NAME: Paul Charles Morphy
BIRTHDATE: June 22, 1837
BIRTHPLACE: New Orleans, Louisiana
CREDENTIALS: Highest winning percentage of all the great masters. Widely recognized as the first unofficial World Chess Champion. Many top players, including Bobby Fischer, rate Morphy as the most talented chess player of all time.
Morphy's games demonstrate the power of positional chess -- developing pieces to maximize their mobility and coordination. His brilliant combinations and dazzling use of tactics are made possible by his understanding of position. Strong defender as well as forceful attacker.
Reportedly learned chess simply by watching others play. By age 12, he was well known as a child prodigy and had already defeated celebrities including the Hungarian chess master Johann Lowenthal. Through his adolescent years, Morphy concentrated more on his education than on chess. He progressed through school rapidly, earning a law degree from the University of Louisiana while only 19 years old. His young age prevented him from officially becoming a lawyer, leaving him with time to compete at chess. Over the next few years, Morphy repeatedly amazed the world with his incomparable chess skill and modest personality. On tours in America and Europe, he easily defeated all opponents -- even when playing blindfolded, when starting games with some of his pieces already removed from the board, when allowing opponents to have extra moves, and when playing against several masters at the same time! By the time he was in his early twenties, Morphy had no challengers left in chess and decided to launch his career in law. It was then that the southern states seceded. Morphy took a principled stand against the war, a position deeply unpopular among his colleagues and associates. He soon found it impossible to attract clients to his new law practice and his career failed miserably. The woman he loved left him. From this point, the inspiring story of Paul Morphy turns tragic. He gradually withdrew completely from society and developed severe psychological illness. He died in 1884 at the age of 47.