The Boy Genius
Finding Him Again Through the Patriarchal Group
by Anthony Esolen
Lately I have made a hobby of going to a certain very fine and utterly unpolitical website, to see how great chess games were once played, and to learn about the lives and the habits of the game's most illustrious masters. That means I have come into contact with quite a few boy geniuses, as they used to be called. You may recognize their names: Bobby Fischer, Jose Raul Capablanca, Mikhail Tal, and my favorite among them, the nineteenth-century American lad, Paul Morphy.
One of the best players of his day said that losing to Paul Morphy for the first time was like your first experience of an electric shock. It has no relation to anything you have ever felt before, and it is not so much painful as utterly astonishing. That is because Morphy played the game as it had never been played. Nobody knew what he was doing. He sacrificed pieces with brave abandon. He placed them where you never expected them to be. He would allow you to put him within one move of checkmate as if it were ten. He beat his father once by driving Dad's king all the way across the board, and then delivering the checkmate by castling. He seemed to think that the main use of his pawns was to get them out of the way.
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Anthony Esolen is the author of over thirty books, including Real Music: A Guide to the Timeless Hymns of the Church (Tan, with a CD), Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture (Regnery), and The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord (Ignatius). He has also translated Dante’s Divine Comedy (Random House). He and his wife Debra publish a web magazine, Word and Song (anthonyesolen.substack.com), on poetry, hymnody, language, classic films, and music. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.
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