Lasker's Chess Magazine/Reminiscences
(FROM A LETTER TO THE EDITOR.)
I was a lad of 16 years only, and Morphy was my idol. He took a great notion to me, so young, and so very small for my age, as did Mr. Mead, the President of the Club. Scharetts, of the Dey Street House, was my chaperone. I lost but one game, an entirely new defense to the Evan's Gambit, by Leonard, during my three months play in the two cities, New York and Brooklyn. I never shall forget how Morphy astonished the crowd of noted players during one of his games with Perrine. They all seemed to think that Perrine would have won if he had made a certain move. They asked if they might interrupt the game to ask him a question. He said, "certainly." Then the move was shown him, and he was asked if Perrine would not have won had he made that move. So fast that it was diffi cult to follow him, he made the move, and followed it up for about six moves —"he go there, I go here, he go there, I go here," etc., etc., "and I win." He seemed inspired with a perfect knowledge of the game. He was young, smooth-faced, modest as a girl, dressed in perfect taste, and never said a word when playing, unless spoken to. He sat leaning a little forward, at the table, his legs crossed and his hands free from the board. He never made a motion until ready to play, and then, quickly, he reached forward and with the thumb and two fingers he made his move and as quickly withdrew until ready for his next move. He looked as if he had just "jumped out of a band-box," so neat and boyish was he in his appearance. I loved him. I went three times to his hotel (the Fifth Avenue) to play with him, at his invitation, but I did not find him in. I published his games with Perrine, and criticised them in a chess column that I edited at the time. Paulsen took seventy-five minutes for one move in a game with Morphy during the American Chess Congress, in 1857. Thomas Frere, chess editor of Frank Leslie's, told me that it annoyed Morphy so that he told him (Frere), going to lunch at the noon adjournment, he would never let Paulsen win a game of him, and he kept his word. Morphy played from inspiration rather than from calculation. Everything possible in the game seemed revealed to him. He made Mead, President of the New York Club, angry when the $1,500 gift was presented to him, in New York City, because he said in his reception speech that he differed with Mead in what he said about chess in his presentation speech, alluding to it as a profession. Morphy said it should never be so considered, but merely as a recreation. I was told that Mr. Mead was so angry that he left the room and refused to have anything further to do with the ceremonies of the occasion. Steinitz went to New Orleans to see Morphy not long before he (Morphy) died. He sent to Morphy his name and asked if he could see him for a few minutes. Morphy consented to see him, but upon one condition, and that was, "nothing was to be said on the subject of chess." Steinitz was grievously disappointed, as that was the subject, above all others, he had come so far to talk with him about. Steinitz was ushered into Morphy's presence, all curious to see, study and "diagnose", the great chess genius, whose wonderful performances had astonished the whole world, and made him the welcome guest of the great rulers of the two hemispheres, with his mouth closed, by his promise, as to the one subject that he was more than anxious to talk about. He came away grievously disappointed, but still glad that he had seen the only Morphy that the world had ever produced. He had the poor taste, we think, as well - as the mistaken judgment, thereafter to say that Morphy's play was not up to that of the present day. Mr. Samuel Loyd said, in the chess column he edited at the time, that the complete answer to Steinitz's statement was "the following game," which was given as one of Morphy's "every-day" games, without any effort to select one from among his best. And, so it was a most "complete answer" to Steinitz's statement not only, but to all those who were conceited enough to agree with him. If I may be allowed to express my opinion, Morphy's style of play and that of the present day are so different that it is difficult to compare them. Morphy's was genius; that of the present day is skill. The one is inspiration, the other is calculation. the one is instant insight, the other is careful analysis. The one is Napoleonic, the other Von Molteonic. The fact is, Morphy was a "Sui Generis." I don't believe he was ever taxed to his full strength. If he met a new player, stronger than any other thus far, it would only tax his apparently inexhaustible reserve strength, or knowledge of the game, and over and down would go his new antagonist, like all the others before him. I don't believe he was ever "put to his trumps" to know what to do. I don't believe he was ever worried in playing, or had any doubt about the result of any game he ever played.
Poor Morphy. I loved him. When will we see his like again? I began to play chess at 10, and quit before I was 17 years of age to engage in the battle of life. I had everything I could find on the subject of chess, in all languages. I edited a chess column at 15, and knew most of the American players, many of whom contributed to my column. Forty-odd years having elapsed since then? I find myself interested again in the greatest of games.
By the way, why is it that we hear but little now of the Evan's Gambit, the most brilliant opening in the game? Yours truly,