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Editor: Dr Tim Harding
  Dr. Tim Harding   J. H. Blackburne   Blackburne-book   Paul Morphy   Correspondence Chess history book   Captain W. D. Evans

London 1883 tournament

Report from the tournament book.

Tournament arrangements

Before noon on Thursday, the 26th April, the Victoria Hall was filled with spectators eager to witness the commencement of the fray. The players in the Major Tournament were placed in the northern portion of the Hall, protected by an enclosure of ropes from the pressure of lookers-on. The competitors in the Vizayanagaram contest were arranged round the Hall.

For the Major Tournament clocks had been provided, each pair working on a balance, so that when one player's clock was stopped his opponent's was set in motion automatically. The device was the invention of Mr. Wilson, of Manchester, and answered admirably its intended purpose. In previous Tournaments complaints were often made that a 'Player's clock, either from inattention or design, was not set going immediately that his opponent had made his move. He was constantly recording the game, looking for the paper, lighting a cigar, or absent from the board when his clock ought to have been set in motion, and the result was that the sum of the time occupied by the two players never came up to that really occupied in the game.

With the arrangement of the balanced pair of clocks no finessing was possible, and if a player were promenading the Hall when his clock had been set in motion he paid the penalty of his self-imposed loss of time. As a result, at the close of a game, or at the adjournment, the sum of the time indicated on the clocks of the two players corresponded accurately with that shown on the Hall clock to have, been spent on the game. The rigid accuracy of the automatic movement may sometimes have provoked an inattentive player, but the justice of the system was felt and its advantages acknowledged by all the players engaged.

The attendance of the member of the Playing Committee to start the competitors at the fixed hour, to set in motion the clock of any player not present to time, to receive the recorded move at the hour for adjournment, and to record accurately the time spent by each player as shown by their clocks up to that period, added to the regularity of their proceedings, and prevented the possibility of dispute on such matters. It should be stated here that, as was to be anticipated in the case of such practiced opponents, with the exception of some reference on the disputed question of an endgame and the 50-move law, the services of the member of the Playing Committee as Umpire in the case of dispute were never called for in the Major Tournament, and with most rare exceptions these important encounters were conducted throughout with courtesy and good-temper.

Great public and press interest

The interest of the public never flagged, and was increased by the notices in the public Press, which had never before reported with such regularity and correctness the proceedings of a Chess Tournament The Standard and Morning Post newspapers were the first to give detailed reports, and to publish the most interesting games in their columns. Their example was speedily followed by the Times and Morning Advertiser, while the evening papers reported regularly the progress of the play.

A weekly analysis in the Field of every contest of any interest, with sketches of a lighter character descriptive of the play in Society and other weekly papers, kept up the public interest, so that the Victoria Hall was well attended with spectators to the very close of the struggle, and the Committee were amply rewarded for their enterprise in securing that noble room for the Tournament, the greater portion of the rent being paid by the receipts from the public.

As soon as morning play ceased in the Vizayanagaram Tournament the Director of Play took advantage of the holiday given for the Derby Day to utilize the space thus afforded by erecting platforms with raised rows of seats from which the view of any particular game could be obtained by a large number of spectators without crowding round the ropes, and on the occasion of the second contest between Zukertort and Steinitz the advantage of the new arrangement was clearly exhibited, when upwards of one hundred spectators wore enabled to watch every move of the important game in which all their interests were absorbed.

The course of the event

It would be useless and wearisome to go through all the incidents of the struggle. On the opening day, Zukertort, by his brilliant victory over Chigorin, showed that he was in form, and satisfied his friends that if his health, which had oven rendered doubtful his participation in the Tournament, were not to break down, he would take his own part in the struggle for the championship.

The double defeat of his great rival Steinitz early in the contest, through his venturesome adoption of his own opening (in which he had been successful on the first day against Winawer), and refusal to accept the draw, which in that opening can apparently be forced by the defence within ten moves, was the most notable incident, and added greatly to Zukertort's chances of ultimate success.

At the close of the first round, Zukertort, who, had lost only one game, and that by a palpable blunder, to Steinitz, had taken so commanding a lead, amounting to 2½ games, or five points, over Mason, who was then second, that except in the case of an utter collapse, which in his state of health was always possible, the destination of the first prize seemed almost certain. The contest for the second prize would evidently be most close, as Mason stood with a score of 9½; Steinitz and Tehigorin, 9; Blackburne, 8½, and Bird and Winawer, 7 each.

Up to this point Steinitz had certainly not played up to his best form: he was indebted to good fortune for his success over Zukertort. He had been defeated twice by inferior players owing, to his adoption of an opening which he had henceforward to discard; he had lost one game to Blackburne by unquestionably weak play, and another to Rosenthal in which, though by no means disgraced, he had certainly been outplayed by his antagonist. Such was, however, the general confidence in his Chess genius and staying, power that few doubted that he would secure the second place, or the first one should Zukertort's victorious career be stopped by that unhappy breakdown in his health and nerves of which all his friends were fearful.

It was clear that Mason and Blackburne would have a close struggle for supremacy and all hoped that Mr. Bird, whose uniform courtesy to all and equanimity alike in victory and defeat had made him a general favourite, would come out with the high honours his chivalrous play deserved.

The second round

Early in the second round Mr. Skipworth retired from the contest. He had only entered the Tournament for the pleasure of contending with the masters, and had shown by his tenacity and general soundness of play that, if outmatched, he was no unworthy antagonist for the best, and that while there is a perceptible difference there is no impassable gulf that separates the highest amateur form from that of the great masters. The labour was, however, too great for him, and his health gave way under the strain. Under his doctor's orders he was compelled to retire after playing two games in the second round, the weakness of which showed how completely he had given way under the mental stress he had undergone.

Mr. Sellman was in very bad health when he entered, but he seemed to improve in spirits as his task went on, and though doubtlessly he could not do himself full justice he struggled manfully on, and was rewarded at the close by winning a game from the champion, which, though not worthy of Zukertort, was certainly admirably played by the victor.

As the second round went on it became clear that Zukertort would maintain his supremacy of the first round, which became almost a certainty when, after eight hours' play, he defeated his most formidable antagonist, Steinitz, on the 7th June, in one of the most scientific games, as played by both parties, throughout the Tournament. In the following week he defeated Winawer and Blackburne, when more than a week before the termination of the Tournament it became impossible for any other competitor to equal his score.

Collapse of Zukertort's health

He added one more achievement to his scroll of victories by defeating Rosenthal, when the long-dreaded breakdown took place. It was well known to his friends for the last ten days, while he had been completing the roll of the successive victories with which his second round had opened, that he had been compelled to drench himself nightly with a most virulent poison to keep up his failing energies to the mark. But nature would not submit to any such dictation, and at last the long threatened breakdown occurred, fortunately when it was too late to deprive the champion of the Tournament of his well-merited honours. In his game with Captain Mackenzie, having, in a defence to the Ruy -Lopez obtained an absolute winning position, Zukertort, under the extraordinary hallucination that he had already doubled his Rooks on the Queen's file, went in for what he believed to be an immediately winning combination, which actually resulted in the loss of a Rook and Bishop, and necessitated the instant abandonment of the game.

On the following two days the champion was successively defeated by the two weakest players in the Tournament, and while heartily congratulating them on the satisfaction they must have felt at so unexpected an occurrence, it is impossible to deny that on each occasion Zukertort performed most artistically the Japanese happy despatch, and defeated himself with somewhat of the like pertinacity with which he had previously defeated others. To his friends this was a mortifying culmination of an otherwise magnificent performance, from the merits of which it detracts in no way, as with shattered nerves and temporary Chess-blindness it was the shadow of Zukertort that encountered these defeats.

His remarkable achievement

Until this breakdown Zukertort had achieved a record hitherto unattained in the annals of Chess Tournaments by winning twenty-two games to one defeat and had shown in the performance that combination of brilliancy, energy, and accuracy which, against such competitors, could alone have attained such a result. His game against Blackburne in the first round is the finest that has been played in the time of the present generation of Chess-players, and proves, if any such proof be wanting, that magnificent combination is superior to that dull Chess strategy which risks no attack and struggles pertinaciously to obtain an extra, Pawn on the Queen's side against the end-game. The stratagem is as sound as it is brilliant, and when Zukertort played his R to K3 he had the whole combination, twelve moves deep, clearly in his mind - a combination not to be surpassed in all the recorded games of the brilliant masters of the past, Morphy and Anderssen.

Zukertort enrols himself in the modern school of strategy versus combination, but genius will claim its own, and a brilliant Chess gem of this description will always rouse the enthusiasm of the devotees of the game beyond the exhibition of the highest Chess strategy ever witnessed. There was no such perfect specimen in the second round, yet the game against Englisch is singularly brilliant, though marred by a blot towards the finish, and only the most correct judgment could foresee the ultimate reward for the piece apparently sacrificed in that game with so little immediate prospect of a return.

The second game with Steinitz is an almost perfect specimen of modern Chess, though the transposition of two of Steinitz's moves would appear to have insured the draw. The pertinacity with which Zukertort would be content with nothing short of victory is especially shown in his second game with Noa, the deciding game with Winawer in the second round, and with Englisch in the first where by his conduct of the end-game Zukertort routed the critics, who in each case contended that a draw only was possible.

Throughout these games it may fairly be said that Zukertort rarely indulged in unnecessary risks (his first game with Mason is certainly an exception), and yet more rarely omitted the opportunity for a brilliant stroke when offered. Above all, he played persistently to win, while most of his competitors wore content to play for a draw, and only go in for victory through their opponent's blunder. It would have been a melancholy result if such tactics had secured the highest prize.

The play of the other masters

Steinitz, who secured the second prize, also played resolutely to win throughout the contest, in which, towards the end, his staying power brought him quite back to his old form. In the second round he was again, singularly enough, defeated by Rosenthal and Chigorin, but the game played by the former is a really brilliant example of the French school of Chess, and if not sound throughout, the play was exceptionally fine and attacking, though the mortification must have been extreme for Steinitz to have an absolutely won game snatched from him in such a manner, especially when it seemed to imperil his chance for the second prize. He rallied from the defeat with characteristic courage, and not losing another game, by his successive victories over Blackburne, Mason, and Mackenzie secured that position by a decisive majority.

The play of Blackburne will be found somewhat deficient in energy; as a general rule he played essentially for safety, and contenting himself generally with safe exchanges in the middle game, played chiefly to obtain the opportunity of showing that skill in the end-game for which he is distinguished. Such tactics are never likely to obtain the highest honours amongst first-class competitors, though they are now becoming too general in Tournament play.

His game with Noa in the first round is a fair example of this system. After exchanging most of the pieces, both parties simply shifted about their remaining men, apparently without object, for twenty moves or more, and Noa doubtless expected that the customary draw would ere long be offered or accepted. Blackburne was, however, waiting for a blunder. At last Noa, apparently wearied of inaction, made the false move long looked for, on which Blackburne at once pounced, and very soon obtained the victory.

His first game with Steinitz is certainly an example of successful attack, but, as has been already remarked, it was won through a rare instance of really weak play by that great master. 1 think that the final game with Bird in the second round is the best example of Blackburne's skill which this Tournament affords. Through the inherent weakness of the opening adopted by his antagonist he obtained an unquestionable advantage, which he pressed home to the finish with undeniable energy and ingenious resource.

Chigorin, the winner of the fourth prize, ought to have a great Chess future before him. He has not yet the experience of Zukertort and Steinitz, but he possesses that energy which is requisite to make a great master, and throughout the Tournament he played persistently to win and not to draw his games, and happily obtained his deserved reward.

Englisch, Mason, Mackenzie, and Winawer adopted the approved tactics of modern Tournament play. These players, with Blackburne and Rosenthal, made an extraordinary number of drawn games, among which will be found many where the force and position are certainly equal, but where a player determined to win would regard the contest as about to commence in earnest. The natural desire of men engaged daily in a mental struggle to get some rest is the only excuse that can be offered for this practice, which can be compared only to two men standing up to fight determined not to hit one another.

Englisch, Mason, and Mackenzie tied for the fifth, sixth, and seventh prizes, and if the Committee, in accordance with the programme, had compelled them to play off the tie in a pool they would probably have gone on drawing games against one another to all eternity. Mason's best game in the Tournament is his first against Zukertort, where, strange to say, he refused more than one opportunity of drawing the game. Englisch's best games, I think, are his victories over Steinitz in the first round, where he showed the unsoundness of that master's previously favourite opening, and his defeat of Chigorin in a Sicilian opening, which is a model of correct and forcible play. His pertinacious resistance in all his games with Zukertort proves the truth of the assertion that he is very hard to beat. Mackenzie's game with Mason in the second round is a favourable specimen of that master's quiet and correct play.

The play of Rosenthal, who only secured the Consolation Prize offered by Baron Kolisch, is of a most inconsistent order, characterised as it was by singular energy at times, and the most supreme lassitude; the highest strength and inexplicable weakness. Probably he suffered more than any competitor, except Winawer, from the operation of Rule VIII. regarding drawn games, for he was always in arrears, and never obtained that rest from the strain of daily battle which his feeble physique required. The four games which he contested with Steinitz are alone sufficient to sustain the reputation of the Paris champion, and the first game of the first round with Winawer is in itself an example how well and how badly he could play. To a certain point there is hardly a better-played game in the Tournament, when there occur oversights that would be astounding in a mazette. For his last game in the second round with Steinitz he deservedly carried off the prize for the most brilliant game in this round, offered by Howard Taylor, Esq., and this distinction will be peculiarly agreeable to the members of the Paris Cercle, where Rosenthal is acknowledged to be their leading master.

Regarding the prize in question it should be stated that the adjudication was left by the donor in the hands of the Earl of Dartrey, and at his request I laid before our President half-a-dozen games played in that round which appeared to me most worthy of the honour. The games I placed before his lordship for adjudication were:

1. The final game between Rosenthal and Steinitz; 2. Steinitz against Winawer; 3. Zukertort against Englisch; 4. Mackenzie against Mason; 5. Sellman against Zukertort; and at Mr. Mortimer's request his game against Zukertort was also brought into the competition.

The prize, it must be remembered, was not for the best played but for the most brilliant game in the round, and after two days' consideration Lord Dartrey awarded it to the game won by Rosenthal of Steinitz. As Chess brilliancy is almost synonymous with sacrifice, the play in this game, commencing with the 40th move, is an unquestionable example of brilliancy of the highest order.

After Rosenthal, I should say that Winawer suffered most from Rule VIII., requiring draws to be played over again, not from physical weakness as in Rosenthal's case, but from his style of play, which, like Englisch's, is essentially of a drawing character, and, like Blackburne's, looks especially to mastery in the end-game. In the present Tournament he certainly disappointed expectation, but the finish of his game with Englisch in the first round is of the highest order of Chess, and worthy of the reputation of the master who tied with Zukertort in Paris and Steinitz in Vienna. It is impossible to approve of his manner of conducting his openings. In opposition to the practice of all the other masters he seeks for opportunities to change off his Bishops for his opponent's Knights, and though with a single Knight he will sometimes achieve an unexpected victory, as in his final game with Bird, the general result is a dull game and the inevitable draw.

Mr. Bird is the only other leading master who on this occasion failed to obtain a prize, which is the more unfortunate, as, like Zukertort, Steinitz, and Tchigorin, he is a bold, energetic player, and played resolutely to win throughout the Tournament. His game against Zukertort in the second round is a fine specimen of the skill of both, and but for one hurried move the combination in which Bird sacrificed the exchange should have at least secured the draw against the best play. Such a draw would have been the most fitting termination to such a game, when both players had played resolutely to win throughout, and were foiled by their opponent's strenuous resistance. The only kind of draw against which I venture to raise my voice is one for which both players are aiming, as their proudest achievement from the very commencement of the game.

Mr. Bird, as is known to all, has peculiar ideas on the openings; he believes in a form of the Giuoco for the attack which is in fact the same opening as the Evans refused, supposed by all other masters to be favourable for the defence. He certainly won a fine game at this opening from Rosenthal, and in his hands exceptional attacks and defences often turn out successful. He believes in the validity of P to KB4 in the close opening, which is rejected by both Steinitz and Zukertort as the worst form of the close game. I attribute his want of success in the present Tournament chiefly to what I consider vagaries of this description, but for which he would more likely have come out third than tenth. When, however, all the masters engaged, after the two leaders, show such singular equality of strength, any one of them might be third to-day and tenth in another like contest, and when such equality exists it is likely enough that cautious play, and a careful avoidance of defeat rather than a struggle for victory, may secure the advantage.

The remaining competitors in the Major Tournament were strong amateurs who joined in it for the pleasure of contending with masters, rather than with any hope of carrying off a prize. Of these Dr. Noa was unquestionably the strongest, and his victory over Chigorin, after losing the exchange, was a specimen of fine Chess of which any master in the Tournament might have been proud.


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Zukertort in Dublin, 1879, by Tim Harding