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Earliest correspondence matches played in Europe

© By Tim Harding

Apart from the early matches played in the United Kingdom, the Dutch and Germans were the standard-bearers for correspondence chess in the late 1820s and early 1830s. The following matches are known to have been played.


Amsterdam’s successful first matches

At one time in the 1930s, an article in a German chess magazine claimed priority for the Dutch match, but this was disproved by Dr Bruno Bassi after he made enquiries in Holland. The match Amsterdam-Rotterdam, 1824, was documented a few years after the event in an article about the Amsterdam Chess Club that appeared in the miscellany magazine Vaderlandsche Letterofeningen. This match began on 27 April 1824, just four days after Edinburgh made its first move against London, and Rotterdam resigned both games of the match on 20 December 1824.

Amsterdam Schaakgenootschap -

Schaakgezelschap Rotterdam

Netherlands, 1824

1 e3 e5 2 c4 c5 3 Nc3 Nc6 4 b3 Nf6 5 Bb2 d6 6 Nf3 Bf5 7 Nh4 Qd7 8 d3 Be7 9 Be2 Be6 10 Nf3 a6 11 0–0 0–0 12 e4 Na7 13 Nd2 Rab8 14 f4 Ng4 15 Bxg4 Bxg4 16 Qe1 f5 17 fxe5 dxe5 18 Nd5 Bd6 19 h3 Bh5 20 exf5 Bf7 21 Ne4 Bxd5 22 cxd5 Rbe8 23 f6 Nc8 24 Qh4 Kh8 25 Rf3 Rf7 26 Raf1 g6 27 Bc1 Nb6 28 Bh6 Bf8 29 Bg7+ Bxg7 30 fxg7+ Rxg7 31 Rf8+ Rxf8 32 Rxf8+ Rg8 33 Rxg8+ Kxg8 34 Nf6+ 1–0.

Schaakgezelschap Rotterdam -

Amsterdam Schaakgenootschap

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 d6 3 Bc4 c6 4 d4 Qc7 5 c3 Bg4 6 Qd3 Be7 7 Be3 Bh5 8 Nbd2 Bg6 9 Bg5? d5! 10 Bxe7 Qxe7 11 Nxe5 dxc4 12 Qxc4 Nd7 13 Nxg6 hxg6 14 0–0–0 0–0–0 15 f4 Ngf6 16 Rde1 Nb6 17 Qe2 Qe6 18 b3 Rhe8 19 h3 Kb8 20 Qf3 Re7 21 g4 Ne8 22 Qg3 Qd6 23 h4 Nc7 24 Re3 c5 25 d5 c4 26 Kb2 f5 27 Rd1 Nb5 28 b4 fxe4 29 Kc1 Qxd5 30 Qe1 Red7 31 Kc2 Na4 32 f5 Ka8 33 fxg6 Na3+ 34 Kc1 a5 0-1.

Bassi pointed out that the score of this game was given incorrectly by Von Mauvillon, Bledow and some subsequent secondary sources. This version follows the record of the game in the Vaderlandsche Letterofeningen, which I have seen with my own eyes in the Royal Dutch Library at The Hague.

That same article reports on Amsterdam v Antwerp, played between April 1827 and 8 February 1829. This was the first match involving the postal services of two different states. Amsterdam won both games, which were published soon afterwards by F. W. von Mauvillon, who revealed that he had played correspondence chess in 1804. Again, different versions leading to the position after Black’s fifth move were printed, but assuming the sequence in the Vaderlandsche Letteroefeningen article is correct, then Bledow’s book and the Dutch magazine Sissa (1846), and Diepstraten — the historian of Dutch correspondence chess — are all correct and the book by the late Professor Carlo Pagni was wrong.

A few years later, the Schaakgenootschap of Amsterdam won a third match, against the Chess Club Palamede of The Hague. According to Dutch sources, the first game ended on 23 November 1834 but the other continued into 1835, Amsterdam winning both games.

Early matches in Germany, 1829-35

The early correspondence chess games played in Germany were preserved largely through the efforts of Ludwig Bledow (1795-1846), whose book was the first collection of correspondence games. Although the title refers to a match between Berlin and Posen (modern Poznan), he included in the book all the games he could find, including several that were published in Bell’s Life in London, to which he perhaps subscribed.

The first of these matches, between Berlin and Breslau (now Wroclaw) began in 1829. A game between Julius Mendheim and Angerstein of Berlin was a spin-off from analysis of one of those games, and this is discussed in Game 2 of Tim Harding’s book 50 Golden Chess Games.

Several of the early matches involved players from Hamburg, where the Italian rules of free castling and ‘passar battaglia’ were still preferred at this time. In 1832, "two capital games played by correspondence” (as Staunton called them in the eighth volume of his Chess Player’s Chronicle) were played between Messrs. Hoffmann and E. John, two of the best players in the Hamburg Chess Club.

When Hamburg played some other clubs, the practice was that Italian rules were used in the game where Hamburg moved first and normal rules in the other game. In the case of Berlin-Hamburg (1833-6) however, it was the game started by Berlin where the Italian rules were used. The games of Hamburg’s earlier match with Kiel (1832) are not preserved, but the contest was mentioned in an article by Tassilo von Heydebrandt und Von der Lasa, whose influence seems to have been instrumental in persuading Hamburg to abandon the Italian rules in the 1840s.

Other early German matches were Marienwerder-Kanitzken (1832, also with Italian rules) and Magdeburg-Berlin (two games in 1833-4). From 1835 there is a correspondence game played between Bilguer (of the ‘Handbuch’) and Angerstein, but where was it first published?

First matches in Scandinavia

There is some uncertainty about when the first correspondence game between chess clubs in Sweden, Göteborg v Stockholm, was played. Some secondary sources have claimed 1843 but Professor Carlo Pagni believes that 1831 is probably the correct date for the match. Stockholm won.

The brothers Christen and Hendrik Møller won the first correspondence match in Denmark in 1836 against the club Loeseforeningen i Kobenhavn. This game was published in the magazine Nordisk Skaktidende (which began in 1870s) and was reprinted in the book by V. Junker, Dansk Korrespondance Skak, which was written during the Second World War (pp. 36-8).

1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 c6 3 Qh5 Qe7 4 Nf3 d6 5 Ng5 Nh6 6 d3 g6 7 Qh4 f5 8 f4 Bg7 9 0–0 fxe4 10 dxe4 d5 11 Bb3! Be6 12 Nc3 Nd7 13 exd5 cxd5 14 Bxd5 Qc5+ 15 Qf2 Bxd5 16 Qxc5 Nxc5 17 Nxd5 0–0–0 18 Rd1 e4 19 Be3 Na4 20 Bxa7 Rhe8 21 Nb6+ Nxb6 22 Bxb6 Rxd1+ 23 Rxd1 e3 24 c3 Nf5 25 Nxh7 e2 26 Re1 Nd6 27 Bd4 Bxd4+ 28 cxd4 Nf5 29 d5 Nd4 30 Kf2 Re7 31 Nf8 1–0.

The earliest French matches

Paris v Westminster, 1834-6, was the first match involving French players. See Tim Harding’s book The Write Move. The first match between French clubs was Valenciennes v Douai, between 1837-9, the second player winning both games so the overall result was 1-1. George Walker wrote in the third issue of his magazine The Philidorian (1838) that:

'The president of the Douay club is General Guingueret, a scientific player. The president of the rival society, at Valenciennes, is the Chevalier de Barneville, an aged amateur and a contemporary of Philidor; of whom he was wont, in the days of yore, to receive Knight, for Pawn and move. This match is being stubbornly contested.'

Walker was less impressed when he actually saw the games, and commented on 10 May 1840 in his column in Bell’s Life in London:

The combatants move at random, and remind us of a variety of chess in which the players were wont to throw dice, and regulate their play by the lot thus cast. The games now pending in England, by correspondence, between the first provincial clubs, stand boldly and proudly out in relief, compared with the drivelling baby work here embodied.'

Early correspondence chess in France has been deeply researched by Eric Ruch, the President of the International Correspondence Chess Federation. Unfortunately plans to publish an English edition of his book have not come to fruition.

The earliest Hungarian correspondence match

The earliest correspondence match known by Hungarian players was won against Paris in 1842-5. The two-game match commenced in November 1842. The French players were Saint-Amant, Laroche, Calvi, Chamouillet, Devinck, Lecrivain, Guingret, and Sasias; the main Hungarians were Szen, Loewenthal, Grimm, and Kohlmann. At this time the cities of Pesth and Buda, on opposite banks of the Danube, ahd not yet been united.

Here is one of the games, which gave the Hungarian Defence its name:

Pesth v Paris: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Be7 4 0–0 Nf6 5 d4 d6 6 d5 Nb8 7 Bd3 0–0 8 h3 c6 9 c4 cxd5 10 cxd5 Ne8 11 Qc2 g6 12 Nh2 Ng7 13 f4 f5 14 fxe5? Qb6+! 15 Kh1 Nh5! 16 Rf3 fxe4 17 Bxe4 Rxf3 18 gxf3 Bxh3 19 Ng4 Ng3+! 20 Kh2 Bxg4 21 fxg4 Nxe4 22 Qxe4 Nd7 23 b3 Qf2+ 24 Qg2 Qe1 25 Bb2 Bg5 26 Nd2 Bf4+ 27 Kh3 Qe3+ 28 Nf3 Bxe5 29 Bxe5 Nxe5 30 Re1 Qxf3+ 31 Qxf3 Nxf3 32 Re7 Rf8 33 Rxb7 Rf7 34 Rb8+ Kg7 35 a4 Kf6 36 a5 Ke5 37 a6 Kxd5 38 b4 Ne5 39 g5 Nc6 0–1.

The earliest correspondence game in Russia

To conclude, the earliest correspondence game in Russia was won by the celebrated Alexander Petrov (he of the Petroff Defence) against ‘three Russian amateurs in council together’. It was was first published by Major Janisch in the second volume of his Analyse Nouvelle du Jeu des Echecs and reprinted in The Chess Player's Chronicle, volume 4 (1843) pp. 319-321, with some notes.

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 3 d4 Nxe4 4 Bd3 d5 5 Nxe5 Bd6 6 0–0 0–0 7 c4 f5 8 f4 c6 9 Be3 Be6 10 cxd5 cxd5 11 Nc3 Nc6 12 Rc1 Rf6? 13 Bxe4 fxe4 14 Nb5 Ne7 15 Nxd6 Qxd6 16 g4 g6 17 f5! gxf5 18 Bg5 Rff8 19 Bh6 Rfc8 20 Qd2! Qd8 21 Rxc8 Rxc8 22 gxf5! Nxf5 23 Qg2+ Kh8 24 Rxf5 Qg8 25 Rf6 Bh3 26 Qg3 Qxg3+ 27 hxg3 1–0.