The Fortnightly, Volume 46
Chapman and Hall, 1886
Edward Winter also has scans of the article, and follow-ups, here: Winter’s Hoffer article
[ed- Coloring added in text below]
THE CHESS MASTERS OF TO-DAY.
Chess as a scientific pursuit is a vast subject. Professors and experts have made it a life-study, for it is in every respect as difficult as any other art or science. Chess, considered in the light of an intellectual pastime only, is not so difficult as might be supposed.
In various letters on the subject with which I have been honoured by Professor Puskin, he says: “I find chess for myself a most useful means of turning my thoughts out of any too deeply furrowed channel, and I would teach it to boys and girls, just as I would teach them to ride and dance, without wishing them to rival the skill, or even always to adopt the style, of professional riders and dancers.” To the first part of this sentiment might be added the merits of the game as a mental exercise, and as a means of improving the logical faculties.
Within my own memory, chess was considered an accomplishment attainable only by those gifted with superior intellect. This is decidedly a fallacy. Anybody endowed with an average share of intelligence may acquire proficiency in the game. Excellence, however, is the result of hard work. We have had no genius since Morphy except, perhaps, De Vere. Steinitz, Zukertort, Blackburne, we admire as great players; but we should consider the score of years of their assiduous study and that their lives have been devoted to the game.
It must, however, be admitted that the masters of to-day have a harder task to perform than the eminent players of past generations. Opportunities of acquiring knowledge abound on every hand. The intercourse of club-life, compared with what formerly existed, is immense; and the press, the great popular instructor, disseminates broadcast the mysteries of the game. Any discovery of a new variation is known on the following day, and will be analysed and talked over from San Francisco to Calcutta and from St. Petersburg to Cape Town.
Formerly, when Philidor played three games blindfold, it was regarded by the press as “one of the greatest feats of which the human memory is capable.” Nowadays Blackburne plays ten or more, and Zukertort has played on one occasion sixteen games!
People are fond of comparing chess to warfare, and calling Morphy the Napoleon of the game. There is really more in the comparison than appears at first sight. In our day, just as the science of war has succeeded to the art of war, and the school of Moltke to the school of Napoleon, so in chess the genius Morphy has been succeeded by Steinitz, in whom caution and exact calculation are personified.
Morphy was head and shoulders above the players of his time, and could, therefore, dispense with the tactics of the modern school represented by Steinitz. The former, so to speak, played down to the level of his opponents, whereas Steinitz is compelled to have recourse to the system of “accumulation of minute advantages.” It might be aptly said of him, “Il est grand dans son genre, mais son genre est petit.”
Wishing to describe the greatest players of our time, we cannot devote even a cursory survey to the interesting and instructive early chess literature, upon which we would fain dwell at some length.
J. Lowenthal. — A conspicuous figure in the English chess world was Lowenthal. A Hungarian by birth, he emigrated after the ’48 Revolution to America, and settled in England after the tournament of 1851. He contributed largely to the literature of chess, played several matches with success, but was beaten by Morphy, like everybody else. It is much to his honour that he speaks with such high appreciation of his opponent in Morphy’s Games, which he published. There is no exhibition of paltry jealousy, but honest admiration and acknowledgment of superior power. He was appointed manager of the British Chess Association, and secretary of the St. George’s Club, and therefore had an opportunity of taking a prominent part in the organisation of several tournaments, the last one being in 1872, when Zukertort came over at his invitation. I met Lowenthal in 1867 in Paris, and so anxious was he both in outward appearance and manner to be taken for an Englishman that he would rather converse in broken French—I did not speak English at the time—than have recourse to German, which of course he spoke fluently. His notion of an English gentleman, as far as the outer man was concerned, consisted in a clean shirt-front and a sovereign in the waistcoat pocket. He edited for a long time the chess column in the Era, and when it was discontinued he was in quite a distressed state of mind. Meeting a friend, he said, “My dear friend, I have lost my organ!” Thinking he alluded to his voice—he had a bad cold at the time—his friend consoled him, hoping he might soon recover it. “Oh, it is not my voice I am speaking of, but my chess column.” Right up to his death—July, 1876—he took a leading part in chess circles; but owing to failing health he was assisted in his literary work by the late John Wisker, who was an intimate friend of his.
B. Horwitz.—A contemporary of Lowenthal, Horwitz was in every respect his opposite. An artist by profession, he scrupulously adhered to the eccentric German notion that an artist should be “got up” after a particular fashion. Why a musician, painter, or poet should make himself conspicuous by a luxuriant growth of back hair, or indulge in velvet coats and slouched hats, is a puzzle difficult of solution. Horwitz used to wear hats of the most impossible shapes. He was frequently chaffed about this, so that, at last, he took it as a peculiarity of the English to ask people, “Who is your hatter?” Everybody recollects the kind-hearted old man, who would restlessly walk about from one chessboard to the other, and give his advice and suggestions to the younger players. A. bad move jarred on his nerves like a false note on a musician. A habit of his was to wait patiently behind somebody’s chair, and if the occupant vacated it only for a second, Horwitz would immediately sit down, and then ask blandly, “I am afraid I have taken your seat?” Not that he intended to sit down; he was too restless for that; but somehow he could never see an empty chair without nestling into it. Horwitz’s speciality [sic] was the endgame; and he published a valuable collection of his own and Kling’s compositions two years ago, shortly before his death.
S. Rosenthal. — Whoever knows Rosenthal intimately would be surprised that so courteous and mild a gentleman should ever have been implicated in any political or revolutionary plot; but such is the case, and Rosenthal was one of the Polish refugees in Paris who were subventioned by the Empire. The Régence was the rendezvous of those devoted to Caissa, the strongest players amongst them being Czarnowsky, Matchusky, Siwinsky, and the leader, Rosenthal. The latter soon became very popular, not so much for his chess as for his bad French. The former he improved rapidly, but in the latter he remains stationary to this day. He has a thorough disregard for genders, and I have not the slightest doubt that even now he does not know, as Mrs. Dodd would say, whether échecs is a man or a woman! Kolisch once facetiously advised him to adopt the rule of pronouncing all the substantives either masculine or feminine, so that he could only be partly wrong. Rosenthal soon aspired to rival Kolisch in chess, and induced his friends to arrange a match; but he only won one game to Kolisch’s seven. Whenever this match was mentioned later, he explained that at that time he was so weak “that he could have given the odds of a knight to himself.” Then came the great International Tournament for the “Emperor’s Prize,” and Rosenthal was in high glee, and quite sure of establishing his reputation; but he was again disappointed. To crown his mortification, Winawer, a schoolfellow of his, entirely unknown in the chess world, won the second prize, with only one game behind Kolisch.
I shall never forget the evening when Rosenthal invited me to accompany him and Winawer to his rooms, because he intended to show Winawer “how we play chess in Paris.” As an inducement to undertake the long journey at a late hour—he lived then modestly in the Rue de la Roquette, in a mansarde of “few comforts and many privations”—he promised to provide refreshments. The entertainment, however, proved a failure; the landlady having run short of provisions, we had to content ourselves with camomile-tea and stale patisserie. The chess entertainment turned out as weak as the beverage—at least as far as the host was concerned, for he lost two games with Winawer. I have been present at many tournaments since 1867, but of none have I kept such pleasing recollections. Perhaps the twenty years make all the difference! Kolisch, Neumann, Steinitz, De Were, Golmayo, From, were all staying at the same house with me, and the evenings were generally devoted to fighting over again the battles of the day amid a perfect Babel of tongues. I had the pleasure of making Steinitz’s acquaintance then, and had to interpret his numerous protests. His second interpreter was Loyd, but he soon tired of the position, and told him on one occasion, “Look here, Steinitz, if a man wants to quarrel he must either be strong here,” pointing to his fist, “ or here,” pointing to his pocket. “Or here,” replied Steinitz, pointing to his head. Fortunately Steinitz could only protest in two languages.
A noteworthy incident was Kolisch’s participation in the contest, which occurred the second day after play had commenced. I was chiefly instrumental in persuading him to enter, conditionally, of course, upon the consent of the committee, which they not only readily gave, but actually put a moral pressure upon him by refusing him a card of admission otherwise than as a competitor. When Steinitz heard of it he immediately protested, not on personal grounds, but on principle. However, the matter was smoothed over, and Kolisch won the vase de Sèvres given by the Emperor. At the beginning of the tournament Steinitz would occasionally inspect the vase, which was exhibited in the rooms, and knock at it gently, to find out whether it was cracked, of course on principle. Later on, however, when he had no more chance of winning it, he left off the practice, of course, also on principle.
Rosenthal came over to London during the war. What a change in barely a score of years in our small circle of the chess world only . The Régence used then to be a sort of neutral ground where all classes of men, and of all shades of opinion, jostled each other. Grévy was then bâtonnier of the bar, and I played billiards with him almost every day; now he is President of the Republic. Jules Simon, Garrier Pages, the confidential body-servant of the emperor, the one-armed officer of the Guard who was in charge of the Vendôme Column, and Paul de Cassagnac met in the same room. Hot-headed Victor Noir, barely twenty years old, I saw full of life and vigour, and a few days later I went to his funeral. He was shot by Pierre Bonaparte. A gloomy day it was, too. Thousands of workmen in blouses flocked to Auteuil or Asnieres—I forget which, but I think the latter place—but the authorities were prepared for any emergency. Pickets of sergents de ville stood inside the barrière, and the Chasseurs d’Afrique were stationed in the Champs Elysées. But outside the fortifications not a policeman was to be seen. Rochefort stood behind the hearse, bareheaded and ghastly pale, haranguing the people. However, everything passed off quietly enough. The masses were dispersed in coming back, and gave vent to their feelings by singing the Marseillaise.
But to return to Rosenthal. In 1870 he beat Wisker in a match. He also played a match with Zukertort at the St. George’s Chess Club in 1880, which the latter won. The negotiations of the conditions were perhaps carried on in a more animated tone than was necessary, and the Chess Monthly called Rosenthal’s challenge quixotic. He took umbrage at the expression, and when I told him that it was not quite as offensive as he imagined, he replied, ” Did I come over here to fight a windmill or Zukertort? I tell you what it is, he is not a windmill but a windbag.” One day at the St. George’s after Rosenthal lost a game with Zukertort, Steinitz analysed a certain position and suggested a move, and when Rosenthal disagreed, he said, “I’ll make that move for a million.” Rosenthal quietly replied, ” Well, Steinitz, I have not got a million in my pocket just now; but I bet you a sovereign.” The stake was too small for Steinitz.
In the late London Tournament, 1883, Rosenthal won the brilliancy prize given by Baron Kolisch, and quite recently he visited the Manchester chess club and London.
Rosenthal has done more than any French player since La Bourdonnais’ time to keep the interest in the game alive in France. He is now a naturalised Frenchman, and his courteous and affable manners make him deservedly a favourite. He has played in various International Tournaments and acquitted himself creditably. It was chiefly through his exertions that a splendid chess club was established in Paris, and he edits a first-class chess column in Le Monde Illustré, and conducts the game department in La Stratégie.
S. Winawer. — I met Winawer again during the Paris tournament, 1878. He had very much improved since 1867, and was again favourite for the first prize. Steinitz asked him one day, after he had added another victory to his score, “Well, Winawer, how much will you take for the first prize now?” Winawer replied, “I shall take the second.” And so he did, after a tie with Zukertort, who was first. In 1882 he tied again for first and second prize with Steinitz, in Vienna, and they divided honours. In London he appeared for the first time during the 1883 tournament, but he was not placed. He took, however, immediately afterwards the first prize in the Nuremberg tournament, Blackburne being second. The best of it is that he never intended to compete in Nuremberg—at least he said so when in London. I was therefore much surprised to find him there on my arrival. When I asked him the reason he explained that it was entirely an accident. He was on his way to Vienna, but, suffering from a toothache, he stopped at Nuremberg to consult a dentist, and the committee pressing him to remain, he consented. Winawer is one of the finest players living, as may be gathered from the above record. He has a style of his own, full of traps, and certain positions are known as “Winawer’s trade-mark.” He is very affable, quiet, and unobtrusive, simple and frugal in his habits, and possesses a happy contentment of disposition. He smokes as a rule a brand of cigars known in Germany by the name of “outpost cigars,” because the aroma is so offensive that they can only be smoked in the open air. Still he not only enjoys these cigars, but he can never be prevailed upon to accept the finest cigar, and the reason he gives is, that he is quite satisfied with his own, and if he were once to smoke a better one his taste for his own might be spoiled. Winawer is a philosopher.
H. E. Bird. — Since Morphy’s time Bird has been in the foremost rank of English chess players. He is now called the veteran master, but still maintains the vigour, brilliancy, originality, and freshness of style for which he was always famous. He is ever ready to enter the lists in tournaments, as well as in single combat. If the gout, his greatest enemy, accords him a truce during a contest, he is one of the most dangerous of opponents. Bird is the author of several works, and he has compiled a collection of the finest games in his Modern Chess. As far as chivalry and readiness to play at a moment’s notice is concerned, he may aptly be called the English Anderssen.
G. H. Mackenzie. — The American champion is a Scotchman, and was born in 1837. At the age of twenty he was gazetted to a commission in the 60th Rifles, and became known in chess circles in Dublin during the year 1860. He served in the American War, and after 1865 settled in New York, and achieved many victories in the United States. Of late he has successfully competed in all important tournaments in Europe, and his style is characterised by both erudition and elegance.
J. Gunsberg. — I met Gunsberg also in Paris in 1867. He was then a lad about thirteen years old, and I gave him the odds of a rook. He returned to his native place, Buda-Pest, and came to London a few years ago. He has very much improved since Blackburne beat him in a match, giving him the odds of three games in seven. He won the first prize in the Hamburg tournament, 1885, and divided honours with Taubenhaus in the B.C.A. Congress, and with Zukertort at Nottingham. Although Gunsberg is one of our best players, I cannot help thinking that, for a player who has practised the game, like Morphy, from youth upwards, he must now have reached that grade of excellence which nature intended him to acquire. He is a colleague of Mason at the offices of the Liberty and Property Defence League.
A. Burn. — As early as 1870 Burn was one of our best metropolitan players. He retired soon afterwards from public contests, but maintained a local reputation in Liverpool. He came to the fore again quite recently: he drew a match with Bird and Mackenzie, tied with Blackburne for first and second prizes in the B.C.A. Congress, and came out first at Nottingham. I have no doubt that Burn will maintain a high position amongst our first-class players should he emerge from his retirement and keep in steady practice. Burn enjoys the proud distinction of being the only first-class player living whom Steinitz calls his intimate friend. .
W. Steinitz. — The recent championship match between Steinitz and Zukertort having attained such great publicity both in America and Europe, it is needless to repeat the record of their past achievements exhaustively. Steinitz is a native of Prague. Unlike Morphy, he is of humble origin and a self-made man. Brought up at the bottom of the social ladder, entirely ignorant of the felicity of a happy home, he has also been treated by nature physically in a step-motherly manner. Shunned even by his playmates, Steinitz early acquired that acerbity of character for which he is notorious. This is the simple explanation of his unpopularity.
An old tutor took kindly to the neglected but intelligent boy, and gave him some elementary instruction, teaching him besides the rudiments of chess. As a youth Steinitz went to Vienna, improved his education and his chess, and in 1862 he was deputed by the Vienna Chess Club to take part in the tournament then organised in London. After this he made England his home. His career from that period is well known.
For many shortcomings nature has compensated Steinitz fully by a large share of mental capacity, great tenacity of purpose, and an indomitable belief in himself. He is very shrewd, and frequently could be seen—believing himself unobserved—to indulge in a quiet chuckle over some little scheme which he either was then in the act of hatching or which had just succeeded as he had anticipated. He delights in telling the story of how he got the best of an opponent to whom he had conceded large odds, but who generally had a kind friend at his side to warn him by an occasional nudge or by touching his foot under the table when he intended to make a weak move. Steinitz observing the tactics of this friendly adviser turned it to good account in this way. On one occasion when his opponent intended to make a good move—which would have won the game— Steinitz quickly touched him under the table. The opponent, taking this as the usual warning from his friend, paused, reconsidered the move, made another one, and lost the game.
When Steinitz heard that Zukertort was coming over to play in the 1872 tournament, he sat closeted for days in a gentleman’s house, who had a large chess library, in order to study Zukertort’s analysis of the Steinitz gambit until he detected a flaw in it. But, not content with that advantage, he invited Zukertort to breakfast. When Zukertort left, Steinitz knew as much of his opinion on certain openings as Zukertort himself, he having cross-examined him for hours upon every conceivable variation, and Zukertort, generous-minded and unsuspecting, believing himself admired by Steinitz, gave readily all the required information, whilst he got none in exchange. I was present on that occasion, and confess to have been quite as unsophisticated at the time as Zukertort.
Suspecting everybody to be his enemy, Steinitz will take offence even at an innocent joke, unless he gets the laughers on his side by a clever repartee. One evening he entered Simpson’s when a few gentlemen were conversing together. Steinitz suspecting as usual that he was the subject of the conversation, asked one of the gentlemen, “What did you say about me?” “You want to know?” “Yes.” “Well, I said that you are not as stupid as you look.” Steinitz immediately retorted, “But you are.”
The secret of Steinitz’s success as a chess-player is chiefly his industry. He is in constant training. To every game he plays he attaches as much importance as if it were a match game and his reputation depended upon the result. His motto is Toujours prêt, and this makes him the best living match-player. He watches carefully the style of his rivals and takes note of the manner in which they treat certain variations in the openings, and if he detects a flaw will keep it secret for years until an opportunity presents itself to profit by it. Sometimes he is mistaken, as happened in the Vienna tournament, when he played a certain gambit on Zukertort, prepared with a number of variations, should Zukertort play the game as he anticipated by watching him years before. Zukertort, however, evaded the variation, which he only indulged in against a second-rate adversary and beat Steinitz in a few moves. Steinitz’s caution is his chief characteristic. After writing a letter he reads it over carefully at least twice before he trusts it to the envelope; he goes through a similar process with the address, and then goes out to post the letter himself. But the characteristic part of the performance is the posting, for ere he parts with the letter finally he pulls it out again from half-way down the slit of the pillar-box, reads the address for the last time, and then only parts with the letter after again withdrawing it to see that it is fast shut. Wherever he goes he is the cause of dissension. In Paris in 1867 he protested; in Baden-Baden in 1870 he protested; in Vienna in 1873 he protested; in London in 1883 he protested. He has the faculty in common with some other great men of persuading himself that he honestly believes the theories he advances, and he will fight for them with a tenacity worthy of a better cause.
The happiness of the Bohemian Caesar, as Steinitz fondly calls himself, however, is not unalloyed. Paul Morphy is his bête noir. He has even attempted to undermine the pedestal upon which Morphy’s glory is everlastingly established. But he has not succeeded. If Blackburne makes a brilliant combination, he calls it a “bit of Morphy.” I have never heard anybody call a brilliant finish a bit of Steinitz. “When Anderssen years ago was asked his opinion about Kolisch and Steinitz, he said, “Kolisch is a highwayman and points the pistol at your breast. Steinitz is a pickpocket, he steals a pawn and wins the game with it.” And Anderssen was no mean judge.
Dr. J. H. Zukertort. — Zukertort is supposed to have been born in two places simultaneously, but I have reason to believe him to be a native of Riga, born in 1842. Lowenthal, who organised the tournament of 1872, invited Zukertort to compete, and the rumour goes that he came over in two ships, but I am in a position to contradict this exaggerated report also. After the tournament he made England his home, became naturalised, and is considered an English representative in all the contests abroad. Even the German papers mention him as the Deutsch-Engländer, and justly so, for although he was when residing in Germany reputed to be one of the foremost writers and players, he has himself admitted on several occasions that he greatly improved by assimilating the style of the English school with his own, or, in his own words, “He learned in England how to win a won game.” His career since 1872 is well known.
In 1883 he won the great tournament in an unprecedented style, both as far as the score and the quality of the play is concerned. His celebrated game with Blackburne has even been compared to Anderssen’s immortal game. The breakdown in the late championship match with Steinitz is due to failing health, and I regret to say that he has not recovered yet: witness the late B.C.A. tournament, where he was not even placed, and the Nottingham tournament, where he divided third and fourth prizes with Gunsberg. An amusing and characteristic description of the combatants in the memorable match alluded to was given by a St. Louis paper: “Mr. Zukertort pervaded both apartments while waiting for the game to open. He was here, there, and everywhere, chatting freely with those present. Mr. Steinitz came in with his rubbers on and his throat muffled up—a fat, phlegmatic little man with a fine forehead and mussed hair and clothes. His legs are very short, and it was a peculiar sight to watch the great chess-player seated upon an ordinary chair and feeling unsuccessfully for the continent of North America with his feet. Both men are hirsute, but Zukertort is better groomed than Steinitz. Both have fine heads. Steinitz is all curves, Zukertort all angles. Steinitz is all solidity and adipose tissue, Zukertort all brilliancy and nerves.”
The latter description is written by an observer. It is worth while to watch Zukertort whilst playing. From his countenance one can never judge whether he has a won or lost game, for he presents in either case the picture of abject misery. His corrugated brow, however, relaxes as soon as he gets up from the chair, for he never quits the board until he has the game in hand; he then lights a cigarette, and the transformation is complete. As a blindfold player he is only equalled by Blackburne, though their styles differ. Zukertort has a marvellous memory. He is a perambulating encyclopaedia. Whatever he reads remains vividly photographed in his mind for ever. The only occasion when his memory fails him is when he has to answer a letter or to keep an appointment, so that he is known by the sobriquet “the late Mr. Zukertort.” He is a clever and amusing conversationalist, and once started upon any subject it is impossible for anybody else to get a word in even “edgeways.” Some time ago a gentleman just returned from India gave us a graphic description of a tiger-hunt, in which he had taken an active part. Zukertort, who evidently could only have been familiar with the subject from having read some description of this kind of sport, took up the subject, and the gentleman deferentially listened to his narrative of a most exciting tiger-hunt. Upon another occasion, in walking out of the club at a late hour, a friend started the subject of blindfold play, insinuating in veiled language that perhaps Paulsen or Morphy might have been superior in this to our present blindfold players. Zukertort commenced to argue the point and had just converted the friend, when unfortunately they arrived, at the small hours in the morning, at Islington; and the friend assured Zukertort that he never for one moment doubted his superiority over any other blindfold player living or dead. He only wished to have an agreeable companion for his walk home, and he was very much obliged for his companion, and wished him good-night!
Few players have rendered such invaluable services to chess as Zukertort. He has written several works in German; he edited the technical department in the Westminster Papers, and has been the editor of the Chess Monthly together with me for the last seven years. I have the highest admiration for his talent as a player, analyst, and his sterling qualities as a gentleman; but in endeavouring not to appear partial in speaking of a valued friend, I prefer quoting a passage from a late contemporary, just as, for fear of a contrary accusation, I refrained from doing so in Steinitz’s case. “In every society which he frequents our hero is a welcome guest, and his popularity is due, not to his profound analytical powers, but to his practical humour and vivacity. These qualities he is more apt to display in a small than in a large circle, but in either his gaiety is never found wanting, and in all, the genuine qualities of the man predominate over the superficial attributes of the mere chess-player.” It is to be hoped that Zukertort soon may be restored to health and to his 1883 form.
J. H. Blackburne. — Blackburne came to the front rank with one leap in 1862. Previous to that date he only had a local reputation as a rising player in Manchester. He is no match player, but second to none as a tournament player. He has competed in many contests, gained several first prizes, in others he was never far from first, and in no instance was he unplaced. In off-hand games, however, when his ingenuity is not fettered by other considerations, his real style shows to advantage. In match games he is nervous and over-cautious. He will indulge in close games, especially as second player. His forte being a vigorous attack with pieces where he can have full scope for the brilliant and subtle combinations for which he is notorious, he must necessarily be at a disadvantage in openings where there is less opportunity for the display of his qualities. Almost every player betrays by his manner the state of his game. Zukertort holds his head with both his hands; Mackenzie nervously bites his pencil; Steinitz breaks out in profuse perspirations; Englisch walks round the board expecting his opponent’s move, or rather he has the intention of doing so; but, just as the vicinity of the pole affects the compass, his movements are affected by the board. Blackburne is impassive at the chessboard; he quietly smokes his pipe, sips his whiskey, and a shrewd observer must he be who could find out from the placidity of Blackburne’s countenance and the calmness of his movements whether he had a good or a bad position. Even Winawer, who mostly casts sly glances above his spectacles at his opponents, has given up trying to read Blackburne.
Blackburne has rendered greater services to chess in England than any other player. During his peregrinations in the provinces he plays hundreds of games both blindfold and over the board, giving the local players an opportunity to appreciate first-class chess at its true value. It frequently happens that provincial players, who find a ready vehicle for the publication of their games in the local papers, are thus led to believe that they have attained the acme of the science. Then Blackburne appears, plays eight or ten of them without seeing board and men, and beats them without apparent effort. The salutary effect is most evident.
As a blindfold player Blackburne has no rival. One must have witnessed an exhibition of such a tour de force to be able to form an idea of the magnitude of such an effort of the mind. There are masterpieces of Blackburne’s blindfold games published in which be has announced checkmate in seventeen moves! Most of his “bits of Morphy” are concocted when he plays sans voir, to the delight of both the players and spectators. Blackburne is besides a problem composer of merit, and the quickest solver of problems known, not even Sam Loyd excepted.
James Mason. — Persons unacquainted with chess and chess-players are apt to suppose that pre-eminence in the game is dependent on the power of combination alone—on strategical insight. No greater mistake could be made. On the contrary, practical success depends on the possession of a combination of qualities of which strategical insight is but one. Moral and even physical abilities are hardly less important than intellectual. Concentration, patience, imperturbability, pluck, and a good digestion are necessary helpmates to a fertile imagination, a strong memory, and a sound judgment. Few indeed possess this combination of faculties and attributes. If I were to be asked who possesses the combination of all the required faculties in the highest degree for the purposes of practical chess-play, I should answer Steinitz. And yet, paradoxical though it may be, I would contend that from the first move to the last of the game no one is better fitted out with all the requisite chess faculties than James Mason.
It is a remarkable fact that with the insight of a Steinitz, the imagination of a Zukertort, the patience of a Blackburne and the imperturbability of a Yankee poker-player, Mason has never succeeded in carrying off the highest honours in the chess world. True, his celebrated game with Winawer in the Vienna tournament of 1878 is regarded by good judges as the finest game on record since Morphy retired from the scenes. Again, the consummate ease and dash with which he bowled over all the best players at the Hamburg meeting of last year testify to his chess power. No competitor feels safe until he has met Mason, whose rule of action seems to be to defeat the strong and succumb to the weak. Probably the secret of the position is that Mason is a “jolly good fellow” first, and a chessplayer afterwards. The picture of the student with the cup of cold tea, and the bandaged brow poring over the Schachzeitung by the mingling light of the flickering candle and the rising sun, would never do for a portrait of James Mason. A man of wide and varied reading, a brilliant conversationalist, and a popular companion Mason has never been able to devote himself to chess; he never trains for even the most important match; and as soon as each game is over he reserves the right of spending the interval until the next game just as he himself pleases. He is one of the secretaries of the Liberty and Property Defence League, and exercising the freedom of an avowed individualist he consumes a larger share of the world’s tobacco and other good things than would fall to his lot under a socialistic régime. If Mason should ever find it worth his while to live for chess and on chess—to talk chess, to think chess, and to dream chess—there are not wanting good judges who would back him against the great chess-devotee himself. But where one man treats as an amusing recreation what his adversary treats as the work of his life, the former is too heavily handicapped. As a friend of mine once observed, “If Mason could only play chess as well as Steinitz between the last move of one game and the first move of the next, I would back him against all creation.” I do not say that I altogether endorse that opinion, but it goes to explain Mason’s failure to take the place in the chess-world to which his great abilities entitle him.
Had the purpose of this sketch of “chess-players” been confined to the narrow circle of the chess world only, such eminent names as Henry Thomas Buckle, Howard Staunton, S. S. Boden, Cecil De Vere, Harrwitz, Neumann, Anderssen, Paulsen, Kolisch, and a host of others should not have been omitted. The intention, however, having been to depict the masters, whose names are so familiar even outside the sphere of those who cultivate the royal game, not only as chess-masters pure and simple, but as men, and, so to speak, in their robes de chambre, a description of the talented masters of a former generation and those who have abandoned the practice of the game would be beyond this limited scope.
My connection with chess and chess-players, extending over a period of more than twenty years, has emboldened me to express here opinions which are based, upon close and frequent personal observation of the persons I have attempted to describe.