Wednesday, March 16, 2005

The Man Who Would Be Champion

More than a century before Bobby Fischer caused a sensation by winning the world chess championship from the Russians (1972-75), another American claimed the honor . . . sort of. Paul Morphy, a young lawyer from New Orleans, won the first American Chess Congress in 1857. He then went abroad to conquer the best players in Europe: Anderssen of Prussia, Lowenthal of Hungary, Harrwitz of Germany. But the man he dearly wished to encounter, British champion Howard Staunton, kept him waiting . . . and waiting . . . and waiting. At length, Morphy gave up and returned home.

A pioneer of positional strategy, Morphy offered the advantage of a pawn and first move to any world-class player who would challenge him. None did. He withdrew from play, became reclusive and battled depression for the remainder of his short life, dying in 1884 at age 47.


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