Blackburne, the best English player during the latter part of the 19th century,
was famous for his uncompromising attacking style, dazzling games in tournaments,
large number of simultaneous games around the globe, blindfold exhibitions and fondness
for whiskey, which he asserted improved his chess play. Such a romantic player,
known also as the "Black Death", was always in the eye of the chess followers
whose taste for exciting chess he made frequently spark. His chess career was to
be one of the longest, spanning over fifty years, making him a legend. He was a
romantic in the style of the old days where the heroic sacrifices and bright combinations
where the common matter on the board all over the world.
Those days, however, were to end with the entrance of a new way of thinking, a more
modest and patient style, but with the effectiveness of scientific affairs. And
was precisely Steinitz the man who laid the fundaments of the new theory and the
positional school of chess.
At the Second World Exhibition of London 1862, the Crystal Palace was remodelled,
and along with the principal events, fourteen chess players where invited to take
part in an international tournament, among them William Steinitz, the Austrian chess
champion. That was the year of the arrival of Steinitz to English soil and he was
to remain there for twenty years, establishing himself as the leading player in
the world after modelling his chess thinking in the next decade from the wild and
speculative combinations, where himself was raised, to his final positional understanding
full of analysis and continuous research. At the end he would say: "Chess is
a scientific game..."
The 1862 London International Chess Tournament was won by Adolf Anderssen, an affable
and modest German professor of mathematics, but a fierce, if not the fiercest, attacking
player and the strongest of the world, after the retirement of Paul Morphy.
Blackburne had learned to play chess not more than two years ago but his talent
was already evident and was at the time the strongest chess player of Manchester.
He also took part in the International Tournament, where he was to obtain a modest
10th place, managing to beat master players like Lowenthal, the Rev. Owen, Green
and the newcomer Steinitz.
Later when he returned to Manchester he found his job in the hosiery trade occupied
and he become a chess professional.
In London, owing to the favourable environment in the English chess world, Steinitz
just had take the same decision, and the paths of both gentlemen were to cross many
times in the future.
At February 5, 1876 the next note was published in 'The Field', a magazine
"MATCH BETWEEN MESSRS BLACKBURNE AND STEINITZ"
"The preliminaries of this match have been settled, and the contest will commence
on Thursday, the 17 inst., at the rooms of the West-end Chess Club, 8, New Coventry-street,
W., where all the games will be played three times a week, namely, on Tuesdays,
Thursdays, and Saturdays. The first winner of seven games, exclusive of draws, is
to be declared victor. We shall publish the detailed conditions in our next number."
In the following note the stakes were declared £60 a side and the games would be
played with two hours to make the first thirty moves and an hour for the next fifteen.
The time limit was regulated by sandglasses, and either player exceeding it by five
minutes forfeited the game. The games were played in accordance with the laws of
the British Chess Association, with the exception of a draw condition: if either
player repeated the same move or series of moves six times in succession, the opponent
could claim a drawn game.
By this time Stenitz had already developed a good deal of his positional theory,
triumphed in a row of tournaments and defeated respectively in match play Anderssen,
as well as his pupil Johannes Zukertort, an amazingly combinative player and a worthy
successor for the former.
Steinitz was also the editor of a chess column in 'The Field', an important
voice in the chess world because of the deep analysis of games presented. In any
case it served him also as a channel to propagate his theories, which were not always
Blackburne in turn, had achieved his high status as one of the best players in the
world. He was the English champion in 1868 an 1869, and had succeed at international
tournaments like Viena 1873, where he shared first place with Steinitz, earning
also his "Black Death" nickname. Finally at London 1876 he took first
J.H. Blackburne, the Black Death
In match play the two men had already faced each other as earlier as 1862, after
Steinitz won the London Masters Tournament and a series of matches between him and
some prominent players were arranged. However as Steinitz had defeated Anderssen,
the 1876 match was considered an unofficial chess championship, and also the money
surrounding the affaire was of importance according to the time.
'The Field' had the rights to publish the games and issued several notes
after the ending of each game. Blackburne and Steinitz annotated all the games which
'The Field' published also later. The annotations are not separated by
name, but show the understanding of the game by the two old masters and the level
of theory at the time. The use of time controls regulated by clocks was starting
to be a common matter, and in general terms chess players were still not fully experienced
dealing with it and his reactions give some insight into his psychology. The first
note appeared on the 19th February:
"MATCH BETWEEN MESSRS BLACKBURNE AND STEINITZ"
"According to announcement, the first game in this momentous contest commenced
on Thursday, the 17th, at the West-end Chess Club. After some preparations, play
commenced at half-past two o'clock; the toss for the first move having fallen in
favour of Mr. Steinitz. An alteration in the conditions as published in our last
number was agreed upon by the two combatants, to the effect that the time limit
should be regulated by alarum [sic] time-pieces instead of sand glasses."
Steinitz W. -- Blackburne J.H.
d3 Anderssen first adopted this move in his match against Morphy, which
at the time caused a great deal of animadversion amongst theorists, who were inclined
towards advocating a more energetic attack than the nature of the opening apparently
can bear. But we believe that the great German master showed a true appreciation
of the spirit of this opening, which requires a treatment similar to that of the
close game, namely, a steadfast gradual development, content with the small advantage
of the first move. 5...
d6 Morphy played here invariably 5...b5, followed by 6...Bc5; the move
in the text was first brought into practice by Paulsen, and was afterwards accepted
as the standard defence, which in the majority of games hitherto played has proven
c3 Anderssen prefers here 6.Bxc6+, and then directs his attention to
retaining both his knights, and preventing the adversary from dissolving his doubled
pawn. White pursues here a different, and in the present position novel, policy,
and makes preparation for retaining his light-square bishop, and resting his game
upon confining the opponent's dark-square bishop. Whether this plan is an amelioration
of Anderssen's line of attack can only be proved by repeated practical trials.
Be7 Against Anderssen's form of attack in this début it is more usual
to open an outlet for the bishop by 6...g6. Black prefers to get his king into safety
as soon as possible, and therefore at once makes room to enable him to castle.
h3 Not so much for defensive purposes as with the view of subsequently
fortifying an attack by pawn to g4 against the opponent's kingside, after the latter
has castled. 7...
Nf1 This peculiar way of bringing the knight over to the kingside was
much favoured by Morphy in similar situations, and was also adopted by Blackburne
in the tie match against Steintiz in the Vienna tournament. But both those players
had elected that course after having previously brought out their c1-bishop, while
here White seemed to have time for this manoeuvre, even at the cost of temporarily
blocking out his dark-square bishop.
g6 For pure defensive purposes it would have been feasible to retreat
the bishop to d8; but Blackburne thinks that after the exchange, and since his adversary
was compelled to castle on the queenside, the chances of an attack were at least
equally balanced for both sides. 15.
Blackburne pointed out that 19...d5 would have been much stronger at this juncture,
and there can be no doubt that this move would have much improved his game. White's
best answer then would have been 20.e5 (for if 20.exd5 instead, Black would rejoin
20...Nf4, with an excellent game). Most likely the game would have proceeded thus:
19...d5 20.e5 c4 21.h4 and now, whether Black advanced 21...f5 or 21...h5, White
retained still some considerable attack; in the former by 22.exf5, followed by 23.Ne5,
and in the latter case by the answer of 23.Ng5, followed soon by pawn to f4. But,
nevertheless, Black had a better chance then of repelling the onslaught, and certainly
if he once got out of the attack, even at the expense of sacrificing a piece eventually,
his fine array of well-supported pawns on the queen's wing would have been most
Qd2 A move necessary for defensive purposes, but also threatening.
Before moving the queen, White could not utilize his dark-square bishop without
subjecting his d-pawn to capture. Now White menaces a break in with the queen, either
at a5 or h6, after removing the bishop, as actually occurred.
f5 Perhaps 24...Nge8, with the intention of offering the exchange of
queens at g7, would have augmented Black's prospects of prolonging the fight; but,
even if he succeeded in effecting the exchange, White's pawns and pieces were better
situated for the endgame. 25.
Qf7 The sacrifice of the rook for the bishop would not have mended
matters, on account of the impending 27.Ng5, after capturing the rook. Nor would
25...Qd7 have been any better, e.g.: 25...Qd7 26.exf5 Nxf5 (if 26...gxf5 instead,
White would proceed with 27.g6 at once) 27.Bxf5 gxf5 28.g6 Rxf6 29.gxh7+, and wins;
for if 29...Kf7 30.Ng5+ would be a destructive rejoinder.
g6 Decisive (for, if 27...hxg6, White replies 28.Ng5), though rather
plain in comparison with the fine variation which might have arisen in answer to
27.Nh4, which would probably have led to a still more elegant conclusion, e.g.:
27.Nh4 Nxd5 28.Rxd5 Bxd5 29.Nxf5 Nxf5 (best) 30.Bxf5, threatening pawn to g6, and
must win, for Black dare not take the rook on account of the answer 31.Be6.
Rf6 There was little to be done; but certainly, if Black wished to
proceed further, 29...Rf7 presented greater chances of prolonging resistance; but,
as our readers may observe, both players were just at this stage on the point of
completing the fixed time limit, and their movements bear the appearance of being
1-0. White threatens, accordingly to circumstances, either 35.Re6 or 35.Re7,
after which the defence must soon collapse.
The second game, saw a Scotch game with a relatively unknown variation at the time,
and used once in a correspondence game between Viena and London. Steinitz adopted
the theoretical but risky London defence and was put in some difficulties. The notes
by the protagonists illustrate the situation perfectly.
Blackburne J.H. -- Steinitz W.
In the match between London and Vienna, the latter retook the bishop with the knight.
The course here adopted does not seem to afford greater facilities for the defence,
and has, perhaps, the advantage for match play that it has not received such an
exhaustive analysis as the line of play pursued in the above mentioned game.
Nf6 In the altered position this appears better than the mode of development
for this knight advocated by Messrs Potter and Steinitz in their analysis of the
above quoted game, namely 9...Nh6. The chief reason given by those two examiners
was the weakness of Black's f-pawn, which might more specially compromise the defence,
since the first player had, in a great many variations, fine opportunities of attacking
that weak point with one of his knights; but in the present position, after the
queen in place of the knight has retaken the bishop, such a contingency was too
remote to be taken into serious consideration, and it was probably the best course
to defend at once the point at d5 against any future occupation from either of the
adversary's knights. 10.
Qd4 12...b5, blocking out the opponent's a-knight, was tempting, but
would have been thoroughly unsound, e.g., 12...b5 13.Bf3 Qc5 (best) 14.b4 Qb6 (best)
15.Qg5 Rg8 16.Nd5 and wins. 13.
h6 An important move, not alone to prevent the hostile queen from establishing
herself at any of the strong posts on the kingside, but also to enable Black to
bring his own queen into greater security by constantly offering the exchange of
White would have gained nothing by attacking the knight and the queen,
by 14.f4, though the knight might have been temporarily put out of play. For instance,
18.f4 Nxc4 19.fxg5 Nxa3 20.gxf6 Nxc2 21.Bd3 Nxe1 22.Bh7 Re8 23.fxg7 Nd3 and Black
is out of danger; for if the bishop takes the knight, he replies 24...Rg8, which
recovers the most dangerous pawn. 18...
Nc6 Black's last two moves were made under the pressure of time limit,
and under the impression that he could advance the pawn to b5 if the opponent retreated
the queen to b3; but it appears that after White's next answer this expedient could
not be adopted,
I haven't yet played through the games; I am glad to have the information on hand at the site. What drew you to these games?
I think the original attraction to the time, tales and games was Anderssen, but later I found that the XIXth century is crowded with interesting names, say Van der Lasa, Max Lange, Paulsen, Winawer, Mason, etc. Everyone of them in his decade contributing with his personal style and approach to the game. The situation was somewhat similar as modern chess with respect of styles, but then they were developing the chess theory mostly around the e4 move (or better said P-K4), another interesting factor. Thats how I found the annotated games of the 1876 match in the Chess Archeology site, and I liked a lot the comments for one can see his knowledge of theory, what issues were developing then and a little of the personality of the players.
Well done. The attitudes of the players at the time is interesting to hear, and the arguments on the board (and off) spice up the history of the game and its development.
Yes - the annotations of both players, the quotes from the contemporary magazine and the story about the window (!) give this piece a real feel for the history of the game.
To recreate the magic of the days of P-K4 you can change the notation displayed in your games to 'descriptive' in the preferences section ;-)
The games that you chose are nicely anotated with very interesting precedents for the opening moves. You were very kind to these old masters by not subjecting them to modern standards of opening play and computer analysis. All in all, a work from your heart with excellent quality.
I also loved the pictures that you portray in the article making it a classy piece of work.
Nowadays, kids that play chess don't care much in general for the old masters from the past. This piece of work is precisely what would encourage a kid to learn chess history from the past and chess culture in general.
Very well done!