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Paul Morphy (1837) Options
Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 12:00:00 AM
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Paul Morphy (1837)

Morphy was an American chess player widely considered to have been the world's greatest. He earned a law degree at 18 but was ineligible to practice until 21, so he turned to chess to pass the time. He won the American championship and then beat the European masters, making a name for himself as the unofficial world chess champion. After failing to set up a law practice, he went into seclusion and retired from competitive play. How many opponents could he play simultaneously while blindfolded? More...
Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 9:04:04 AM
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Though I consider myself no more than a humble "wood pusher" when it comes to chess, I have a book on Morphy, and have played out a number of his games. What a brilliant man he was! He makes the quiet game of chess seem more like a dashing naval encounter. Even Bobby Fischer ,perhaps the greatest player in history, thought Morphy deserved that honor.
Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 10:48:11 PM

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He was one of my youth heroes.Applause
Posted: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 11:06:20 PM
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"Morphy gave numerous simultaneous exhibitions, including displays of blindfold chess in which he regularly played and defeated eight opponents at a time."Applause Applause Applause
Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2011 1:43:18 AM
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In Moonwalking with Einstein (2011) Joshua Foer argues that chess mastery has less to do with analytic ability and more to do with immersion and pattern recognition; that is, Chess Masters recognize from long experience just by looking at the board and the configuration of the pieces whether the position is winning. While this may be true up to a point, I do not believe it fully accounts for a genius like Morphy who seemed to spring forth from the womb an exceptional player. Additionally, in his relatively short "career" in Chess Morphy arguably did not have the time to build up a "library" of games in his long term memory. What do you think?
Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2011 7:00:18 AM
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Whilst he had an enormous talent it is impossible to compare a player of his generation with a modern GM. The sheer weight of knowledge required in modern chess puts a premium on memory rather than natural talent. You need both to be a super GM nowadays. To illustrate this, a modern TN (theoretical novelty or opening innovation) is on the net pretty much instantaneously and therefore out of date by the time most people have looked at it. By contrast, Pillsbury (a very fine US grandmaster cut in his prime, probably through syphilis) stored a prepared variation for eight years to play against Lasker. For what it's worth, my top three of all time at peak performance would be (in order) 1.Kasparov 2. Karpov 3. Fischer. The latter didn't peak for as long as the two K's but broke some performance records winning the title. Current world championship matches are too short to be meaningful now I'm afraid.
Posted: Thursday, June 23, 2011 10:15:39 AM
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If "Comparisons are odious" as Shakespeare said, then why do we love them so much? As you point out, modern Chess almost seems to be a different game than in the past, putting a premium as it does on memory. And comparing Chess masters of today with Chess masters of the past is much like comparing sports figures from different eras, pretty much impossible given the advances modern athletes enjoy in training, health and nutrition. Still, my personal and sentimental favorite would be Morphy considering his prodigious intellect, and his phenomenal memory, memorizing as he did the entire Louisiana Code. Transplanting Morphy into the present Chess arena, it is not a stretch to see how he could have employed that almost eidetic memory to his advantage. On the other hand, his analytic abilities and imaginative play were non pareil. His accomplishments are all the more remarkable given his casual contempt for the game as only something to pass the time while waiting to become old enough to take the bar exam necessary to his "real job" as an attorney. By way of contrast, "The Ks" are both products of the Soviet system that identified and nurtured talented players from an early age. They come off as dull corporate characters in comparison. But my prejudices are becoming evident, I'm afraid. My money would be on Morphy, mano a mano.
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