Morphy the Terrible

  • #481

    Guys, I think you're missing something important about mid-nineteenth century chess.  Before tournaments, before titles, before ratings, before clocks, stronger players gave material odds in order to give the weaker player a sporting chance.  In the off-hand and blindfold games are where you see Morphy play all the gambits that people seem to think he preferred.  But if you look at his official games (from the 1857 NYCC and in his matches) you find very few gambits when the contest was still in doubt (to Morphy).  A Boden-Kieseritsky Gambit vs Lichtenhein (who he had beaten in the first game with black in 19 moves and was later to beat in a match at Knight odds), a couple a King's Gambits against Lowenthal, who he had beaten several times, all the way back to 1850 when Paul was not yet 13, no gambits against Harrwitz, who had showed in three previous games that Morphy could not just blow him off the board, and one against Andersen--an Evan's Gambit which Morphy lost in 72 moves, after which Morphy said something to the effect that Andersen had proven what Morphy had suspected for some time, that white did not have enough for the pawn.  If Morphy truly believed that gambits were the best lines, he would have played them against the best--he didn't.  And if he thought the Evan's was unsound, I'm sure he knew that the Philidor line was unsound, too, but he's doing the honorable thing at the time, giving a weaker player a chance to get in the game.  That was the chess of the day, and why I feel it is foolish to compare games played for entertainment with games played later, under what we would now call professional conditions.  And back in those days, a player like Karpov or Carlsen wouldn't have games published, regardless of the precision, because the public then (as now) wanted sacrifices--brilliancies--so everybody "played to the gallery."  And don't forget one critical fact--Morphy did NOT retire in 1859--he retired in 1852, when he gave away his chess sets (except one) and all his books--he claimed they couldn't teach him anything.  From 1852 to 1857 he played almost no chess, and no games against anybody who could challenge him.  From age 14 to 20 he was retired.  He came out of retirement in 1857, played all that would play him for two years, then retired again, because there was something going on in the US that was a bit more important than chess.  To sacrifice those critical years and to still reach the heights he did--I won't say he was the strongest player ever, and I won't say he was the best player, but I will say I think he was the most talented player of all time.  To go as far as he did with such little effort--yeah, I think he was the most talented ever.

  • #482

    ^That too.  Honor was a big part of the romantic period of chess, players were expected to offer up material and accept gambits.  That's why the "Immortal Game" looks like a match between two 1200-1400 players in today's terms.

  • #483

    Smyslov Fan. According to your reasoning here is one reason Sir Issac Newton wasn't a genius. As we know, in this day and age, anybody with a degree in physics can solve problems in calculus and mechanics better than Newton could so surely they are all as brilliant as Newton was. All chess players, however good, can see better moves only because they stand on the shoulders of the giants that came before them. By the way Smyslov was also one of those giants, and he also would have trouble against the top players today. Why don' t you badmouth him for a while?

  • #484

    No, Nilocra...

    Just as Morphy was a genius who was the best player of his age, so Newton was a genius who was the greatest physicist of his age. 

    But, just as Newton said, if today's GMs see farther, it's because they stand on the shoulders of giants. 

    Today's physicists see much farther than Newton did. That is obvious. I don't know why it's not obvious that today's chess players see farther than Morphy did.

  • #485

    SmyslovFan. My apologies. It seems as if we are in agreement. I mistook another blog that derided Morphy because most good players today would probably beat him. When they referred to your post, I made the mistake of thinking that post was yours. 

  • #486
    SmyslovFan wrote:

    ... I don't know why it's not obvious that today's chess players see farther than Morphy did.

    As far as I can tell, there has not been much difficulty with the perception that chess has progressed since Morphy's day. The disagreement seems to be mainly about what would happen if Morphy somehow played in the present - a silly thing to vigorously debate, but people seem to enjoy discussing it anyway.

    "Kasparov, in his monumental series My Great Predecessors, claimed the old lions were ginormous patzers in comparison to today's top players. He intimated that a current master-strength player might be able to take down a world championship contender if transported back a couple hundred years. Of course such comparisons can't be made, and a player's strength should be judged for his own time. It's not out of the realm of possibility that if we transported Morphy in his prime to our time, gave him a database and books spanning the last 50 years ..., and gave him access to a good psychiatrist, he could be kicking Topalov's, Anand's, Carlsen's, and yes, Kasparov's collected butts within a few years! And if not that, then at least playing competitively within the group." - IM Cyrus Lakdawala (2011)

  • #487
    tiredofjapan wrote:

    ... Chess books weren't being printed far and wide.  What he would have learned, he would have done from periodicals, which I imagine were less robust in America than they were in France at the time. ...

    If I remember correctly, it was specifically recorded that Morphy had spent some time with Staunton's book about the 1851 tournament. It strikes me as a good guess that Morphy had some exposure to writings by Philidor, Staunton, and Bilguer. Of course, that wasn't anything like the sort of thing that is readily available today.

  • #488
    tiredofjapan wrote:

    ^That too.  Honor was a big part of the romantic period of chess, players were expected to offer up material and accept gambits.  That's why the "Immortal Game" looks like a match between two 1200-1400 players in today's terms.

     

    By modern standards the "Immortal Game" is very odd.  Nevertheless, no present day player under 1400 (or, to be precise, even a lot stronger than 1400) would ever think up the creative plan or find the clever tactics in the "Immortal Game".

     

    Any 1400 player that believes they would have the slightest chance against Keiseritsky, Morphy, Andersen, Staunton, St. Amant, La Bourdonnais and those other old players (if they had a time machine to arrange a match) is simply deluded.  Those players of old had enormous tactical ability and raw chess vision.  They lacked the knowledge that comes with a century or three of progress, but even without that they were still objectively stronger than most modern day amateurs.

  • #489

    Yes, except that calling someone who is not new to the game and proved many times he can play at a certain level, an amateur, is probably disrespectful.

  • #490
    ironbasicb wrote:

    Yes, except that calling someone who is not new to the game and proved many times he can play at a certain level, an amateur, is probably disrespectful.

     

    Where did anyone call "someone who is not new to the game and proved many times he can play at a certain level" an amateur ?  

    Who did you have in mind?

  • #491
    ModestAndPolite wrote:
    ironbasicb wrote:

    Yes, except that calling someone who is not new to the game and proved many times he can play at a certain level, an amateur, is probably disrespectful.

     

    Where did anyone call "someone who is not new to the game and proved many times he can play at a certain level" an amateur ?  

    Who did you have in mind?

    All I was trying to say is that I know a number of players who are technically speaking amateurs, nevertheless strong amateurs, it is just that they are not playing much.

    Those people don't have to study the opening phase of the game, they need just to polish the material they have already grasped, all the while keeping an eye on the upcoming games.

  • #492

    kindaspongy

    Paul's uncle Ernest was strong enough to be Eugene Rousseau's second during the match for the American championship in 1845 (Paul never played EM at odds).  His father also played and the Morphy family was wealthy, so I think it's safe to say that any books that were worth reading were owned by the Morphys or by Rousseau and that Paul had access to them, even if he didn't own them outright himself.  I feel the same about periodicals; if they were worth reading, they found their way to New Orleans and Paul's eager eyes.  I can't prove this, can't back this up factually in any way, but considering the chess culture there I feel confident in stating that anything in chess that was worth reading at the time was read by Paul.

  • #493

    modestandpolite, I didn't mean to say that the 1200-1400 player would easily be able to win, only that the way chess was played in that time resembles what we today would call an amateur game.  I have no doubt that these men had a genius which would easily overpower current amateurs, and if they faced modern masters, their intelligence and vision would at least keep them in the game.  My point is that chess learning at the time was in a completely different place, and specifically, we shouldn't judge prior chess players by current standards because they introduced a host of brilliance to the game, and probably would have contributed even more if given the modern advantages available to precocious titled players.

  • #494

    kindaspongey, I agree that there was something available in terms of books, and yes, what was available would likely have been read by Morphy.  But he didn't have the advantage of the vast database of recorded play that has led to the books and other materials that the 20th century have given us.  Let alone it all being available for free, or at least easily downloadable from the internet.  The great human chess computer had just seen fewer games to his time, and had put in fewer hours of analysis, and had conversed about the implications of positions less than it has now.  And we hadn't yet begun collaborating with artificial intelligences and calculators.  So my response to the OP is that Morphy wasn't playing terrible chess- he was simply playing a more primitive game to which we should not condescend, given its importance to an intellectual heritage.

  • #495
    Dashkee makes excellent posts! Appreciated.

    If Morphy were alive today and if he was motivated, he could be a STRONG GRANDMASTER!

    He wouldn't make stupid mistakes that elite players today make (Naka Ne2??) and when they went astray he would dole out severe punishment.
  • #496

    The funny thing is, I think if Morphy had been born today he would not play chess, or at least quit after two years like he did in the 19th century. Too boring and drawish, no more romance. Romance doesn't win games when your opponent is playing solid.

     

    So the "What if Morphy applied himself to chess like modern GMs do?" Question is even more meaningless than it seems at first glance.

  • #497

    To me the "what if Morphy applied himself" question is valuable in the sense that we are comparing apples to oranges when we try to compare players from different periods.  In order to try to conceptualize the comparison, we have to make the categories more similar, which means we have to wonder what Carlsen would play like without the benefit of modern instruction, or what Morphy would play like with modern instruction.  Of course, Morphy probably wouldn't accept the modern instruction and be a professional chess player- chess was also closer in his time to the medieval ideal that a gentleman should know how to play chess well, but it should not be his primary passion- in fact, Europe's reply to a general challenge from the American Chess Association (before Morphy's trip to Europe) for a European champion to come to New York to play against Morphy was declined on the basis that all of the European chess players had other, more serious, careers.  (In fact, nearly all of Morphy's own chess career took place in between completing his college studies and starting his law practice, since he graduated well before he could begin practicing law.)  So, overall point- Morphy probably would not play on today's terms, but if he did, he would play brilliantly.  Carlsen would probably play games like Morphy's if he were restricted to Morphy's training and upbringing in the chess world.

  • #498
    tiredofjapan wrote:

    modestandpolite, I didn't mean to say that the 1200-1400 player would easily be able to win, only that the way chess was played in that time resembles what we today would call an amateur game.  I have no doubt that these men had a genius which would easily overpower current amateurs, and if they faced modern masters, their intelligence and vision would at least keep them in the game.  My point is that chess learning at the time was in a completely different place, and specifically, we shouldn't judge prior chess players by current standards because they introduced a host of brilliance to the game, and probably would have contributed even more if given the modern advantages available to precocious titled players.

     

    THanks for clarifying your thoughts.  Seems we have much the same views.

  • #499

    Hence the clarification- I saw that I was a little sloppy with my language and left it open to interpretation.  I started playing chess after reading the book, "The Immortal Game", a pop history of chess with vignettes from the game itself spread throughout.  After learning a little in the years since, I understand the critiques, and the value of looking for better moves for the old players.  But it's also clear that the game goes through a fundamental transformation at some point between then and today.  So the premise of this post, declaring Morphy to be terrible on the basis of an example game is a bit like Magnus Carlsen snidely commenting on a match between eight year olds- in poor taste, and lacking understanding of the greater state of development.

  • #500
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