Chess Romanticism Part III (Blackburne)

Chess Romanticism Part III (Blackburne)

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Welcome to part III, featuring Joseph Henry Blackburne!

From page 72 of Championship Chess by P.W. Sergeant (London, 1938)--  Want to learn more on Blackburne and his whiskey? Check out this blog.

Blackburne showed how a chess player could drink, poor Mason, on the other hand, how one chess player would drink.

J.H. Blackburne (chillingly nicknamed, "Black Death" after the plague that devastated London several centuries earlier) lived to age 82, inordinate longevity for that time period, especially considering his heavy scotch whiskey quaffing and the fact that chess masters of the time died prematurely. Inventor of the dubious Blackburne Shilling gambit, his legacy belongs to the highest echelons of chess romanticism. Drinking heavy scotch as always, he had a tendency to consume several bottles during blindfold simuls in which he performed astonishingly well. He was a redoubtable foe even in old age, winning a British championship in 1914, and crushing a young Nimzowitsch at age 72.

Early Years

Born on December 10, 1841, Blackburne claimed to have learn chess in 1859, between the ages of 17-18. Generally in match play he fared extremely poorly against his contemporaries but he had fine performances against them in tournament play. Were not for his frequent but erratic flashes of genius, Blackburne's legacy may have been smouldering in obscurity like Mason's.  In 1861 he became the city club champion against his mentor, Horwitz. Blackburne finished 9th in the 1962 London International Tournament, but defeated Steinitz. Thanks to Blackburne's suggestion, this became the first, tournament using chess clocks instead of hour glasses.

Page 222 of The Sports Hall of Shame by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo (New York, 1987) stated:

During the Paris Tournament in 1867, he (Steinitz) blew up over a trivial remark made by his British opponent, Joseph Blackburne. In a rage, Steinitz spat in his face. Blackburne, who was no white knight himself, promptly picked up the short, squat megalomaniac and threw him right out the window.

Best Years

Blackburne is more famous for his great games than tournament or match results. He lost a playoff to Steinitz in 1873 in Vienna. He tied for 1st in Berlin, 1880 with Schwarz and Englisch. His best result was winning Berlin 1881 clear first by 3 points, Zukertort had to be content with second. In the 1892 Belfast International tournament he shared 1st with "poor Mason". He was playing blindfold exhibitions all the time for a living and went even so far as to travel to Melbourne, Australia! In Australia he got he got fined 5 pounds for assault...  Some of his greatest match results include, crushing Gunsberg in London 1881 with 7 wins, 4 loses, and 3 draws. He walloped Zukertort 5 wins, 1 loss, and 7 draws in London 1887. In London 1895, he drew Curt von Bardeleben, 3 wins, 3 losses, and 3 draws.


My opponent left a glass of whiskey 'en prise' and I took it 'en passant'. 


Even at age 79 he was giving blindfold simuls to make a living, before his wife died in 1922. On September 1, 1924, Joseph Henry Blackburne passed away from a heart attack at the age of 82.

4 Blackburne Specialties

Although he was aging, and had a dismal score against Lasker, here's Blackburne's shining victory.

Here's a quickie annotated by Blackburne, this is the epitome of antediluvian, "Grecovian", style. Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this game bring a smile to every chess players face?

Another electrifying game in the romantic style. Unprecedented brilliance from Blackburne. I'd wager that black Blackburne would be top level today in chess imagination, creativity, calculation and would sport a solid 2600 if given time to catch up with openings. Perhaps the only issue might be that his opponents would intentionally play dull, slow positions to frustrate the "Black Death".

To top it off here's this sweet treat. Laconic annotations by Blackburne. Purely tactical, this is an unspoiled, raw tactical kill against "poor Mason".

For Further Reading...

For further reading on great chess history blogs I shall reference kamalakanta's blog, simaginfan's blog,and batgirl's blog. All of which require tedious research and an appetite for historical knowledge. Introuble2's blog was another gem I recently found out about! Please don't hesitate to notify me of any other significant chess history blogs I've overlooked!

Okay, obviously the greats such as simaginfan and the other assiduous chess history contributors know this reputable chess historian.... Edward Winter! Chess notes by Edward Winter (as well as collecting his numerous book publications) edifies the chess history lover with rare photographs and other nuggets.

And as I recommended in my last blog, a great read for everyone regarding chess romanticism is The Great Romantics by Craig Pritchett. It's dazzling games matched only by the beautiful chronological organization of chess players from Andersson to Morozevich.

Joseph Henry Blackburne; A Chess Biography by Tim Harding, takes over a thousand Blackburne games and with historical annotations. A  book which in detail explores his complicated, rich style in both chess and life.

Best of all, read J.H. Blackburnes Biography by J.H. Blackburne! It may be vexing for the young player (old English notation, obviously...) and for the extremely modern, obsessive chess improver.(what with those comments on whiskey? And what horribly outdated openings!) But it's a joyous read for chess lovers and historians alike! Hundreds of games annotated by Blackburne himself, and although it's a very old style book (pages, notation, annotations, and format) you'll get a real feel for the romantic chess style at the time. It also contains many obscure studies composed by Blackburne.

Until Part IV of Chess romanticism!

P.S. Poor Mason... Losing on time in the opening from drunkenness, he deserves his day in the sun, don't you guys think? I certainly owe him a separate blog, not in the least that 1.d4 d5 2.Bf4 (my username) was formerly known as the Mason opening.

Mr. Blackburne recently the Hereford Times says,

Whiskey and chess, when taken together, agree with very few.