter 4,"On Tour with Paul Morphy"; 
Chapter 5, "Against the Odds", includes games played at odds; Chapter 6, 
"How to Beat Morphy", identifies a few of Morphy's weaknesses, and Chapter 7 
provides the remainder of all of his known games to date.  A good way to 
understand what to expect out of a book is to perform a careful reading of the 
Introduction. One could argue that it is here where the author should provide a 
glimpse of why he wrote the book and set the stage for what's to come. (Thus, 
at least in this writer's opinion, a book without an introduction is usually a book 
without a plan.)  With "The Genius of Paul Morphy", it took this writer a couple 
of readings of the Introduction, coupled with a perusal of six of the first seven 
chapters, before feeling relatively secure about possessing a sufficient 
understanding of Ward's objective. He writes (in the Introduction) that "it's not 
the sheer volume of victories that makes him [Morphy] such a key figure in the 
game, but rather the manner in which he achieved them...In the less important 
games, although he had a tendency to part with more than just the occasional 
piece, it's quite unbelievable what he manages to achieve with a reduced and 
outnumbered army...Sit back, learn from and enjoy the games, and judge for 
yourself the genius of Paul Morphy." When one considers the author's focus to 
be an examination of Morphy's creativity across the board, the existence of 
chapters such as "Morphy Miniatures" and "Against the Odds" begins to make sense.  
To better judge Ward's modern day coverage, a comparison was made with the 
other Morphy book of the 1990s, Macon Shibut's "Paul Morphy and the Evolution 
of Chess Theory", published in 1993.  Taking a look at the basics, Shibut includes 
465 Morphy games while Ward claims to have "well over 450", but gives neither 
an exact count nor a numbering system for the subsequent games after the 72 
highlighted examples shown in Chapters 1 through 6.  The majority of the 72 
games are unannotated and presented merely to be illustrative of a particular 
chapter's theme. Those annotations that do exist mainly take the form of light 
commentary, generally less detailed than annotations presented by Shibut 
(although this may be an unfair comparison since Shibut is writing from a different
perspective).  Kudos, however, to Ward for devoting a chapter to selected 
Morphy First American Chess Congress games, even if his commentary to those 
games could hardly be considered detailed. Some sources (including Shibut) simply
present the games of Morphy's only significant tournament appearance, devoid 
altogether of commentary -- a sin of omission.  Both Shibut and Ward disagree 
with Bobby Fischer's now famous quote that "Morphy was perhaps the most 
accurate player who ever lived. He had a complete sight of the board and never 
blundered..." (Ward, Page 8) Of course, we all know that, like every other great 
player, occasionally even Morphy blundered. Curiously, although both authors 
devote entire chapters to his oversights, neither provides a close examination of 
the games of Thomas Barnes, the English player who, Shibut notes, "took more 
full points off Morphy than any other European master". (Shibut actually even sets 
aside a separate chapter exclusively for Barnes, but still only looks at one of the 
three surviving Barnes victories, the same game shown by Ward in his Chapter 6.)  
While Ward appears to have highlighted most of Morphy's best and probably most 
well-known efforts in the first six chapters, including the famous Count and the 
Duke game played at the opera (Game #15) and Morphy's startling Queen sacrifice 
against Paulsen (Game #24), Ward's failure to draw attention to the celebrated 
18...Qa3!! game against Bird is a painful omission (although the game is included 
in Chapter 7.)  Intriguing is Ward's identification of his Game #44 as Morphy - 
T. Worrall from New Orleans 1857, a game usually referred to as Morphy versus 
"Amateur" or "Unknown". Surveying the literature, Loewenthal, from his 1860 
book on Morphy, cites the game as Morphy versus an unknown player, without a 
year or a location; Frere (1859) refers to it as Morphy versus "Amateur", year and 
location also unknown; Sergeant, in "Morphy's Games of Chess", gives it as 
Morphy vs. "Amateur", but from New York 1857, not New Orleans. Shibut addresses
 the game as "Morphy - NN" and offers its origin as 1857 New York. While Ward 
may, in fact, be correct about the assignment of this game to Worrall, rumored 
to have been a strong Mexican amateur player, the inclusion of a bibliography or 
at least a footnote to this particular game, would've gone a long way in corroborating 
his claim.  Also on the subject of the alleged Morphy - T. Worrall encounter, after 
1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 g5 4 Bc4 g4 5 d4 gxf3 6 0-0 Bh6 7 Qxf3 Nc6 8 Bxf7+ Kxf7 
9 Qh5+ Kg7 10 Bxf4 Bxf4 11 Rxf4 Nh6 12 Raf1 Qe8 13 Qh4 d6 14 Qf6+ Kg8 
15 Qxh6 Bd7, Ward gives White's move as 16 R1f3 and an editor's note in the book 
follows which points out that 16 R4f3 has been cited by other sources and "is 
more plausible".  Since Loewenthal, Sergeant and Frere all refer to the move as 
16.KR-B3 in English Descriptive notation (Shibut offers 16 R4f3), (or f3 in algebraic), 
Ward's 16 R1f3 is probably incorrect.  Of course, coupled with the previous 
assertion that the opponent is Worrall, one can't help but wonder if Ward may have 
unearthed new information.  But, as Ward also points out, it's moot whether White's 
16th move was R4f3 or R1f3, since even Morphy missed a quicker mate after 
16 Rf8+ Qxf8 17 Qg5+ Qg7 18 Qd5+ Be6 19 Qxe6+ Qf7 20 Qf7#. (The game actually 
continued 16 R4 [or R1]f3 Ne7 17 h4 Ng6 18 h5 Bg4 19 hxg6 hxg6 20 Rf8+ Qxf8 
21 Rxf8+ Rxf8 22 Qxg6#.) Obviously, Ward has taken about as close a look at this 
game as anyone in history.  For those of you who are truly hard core Morphy trivia 
buffs, Ward's spelling of the player named "J. Budzinski" is not what is traditionally 
used by all other sources. As flattered as this writer might be to think that a distant 
relative may have played a couple of games against the great Morphy, the 
preferred spelling of that Budzinski (at least until now) has always been with a 
"y", not an "I", at the end. Lastly, it should be noted that the chapter  heading 
given on the top of each page for Chapter 4 is incorrect.  Unfortunately, "The 
Genius of Paul Morphy" is one of those books that seems to raise more questions 
than it answers. It is this writer's opinion that the best way to view this book is 
as a modern day compilation of Morphy's games, which means it uses algebraic 
notation and 1990s commentary. Despite the claim on the book's back cover that 
"Ward critically examines Morphy's style, strengths and weaknesses - the first time 
that a contemporary Grandmaster has so systematically appraised Morphy's games", 
Ward's examination is neither particularly critical nor nearly as rigorously detailed 
as one might expect from a grandmaster author. For the average player who doesn't 
already own a collection of Morphy games and absolutely requires algebraic notation, 
then this work is essentially your only option. However, if you can live with 
descriptive notation, Sergeant's "Morphy's Games of Chess", which offers more 
game commentary as well as additional biographical information, is still in print 
and costs less than half the price.

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