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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Fine and Reinfeld on Paul Morphy

Fred Reinfeld wrote:

What was the secret of Morphy's success as a chessplayer? What was his "secret weapon?" The answer lies in one word: development. Morphy was the man who taught chessplayers the value of bringing out one's forces quickly, effectively, economically. Today this information is shouted from every housetop and appears in every chess book as a matter of course; but in 1857 the idea of development was known only to a genius, and that genius was Morphy.

But Morphy was not only an "efficiency expert": it is not his system that gives his masterpieces their enduring vitality and charm. He was a great artist, and that is why his games are still studied today. The great Steinitz said of him: "Morphy's career marks a grand epoch in the history of our pastime, and a careful study of his games will always be essential for the purpose of acquiring a complete knowledge of the direct attack against the King, which forms a most important element in mastering our science." Morphy's games have left a deep impression on many a master. A chess wizard who has not studied Morphy's games is about as queer a concept as an engineer who is unable to count.

Dr. Reuben Fine wrote:

Most of the remaining years of his life were spent quietly with his family in New Orleans, where he died in 1884. That chess had something to do with his mild derangement seems probable. but the exact connection is harder to ascertain. The most likely explanation of the role that chess played in his mental life is this: Morphy was troubled by a peculiar dilemma, which has bothered many other great masters. Eminence in chess was a useless achievement to most of the people around him. Worse, he was afraid that people thought of him as a kind of freak, or at best as a kind of unusual gambler who had learned all the tricks. That is why Morphy always insisted so strongly on his amateur status.

Morphy’s father had left him $136,472.23 and that he had never accepted a penny for any chess activities. Morphy's great goal in life, we have repeatedly been told, was to be a prominent lawyer and he found that prospective clients gaped at the chess genius, but could not take the lawyer seriously. He must have reflected on how different the situation would have been if he had achieved casual prominence in some other field. Thus the twin delusions that chess was worthless, and that he could not do anything else, continually increased his isolation and finally led to loss of balance.

It was claimed that he had the most marvelous intuition any mortal was ever granted. That he won his games by combinations of incredible beauty, that he could have beaten any of his successors with ridiculous case. If we examine Morphy's record and games critically we cannot justify such extravaganza. And we are compelled to speak of it as the Morphy myth. Morphy's games fall into two categories: tournament or match games and offhand, simultaneous or odds games. Few of the 55 serious games, the only kind modern masters include in such collections, can by any stretch be called brilliant. He beat his major rivals because he had a clearer grasp of the essentials of position play. In fact, Morphy is the first who really appreciated the logical basis of chess. He could combine as well as anybody, but he also knew under what circumstances combinations were possible-and in that respect he was twenty years ahead of his time. Anderssen could attack brilliantly, but had an inadequate understanding of its positional basis. Morphy knew not only how to attack, but also when -and that is why he won. The tragedy is that when others, like Steinitz, who knew when, came along, Morphy refused to meet them. Even if the myth has been destroyed, Morphy remains one of the giants of chess history.

It is, frankly, hard to find good Morphy games, comparable to those of, say, Alekhine, or Lasker. The difficulty, as we have indicated, is that his opponents made such bad blunders. . Morphy rarely began an offensive until he had completed his development, a sufficient indication of the fact that he was a generation ahead of his contemporaries.

Morphy occasionally overlooked forced wins at such an early stages because the principle of development was such an enormous advance on the prevailing theory or, more correctly, lack of theory, that its mechanical application was enough to give him a significant advantage. He always made sure that his pieces were developed properly and he often showed little concern for his pawn position. The reason, of course, is that nobody in his day knew how to exploit a weak pawn structure.

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