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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Paul Morphy, Endgame Maestro

   When you think of Morphy, what kind of chess do you think of? Probably romantic gambits and scintillating tactics. But writing in the International Chess Magazine, Steinitz said, By mixing up Morphy's blindfold, offhand and odds games with those of his serious encounters against strong masters, popular prejudice has (wrongly) credited Morphy with the faculty of creating positions against his strongest opponents in which brilliant sacrifices formed a a distinct feature...”
      If you look at Morphy's games in many of them he had inferior endings (if the game got that far) simply because in many of them he started conceding odds! And because of the prejudice that accompanies his play, his endgame play has been largely ignored, but every indication is that he was one of the best, if not the best, endgame players in the world in his day. 
     The great Capablanca opined that Morphy “had the most extraordinary brain that anybody has ever had for chess. Technique, strategy, tactics, knowledge which is inconceivable for us; all that was possessed by Morphy...” 
     Bobby Fischer said Morphy was “Perhaps the most accurate player who ever lived, he would beat anybody today in a set-match. He had complete sight of the board and seldom blundered even though he moved quite rapidly. I’ve played over hundreds of his games and am continually surprised and entertained by his ingenuity.” 
     Despite his reputation as a brilliant tactician Morphy also had a great understanding of positional play and endings as will be seen in the following instructive game. Generally transition into a favorable ending is because one has a material advantage. However, often having a material advantage will eventually force the opponent to surrender some material. It can be difficult to utilize a positional advantage if one does not comprehend exactly what constitutes such an advantage. Nor is it possible to exploits a positional advantage unless one's technical ability is enhanced by planning and execution. 
     In this game we see Morphy build up a favorable position by move 18, but instead of attacking, he plays for a favorable ending where he has an extra P, but it's on the K-side. His other advantages are a B vs. a N, a spatial advantage and a more active K, all of which he uses to to methodically force the win. 
     Commenting on the game Lowenthal said, “This game on the whole, does not present such numerous points of interest as many of the foregoing contested on the same occasion, but is yet worth studying, as it exhibits great accuracy on Mr. Morphy's part, without which winning would have been no easy task.” Perhaps, but for us non-masters, the game is actually quite instructive. 
     This game was played in a blindfold simultaneous in Paris 1858 and the article below was printed in The New York Times, October 19th 1858. 

     The astounding performances of young Paul Morphy have brought the excitement in the chess playing world of this city up to white heat. Last Monday he played against, and beat, blindfolded, eight of the best players of Paris at one time! The Cafe de la Regence, at which this extraordinary feat occurred, has two large rooms on the ground floor. In the first room, which is full of marble tables, were seated the eight adversaries of Mr. Morphy. in the second room, in which are two billiard tables, was seated the single player. A large portion of this room, including the billiard tables, was shut off from the crowd by a cord, and behind the tables, in a large arm chair, sat Mr. Morphy, with his back nearly directly to the crowd. Two gentlemen, reporting for the press, kept the games, and two other gentlemen, Messrs. Journoud and Arnous de Riviere, cried out the moves, or rather carried them from one room to the other. The adversaries of Mr. Morphy were Messrs. Baucher, Bierwith, Morneman, Guibert, Lequesne (the distinguished Sculptor), Potier, Pret, and Seguin. 
     They were all either old or middle-aged men, and superior players, while Morphy is but twenty-one years of age. The boards of the eight players were numbered 1, 2, 3, etc., in the order in which I had given the names of the gentlemen. At 12:30 the games commenced, Mr. Morphy playing first, and calling out the same move for all the eight boards.... 1. e4. The games were conducted in French, Mr. Morphy speaking French perfectly. At 7pm #7 was beaten with an unseen checkmate. Soon after 8pm, No 6 abandoned the game as hopeless, and half an hour later, #5 played for and gained a drawn game. Numbers 1, 2, and 3 were soon after beaten. At 10 pm, #4 made the player accept a draw game, but it was 10:30 before Mr. Seguin, #8, a very old gentleman, who contended with great desperation, was beaten. Thus he beat #6, while #2, who acted on the defensive and only sought a drawn game, effected their purpose, but a drawn game under such circumstances, ought to be considered equivalent to a win. 
     During the entire exhibit, which lasted ten hours, Morphy sat with his knees and eyes against the bare wall, never once rising or looking toward the audience, nor even taking a particle of drink or other refreshments. His only movements were those of crossing his legs from side to side, and occasionally, thumping a tune with his fingers on the arms of the chair. He cried out his moves without turning his head. Against 1, 2, 3, and 6 and 7, who were not up to the standard of the other three players, he frequently made his moves simultaneously after receiving theirs. He was calm through out, and never made a mistake, nor did he call a move twice. 
     It must be collected, moreover, that Mr. Morphy played "against the field" - in other words, that around each of the eight boards there was a large collection of excellent chess players, who gave their advice freely, and who had eight times longer to study their play in than the single player. He played certainly against 50 men, and they never ceased for a moment making supposed moves and studying their games most thoroughly during the long intervals that necessarily fell to each board. And yet Morphy, who out of sight of these eight boards, saw the game plainer on each than those who surrounded them! I could scarcely have thought the thing possible if I had not seen it. At the end of the games there was shout from the three hundred throats present , which made one believe he was back again in Tammany Hall! The fact is there was a considerable number of Englishmen and American's present (among the latter was Prof. Morse, who took a deep interest in these extraordinary games), but much the larger number were French. Morphy did not seem at all fatigued, and appeared so modest that the frenzy and admiration of the French knew no bounds. 
     He was shaken by the hand and complimented till he hung down his head in confusion. One gray-haired man, an octogenarian chess player, stroked his hair with his hands, as he would a child of his own, and showered him with terms of endearment. Morphy had no beard yet, and looks more like a schoolboy than a world's champion. He escaped from the excited crowd as soon as possible, and left with some friends, to get something to eat. It is not necessary to point out to chess players the immensity of this intellectual feat; every one will admit that it borders upon the miraculous, and, as was remarked by one of the antagonists, Lequesne, such a mind never did exist, and, perhaps, never will again. 

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