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Vizayanagaram 1883 Tournament (part 1)

The Vizayanagaram tournament played as part of the London 1883 congress was a strange affair and the games played in it are on the whole forgotten. Tim Harding has investigated and found a few more game scores.

This tournament is such a big subject that we will divide it into two parts. This, the first part of the article, was published in mid-April and has now been slightly updated to coincide with Part 2 (for May).

This part deals chiefly with the genesis of the event, the early stages, and newly-rediscovered games.

The initial programme for the London 1883 Congress was issued in January and the organising committee always intended to run a subsidiary tournament for amateurs. When generous support for the Congress came from both Europeans and natives in India, the financial backing for the competition became available, as the introduction to the tournament book explains in detail on pages xiv-xv.

The Maharaja of Vizayanagram, one of the largest landowners in southern India, donated £200 and the committee secretary J. I. Minchin (who, when in the civil service in India, had known the Maharaja and his father) suggested the best way to acknowledge this would be to put that whole sum towards the second tournament and name it for the donor. Minchin’s insistence ultimately trumped initial opposition to the idea and so the second competition became the Vizayanagaram Tournament.

The competitors

Like the main tournament, play was held in the Victoria Hall, on the premises of the Criterion Restaurant. Play, as in the main tournament, began on 26 April.

The 26 competitors with their place of origin were, in alphabetical order: Curt von Bardeleben (Berlin); M. Levi Benima (Netherlands); F. H. Dudley (London); F. Sidney Ensor (London); Léon Febvret (Paris); Bernard William Fisher (Cheltenham); Walter Gattie (London); George H. D. Gossip (London); Isidor Gunsberg (London); Andrew Hunter (London, formerly West of Scotland Champion); Charles James Lambert (an Exeter solicitor); Henry Lee (London); W. A. Lindsay (London); John Lord (Manchester, formerly London); the Rev. George Alcock MacDonnell (London); James Innes Minchin (Hon. Sec. of the St. George’s Chess Club in London); W. H. A. Mundell (London); the Rev. W. L. Newham (Loughborough); Richard Pilkington (London); Thomas H. Piper (Greenwich); Arthur Giles Puller (Ware); R. Rabson (Woolwich); the Rev. Charles Edward Ranken (Great Malvern); Cyril Bexley Vansittart (Rome); W. Elliot Vyse (London); and James West (Derby).

It can be seen that they were a very mixed bag. Gossip, MacDonnell, Minchin, and Ranken were players of considerable experience and capable of beating most of the field on their day. Bardeleben and Gunsberg were up-and-coming young masters who in the near future would participate in many top-level competitions, while the other players who came from overseas (Benima, Febvret and Vansittart) were rather an unknown quantity. The schoolmaster Fisher had to the surprise of many won the top amateur competition of 1876, the Counties Chess Association Cup, ahead of a field that included Amos Burn, but in this event he raised his play to a new level except in a couple of unfortunate lost games. The standard of the other British amateurs was highly variable, but only Dudley, Lindsay, Rabson, and Pilkington were likely to be outclassed.

The prospectus for the tournament excluded two classes of players from entering:

1) Those who in any international tournament since 1869 had made a score equal to half that of the winner;

2) Players who in public match play had had achieved distinction equal to the preceding.

Unsurprisingly, therefore, there was some objection to the entries of MacDonnell and Gunsberg and itw as said that some strong provincial ameturs were deterred by their presence from entering. The latter had done well in the match he had lost to Blackburne in 1881, while MacDonnell in both 1872 and 1876 had “infringed” the first criterion in tournaments played in London that were arguably international in character, Zukertort having played in both and also Steinitz in one of them. However, MacDonnell (who was clearly stronger than Skipworth and Mortimer, whose entries for the master tournament were accepted) refused to enter because of his objection to the rule about replaying draws in the main tournament, so either he had to be accommodated in the Vizayanagaram or not at all.

Since the tournament would evidently be of several weeks’ duration, the initial prospectus for the event had stipulated evening play, to accommodate players who worked in the daytime but this was unattractive to players from the provinces and ultimately the compromise was arrived at that some games could be played in the mornings, and the schedule for those who opted for this would be so arranged that they could complete their games within three weeks. Several Londoners also opted for morning play. Therefore several contestants played two games a day, others only in the evenings. The group who played only in the evenings were: Bardeleben, Benima, Febvret, Gattie, Gossip, Gunsberg, Hunter, Lee, Mundell, Piper, Vansittart, and Vyse. It should have been an advantage to play at the slower rate but only some of them were strong enough to take advantage. It may have helped the eventual tournament winner to know what his target was, but in any case he was the strongest player so it perhaps made no difference.

Conditions of play

With a few exceptions, it is impossible to determine when particular games were played, or even (for the most part) their sequence. Press reports were fairly skimpy, in the early stages especially, which is understandable considering that space was bound to be given to the main tournament. The principal coverage was in the Morning Post and in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, a weekly whose column was conducted by one of the contestants, MacDonnell. On 2 June he complained about the conditions for the evening rounds:

“When night comes the hall presents a pitiable scene. Then the poor young fellows who are eveningly fighting in the Indian tourney are excluded from the roped-in ground consecrated to the Internationalists, and huddled into the various holes and corners, where the gaseliers shed but a dim religious light, and passers-by, no matter how polite, cannot avoid jostling them, and still further darkening the chess-boards with their fleeting shadows.”

On 7 May the London Standard named the ten leading players at that stage, and next day its reporter wrote:

“In the Vizayanagaram Tournay [sic] steady progress is made, and a game lost by forfeit is of rare occurrence, which is much to the credit of the players, considering that as many as 26 competitors are engaged.”

Perhaps this brief report encouraged the organisers to offer newspapers more detailed information. A much fuller report appeared in the Morning Post two days later.

“The Vizayanagaram, or minor tourney, has made great progress, and has reached an interesting stage. Some very fine games have been played, among the best of which may be mentioned that between Messrs. Macdonald [sic] and Gunsberg, which was adjourned unfinished in a very interesting position. The first-named player ventured on the risky Muzio gambit, which entails the sacrifice of the king’s knight on the fifth move. He obtained a very strong attack and regained the piece, having in the present position a passed pawn on the seventh square, which will require all his adversary’s ingenuity to prevent from queening...”

In the tournament book, that game goes only up to move 66, ending with a rook and pawn versus rook ending where the white pawn is on c5. Most likely the position referred to occurred a few moves later, and Gunsberg would have resigned without resuming. The Morning Post report continued:

“The committee were much blamed for admitting these players in the minor tourney, it being generally thought that their previous performances well qualified them for the major. It will be seen, however, from the following score that the numerous amateurs against whom they have to contend are making a good fight, and that they are not having it all their own way:—"

"Bardeleben won 7½, played 8; Benima won 9½, played 18; Dudley won 0, played 18; Ensor won 6½, played 18; Fisher won 15½, played 11 [sic]; Febvret won 5, played 10; Gattie won 5, played 8; Gunsberg won 10½, played 12; Gossip won 7, played 9; Hunter won 7, played 19; Lambert won 12½, played 20; Lee won 8, played 10; Lindsay won 9½, played 18; Lord won 10½, played 17; McDonnell[sic] won 12, played 16; Minchin won 8½, played 20; Mundell won 2½, played 6; Newham won 5½, played 19; Pilkington won 1½, played 17; Piper won 8, played 9; Puller won 1, played 18; Rabson won 3, played 10; Ranken won 13½, played 19; Vansittart won 3½, played 9; Vyse won 5, played 10; West won 7, played 19.”

The Morning Post published a further report on 14 May, updating the scores, as follows:

“Notwithstanding the absence of many of our best amateurs from the Vizayanagaram tourney the affair has been a great success, and excites almost as much interest in chess circles as the main tourney. The competitors represent various parts of England, with the exception of Messrs. Benema [sic] and Bardeleben, who are of reputation in Germany. The last named has played well, having won 9 and drawn 3. Messrs. Fisher, Ranken, Gunsberg, and Macdonnell are also prominent. The score is as follows:—

“Bardeleben won 10½, played 12; Benima won 10½, played 22; Dudley won 1, played 23; Ensor won 9½, played 22; Fisher won 18½, played 22; Febvret won 5, played 12; Gattie won 8, played 12; Gunsberg won 10½, played 13; Gossip won 10, played 12; Hunter won 8, played 14; Lambert won 15½, played 24; Lee won 9, played 12; Lindsay won 11, played 23; Lord won 13, played 22; McDonnell [sic] won 16, played 21; Minchin won 10, played 23; Mundell won 8, played 12; Newham won 6½, played 22; Pilkington won 1½, played 217; Piper won 10, played 12; Puller won 4, played 2 [sic]; Rabson won 3, played 12; Ranken won 17½, played 25; Vansittart won 4½, played 12; Vyse won 6, played 12; West won 7, played 25. Of the above, Messrs. Ranken and West have completed their scores, 25 being the full number of games to be played by each competitor.”

Statistics and games

As there were 26 players, a completed round-robin tournament should have comprised 325 games. One was scored as a double default, for a reason which will be explained in Part Two. Moreover the comment, quoted above, from the Standard about forfeits being a rare occurrence does of course imply there had already been at least a couple, in the early stages of the tournament, and presumably there were more later by players out of contention for prizes or who just failed to turn up for one reason or another.

These defaults do not appear to have been reported anywhere so Professor Rod Edwards, in his historic rating calculations at his Edochess historic ratings site has had no choice but to score all 324 as played.

The editor of the tournament book regretted, in his Preface, that the collection of games from the Vizayanagaram was not more complete “but no official copy of the Games was recorded” and “a mass of incorrectly-recorded games was handed over by some of the players to the Director of Play.” The labour of collecting games for the book, and annotating the majority of them, was undertaken by Gattie, with Minchin himself annotating a few and some coming from other sources.

It has certainly not helped that the British Chess Magazine reprint of the tournament book cut costs by eliminating this final section of over fifty games.

Of the more than 300 games played, only about 30 per cent have been preserved. ChessBase’s Mega Database 2011 (the latest version I have) includes 56 games from the tournament. All but two of these were included in the first edition of the tournament book. ChessBase added Ranken-Lambert and Vyse-Ranken from the 1883 volume of The Chess Player’s Chronicle.

By the time Part One was written, I had found five further games, four in MacDonnell’s column for the International Sporting and Dramatic News and one in Potter’s Land and Water column. These are therefore included in this article irrespective of quality (or lack of the same), including the only known game by tournament back-marker, Dudley, who on the basis of this evidence and his score was clearly too weak for this tournament. No games by Pilkington have turned up.

Subsequently I found one more game, which is included in part two.

Games page (opens in a new browser window or tab).

Readers are invited to search in continental chess magazines and other primary sources and please send me any more scores you may find. The (updated) downloadable CBV file includes all the 62 games I have found so far, but perhaps more will turn up in other sources and I will add them to the file in future if any can be found. For the full annotations I refer you to the tournament book first edition, if you can find it.

Part 2 (May) covers: The course, conclusion, and final scores of the Vizayanagaram tournament; the best available games; additional comments about some of the players.

© Tim Harding, 2014