Morphy in Philadelphia

I've always felt that Paul Morphy's brief visit to Philadelphia was a particularly fascinating event.  This item, describing that visit, came from an 1898 edition of the American Chess Magazine. The article doesn't come out and say it, but it seems obvious that the author was Gustavus Reichhelm who eventually wrote the fine book, Chess in Philadelphia.



Paul Morphy and Lewis Elkin 
Lewis Elkin and Paul Morphy

     Paul Morphy and Lewis Elkin at the chess board will be new to the chess world. It will form the initial illustration of the new book, "Chess in Philadelphia," noticed In our last issue. It was taken by a lending photographer in 1859 and is a capital likeness of Mr. Morphy at that time.
     The great master visited Philadelphia but once—in the early part of November, 1859. This was just prior to the organization of the first Philadelphia Chess Club and his seances were accordingly held in the library room of the Athenaeum. Fifth and Adelphi streets. Mr. William G. Thomas was his principal adversary, and he started off by giving that gentleman the odds of a knight. After two parties had been won by the latter with this odds, Mr. Morphy remarked that Mr. T. was too strong for the knight and then two games were played between these gentlemen at pawn and two moves, Mr. Morphy this time scoring both. The champion then remarked that the public could form no idea of his style in close games and proposed to Mr. Thomas to return to the odds of queen's knight, with the stipulation, however, that Mr. Thomas answer P to K4 with P to K4. With this concession three more knight games were contested. Mr. Morphy winning two and the third game was drawn.
     With the then champion of Philadelphia chess. Mr. H. P. Montgomery. Mr. Morphy played no games on this occasion, as Mr. Montgomery took exception to Mr. Morphy's announcement after his return from Europe that he (Morphy) would not play American players except at odds. Mr. Montgomery instanced the fact that Mr. Morphy had played an even match shortly before leaving Europe with so inferior a player as Mr. Mongredien, and he claimed to be at least the peer of that gentleman.
     Mr. Morphy. however, would not change his decision and no game took place.

His score at the Athenaeum was:—
Odds of Pawn and Two Moves.
Morphy... 2                   W. G. Thomas... 0
Odds of Queen's Knight.
Morphy... 0                   W. G. Thomas... 2
Morphy... 1                   B. C. Tilghman... 1
Morphy... 1                   Dr. S. Lewis...... 0
Odds of Queen's Knight, with Stipulation for Open Games.
Morphy... 2                   W. G. Thomas... 0               Drawn... 1

     Mr. Morphy brilliantly wound up his engagement by contesting on the evening of November 11, 1ST»0, four simultaneous blindfold games at the Academy of Music. The four gentlemen who offered themselves as adversaries were William G. Thomas, B. C. Tilghman, Samuel Smyth and Samuel Lewis, M. D.
     Four of the large Athenaeum chess tables were ranged across the front of the stage, and at a few minutes after six the players took their seats, and Mr. Morphy was introduced to the audience by Dr. Robert Rogers in a very neat and appropriate manner.
      Mr. Morphy then took his seat in a comfortable armchair, placed in the middle of the stage, where he could be distinctly seen and heard, and where he could not see the boards.
The games were begun by Mr. Morphy announcing in a clear voice:—"Pawn to King's fourth on all the tables." His moves were carefully repeated by Mr. R. H. Jones. Messrs. Thomas and Tilghman. with more chivalry than prudence, boldly accepted open games, while their more wary, if not more successful, comrades played close defences.
     The progress of the games was watched with great interest by the spectators. Chessboards were in operation in various parts of the house and a perfect battery of opera glasses was levelled at the stage. Mr. Morphy's manner was perfectly quiet and collected and occasionally he paused long over a move.
     The result was Mr. Tilghman first, then Dr. Lewis, then Mr. Thomas, and. last of all, Mr. Smyth gave in. and each in turn resigned his seat amid the plaudits of the spectators. The whole four games were concluded at about half-past nine o'clock, and the audience retired, highly delighted at this remarkable exhibition, and wondering more than ever at the extraordinary mental powers whose exercise they had just witnessed.
     While on the subject of Morphy I would add that in 1863 I commenced the collection of his games wherever obtainable. Several years after my collection was already a standard one and Mr. Morphy. through his secretary, Mr. Napoleon Marache applied to me for several games that he had not at hand in order to incorporate them in a collection of his own games he contemplated re-publishing with original notes. The project, however, fell through, as the publishers would not take the matter in hand unless Mr. Morphy would consent to play new games to enrich the collection.
     When I was game editor of Brentano's Chess Monthly I published all of Morphy's games I had then on hand which had not appeared in book form. Since that time, however, I have had another windfall. The late Mr. Wibray, of New Orleans, sent me a lot of unpublished games between Morphy and Maurian at the odds of a knight.
     The total number of Morphy games I have now on hand reaches 402, which, together with six end games, makes 408 pieces in all. Of these 402  five (Medley, F. H. Lewis, Lowenthal and two Deacons) are of doubtful authenticity.
     Mr. Max Lange's third edition of Morphy's games contains 373 full parties, or 29 short of my collection. The 29 consist:—

Morphy gives Maurian Rook.............. 1
Morphy gives Maurian Knight.........   27
Morphy and de Riviere.....................1
                             total................... 29

The full list of Morphy's games comprises:—
Congress of 1857.................. 18
Even match games................ 41
Blindfold games.................... 50
Consultation games............... 10
Simultaneous games................ 5
Even off hand games............ 119
              Total even.............. 243
Gives Pawn and move............. 13
Gives Pawn and two................ 3
Gives Knight....................... 121
Gives Knight and move............. 1
Gives Rook .......................... 19
Gives Rook and Knight.............. 1
                     total................. 158
Receive P&2 from
Lowenthal  (a doubtful game)...... 1
             Grand total................ 402
             End games................... 6

The book "Chess in Philadelphia" is now in press, and as over 250 of the edition of 500 copies have already been taken, intending subscribers should send at once to Mr. W. P. Shipley, Girard Building, Philadelphia, their order. Price, $2.50. The book will be gotten up in first class style.

Chess in Philadelphia
Gustavus Charles Reichhelm, Walter Penn Shipley
Champion Morphy's Visit.
     In November Mr. Paul Morphy paid his only chess visit to Philadelphia. After being beaten two games by Mr. Thomas at odds of Knight, he in turn beat him two at Pawn and two. Mr. Thomas, however, was too strong for the Knight at his regular close game, so Mr. Morphy proposed a continuance at these odds, with the stipulation that Mr. Thomas should defend with P to K4. Mr. Thomas acceded, but never having studied the book openings he was beaten two games and one drawn.
     Mr. Morphy made one to one with Mr. Tilghman at the Knight, and beat Dr. Lewis one at the same odds. Mr. Morphy played four simultaneous blindfold games at the Academy of Music, against W. G. Thomas, ?. ?. Tilghman, Dr. Samuel Lewis and Samuel Smyth, and won all.
     First Philadelphia chess club formed. Meeting at Board of Trade rooms, December 5. Officers elected : President, H. P. Montgomery ; vice-presidents, J. S. Natt, Simon Stern ; recording secretary, N. C. Reid, M. D. ; corresponding secretary, W. R. Macadam ; treasurer, Francis Wells ; umpires, W. G. Thomas, P. P. Randolph, B. C. Tilghman. Club occupied the second floor (one large room and one ante-room) of S. E. Thirteenth and Chestnut Streets, entrance on Chestnut Street.


  • 7 years ago


    I find the tastes of great players very interesting. At first glance one would think a love for chess is simple and absolute (and ultimately I believe it is). And yet we have very strong comments by some certain players regarding their distaste for certain openings or types of games.

    Steinitz's views on the French defense comes to mind. But I can think of equally condemning comments from a lot of famous players such as Kasparov, Fischer etc.

    Certain openings or types of games may make me feel uncomfortable, but I couldn't go so far as to say I dislike playing them.

    Far from saying it is wrong or inappropriate, I simply marvel that these are players who are so far beyond my comprehension (and appreciation) of chess, that it interests me just what it is about those games they don't like. Is it more than just playing to their strengths?

    I imagine in some cases it is a lot more than simply that, but in some cases it is probably precisely that.

  • 7 years ago


    I think you zeroed in on the mort interesting part of this article.

    But I find Morphy;s stipulation quite natural.

    Like most romantic players, Morphy, who was a complete traditionalist, regarded closed games with great disdain. In the following Bourdonnais-M'Donnell game that Morphy annotated for the Ledger, he wrote:
    If there is anything to be regretted in connection with the combats between this
    illustrious players, it is the pertinacity with which M'Donnell persisted in adopting, in two of the debuts which most frequently occur, a line of play radically bad. Against such an adversary as Labourdonnais the disastrous affects of M'donnells early moves in nearly all of the Sicilian Games and Queen's Gambits could not be overcome even by the best afterplay. The moves of 2.Nf3, or still better, 2.d4, are those now generally recognized as the best. The latter move is indeed so strong that it has gone far toward disabusing the public mind of that pernicious fondness for the Sicilian Defence which was displayed during what may be called the period of close games, extending from about 1843 to some time after 1851. It was an epoch of uninteresting games and dreary analytical labors, and with the exception of the contests ocurring between the great Prussian masters, afforded but comparitavely few specimens of brilliant play. It should be a subject of rejoicing with every lover of the game that an age, in which so much severe labor led to such unprofitable results, has passed away. There is now a visible tendency to cultivate a higher style of chess art- to sustitute for the false taste which has so long prevailed a more elevated standard of excellence.


    Morphy lost his first two games at Knight odds against William Thomas. Maybe, as Reichhelm theorizes, Thomas was too strong at Knight odds in closed games.  I tend to think that Morphy, who was already disgusted with and adverse to playing public chess, simply didn't care to play a type of game he despised. (In fact, the reason Morphy played as much chess as he did in Philadelphia was that he had already turned down an invitation to a planned banquet in his honor - something he was finding repugnant.) And, so, if he were going to play, he would at least play on his own terms. While he couldn't force Thomas to play an open game, he could dictate that he play an opening move more likely to lead to such a type of game.

  • 7 years ago


    Isn't weird that Morphy would force an opponent to play an open game by dictating a move ?

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