This week's blog is kindly contributed by School Captain Gus Bradford.
Ask any chess enthusiast who some of the greatest players to ever live were, and it’s very likely that the name Paul Morphy will pop up quite a few times. Born in 1837, throughout his life he pioneered the use of many techniques that are considered essential knowledge in today’s games. He learnt the rules by watching matches played by family members, but quickly proved himself better than any of them!
At the age of 12 he defeated a Hungarian master, Johann Löwenthal, and was quickly known as the best player in his hometown, Louisiana. His career continued with many matches against prominent masters of the time, and in nearly all his matches he beat his opponent by an extremely wide margin. Given the title of World Chess Champion when he was just 21, his reputation was known across the world.
However, despite all of Morphy’s fame, he has been given the nickname “The Pride and Sorrow of Chess”. At the age of 22, just one year after becoming world champion, he retired from competitive play. At this point he was so dominant that nobody could seriously challenge him without a handicap, and he was widely proclaimed the greatest chess player of all time. However, Morphy did not retire because of death, or illness, or injury – he retired because he wanted to become a lawyer, and is widely quoted as saying “chess never has been and never can be aught but a recreation”. While certainly a great loss for the game of chess, maybe critics have judged Morphy too harshly for his decision – what’s wrong with getting your priorities in order? Seeing chess as a hobby instead of his whole life allowed him to think of the balance of his different activities, and helped him make the brave choice to turn his back on the game that made him famous.
I have drawn a lot from thinking about Morphy ahead of my final year here at Whitgift, and have reflected on the importance of making the most of opportunities yet knowing how to prioritise in the pursuit of an ultimate goal.