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Blackburne Calls Chess "A Vice"

Joseph Henry Blackburne (a.k.a "The Black Death"), the renowned English chess champion in the late 1800s to early 1900s, gave an interesting interview shortly after his match with German master Curt von Bardeleben in 1895.  The content of the interview is given below, along with the annotated first game of their contest which took place from April 25th - May 16th.  The match was ultimately an agreed draw with three wins each and three draws, as von Bardeleben had exceeded his allotted time to be in England.

"I know a lot of people who hold the view that chess is an excellent means of training the mind in logic and shrewd calculation, precision, and caution.  But I don't find these qualities reflected in the lives of chess players.  They are just as fallible and foolish as other folks who don't know a rook from a pawn.  But even if it were a form of mental discipline, which I doubt, I should still object to it on the ground of its fatal fascination."

"Chess is a kind of mental alcohol.  It inebriates the man who plays it constantly.  He lives in a chess atmosphere, and his dreams are of gambits and the end of games.  I have known many an able man ruined by chess.  The games has charmed him, and, as a consequence, he has given up everything to the charmer.  No, unless a man has supreme self-control, it is better that he should not learn to play chess."

"I have never allowed my children to learn it, as I have seen too much of its evil results.  Draughts is a better game if you must have a game".

SOURCE: Hawaiian Star Newspaper - July 25th, 1895

 


GAME SOURCE: British Chess Magazine -1895 (Analysis by James Mason)

*Original Post at my NEW Website: www.rookhouse.com

Comments


  • 17 months ago

    ja734

    my instinct is to defend chess, but his comments ring too true. ive only been playing for a few months now, and already i notice my mind wanders to chess when im not playing it. it does seem to have some addictive quality.

  • 17 months ago

    DaveOakRidges

    I'd rather have a "bottle in front of me" than a "frontal lobotamy".

  • 17 months ago

    batgirl

    Blackburne liked to drink, but he was no drunkard.  After his famous interview in which he clamed that a couple drinks sometimes cleared his mind, he was greatly criticized throughout England and beyond with some critics jumping at his throat, others trying to rationalize his statements.  I like what Philip W. Sergeant noted when he compared Blackburne to James Mason (a player with as much or more potential as Blackburne) saying "Blackburne showed how a chessplayer could drink, poor Mason, on the other hand, how one chessplayer would drink.

  • 17 months ago

    RookHouse

    <Krangmx> Funny you should mention that.  I just came across another interview with Blackburne in which he talks at length about alcohol and chess. 

    I will most likely post that article within the next 4-6 weeks.

  • 17 months ago

    Krangmx

    Well he was a drunk whom never really went to the top....

  • 17 months ago

    thought_control

    The elite GrandMasters, I assure you, are all one of a kind (there are even countless books written of them).  I have to disagree with your statement "Chess pieces are static things.  We just have to move them with our fingers."  This is incorrect because the chess pieces are representations of a unique mental dynamic; quite the opposite of anything static.  Perhaps we may be unaware of the height of knowledge in which they play.  Their mental capacity for the game would be unfathomable for us amateurs.  That is why they are able to beat handfuls of us blindfolded in front of everyone.  I also disagree with the statement that "Things are much more chaotic in the physical realm outside the chessboard."  I disagree because chess is all about chaos on to each other...    As far as solving a "trig integral", I recommend talking with Dr. WC GM Emanuel Lasker.

  • 17 months ago

    JustanothaDude

    Every little motion is governed by the mind. Even involuntary movements, like breathing, are controlled by the brain. Any emotional alteration can be subsequently manifested with alterations in breathing.

    We recognize patterns and develop intuitions on how pieces relate to one another on the board. But I doubt anyone here can solve a trig integral without practice.

    Chess pieces are static things. We just have to move them with our fingers. Physical sports demands one to kind of... contruct one's own chess pieces with motion... and use those pieces accordingly to whatever conditions arise. It takes years just to master certain movements. Things are much more chaotic in the physical realm outside the chessboard. 

  • 17 months ago

    thought_control

    I think chess is a bit discriminated against because it can been seen as trivial and time wasting.  That is only one point of view.  What is the difference between the professional ball player and the professional chess player?  They are both getting paid to play/coach in what is called a game. Physical strength is a must for soldiers; mental strength is a must for generals.  Yes playing continuous chess will improve yourself in certain mental aspects just as physical sports improves you in certain physical aspects.  

  • 17 months ago

    JustanothaDude

    even if it were a form of mental discipline, which I doubt, I should still object to it on the ground of its fatal fascination.

    So nothing can be a mental discipline and fascinating at the same time? 

    The man's logic is a bit off. Though, I do agree that chess players are no wiser than the next man. 

  • 18 months ago

    thought_control

    Well people do get paid for this too and win money.  It is a sport like any other.  They're are people out there who play just as much basketball at the gym or at the park.  You use mental muscle instead of physical.  A vice?  Sure it can be, but chess doesn't have to be singled as particularly special.  In my opinion, it's gambling at the casino that is probably the most dangerous.  People lose their houses gambling! 

  • 18 months ago

    Wappinschaw

    Joseph Henry,what a legend!

  • 18 months ago

    blake78613

    It is a question of causation, does chess cause compulsive behavior or are people with compulsive behavior problems drawn to chess?  I believe for some people chess is a form of self medication and if they eliminated chess they would only find some other compulsive addiction.  

  • 18 months ago

    MSteen

    Uh . . . Fischer, anyone? Nuff said.

  • 18 months ago

    thought_control

    Even WC GM Tal talks about this in the beginning of his book, "The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal". 

  • 18 months ago

    batgirl

    Nice posting. Thanks.

  • 18 months ago

    GoatsRUs

    Still true today

  • 18 months ago

    pvsatyam

    Yes, I agree to some extent . Anything too much is bad and one should have self-control to pursue chess as a passion. Its a great game of mind and one should not get addicted to it.

  • 18 months ago

    PhilipN

    ...But then there are also players who make it one of their several pursuits (e.g. mathematician Max Euwe, pianist Mark Taimanov, composer Francois-Andre Philidor).  Even so, this is probably the experience of more amateur players than masters.

  • 18 months ago

    RookHouse

    Actually, you would be incorrect.  Blackburne won the 2nd British Chess Championship in 1869.  Splitting hairs would be to say he won his last tournament at the age of 72, when he tied for 1st place with Frederick Yates in the 1914 British Championship.  He was unfortunately too ill to contest the play-off for the title and was thus considered the runner-up. Wink

  • 18 months ago

    Caliphigia

    If I wanted to split hairs I could say that Blackburne never won English - or British - championship. So, he was the strongest British player, but he wasnt a champion.

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