The Gambiteers Guild

Hall of Fame

Morphy, Paul Charles (1837-1884)

by Gary Good

Of course a compendium of gambiteers would be incomplete without the great master himself, Paul Morphy, born in New Orleans, Louisania USA. The son of Alonzo Morphy, a judge in the High Court of Louisania, Paul was trained at a young age for the legal profession, and was admitted in 1857 to the bar at 20 years of age.

So much has been written and said about Morphy that it would be presumptuous of me to attempt to add anything, and I would therefore like to simply quote the great masters succeeding him concerning his chess career. His early biographer Philip W. Sergeant begins his biography of Morphy with those immortal words; "Paul Charles Morphy, the pride and sorrow of chess". He undoubtedly is referring to both Morphy's genius for the game and also his tragic personal life of only 47 years. But the incredible fact to me is that his public chess career extended over a period of a mere 3 years, 1857-1860!! No less an authority on the game than Robert James Fischer was to have remarked that among chess masters, Morphy was probably the greatest genius of them all.

Here is his fellow gambiteer Falkbeer describing Morphy in 1881 in the Deutsche Illustrierte Zeitung: "His image is vividly recalled to my memory as I first made his acquaintance in London in 1858. Of slight figure, below middle height, with fresh and youthful features delicately shaded by the first dawn of an incipient moustache, always plainly dressed, he appeared much younger than he really was. One would certainly have taken him rather for a schoolboy on vacation than for a chess adept who had crossed the Atlantic for the express purpose of defeating, one after another, the most eminent players the world then knew."

The great world champion following Morphy, Wilhelm Steinitz had this to say : "Morphy's career marks a grand epoch in the history of our pastime, and a careful study of his games will always be essential for the purpose of acquiring a complete knowledge of the direct attack against the King, which forms a most important element in mastering our science."

World champion Emanuel Lasker opined later that Morphy's success was due to his scientific application of logical principles, instead of mere natural intuition and subtle combinations. For Lasker, Morphy was "the ultimate rational player."

One of my personal favorite descriptions is the final sentence in Sergeant's biography: "Above everything Morphy was an artist; and the best way to enjoy an artist is not to dissect him."

Morphy's preference for gambits is of course legend, with his favorites from the white side being the Evans Gambit and the Kings Gambit. I have chosen 2 of his games from the match in 1859 vs Augustus Mongredien, who was president of the London Chess Club. These games are not the most published of his, and are not of the super-brilliant, nor laden with flashy combinations. However they demonstrate an amazing characteristic of Morphy, having been played only a few days apart vs the same opponent.

In the first game he plays his first love the Evans Gambit; 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4, and wins easily in a 22 move miniature. However in the next game with the white pieces in the match, Mongredien denies him the possibility of playing this deadly weapon a second time, and instead replies with the 2 Knights Defense; 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6. At this point Morphy in an instant is transformed from the romantic gambiteer into the crass materialist, and plays 4. Ng5!? What is more, he wins again in 29 moves!

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