Saturday, June 27, 2015

Paul Morphy, Paris, 1858

From The New York Times, Oct. 19, 1858

Paul Morphy, Café de la Régence, Paris, 1858

The astounding performances of young Paul Morphy have brought the excitement in the chess playing world of this city up to white heat. Last Monday he played against, and beat, blindfolded, eight of the best players of Paris at one time! The Cafe de la Regence, at which this extraordinary feat occurred, has two large rooms on the ground floor. In the first room, which is full of marble tables, were seated the eight adversaries of Mr. Morphy. in the second room, in which are two billiard tables, was seated the single player. A large portion of this room, including the billiard tables, was shut off from the crowd by a cord, and behind the tables, in a large arm chair, sat Mr. Morphy, with his back nearly directly to the crowd. Two gentlemen, reporting for the press, kept the games, and two other gentlemen, Meesrs. Journoud and Arnous de Riviere, cried out the moves, or rather carried them from one room to the other. The adversaries of Mr. Morphy were Messrs. Baucher, Bierwith, Morneman, Guibert, Lequesne (the distinguished Sculptor), Potier, Pret, and Seguin.

Morphy's First move: King's pawn to e4
They were all either old or middle-aged men, and superior players, while Morphy is but twenty-one years of age. The boards of the eight players were numbered 1, 2, 3, etc., in the order in which I had given the names of the gentlemen. At 12:30 the games commenced, Mr. Morphy playing first, and calling out the same move for all the eight boards... 1. e4. The games were conducted in French, Mr. Morphy speaking French perfectly. At 7pm #7 was beaten with an unseen checkmate. Soon after 8pm, No 6 abandoned the game as hopeless, and half an hour later, #5 played for and gained a drawn game. Numbers 1, 2, and 3 were soon after beaten. At 10 pm, #4 made the player accept a draw game, but it was 10:30 before Mr. Seguin, #8, a very old gentleman, who contended with great desperation, was beaten. Thus he beat #6, while #2, who acted on the defensive and only sought a drawn game, effected their purpose, but a drawn game under such circumstances, ought to be considered equivalent to a win.

During the entire exhibit, which lasted ten hours, Morphy sat with his knees and eyes against the bare wall, never once rising or looking toward the audience, nor even taking a particle of drink or other refreshments. His only movements were those of crossing his legs from side to side, and occasionally, thumping a tune with his fingers on the arms of the chair. He cried out his moves without turning his head. Against 1, 2, 3, and 6 and 7, who were not up to the standard of the other three players, he frequently made his moves simultaneously after receiving theirs. He was calm through out, and never made a mistake, nor did he call a move twice.

It must be collected, moreover, that Mr. Morphy played "against the field" - in other words, that around each of the eight boards there was a large collection of excellent chess players, who gave their advice freely, and who had eight times longer to study their play in than the single player. He played certainly against 50 men, and they never ceased for a moment making supposed moves and studying their games most thoroughly during the long intervals that necessarily fell to each board. And yet Morphy, who out of sight of these eight boards, saw the game plainer on each than those who surrounded them! I could scarcely have thought the thing possible if I had not seen it. At the end of the games there was shout from the three hundred throats present, which made one believe he was back again in Tammany Hall! The fact is there was a considerable number of Englishmen and Americans present (among the latter was Prof. Morse, who took a deep interest in these extraordinary games), but much the larger number were French. Morphy did not seem at all fatigued, and appeared so modest that the frenzy and admiration of the French knew no bounds.

He was shaken by the hand and complimented till he hung down his head in confusion. One gray-haired man, an octogenarian chess player, stroked his hair with his hands, as he would a child of his own, and showered him with terms of endearment. Morphy had no beard yet, and looks more like a schoolboy than a world's champion. He escaped from the excited crowd as soon as possible, and left with some friends, to get something to eat. It is not necessary to point out to chess players the immensity of this intellectual feat; every one will admit that it borders upon the miraculous, and, as was remarked by one of the antagonists, Lequesne, such a mind never did exist, and, perhaps, never will again.