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Paul Morphy | Biography: 30 Facts (America’s First World Chess Champion?)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Paul Morphy was considered the world chess champion of his time. He took the United States and Europe by storm with his aggressive, quick-playing style and undeniable intelligence. Morphy led an exciting and intense life. In this short biography, we uncover 30 interesting facts about the man and his outstanding chess abilities.

By the age of nine, Paul Morphy was considered the best chess player in New Orleans and was world-renowned by the age of twenty. He was crowned the unofficial world chess champion. He was not formally taught but learned the game through watching his father and uncle play.

The life and fame of Paul Morphy began early and came to an abrupt halt at the young age of 47. His brilliance was almost undefeated during his prime, and he was renowned and celebrated for his outstanding talent in playing chess. 

But what caused Paul Morphy to stop playing chess? How did he learn the game, and what caused his eventual demise? Read on to learn interesting facts about this chess master.

These are 30 interesting facts about Paul Morphy:

1. Morphy Was Not Taught To Play Chess

Paul Morphy was not taught to play chess with formal or informal lessons. It is said that he would watch his father and uncle playing in the evenings.

One evening, when the two older men called a draw, Paul stopped them from clearing the board and demonstrated how his uncle should have won the game.

From there, his talent became widely known, becoming the chess master we know today.

2. Morphy’s First Major Chess Victory Was At Nine Years Old

When he was only nine years old, Morphy was the opponent of visiting general Winfield Scott.

The general was on his way to serve in the Mexican War and requested a worthy opponent for the evening. He was insulted at first sight of Morphy but quickly realized that the young boy was a worthy opponent.

Morphy won both games played against the general.

3. Morphy Surprized Chess Master Johann Lӧwenthal

Chess master Johann Lӧwenthal was accustomed to playing talented young chess players. Still, it is said that while playing Paul Morphy, even he was moved by the prowess with which Morphy engaged his opponent.

Paul Morphy won two of their three games, and one was a draw. (Some say Morphy won all three.)

4. Morphy Had An Amazing Memory

Between 1850 and 1857, Paul Morphy focused his attention on his schooling. He studied law and memorized the entire Louisiana Civil Code.

He stayed on longer than necessary to study additional subjects before graduating.

5. Morphy Did Not Play Chess During College

During his years of study, Paul Morphy did not play any serious or competitive chess games.

He played a few games with friends over the years but considered chess equal to gambling and focussed on his school work.

6. Morphy Was Logical To A Fault

While in college, Morphy employed his intelligence in his studies. He wrote a thesis on War. Although his topic knowledge was limited, his paper was exceptionally well received.

Professors commended him for his great logical reasoning, and it was his logic that won him praise for his academic work.

It was, perhaps, his astute logic that assisted his natural abilities with chess.

7. Morphy Competed In The First American Chess Congress

In 1857, Morphy had completed his studies but was too young to practice law. With time on his hands, he jumped into professional competitive chess.

His first competition was the First American Chess Congress in 1857. At this congress, he became the United States champion and beat all the other American and two German masters.

8. Morphy Won Hundreds Of Chess Games

During the fall of 1857, Morphy played no fewer than 261 serious chess games. Years later, upon his return home, he exclaimed that he had not done as well as he would have liked. An astounding thought since he became the most highly acclaimed chess master of his time.

9. Morphy Beat A Chess Opponent When Weak From Blood Loss

When he was 21, Paul Morphy played various opponents in Paris. During his stay, he got a nasty bout of gastroenteritis.

The treatment at the time was to use leeches, and Paul Morphy underwent the treatment, which resulted in him losing a rather substantial amount of blood.

Still weak from the treatment, he refused to cancel or postpone a match set against German chess master Adolf Andersson.

The match went ahead. It spanned eight days, and by the end, Morphy had won seven, lost two, and drew two games against Andersson.

10. Prince Galitzine Wanted To Meet Morphy

On his trip to Paris, Morphy was in his room one evening and was startled by the arrival of a visitor.

The man at his door was prince Galitzine. He had heard of Morphy’s great talent while on the frontlines in Siberia and had been eager to meet him.

Even at the age of twenty, Paul Morphy’s fame had spread.

11. Morphy Received Invitations From Royalty

Paul Morphy’s renown was such that he was named the “champion of the world”. Since he was the greatest player of the time, he received and accepted invitations from the king and queen of France, Napoleon the third, and Queen Victoria.

12. Morphy Beat Eight Opponents In A Blindfolded Chess Match

While in Paris, Paul Morphy was invited to compete in a “blindfolded” match.

During this match, he sat facing away from the board. He competed against eight opponents who could see the board, consult each other about moves and receive outside help.

The match lasted ten hours, during which Morphy did not eat or drink. In the end, he beat his opponents despite all the odds being stacked against him.

13. Morphy Was Set To Play Howard Staunton

Paul Morphy mainly traveled to Europe to play against Howard Staunton. Staunton was a formidable master. Playing him was considered an excellent opportunity for Morphy to test his skill against Staunton to prove his worth in the European circuit.

For various reasons, the two never played; however, it is interesting to note that Staunton is the designer of the modern chess piece.

14. A Famous Sculptor Created A Bust Of Morphy

During his stay in Paris, a banquet was held in Paul Morphy’s honor. During the feast, it was discovered that a bust had been created of the chess master by the famous French sculptor Eugène-Louis Lequesne.

During the banquet, a laurel wreath was placed around the head of the bust, and Paul Morphy was named and celebrated as “the best chess player that ever lived.”

European players and fans agreed that he was the world chess champion.

15. Morphy’s Childhood Friend Dubbed Him Supremely Confident

Paul Morphy’s childhood friend, Charles Maurian, claimed that Paul was confident in his talent. He explained that Morphy never doubted that he would win a game and exuded strength in his convictions.

16. Morphy Returned Home And No Longer Wanted To Play Chess

In 1859, Paul Morphy returned to the United States. On his way back to New Orleans and his family, he played against opponents in multiple cities and enjoyed much prestige.

In the United States, he was called the champion of the world, though the fame never seemed to get to his head.

Upon his return to New Orleans, Morphy decided to stop playing chess in favor of beginning his law career, for which he was now old enough.

17. War Disrupting Morphy’s Law Career

Sadly, the American Civil War broke out shortly after beginning his law career. Morphy’s brother joined the armed forces, and his mother and sister moved to Paris.

Paul Morphy applied to serve under general Pierre Beauregard; however, it appears that the general found him unfit to serve in the War for mental and physical reasons.

Morphy moved between Paris, Havana, and New Orleans during the War and was grieved by it.

18. Morphy Expressed Anxiety About The War

In letters to his friend, Daniel Willard Fiske, Paul Morphy expressed his anxiety about the events unfolding and his inability to serve.

More importantly, he expressed his thoughts on the game of chess during a time of War.

He wrote that he strongly felt that devoting time to chess was a waste. 

It seems the stresses of life had overtaken Paul Morphy’s exuberant talents on the chessboard.

19. Morphy’s Law Career Did Not Take Off

After the Civil War, in 1865, Paul Morphy tried again to set up his law practice. He was constantly disappointed by supposed clients who wanted only to talk about chess and not legal matters.

Disillusioned by the failure of his law career, he deserted the idea and chose to rely on his family’s wealth instead.

20. Morphy Visited A Chess Tournament In 1883

In 1883, Morphy attended the New York Chess Tournament. Although his presence created much excitement, he did not play, even when asked to play private games.

21. Morphy Was The King Of The Romantic School In Chess

Paul Morphy loved to play chess in the style of the Romantic School. This method favors the 1. E4 openings and is offensive.

The method involves typically achieving checkmate within thirty moves or fewer.

22. Morphy Was Not A Fan Of The Sicilian Defence In Chess

Morphy was against playing in the style of the Sicilian Defence. The style favors 1.d4 openings, which he believed led to drawn-out and tedious games.

23. Morphy Played Open Chess Games Before It Was Popular

Paul Morphy was known to enjoy and play open games almost perfectly. Since most of his opponents were not accustomed to this chess style, he had the upper hand and would easily beat them.

24. Morphy Never Stopped Strategizing In Chess

There were times when Morphy would be trapped or find himself in a tight spot during a game. From a tender age, he was known to continue strategizing and would find a way out, often winning the game.

25. In 1857, Morphy Played 59 Serious Chess Games

After his studies, in 1857, Paul Morphy played no fewer than 59 serious games. Of those, he won 42, drew 9, and lost 8.

26. Morphy Kept An Exemplary Room

According to his niece, Paul Morphy kept his room extremely clean, organized, and tidy. It was across a passageway from his mother’s room.

Morphy’s niece explained that he kept his shoes displayed in a semi-circle on the floor. Apparently, he used this method to be able to easily select the pair he wished to wear each day.

The story of his shoe display morphed into some great gossip toward the end of Morphy’s life. It was claimed that he had a fetish for women’s shoes, but those claims were never justified.

27. Morphy Became Paranoid Toward The End Of His Life

As Morphy aged, his mind took a turn for the worse. He became utterly convinced that people wanted to kill him.

He would only eat food prepared by his mother or sister and would not visit the barber for fear of having his throat slit.

28. His Family Tried To Have Morphy Committed To A Sanitarium

In 1882, Morphy’s mother, brother, and a close friend attempted to have him committed to a Catholic Sanitarium.

He had been displaying concerning behaviors, and they were concerned for his safety. He was able to defend his case well enough to be released, so he returned home.

29. Morphy Became Quite Senile Before He Passed Away

Before he died, Morphy was known for his antics on the street. He would mutter to himself and laugh at his own private jokes.

He would swing his cane at anyone who came too close and would follow beautiful women for hours.

Morphy once attempted to borrow money from a friend, saying it was rather urgent. He left without the money and never returned to collect it, as he had promised.

30. Morphy Died In The Bathtub

On July 10, 1884, Paul Morphy hopped into a cool bath after walking in the midday sun. Doctors said the shock to his system caused a stroke, killing him instantly.

He was known for his dominant and attacking chess style and will always be remembered as a great chess master.

In Essence

Paul Morphy is still considered to be among the greatest chess players of all time. He showed astounding natural ability from a very young age and took the world by storm as he defeated opponents of all ages in the United States and Europe. His life may have taken a turn for the worse, but he will always be remembered as “the champion of the world.”

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.