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