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Paul C. Morphy
1837 - 1884

Division 1 Division 2 Division 3 Main

"Through legend into history"

  Paul Charles Morphy was born on June  22, 1837 in the city of New Orleans.  His parents were Judge Alonzo Morphy of the  High Court  of  Louisiana and a  West  Indian Lady, Thelcide Carpentier whose father Joseph Carpentier, was French.   His father's nationality was Spanish, but he was of Irish origin.  He had two sisters, Mahrina and  Helena, and a brother, Edward.  After an early education at the Jefferson  Academy in New Orleans, he went to the Jesuit establishment St. Joseph's College at Spring Hill near Mobile, Alabama in Dec. of 1850.  He graduated in 1854 but  remained  another year in the College studying mathematics and Law. Later, he decided to follow the legal profession at the University of Louisiana.  In April 1857 he was  admitted  to the bar.  He was fluent in four languages: English,  French,  Spanish and German, and could recite from  memory  nearly  the whole Civil Code of Louisiana.  It cannot be said that playing chess was a  factor to interfere with Paul Morphy's general education.

  He is reported not to have learned the moves before the age of 10 when his father taught him them.   In 1849, before he reached the age of 12 his play begins to emerge through legend into history.   By the time he was 13  he was the best chess player  in New Orleans and one of the best players in America.   At age 17 he won six games against Judge Meek, President of   the  American  Chess  Congress.   In October, 1857 Paul Morphy went to New York to play in the first American Chess Congress  (the top 16 players in America were invited.)  Morphy easily defeated them all and won the event.  He refused the $300.00 first place money.  Instead, he accepted a silver pitcher, four goblets, and a salver.  The salver was  engraved  with a  picture  of  Paul Morphy  in the  act of  winning  the  decisive game against Paulsen and  had  an  inscription declaring  him  victor in  the  tournament, while all  the pieces bore the monogram P.M.

  He defeated Charles Stanley, the next best player in America, giving him odds of pawn and move.   Morphy gave the $100.00  prize money to Stanley's wife and children.   As a mark  of gratitude, she named her next daughter Pauline.    In December, Morphy left for home having a record in New York of 100 level games played with only five losses (including the one tournament game lost to Paulsen).

  After Morphy's amazing victory at  New York, some  people suggested  that a European master  should  come  to   America  to play him.  When the great  British master Howard Staunton heard this  (Staunton was considered the best player in the world),  he wrote in his weekly paper column, "The best players  of  Europe are not  chess professionals, but have other and more serious things to occupy  their minds with."  Morphy's friends in New Orleans did  send  a challenge to Staunton to come to America.  But Staunton rejected it. He did say that if Morphy came to Europe, he would find him ready.

  In June, 1858 Paul Morphy went to Europe to challenge the best chess players. The New Orleans chess club suggested to pay Morphy the amount needed for him to participate in the Birmingham tournament,  to be held in England,  but Morphy declined the offer, as he did not want to be considered a professional chess player.  He stayed in England for three months trying to arrange  a  match  with  Staunton.   But Staunton claimed he had more serious  things to do, albeit he participated in  the Birmingham  tournament at the same time. Staunton also continued to smear Morphy in his newspaper chess column, claiming  Morphy  was  chasing money, among other things.  In the last letter that Morphy send to  Staunton, he writes  "Allow me to repeat,  what I have constantly  declared in all the chess circles I have had the honor to participate.   That  I have never wanted  to make any skill  I may possess, a tool for making a profit".

  Morphy had to give up the idea of a match against Staunton and went to Paris, where he defeated  L÷wenthal,  Harrwitz, and  Anderssen  within  a  space of  six  months.  Having defeated Harrwitz, he even rejected receiving the prize of 290 francs. But he was forced to and later used the money to pay  Anderssen's  journey  to France.   When  he arrived in Paris to play Anderssen,  he was suffering  from the flu.  His medical  treatment consisted of  being leeched.  He lost four pints  of  blood  and was too weak to leave his hotel bed. Anderssen's  friends  had  told  him  not  to  damage   the German  prestige  by travelling abroad  to  play   a  match  against  this  young  man (Paul  Morphy)  without official recognition.  But Anderssen felt  otherwise,  and  when his  friends asked him why he did not play as brilliant as  he did  in his famous  match against  Dufresne, Anderssen replied "No, Morphy  would not let me."  And Morphy  himself, was playing the second strongest chess  player  (Anderssen)  in the world from  his  hotel  bed  suffering  from the flu, and still won the match with a seven to two score.  In April, 1859 Morphy played up to 8 blindfold  simultaneous games against top players of each chess club he visited.

  By December,  1859 he had given up serious chess.  Morphy did not fight for the South during the Civil War and stayed out of the War. He traveled to Cuba, then to Paris in 1863. He returned to New Orleans a year later.  In 1867 his mental state was  alarming, and his mother persuaded him to go to Paris,  hoping that the change of environment would help him.    Morphy had now come to hate chess,  and  he  never approached the chess  clubs where had  earlier  celebrated his  greatest  triumphs.    He stayed  in Paris for 18 months before returning to his home.

  Morphy  withdrew from society and  suffered delusions of persecution in his later years. According to his niece, he had in a period the strange habit of walking  up and down the porch saying   "Il plantera la banniere de Castille  sur le murs de  Madrid, au cri de Ville gangnee, et le petit roi s'en ira tout penaud."  In English, "He will plant the banner of the Castille on the walls of Madrid, screaming : The city is conquered and the little king will have to go."  Two years before Morphy died, he was asked if it was okay to include him in
a book  about  famous Louisiana citizens  because of his achievements in chess.  Morphy was outraged by being connected with chess, and answered, that his father, judge at the supreme court of  Louisiana, Mr. Alonzo Morphy, at his death, had left a sum of $146.162 dollars and 54 cents.   But that he ( Morphy)  did not have a profession at all, and thus had nothing to do in such a book.  On July 10, 1884 Paul died of a stroke while taking a cold bath.  He was just 47 years old.

  Paul Morphy played 227 competitive games during his life- time, winning 83 percent of his games.