World Chess Champion
Paul Morphy was born in New Orleans on June 22, 1837 to a wealthy family. He graduated from law school in 1857 but was too young to be admitted to the bar. His decision to pass the time with the game of chess was a fortuitous one for lovers of The Royal Game.
In 1857 he convincingly defeated his leading American rivals in the first American Chess Congress, held in New York. The coin silver beverage set he won on this occasion is a prize of the United States Chess Hall of Fame and Museum. This prize was awarded to Morphy by the famous jurist, Oliver Wendell Holmes.
In 1858 Morphy went to Europe to test himself against the world's best. He was quite successful, though he failed in his attempts to arrange a match with Staunton, the British player some considered the world's best before Morphy.
Morphy is a remarkable figure in world chess history, not merely because of the ease with which he dominated his contemporaries across the board, but because the dynamism, accuracy and strategic concepts illustrated in his play demonstrated that he was approaching the game on a totally different level.
Morphy took an aristocratic approach to the game of chess, insisting that it was a mistake to consider it anything more than an amusement. It is possible his opinion may have been influenced by an attractive New Orleans society girl. Legend has it that though Morphy was infatuated with her, she refused to marry a "mere chess player." Regardless of whether this is true, it is known that Morphy's chess career did contribute to his inability to establish a successful legal practice later in his life. Morphy eventually abandoned chess, and played no known games after 1869. He died in 1884.
Paul Morphy was a Charter Member of the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame.
Other Views of Morphy
Photo of Morphy portrait by Jerry Lawson