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Steinitz in Dublin, January 1881

This is a further updated version of the Steinitz part of my article in Quarterly for Chess History 14. Since then I found another Steinitz game, which is included here, and another report written by him about his visit.

(For further references, see the printed article or better still my book Steinitz in London which includes the fullest and final version of this story.)

He had paid one previous visit to Ireland: in 1865.

1881 was the year before Steinitz’s comeback to master chess. He was active as chess correspondent of The Field, in which he mentioned his brief Irish trip more than once. He only stayed for three days and did not attempt to match Zukertort’s exploits of 1879.

There was some mention of the visit in the Chess Player’s Chronicle, as well as in the Irish Times and in the Dublin Evening Mail whose reports (like those in CPC) contain some inaccuracies. The Illustrated London News and Land and Water, being hostile to Steinitz, did not mention his doings. The Field, in which Steinitz himself was the columnist, naturally described the visit, and he also reported on it in his lesser column, in The London Figaro. Nevertheless there are minor discrepancies over names and the details of the exhibitions.

The manuscript accounts in the Dublin club papers can be taken as definitive for the consultation games played on the first two days, but are incomplete for the final simultaneous, as we shall see. As with Zukertort’s exhibition two years earlier, the club asked members to subscribe money towards the expenses of the visit. There were 31 subscribers including Sir John Blunden (President of the club), Earl Dartrey (‘gave two subscriptions’), Hon Horace Plunkett, R. Goodbody, W. H. S. Monck, Parker Dunscombe, and Edward Gerahty.

Steinitz left for Dublin on Tuesday 11 January 1881, as the Mail says, but it was mistaken in stating that he gave his first display that day. All other sources, including the club records and the Figaro, agree that Wednesday 12 January 1881 was the firest of the three days for which Steinitz was engaged. He played three simultaneous games (not blindfold) against consulting members of the club.

On one board, he drew against the team of Blunden, Hunt, and Salmon. The mathematician Rev George Salmon (later Provost of Trinity College Dublin, but at that date Professor of Divinity) had been one of Ireland’s strongest chess-players in his youth: he once beat Harrwitz, playing level. According to the Chess Player’s Chronicle, this was Salmon’s first time playing chess in public since he was one of Morphy’s defeated opponents in the latter’s blindfold simultaneous at Birmingham, on 27 August 1858. Blunden had learned some of his chess skills from Captain Evans in the 1830s. It is harder to identify Hunt since Luce’s booklet shows that both R. Fitzmaurice Hunt and R. M. Hunt were elected members before 1881. The game is unfortunately not preserved.

Steinitz won the other two games that day. The one against Wallace and Monck is not preserved, but the board two game against Tuthill and J. D. Roberts was published in the Chronicle.

The blindfold exhibition

In 1865 Steinitz had experimented with blindfold play in two small Dublin exhibitions. The first time he had played three games simultaneously without sight of the board and won them all; a week later he tried playing five, drawing one and winning the rest. Unlike Blackburne and Zukertort, Steinitz did not often play blindfold, and never against twelve opponents, but it seems it was expected of him to repeat his earlier feat in Dublin in 1881.

So on the second day of his visit, Thursday 13 January 1881, Steinitz played blindfold at the Molesworth Hall in Dublin. This time he took on four opponents, but was less successful than before. As in Zukertort’s main exhibition, Alfred S. Peake acted as teller. The Weekly Irish Times remarked that ‘although Steinitz could only play four boards, yet there were three strong players consulting at each, so that he had nearly as difficult a task before him’ as Zukertort did in his twelve-board exhibition.

The Irish Times said the smaller number of games made the exhibition of a less tedious character, ‘while the play was of a higher type and more easily followed by spectators’. This was undoubtedly true but the main reason for the arrangement was probably that Steinitz was relatively inexperienced at blindfold play compared with Zukertort. He took White on all boards. ‘All through his arduous performance the blindfold player conversed freely with those about him.’

We will take the exhibition board by board. The sources number the boards differently but the numbering does not seem to have had any special significance. On what the club records call the number 1 board, Captain Wallace (not ‘Morres’ as in the Irish Times), Cairns, and Soffe played the French Defence. Steinitz, as was normal at that time, answered with the Exchange Variation, but surprised his opponents with a novelty at move seven. ‘The performer adopted an entirely new manoeuvre in this dull opening, which for years has been trying the patience of imaginative players.’ Steinitz duly won the game, which was published a few days later in the Chess Player’s Chronicle.

On the second board, ‘the Messrs. Roberts were assisted by the counsels of Mr J. B. Pim’, according to the Irish Times, while the Weekly Irish Times refers to ‘the Roberts sen. and jun’. There is some biographical information on Dublin’s teenage star, John Drew Roberts in Winter’s book. He points out that the Chess-Monthly wrongly claimed the boy was not yet fifteen when he played Steinitz. Roberts was born on 23 October 1864 so actually he was sixteen. He was elected a member of the Dublin club on 4 October 1879, afterwards studied at Cambridge and at Oxford, was ordained, and gradually disappears from chess records. CPC calls the other Roberts his brother: presumably the W. R. Roberts who was elected a member of Dublin Chess Club on 3 April 1878. Their father Michael Roberts was Professor of Mathematics there.

Steinitz played the Vienna Opening on boards 2 and 4 according to the Irish Times. Peake gave the following description of the game played by the Roberts brothers and Pim. ‘Board 2 was very skilfully defended, and never had the complicated appearance which the other boards presented. It soon became apparent that a draw was approaching, and by a judicious sacrifice of the exchange, which was regained in a move or two, the allies accepted the offer of a draw from Herr Steinitz’.

On the third board, Steinitz’s opponents were Woollett, Monck, and Sir John Blunden. Steinitz played the King’s Bishop’s game, according to the Irish Times, ‘his opponents rejoining by the King’s Knights Defence’, presumably meaning 1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 Nf6. Play lasted from 3-7pm in this game. The moves are not preserved, but Peake reported that the Dubliners ‘were early at a disadvantage. They had castled on the queen’s side, and Steinitz made such a skilful use of his pawns on the king’s side, that his opponents had to give up a piece, and shortly afterwards resigned.’ The Mail stated that this game ‘survived until the call of time’, when the allies resigned, ‘having lost the exchange, and believing that the game would ultimately be lost.’

On Board 4, Dr Salmon was playing this time with Hunt and Tuthill. Steinitz stated that he blundered in an interesting position, where he had the attack for a pawn, and had to resign immediately. The Irish papers give a fuller account, but not the moves. According to Peake, ‘there was rather an interesting contest. Steinitz offered a piece in one of the phases, but it was unacceptable, and although the game was now much in favour of the blindfold player, the allies persevered, and in consequence of some misunderstanding as to the calling of the moves, Steinitz lost a rook, and of course resigned.’

The Irish Times also said some misunderstanding occurred: ‘The allies, we believe, moved twice in succession, thus puzzling Herr Steinitz’, who shortly afterwards made the fatal blunder. It does not seem likely they would move twice in succession, so the account in the Mail seems more plausible: ‘At about the 25 th move, when the positions were very critical, it happened that a move in No 4 was announced to Herr Steinitz when he in his routine considered himself to be dealing with No 1, and hence he replied erroneously, and so lost the game.’

The reports in the Mail are somewhat strange. It appears that they received two different reports on the event and printed both, the sub-editors failing to notice that the first one did not mention Captain Wallace, whereas the second version said that on that board ‘Captain Wallace commanded the hostile forces, ably assisted by strong amateurs’. On the Saturday, the report in the Mail begins by repeating the second half of the Friday report and then follows with a brief account of Friday’s proceedings which is identical to that carried the same day in the Irish Times.

The third simultaneous

ON THE final evening of his visit, Friday 14 January, Steinitz gave a normal simultaneous display. Here is part of the description of the event given in the Irish Times and Evening Mail next day. The arrangements seem to have been more satisfactory than for Zukertort’s similar exhibition two years previously. Steinitz apparently enjoyed the opportunity to play in the style that in his youth had earned him the sobriquet ‘the Austrian Morphy’.


Yesterday in the Molesworth Hall this distinguished chess-player simultaneously contested sixteen games against as many amateurs, including some of the strongest players in Dublin. Two parallel rows of tables extended down the length of the hall, the representatives of Dublin chess sitting on the outside, and Herr Steinitz passing from board to board in the interspace… Steinitz played with extreme rapidity at the outset… In most cases he played in very aggressive fashion, throwing his forces in Napoleonic style against the enemy’s lines. The appearance of the majority of the boards soon gave evidence of the Austrian’s skill, his adversaries being reduced to holding themselves strictly on the defensive.

There is disappointingly little information about the games on this occasion, partly because the newspaper reporter evidently left after four hours, at the point where five players had resigned and Plunkett had won. The Field noted that ‘remarkable amongst the losers was an old gentleman, Mr Nolan, 85 years of age, who fought a hard game, and held out to the very last.’ The daily papers did not give the final result, and nor did the Weekly Irish Times. Steinitz and CPC both say he played sixteen games with one loss and four draws.

The Dublin Chess Club match book, however, has the following entry.

Simultaneous Games 14 January 1881 against Herr Steinitz.

Capt. Wallace Drawn; Mr Hunt Lost; Mr Tuthill Drawn; Mr H. White Lost; Mr R. Nolan Lost; Mr Woollett Lost; Mr Cudmore Lost; Hon Plunkett Won; Mr Roberts Lost; Mr Roberts jun Drawn; Mr Monck Lost; Dr Stack Lost.

This is evidently incomplete as it only mentions twelve games. Presumably the reason for the discrepancy is that Steinitz’s other four opponents were not club members and the secretary did not see fit to record their details. The Field names the fourth player who drew as ‘Murphy’, and it is fair to assume that Peake also played as a reward for being teller the previous day, but the other two are unknown. One of the strongest players in Ireland around this time was Bernard W. Fisher, an Englishman who had got his university degree from the University of Dublin, but he appears to have been away when Steinitz visited, otherwise he surely would have been involved in at least one of the three events.

Rev G. A. MacDonnell, writing as ‘Mars’ in the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, was unimpressed by the performance of Steinitz, whom he did not like. After detailing the results sent to him by the honorary secretary of the Dublin club, he commented: ‘Truly a respectable performance for an ordinary first-class player, but by no means wonderful for a world-sceptre-swaying champion may this be considered. I am glad to learn that the attendance was numerous and the interest apparent, and that the club was well satisfied with Mr Steinitz’s visit.’

Steinitz's report in the Figaro (a column devoted to problems, which sometimes included news reports but rarely games), appeared on 26 January and read as follows:

CHESS IN DUBLIN. At the invitation of the City and County of Dublin Chess Club, which holds its meetings at 35 Molesworth Street, Dublin, Mr. Steinitz was engaged for three successive days, commencing the 12th inst., in chess performances against the strongest members of that society. On the first day the performer contested three consultation boards simultaneously. The visitor was specially honored by the participation of the great mathematician, the Rev. Dr. Salmon, who, in consultation with Sir John Blunden and Mr. Hunt, drew a well-fought game. The other two games ended in favor of the single player. Next day Mr. Steinitz conducted, blindfolded, four boards, each being conducted by three opponents in consultation. The performer lost against the Rev. Dr. Salmon, who consulted with Messrs. Hunt and Tuthill; drew against the Brothers Roberts and Mr. Pim; and won the other two games. The third day was devoted to a simultaneous performance of sixteen games. The single player won eleven games, lost one to the Hon. H. C. Plunkett, and drew against master Roberts, the boy champion of Dublin, who is only fifteen years of age, and against Messrs Murphy, Tuthill, and Captain Wallace.

A few weeks later, MacDonnell published the game drawn by the younger Roberts against Steinitz, who played his own gambit against the boy. Monck later published his own game in the column he wrote for Our School Times, the magazine of Foyle College in Londonderry. This game was only quite recently discovered and appears in no commercial databases.

William Steinitz – W. H. S. Monck

Max Lange Attack [C50]

Dublin simultaneous, 14 Jan. 1881.

From Our School Times, 13 June 1881, notes by Monck. The score there was garbled but has been reconstructed by Tim Harding.

1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 Bc4 Bc5 4 0–0 Nf6 5 d4 Bxd4 This is now considered the best way of taking the pawn. 6 Nxd4 Nxd4 7 f4 d6 8 Nc3 Monck has a note: "Not the usual move but good enough apparently." It is not attached to any move in the score but seems to belong here, because White almost invariably played 8 fxe5 now. 8...c6 9 Be3 b5 10 Bd3 Ng4 11 Bxd4 Herr Steinitz would have got a bad position by retaining his B and prefers giving up the exchange to abandoning the attack. 11...exd4 12 Ne2 Ne3 12...Qh4 looks tempting, but White could reply 13 h3 and reply to 13...Ne3 by 14 Qe1 Still, Black would have obtained an attack by the move which might have proved formidable. 13 Qd2 Nxf1 14 Rxf1

TH: From this point, the score of the game in the column is garbled. "P. to QB4" is printed as both Black's 14th and 16th move but cannot have been played here because Steinitz would have replied Bxb5+. In order for the subsequent score and notes to make sense, he must have played 14...Qb6 and met 15 f5 by 15...f6 (to rule out f5-f6).

14...Qb6 15 f5 f6 16 Qf4 c5 17 Qg4 c4 The capture of the B is tempting, but perhaps Black should rather have advanced his g-pawn, which cannot be taken in reply without sacrificing White's queen. 18 Qxg7 Rf8 19 Nf4 cxd3? This move loses the game. Black would, I believe, have retained the advantage by 19...Qb7 or 19...Bb7. The latter would probably lead to 20 Nd5 Bxd5 21 exd5 0–0–0 22 Be4 d3+ 23 Kh1 Qe3 24 cxd3 cxd3 25 Bf3 d2 threatening ...Qe1 with a winning position. The present move leads to a very pretty finish. Black overlooked his opponent's move 22.

(TH: Actually, in Monck’s line, 25 Bxd3! saves White for if 25...Qxd3 26 Rc1+ Kb8 27 Qc7+ Ka8 28 Qc6+ with a draw by perpetual check, but Black has improvements earlier in the sequence. Monck's other suggestions 19...Qb7 and 17...g6 also look strong.)
20 Nd5 Qb7

20...Rf7, returning the rook to f8 if the queen checks, is better but would probably not save the game. He would at all events have enabled White to draw.
(TH: The accuracy of the reconstruction is proved because ...Rf7 would otherwise be impossible. Also White's next move would just lose the knight if ...f6 had not been played.)

21 Nc7+ Kd8 22 Ne6+ Bxe6 Hardly an oversight, for 22...Ke8 loses the game equally, e.g. 23 Qxf8+ Kd7 24 Qd8+ Kc6 25 Nxd4+ Kc5 26 Nb3+ and wins the queen next move, unless 26 the King goes to b4, in which case White mates in two moves with the queen. 23 Qxb7 Rc8 24 fxe6 Rc7 25 Qb8+ 1–0.

Unfortunately Steinitz’s visit, like that of Zukertort, brought no lasting benefits to Dublin chess. Six months later, Peake complained in the Weekly Irish Times that:

The old-established City and County Club has made many attempts to awaken an interest, but with only temporary effect so far as the outside public is concerned. The promising Dawson street Chess Club, too, seems to have melted away. Of the University Chess Club nothing whatever is known…. Billiards, lawn tennis, and cricket usurp the place of chess in their affections, and if they play chess at all it is with the gentler side of humanity.

It was to be another two years before chess began to revive in Ireland and by 1885 there was a vigorous level of activity, with the founding of the Irish Chess Association and the Saint Patrick’s Chess Club. It was in connection with the latter that one more game from Steinitz’s visit eventually came to light, casting some light on what happened on 14 January 1881.

The St Patrick’s Chess Club Pamphlet was a manuscript chess magazine of 1885 produced for members of the aforementioned club in Dublin. It was reissued in 1887 and can be seen in the John G. White Collection in the Cleveland Public Library. It includes the drawn game given below, Steinitz v J. Morphy, with the following introduction:

One of several simultaneous games played in Dublin in 1881 by the champion - Herr Steinitz. His youthful opponent is now one of the most promising players of The St Patrick's Chess Club.

It has for some time been a puzzle to identify this John Morphy, who played in the Dublin chess congress of 1885 and in subsequent events. The obvious and probably correct conclusion is that the Murphy who drew the fourth game with Steinitz later changed his name to Morphy, since it was a surname of such special chess significance. In 1888, he opened a commercial ‘chess divan’ in Dublin at 79 Grafton Street, with James Mason in attendance as resident master for a few days.

Morphy’s Divan stayed open until 1892, when the business failed. Morphy emigrated to America in 1894, without benefit of a testimonial from local players, perhaps because he owed them money? Two games he played in the 1895 Brooklyn Chess Club championship are in ChessBase’s database, one of them a win against Showalter; I should like to know the primary printed source for that.

In subsequent years, Blackburne and several minor masters gave simultaneous displays in Ireland but Dublin Chess Club had its most celebrated visitors between the world wars when Capablanca (in 1919) and Alekhine (in 1938) played simultaneous displays in the city. The club’s final contact with Steinitz was less successful. Landsberger’s biography says that in 1898 Dublin Chess Club played a correspondence match with the former world champion, then in New York and probably in need of the fee. It is true that Horace Plunkett tried to arrange this but the club papers show that they, small-mindedly, decided not to play any such match.

W. Steinitz – J. Morphy [C38]

Simultaneous, Dublin, 1881

Notes from the ‘St. Patrick's Chess Club Pamphlet’.

1 e4 e5 2 f4 exf4 3 Nf3 g5 4 Bc4 Bg7 5 0–0 d6 6 d4 Nc6? 7 c3 h6 8 g3 g4 9 Bxf4! gxf3 10 Qxf3 Qe7 11 Nd2 Bd7 12 b4? Nxd4! 13 cxd4 Bxd4+ 14 Kh1 Bxa1 15 Rxa1 0–0–0 16 Rc1 Nf6 17 Be3 Underrating the novice, Steinitz found himself smashed up with surprising cleverness. 17...Ng4? 18 Bxa7 Be6? 19 Be2 Ne5 20 Qc3 f6 21 Bb6 Rh7 22 Qa3 c6 23 Qa8+ Kd7 24 Qxb7+ Ke8 25 Bh5+ Bf7 26 Qxe7+ Kxe7 27 Bxd8+ Kxd8 28 Bxf7 Rxf7 A faltering came however which reduced Black to a desperate plight. 29 Nc4 Ra7 30 Nxe5 fxe5 31 Rxc6 Kd7 32 Rc2 Ra3 33 Re2 Ra4 34 Rb2 Kc6 35 Kg2 Kb5 36 Kf3 h5 37 h3 Ra3+ 38 Kf2 h4! 39 gxh4 Rxh3 40 Kg2 Rxh4 41 Kf3 Rf4+ 42 Ke3 Rh4 43 Rd2 Rh6 44 Rb2 Rh3+ 45 Kd2 Rh2+ 46 Kc3 Rxb2 47 Kxb2 Kxb4 48 Kc2 Kc4 49 a3 Black's cleverness has again given him a winning advantage. By playing ...Kd4 now he could have won. If then 50 a4 Kc4 wins the pawn, and if 50 Kb3 Kxe4 and Black can stop and win White's RP and afterwards Queen his own QP. 49...Kc5? 50 Kc3 d5 51 exd5 Kxd5 & the game was drawn. ½–½