Wednesday, May 04, 2022

I have a Morphy number of 4

People keep tweeting their Wordle scores so I'm going to do this.

Born in 1837, Paul Morphy was already acknowledged as the strongest American player when he came to Europe at the age of 21. There he beat most of the strongest players, often with some ease, and was often hailed as the strongest player in the world. But he failed to obtain the match with the Englishman Howard Staunton that would have allowed him to prove this beyond doubt.

Morpby returned to American in 1859 and gave up competitive chess to work as a lawyer in New Orleans. Troubled by delusions and paranoia, he died aged only 47.

Garry Kasparov has called Morphy the "forefather of modern chess" and "the first swallow - the prototype of the strong 20th-century grandmaster," while the parallels with Bobby Fischer are obvious.

The Morphy number is a way of expressing how closely a particular is linked to Morphy:

People who played a chess game with Morphy have a Morphy number of 1. Players who did not play Morphy but played someone with a Morphy number of 1 have a Morphy number of 2. People who played someone with a Morphy number of 2 have a Morphy number of 3, et cetera.

As that Wikipedia entry says, the idea is similar to the Bacon number for actors.

I shall now demonstrate that I have a Morphy number of 4.

James Mortimer was an American diplomat, journalist and chess player who befriended Morphy during his visit to Europe. When Morphy returned to Paris for a visit in 1863 they are widely agreed to have played some offhand games, so James Mortimer has a Morphy number of 1.

Mortimer, who eventually settled in London, was still playing chess in his seventies. In 1904 he took part in a tournament in Brighton where another of the entrants was a young George Thomas, so Sir George Thomas has a Morphy number of 2.

As well as twice being British chess champion, Sir George Thomas (as he became) was for years the strongest Badminton player in the world and in 1911 reached the quarter-finals of the singles and the semi-finals of the men's tennis doubles at Wimbledon. The Thomas Cup, badminton's equivalent of the Davis Cup, is named after him.

Sir George finished second in the 1935 British chess championships, where one of the players in a tie for third place was Leicester's Alf Lenton. So Alf Lenton has a Morphy number of 3.

And as I once blogged, I played Alf Lenton in the Leicestershire league in the late 1990s, when he must have been pushing 90. The game was a draw - a short, violent King's Indian Defence with me playing Black, so I have a Morphy number of 4.

Some would frown about their being no written record of a game between Morphy and Mortimer, but I like the interesting people who stand between me and Morphy if you allow this route.

Anyway, you can enjoy Morphy in action in the video above.

Later. Because there is no surviving score of any games between Paul Morphy and James Mortimer, some see claiming a Morphy number via him as unsatisfactory. No matter. I have  recently found a different route from Morphy to me that does not involve Mortimer.

Morphy played at least one game against the English player Henry Bird and a whole match against his fellow American Louis Paulsen. Later in their careers, both these played the German-born British player Jacques Mieses. And in 1936 Alf Lenton played Mieses at a tournament in Hastings in 1936, which again gives me a Morphy number of 4.


Frank Little said...

I once played JM Aitken, blundering horribly under the gaze of the great man. Does that give me an equivalent Morphy number?

Jonathan Calder said...

Aitken played against Sir George Thomas, so it does. Congratulations.