Morphy-Lowenthal story, part six
Morphy residence, New Orleans, May 27, 1850--Saturday
Servants were arrainging the parlor for the games to be the center of attention. Space had been cleared for the spectators and the extra chairs had been placed on either side of the table, perpendicular to the players. Wide aisles were in place to allow people to flow in and out of the playing area easily while not disturbing the contestants, and a spare chess set was within easy reach in the den, where the games could be analyzed out of hearing of the players. Trays of food had been prepared in advance and drinks were iced and ready.
Alonzo was directing the servants about the final touches when Löwenthal and Rousseau entered. "I am embarrassed to greet you and not have everything in place," he said, "and I have chased all my guests outside to quicken the pace here." He summoned a servant. "Bring everyone here at once. See to it that Ernest brings my son." He turned back to them. "They shall be here in a moment. May I suggest some lemonade on ice, sir?"
Ernest was smiling broadly as he quickly traversed the courtyard. He knew exactly where to go. The corner of the terrace shaded by the magnolia tree; that's where he'd be. He knew.
Upon arriving at the terrace, Ernest saw him; there he was with his friends, playing, laughing, running around, though he stopped when he saw his uncle. Ernest walked up to him and good-naturedly roughed up his hair. He leaned down, looked him directly in the face, and said, "Would you like to play chess against someone who wins all his games?"
The boy looked back at him for a moment, then broke into a wide grin.
The First Game
The small crowd of spectators milled about the food and drinks, while a few others gathered near the main table. Löwenthal and Alonzo were chatting with Telcide and Rousseau when Ernest entered with the boy. He said, "Herr Löwenthal, allow me to introduce you to my nephew, Paul."
"I am honored to meet you, sir," said Paul, in fluent French.
Löwenthal looked at him with a face indicating shock. This is a mere child! What kind of parents are these that would do this to a mere child! Mein Gott! This cannot be! He mustered enough control to respond in polite but clipped French, "I have come to understand that you Americans have, shall we say, a unique sense of comedy. Could this be an example of that humor, now?"
Telcide reached out and gently touched his arm. "I assure you, sir, that your name is held in too high a regard in this household to commit such an insult to you. Please, sir, I know he looks small, but I assure you, he has severely tested all he has played."
Löwenthal remained doubtful. He is just a child! He said, "Then what odds will he require? Is he a rook player?"
Telcide laughed her wonderful, musical laugh. "Why no, sir, Paul never receives odds, he only gives them. Please, sir, try one contest, and after it is played, if you believe my son requires odds, you may offer them." She smiled warmly. "But I do not believe that that will be neccessary." She took his hand and gently squeezed it.
A murmer of agreement came from the assembled people and Löwenthal decided, if I must crush a child in front of his family and friends, then that is what I must do. They want this. But I must beat him quickly and get this distasteful business over with. This game has no pleasure for me. He indicated his preference to be black in the game. When the boy makes a mistake in these wild attacks, I can counterpunch and be done with it, he thought.
Servants brought two thick books for the boy to sit on in order to reach the table, increasing Löwenthal's discomfort. Ach, is there no end to this embarrassment? He turned his head slightly to the side in disgust as the boy shifted in his seat, settling in. With a smile that was almost cynical he reached and shook the boy's hand, which disappeared inside Löwenthal's.
The boy confidently took the pawn in front of his king and moved it forward two squares. Löwenthal thought; all those games last night with Rousseau, he played King's Gambit or the Spanish, and he remarked on this child's play in gambit lines. This child must know open games, he decided, since everybody seemed to play open games in the States. So what should he do? He thought, there is one opening that no one seems to play over here--the Sicilian. He threw out his c-pawn two squares.
Paul never batted an eye; he played his pawn to f4. Löwenthal thought, automatically, the King's Gambit move. He probably is a little terror in that line, then. But it is not good here. Szén had taught me that in Pesht years ago. Knowing what he had to do, Löwenthal played his next two moves quickly, confidently. Your center is now hanging, my child, he thought. How do solve the problem of the e-pawn?
Paul solved the problem quickly--by exchanging it. Löwenthal was surprised by this move, as almost everybody else he had played in this line had tried to support the center or advance it, and both ways were weak. The boy then played d4 and Löwenthal's surprise grew. Only Anderssen plays this, he thought. This is extraordinary! He remembered back to the game, where Anderssen placed his knight on e5 and had simply dominated him. I must not take that chance again, he thought. I will kill that knight first.
He played his bishop to g4, pinning white's knight. Paul scanned the position with a bland look on his face, then moved his bishop to e2. Löwenthal took the knight and Paul immediately recaptured with the bishop. The next few moves were played quickly, until move nine, when Paul played Be3. Löwenthal wasn't aware of his eyebrows arching in surprise of the move, and he did not see Alonzo and Ernest smiling and tapping each other to point out the reaction. Mein Gott, what is this, he does not play the rook to the open file? He does not play this good move? He sat there, his head gripped in both of his hands, his eyes moving and blinking rapidly as he calculated the position. I am forced to exchange in the center, he realized, this little boy has forced me to weaken my center. A wry smile came to his lips as the thought occurred to him; he is outplaying me! This is not possible.
Löwenthal conceded to the exchange of pawns and castled. Paul brought his other knight out and Löwenthal realized that his d-pawn was going to fall. It's amazing what this child is doing. It has hardly been a dozen moves and already he has pressured me into a concession, and now he is trying to win material. Löwenthal took a long look into the position and realized that he could keep pawns even, maybe even split white's queenside pawns which would help in endgames, but he would have to concede to long-term pressure along the white diagonal and down the b-file. With a start, he suddenly realized that he had been taking more time on his moves than his opponent, and the thought bothered him. He played his knight.
The next few moves went as expected, with white gaining a strong knight on d5 to compliment his f3 bishop, while black improved his bishop to c5 and had split white's pawns. A little after the fifteenth move Paul moved a pawn for a kingside attack and Löwenthal's eyebrows arched again. He holds the advantage in two sides of the board, and now he wants to attack my king? He took a few moments, looking at the move and it's ramifications. If he pushes that pawn to f6 I am doomed. And I cannot counter his play through the queenside or the center. So I must seek play on the kingside, but this is where he is beginning an attack. I cannot just sit here; I will not survive the blows. I must attack!
He played his queen to the kingside. The boy, sitting quietly with that innocent expression and softly whistling an operatic tune through his teeth, took his usual minute or two before pushing a pawn up to attack the queen and give his king a flight square. Löwenthal retreated his queen and Paul played the move Löwenthal dreaded, f6. As Löwenthal investigated the possibilities available to him, he noticed the boy looking directly at him. He looked back at the boy a second, then smiled, but the smile was not returned. Löwenthal resumed looking at his options. The boy continued to look at him for a long time, and Alonzo, Ernest, and Rousseau left their seats and headed for the den, knowing what the look meant.
The master brought his knight into the center of the board and the boy leaned on his left elbow and reached across the long distance to take the black pawn at g7. Löwenthal had a strange thought--he never had to worry about an unprotected back rank; the child could not reach the opposite side of the board to deliver checkmate! He took the opportunity to bring his rook into the game and the boy responded quickly by moving his bishop, creating multiple threats at f5 and f6, not to mention h7. His eyebrows arching again, Löwenthal took the pawn with his queen, trying to work the knight to g4, when the boy leaned forward, bringing his queen to h5. He thought, there is only one way now. I must try trickery, for this child allows me no chance of wresting advntage from him.
He moved his rook to d6, allowing the bishop to take at h7 with check, for he had an idea in mind: He was going to let the boy bring Löwenthal's rook over to the attack after the discovered check, when black's queen and rook create instant threats of checkmate. He counted on the suddeness of the counterplay to stun the child, finishing the game and ending this unpleasant experience. But with a serenity that was frightening, the boy simply brought his other rook, dormant so far on the b-file, to b2, defending, and with the threat of playing to g2, winning material through the future threat of mate at g8. The resulting forced series of moves left Löwenthal no choice but to exchange a rook for a knight in a hopeless ending.
Löwenthal played on for several more moves, but there was never a chance to get in any meaningful play. When the boy took the bishop and then brought his king to d5 Löwenthal could only think one thought: this is child's play. I must end this farce now. He reached out and laid his king down, saying, "You are my master, young man, as you will be the master of many to come." He extended his hand. The partisan crowd applauded passionately.
Again, Paul's small hand disappeared in Löwenthal's. "It's an honor, sir. There was some danger to my king in the game."
"I have never seen anyone play this opening like you do. You placed your bishops very well. Your approach is refreshing, very refreshing." Löwenthal began setting up the pieces, taking white this time.
The Second Game
A small group had retreated to the den, where Alonzo and Telcide began hugging each other, slapping each other on the back, alive with joy. He had done it! Paul had beaten the master! Then Edward grabbed Telcide, and Alonzo grabbed Ernest. Alonzo was breathless. "You said he would do something amazing! My God, did you see him win? That was my son!"
"He just outplayed him. He stood right up to him and just outplayed him." Ernest's grin was infectious, unstoppable. "Löwenthal wasn't so correct in this game, was he?"
Telcide was radient, bursting with pride at her son. "I wonder if our distinguished guest would care to offer Paul a rook, now. Shall I remind him of that,sir, and ask if odds are neccessary?"
Alonzo took her arm in his, squeezing her hand. "No, cheri, i don't think that there will be a need to ask about odds."
Ernest signaled to someone from the doorway and Rousseau came to him, where they exchanged whispers. Ernest returned and said, "Paul defends a Bishop's Game." They are moving briskly. I'm going to get a pencil and record these games, like I should have done at the start." Ernest headed for the secretary.
Everybody else returned to the playing area, where the game was still in it's early stages. Paul had already planted a knight on d4 and Löwenthal was contemplating how to deal with the threat of the knight taking on c2, forking his king and rook. Löwenthal calmly reached for his queen and placed it on c3. Paul immediately looked up at him, a quizzical look on his face. "Perhaps you would like that move back, sir? I cannot hold you to a move you did not intend to make."
Löwenthal suddenly realized what the boy was talking about. If black moves his bishop to b4, he would pin white's queen to his king. The queen would be forced to take, when black plays knight to c2 check, winning the queen. He was embarrassed to have allowed something so basic and resigned immediately. "I cannot dishonor your play by taking you up on your generous offer. I'm afraid my play in this game was not up to your challenge."
"An unfortunate slip of the fingers, though much to my benefit. Shall we play another game, sir? For I'm sure you'll be much more alert, now."
Löwenthal's eyebrows shot up yet again, but he sat silent, saying nothing. He knew the child was not trying to insult him but his--what was it?--his presence; the confidence this little one displayed at the board; it was almost amusing. He returned the pieces to their original squares, taking black again. Yes, wonderkinde, I will be more alert, now. And we shall see how you react to some of the knowledge of the Continent.