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  • 6/19/2004

Paul Morphy

(June 22, 1837-1884)

Paul Morphy, is called the "pride and sorrow of chess." He became the best player in the world and could have become recognized the first true world champion, but he retired at the peak of his powers after an active career of only two years.

Paul Morphy was a life-long resident ofNew Orleans. His father was a prominent man who served as both Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice of Louisiana, and his uncle Ernest was one of the best-known chess analysts in the United States. When Paul was only eight years of age, he witnessed the first US Championship contest ever held, a match won by Charles Stanley ofNew York over a New Orleans master named Rousseau. That historic match was held inNew Orleans.

Most of Paul Morphy's early chess development came in practice against relatives and local players, but he burst into national fame by winning the First American Chess Congress in 1857. His victory there made him the secondUS champion in history. Paul Morphy then travelled toEurope for the express purpose of challenging the best players in the world. In a series of matches, he easily defeated the best players of the continent. Although he was frustrated in his efforts to arrange a match against the long-time English champion, Howard Staunton, no one seriously doubted that he would have defeatedStaunton by an overwhelming score. Morphy's style of play was as spectacular as his results; in many of his games, he won by brilliant sacrifices that still amaze and entertain players today.

When Paul Morphy returned to the US, he was acclaimed a national hero. Even among the millions of Americans who did not play chess, he was viewed as having brought world-wide honor to the United States. Baseball clubs and cigars were named after him.

Inexplicably, however, Morphy did not play serious chess again. The secession of his state disrupted Morphy's life, as he opposed secession, and he became a reclusive individual in later life. However, chess players all around the world continue to revere Paul Morphy today as one of the greatest and most brilliant players in history.

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