Crazy Story… The Chess Prodigy Who Renounced Chess

Wednesday, 15 May 2019 Coach Steve No Comments

In recent years, chess has become a pretty high-stakes game, politically, ideologically, and monetarily. However, that hasn’t always been the case. In fact, the first unofficial world champion would be appalled by the giant prizes dangled in front of modern competitors. Paul Morphy (pictured left) abhorred the taint of professionalism, once writing to a rival, “Permit me to repeat that I am not a professional player; that I never wished to make any skill I possess the means of pecuniary advancement, and that my earnest wish is never to play for any sake but honor.”

However, Morphy’s superhuman powers on the chessboard astounded his contemporaries. Born in New Orleans in 1837, Paul was a child prodigy who was beating his father and uncle by age 10. He’d never consulted a chess book, yet he was handling the pieces with an intuitively precise grasp of strategy and tactics. At age 13, he shocked the chess world by defeating the Hungarian master Johann Lowenthal (pictured right). It then became Morphy’s great ambition to defeat the best masters in the US and Europe.

After earning his law degree in 1857, Morphy set out on his insane quest. Howard Staunton, Britain’s star player, avoided him and was accused of cowardice. In Paris, Morphy played eight opponents simultaneously, neither eating nor drinking for 10 hours until all succumbed to his brilliance. Oh, and did we mention that he was blindfolded? (The moves were called out so he could visualize them.)

But in his tours of European chess circles, the idealistic Morphy was disgusted at how the game was being made into a business. While Morphy loved chess itself, he was repelled by this practice. He was further alienated from the game when he saw how it took him away from more important things, particularly his law career. However, people were more interested in Morphy the chess player than Morphy the lawyer, and his practiced folded after a few months. Adding insult to injury, a girl he was courting rejected the idea of marrying a “mere chess player.”

Frustrated, Morphy simply gave up on the game. He was reluctant to even play privately, and he never again dazzled the world with his power. Many tried to cajole him out of his aversion to the game. Once, a financially desperate Morphy approached an old friend to borrow $200. The friend said he would make it $250 if Morphy played a game with him. Grudgingly, Morphy agreed, but he showed his distaste by deliberately losing. Afterward, he left without bothering to collect his money.

On another occasion, Morphy was informed that the self-proclaimed world champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, was in New Orleans and wanted to see him. Morphy reluctantly agreed to a meeting on the condition that chess must not even be alluded to. After an embarrassing 10 minutes with nothing to discuss, Morphy and Steinitz parted ways.

Do not fear.. there is much more to discuss and do at Chess Plus Summer Camp afternoon session than chess related activities!

In his later life, Morphy began showing signs of insanity. He suspected his brother-in-law of trying to poison him and refused to eat unless the food was prepared by his mother or sister. Morphy believed barbers were planning to slit his throat. He haunted Canal Street in New Orleans, muttering and smiling to himself, all while swinging his cane at anyone who approached him. He also stalked attractive women around town for hours.

Morphy’s relatives tried to commit him to an asylum, but he defended his sanity with clever expositions on his civil liberties, thus convincing officials to let him go. Sadly, Paul Morphy, the “Pride and Sorrow of Chess,” died in his home on July 10, 1884.

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Will we find a chess prodigy that embraces their gift at Chess Plus Summer Camp?

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