Lasker Philosphizes on Morphy

Aug 9, 2009, 3:09 PM |


Lasker Lectures on Great Skill of Morphy the Chess Master.

     It is perhaps to be regretted that Dr Lasker's lecture on the "Chess Philosophy of Paul Morphy" was not delivered before a larger audience than is possible under the rules of the New Orleans Chess Checkers and Whist Club for it was brimful of thoughtful suggestion that appealed not only to the chess player but to those who have never seen a chess-board.   It was not only the philosophy of chess that he demonstrated but the philosophy of life itself and the lecturer proved his genius by investing a somewhat technical subject with the color of human interest, and drew a lesson or two that may serve as an inspiration to the young man seeking for principles of action that lead to success in life.  According to Dr Lashers theory success is not achieved by brilliant dashes but by infinite labor backed by intelligence and logical method.
     Paul Morphy's success, according to Dr Lasker,  was due to the scientific application of logical principle to a game where contending forces of equal strength confront each other,  and his victories were due not to subtle combinations or natural intuition but to a gradual development of forces that crushed his opponent with cumulative effect.  This rather controverts the popular belief that Morphy was a genius and owed his phenomenal success solely to superior natural gifts and powers of intuition.
     Dr Lasker began by saying that while it was imagined that few men deserve the name of philosopher, yet every man who has the ability to generalize a series of observations is a philosopher All skillful chess players are philosophers because they ascribe their wins and losses to rational causes rather than the freaks of chance The tyro ascribes his defeats to the superior luck of his opponent or to an accidental position brought about without intent on the part of the successful player As he grows older he learns that chance cuts no figure in the game and that victory and defeat are due to logical causes.
     It was long a popular theory that the chess master was a genius who had the gift of mysterious combinations and the faculty of investing his pieces with a magic beyond the ke of the ordinary mortal.
     "What is a genius?"  asked the lecturer. "Is it a man gifted with a mysterious power which enables him to divine the truth without effort?  No."
     "Paul Morphy's life illustrated the idea that genius is the capacity to take Infinite pains added to the knowledge of how to achieve ends with small effort."
     To further illustrate his idea the lecturer drew a comparison between the great chess master Anderson [sic] and his young conqueror Morphy.
     Anderson's skill lay in a faculty for conceiving and executing combinations that took his opponent by surprise Surprise was the keynote of all his combinations His idea seemed to be that victory would perch upon the banner of the man who could lay deeper plans than his adversary.  In this style of play he was extraordinarily successful being gifted with rare powers of imagination and a great talent for combination The economy of means by which he achieved his ends were remarkable. Surprise was the basis of his conbinations and the same might be said of his contemporaries.  In Morphy's games, on the other hand,  we are struck by a sense of logic.
     Prior to Morphys time it was the fashion to believe chess masters [were] gifted with a mysterious power.  Even Bird, a chess master himself said that when Anderson was in form no body could withstand his combinations.  This, said Dr Lasker, is a false idea.  Victory in chess depends not only upon your own play but on that of your opponent.
      When Morphy developed to his complete stature something happened which never happened before.  Here was a man who took no stock in the occult power of another human being  and had no reverence for chess traditions.  Probably he owed this bold attitude to the new world in which he lived for it was essentially a democratic attitude.  Perhaps it arose from his encounter with Lowenthal, whom he defeated, shattering a belief that genius is a mystical force given to some people at their birth.
     Morphy had this faculty in connection with others.  The capacity for seeing a position when it presented itself.  In this democratic atmosphere the mystical sense of dream philosophy could not flourish.  Morphy probably owed his fine mental equipment to the artistic element of his Latin blood tempered by modern influences : it was partly English,  partly German in fine a logical sense. How this  miracle happened we do not know but the result was a system of philosophy that achiedved its end but by logical methods He must have formulated  for himself two axioms:
     1. Results depend on rational causes namely the effect of the action of pieces, such as mobility, activity and consequently features susceptible of study.
     2. Where one player has achieved a superiority of these effects of chess pieces he is aided in his combinations to such an extent that no matter how subtle the combinations of his opponent he must be victorious if he does his tactical work correctly.
     This was a tremendous challenge to the masters of the old world.  They depended on beauty in their play.  The beautiful was not necessarily included in Morphys play hut was merely a by-product so to speak.   His theory was a belief in justice of effort that no combinations however skillful could resist the inexorable force of superior effort.
     "It is the same in life as on the chess board," tersely remarked the lecturer.
     Dr Lasker demonstrated his theory by analyzing several of the games between Anderson and Morphy using a chess-board with attachable pieces, suspended on the wall,  showing how vain were ingenious combinations and brilliant dashes against the resistless force of a well-developed position.
     In conclusion Dr Lasker said :
     "Paul Morphy's games constitute a beautiful bequest to the chess world and give aim and purpose to the modern chess master :  they have magnetized chess and taught players to develop their game to the fullest extent and then await the opportune moment for aggresive play."

from: The Pensacola Journal, June 27, 1907.