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Morphy's Knight Odds Match vs Thompson
Compiled by Calli

May 23 to June 17 1859

Morphy 0 0 1 1 1 1 0 ½ 1 - 5 Thompson 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 ½ 0 - 3

Little remembered today, this match was a sensation at the time. Prominent chess authorities could not believe that a player the caliber of Thompson could be beaten at knight odds. Löwenthal wrote to Fiske: "I am decidedly of the opinion that his (Morphy's) winning the match at the large odds of a Knight to a player like Mr. Thompson, is the most marvelous feat which ever a master of his rank has performed. Neither La Bourdonnais, M'Donnell nor Philidor could ever have accomplished a similar task."

Morphy did not always have good relations with Thompson whom he beat in the first round of the 1857 congress. Morphy wrote Charles Maurian that his challenge of a pawn and move match was actually directed at Thompson: "I see fit to challenge any New York players to a match at a pawn and move. ... Do not, however, infer that there exists the smallest degree of ill feelings between myself and most of the New York players. The truth is my challenge is directed solely to Thompson who possesses no small amount of chess vanity. After losing eight games out of eight on even terms, he is unwilling (with what justice and show of reason I appeal to every chess player to say) to take the odds of a pawn and move.. " - Paul Morphy

By 1859, however, their relationship seemed friendly, due, no doubt, to Thompson's decision to accept knight odds. Unfortunately, not all nine games of this match are available. There is also considerable confusion about the game order and which games belong in the match. Thompson and Morphy played 26 knight odds games in 1859, including the nine match games. The Chess Monthly (TCM), Vol 3, July 1859, pages 216-221 gave the 2nd, 4th and 5th game scores. TCM, edited by Morphy himself, also gave a position from the third game which Morphy won with a problem-like move. Can you find it? White to play and win:

click for larger view

TCM had an odd explanation for not publishing all of the games: "The three games of contest which we have selected for publication are, perhaps, the ones which were best played upon both sides. The extremely close games, which Black determinedly played, afforded, of course, but little chance for brilliancy. And the remaining battles of the series presented few or no points of interest. White won the third, fourth, fifth, sixth and ninth parties; Black scored the first, second and seventh, and the eighth was drawn."

For some reason, then, Morphy did not want to release the other games. The order in the collection involves some guessing. The first game was published in Harper's Weekly (06/11/1859). A position from game three is available in TCM, but not on Chessgames. The second, fourth and fifth games are confirmed in TCM. Another game was published in TCM in 1861 as from the Thompson match. This was after Morphy and Fiske left as editors and, unfortunately, no round number was given. As a Morphy win, it must be the sixth or ninth round. Since nowhere is it labeled as the deciding game, I think it is more likely the 6th. The last Thompson win must be the seventh game. The eighth and ninth games are not available. The match finished on June 17 (New York Times June 18).

Lawson, illustration 63, page 329 says 8 of 9 games are available. Morphy and Thompson played one knight odds game on May 19. Thompson lost and the match was arranged, (Lawson, page 205). Its probable that one of the available scores is the prematch game. The first game was played at Knapper's Chess Rooms on Broadway. Game took 2.5 hours (Cleveland Morning Leader, 07 June 1859). The second game was played at Morphy's Chess Rooms on 6/6/1858 and took two hrs. The third game was started that same day but not completed (Ashtabula Weekly Telegraph, 11 June 1859). References identifying as the 6th game: Sergeant, page 138; Lange 3rd, game 268, page 323. NY Daily Tribune (June 15,1859) reports that 6 games have been played. The 7th and 8th games, then, were probably played on the 14th and 15th. Morphy visited the Brooklyn CC on the 16th and then played the 9th game on the 17th.

1859.05.23 - 1st game, HW 1859-06-11, page 610
Morphy vs J Thompson, 1859 
(000) Chess variants, 31 moves, 0-1

1859.06.06 - 2nd game, TCM vol3, p216
Morphy vs J Thompson, 1859 
(000) Chess variants, 46 moves, 0-1

1859.06.?? - 4th game, TCM vol3, p219
Morphy vs J Thompson, 1859 
(000) Chess variants, 31 moves, 1-0

1859.06.?? - 5th game, TCM vol3, p220
Morphy vs J Thompson, 1859 
(000) Chess variants, 34 moves, 1-0

1859.06.?? - probably the 6th game, TCM vol5, p108
Morphy vs J Thompson, 1859 
(000) Chess variants, 51 moves, 1-0

1859.06.?? by deduction, this must be the 7th game
Morphy vs J Thompson, 1859 
(000) Chess variants, 29 moves, 0-1

6 games

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