Paul Morphy: the First Modern Player
What can I say about Paul Morphy that my readers don't already know? Imagine, my audience knows as much of the man as anyone can know which is unfortunately very little. Perhaps because the man, the chess player, appeared out of nowhere, captured the chess community unaware, dominated their theater, and then disappeared. All in two years!! Many chess fans see Morphy as the best player ever! Incredible!! In only two years, his approach towards chess was simply magical. Is there another similar example in chess? I don't think so! Is one article enough? Of course not!
Paul Morphy, "The Pride and Sorrow of Chess," was born in New Orleans, Louisiana on June 22nd, 1837 to a respectable, wealthy, and distinguished family in which his father, grandfather, elder brother, and Uncle Ernest all played chess, the last one being an excellent player. Morphy grew up in a chess atmosphere, a condition that is a key factor for the development of many great players. His uncle, Ernest Morphy, asserted that no one properly taught Paul how to play chess, and that he learned the rules by observing games between himself and Alonzo. In 1850, when Morphy was 12 years old, Johann Jacob Loewenthal, a very strong professional Hungarian chess master, visited New Orleans and at the command of his father decided to play a casual match with the prodigy. Paul won 2.5-.5 . It is remarkable how similar the beginnings of Morphy and Capablanca were.
After 1850, Morphy did not play cehss very often. He graduated from Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama in 1854. He was then accepted to the University of Louisiana to study law, and received an L.L.B. degree on April 7, 1857. It is said that he memorized the complete Louisiana book of codes and laws!
However, not yet of age to apply to be a lawyer, he found himself with some time to play chess. He received an invitation to participate in the First American Chess Congress, held in New York in the fall of 1857. He defeated each of his opponents, including the strong German master Louis Paulsen in the final match.
I will show you the most famous of Morphy's combinations from this tournament, a classic, and now one of the most famous positions in chess history! As homework, we have the only known problem created by Morphy! White to play and mate in 2. In my next article I will continue with his fascinating story.