Morphy, Paul

Morphy, Paul (Charles)

(1837–84) chess player; born in New Orleans. The son of a wealthy Irish-American father (the family name was originally Murphy) and French-Creole mother, he graduated from Spring Hill (Ala.) College with the school's highest honors ever and received a law degree from the University of Louisiana at age 18. Ineligible to practice until 21, he turned to chess. After winning the American championship and beating the strongest masters in Europe in 1857–59, he came home to a hero's welcome as unofficial world champion (title play was not formalized until 1886). Foreshadowing the career of fellow U.S. champion Bobby Fischer, who called him "perhaps the most accurate chess player who ever lived," he returned to New Orleans, failed to set up a law practice, and went into seclusion. After abandoning all but friendly chess games and suffering from paranoia, he died from a stroke while taking a bath.