Morphy Number

Our megamatch against Kingston on Monday was a great success. We lost 11-5 against much stronger and more experienced opposition, but the match provided a first experience of competitive chess to several of our new members.

Looking back at this article, there are two mentions of Mr Jack Redon, whom I knew very well. The information that he played (and beat) JH Blake gives me another route to a Morphy Number of 4.

Film buffs will be familiar with Kevin Bacon numbers. Morphy numbers work in very much the same way.

If you’re Paul Morphy (which is unlikely, unless he’s reading this from another place), your Morphy Number is 0. If you played Paul Morphy, which is similarly unlikely as he was active in the 1850s, your Morphy Number is 1.

Morphy played much of his chess in England, and a few of his opponents had long careers lasting to the end of the 19th and even the early 20th century. He had recorded games against Henry Bird and John Owen (who died in Twickenham) and played many friendly games against Anglo-American James Mortimer, for example.

If you played one of Morphy’s opponents you have a Morphy number of 2: again unlikely unless you were around well over a century ago. Some of these also had long careers, lasting up to the middle of the last century. JH Blake, as mentioned above, was one, as was EG Sergeant, who, like Blake lived in Kingston. Another of my routes to Morphy comes via the German Grandmaster Mieses, who lived the latter part of his life in London. Players who were active at a high level round about 1950 would very often have a Morphy Number of 3.

There are a few MN3s still alive, including Leonard Barden, Stewart Reuben and Bernard Cafferty, the last two of whom are still active players. Most players of my generation who were active at a fairly high level in the 1970s/1980s will have, like me, a Morphy Number of 4. Adding Jack Redon to my list, I’ve played at least five players with a Morphy Number of 3, including both Leonard and Stewart, along with David Pritchard and Ron Bruce.

If you’d like a Morphy Number of 5, then, all you have to do is play a game against me next time we’re both at The Adelaide. What are you waiting for?