“Genius is a starry word; but if there ever was a chess player to whom that attribute applied, it was Paul Morphy,” according to American chess Grandmaster Andrew Soltis.
Morphy was a child chess prodigy who grew up in New Orleans, the son of a Louisiana Supreme Court justice who learned chess simply by watching the game. At the age of 12, he won two games and had one draw against a famous Hungarian chess player.
The next year, Morphy went to Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama, and then attended law school at the University of Louisiana, which later became Tulane University. He finished his law degree when he was 20, one year shy of being able to practice law. While he waited to practice law, he became determined to beat all the great chess players in the United States and Europe.
He won the first American Chess Congress in New York in 1857 and received a prize from Oliver Wen-dell Homes. He traveled to England to play Howard Staunton, considered the best player in Europe. Staunton, however, refused to meet Morphy. Morphy defeated every other comer who would play him, including in a blindfold tournament in which he defeated eight opponents in another room. Morphy returned to New Orleans a celebrity.
He attempted to start a law practice, but it was said he was un-able to get his clients to talk about anything but chess. He died of a stroke in 1884. In 1964, Chess great Bobby Fischer said of Morphy: “In a set match, Morphy would beat anybody alive today ... Morphy was perhaps the most accurate chess player who ever lived."
Editor's note: This article was changed Nov. 20 to correct where Morphy attended law school.