Paul Charles Morphy was an American chess player. He is considered to have been the greatest chess master of his era and an unofficial World Chess Champion.
A chess prodigy, he was called “The Pride and Sorrow of Chess” because he had a brilliant chess career but retired from the game while still young.
Bobby Fischer ranked him among the ten greatest players of all time, and described him as “perhaps the most accurate player who ever lived”.
Morphy was born in New Orleans to a wealthy and distinguished family. He learned to play chess by simply watching games between his father and uncle.
His family soon recognized the boy’s talent and encouraged him to play at family gatherings, and by the age of nine he was considered to be one of the best players in the city.
At just twelve years of age, Morphy defeated visiting Hungarian master Johann Löwenthal in a match of three games.
After receiving his degree in 1857, Morphy was not yet of legal age to practice law and found himself with free time.
At his uncle’s urging, he accepted an invitation to play at the First American Chess Congress in New York City.
After winning the tournament, which included strong players such as Alexander Meek and Louis Paulsen, Morphy was hailed as the chess champion of the United States and stayed in New York playing chess through 1857, winning the vast majority of his games.
In 1858, Morphy traveled to Europe to play European Champion Howard Staunton. Morphy played almost every strong player in Europe, usually winning easily.
The match with Staunton never materialized, but Morphy was acclaimed by most in Europe as the world’s best player.
Returning to the United States in triumph, Morphy toured the major cities playing chess on his way back to New Orleans.
By 1859, on returning to New Orleans, Morphy declared he was retiring from chess to begin his law career.
However, Morphy was never able to establish a successful law practice and ultimately lived a life of idleness, living off his family’s fortune.
Despite appeals from his chess admirers, Morphy never returned to the game, and died in 1884 from a stroke at the age of 47.
- Full name: Paul Charles Morphy
- Profession: American chess player
- Born: 22 June 1837, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
- Died: 10 July 1884, New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
- World Champion: 1858–1862 (unofficial)
- Education: Tulane University, Spring Hill College
- Parents: Alonzo Morphy, Louise Le Carpentier