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Morphy and The Devil

Paul Morphy, born in New Orleans in 1837, is considered by many competent judges to have been the strongest chess player who ever lived. His career was short but brilliant.

He never played as a professional but, as a teenager, decisively beat all the strongest players in the world at the time. On return from Europe to America, aged 22, his chess career virtually finishes. He continued to play in his own circle, but with decreasing interest in the game, until 1866, when he totally abandoned its practice, and has never played since.

A reader of the Free Press in New Orleans, Louisiana, writes a correction of the statement going the rounds that Paul Morphy, the chess player, is insane and in an asylum. He says : —

Mr Morphy is generally regarded as a little off, but I know he is not hopelessly insane, neither is be in an asylum, as I see him every day promenading the Boulevarde canal. I saw him yesterday. His peculiarity consists in an eccentricity of dress, affectation of glasses, a continual talking to himself, and the habit of industriously staring at everything and everybody through his eye-glasses. He can be seen daily on the street.

Ovens and Murray Advertiser (Beechworth, Vic. : 1855 – 1918), Tuesday 11 September 1877, page 2


A correspondent of the American Chess Magazine tells his story of Paul Morphy’s visit to Richmond, Virginia, which, he says, was related to him some years ago by the Rev. Mr. H., of that city. Mr. Morphy was Mr. H.’s guest while in the city, and on his arrival was first ushered into the library and his attention was at once attracted by a painting over the mantel, which was a line copy of a celebrated painting representing a game of chess between a young man and the devil, the stake being the young man’s soul.

‘The Chess Players’ by Friedrich Moritz Retzsch

The artist had most graphically depicted the point in the game where it was apparently the young man’s move, and he seemed just to realise the fact that he had lost the game, the agony of despair being shown in every line of his features and attitude ; while the devil from the opposite side of the table, gloated over him with fiendish delight. The position of the game appeared utterly hopeless for the young man. Mr. H. said he had often set it up and studied it with his chess friends, and all agreed the young man’s game was certainly lost. Mr. Morphy walked up to the picture and studied it for several minutes, when finally, turning to Mr. H., he said :

I can win the game for the young man

Mr. H. was, of course, astonished, and said

Is it possible?

Mr. Morphy replied :

Get out the men and board and let us look at it.

The position was set up, and in a few rapid moves he demonstrated a win for the young man and the devil was checkmated.

Braidwood Dispatch and Mining Journal (NSW : 1888 – 1954), Saturday 12 August 1905, page 4

There is a lot more to this anecdote here….



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