Winner's POV: London 1883 - The Vizayanagaram Tournament

Winner's POV: London 1883 - The Vizayanagaram Tournament

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In Winner's POV, we take a look at tournaments from the 19th century and see the games that allowed the top player to prevail. Some tournaments will be known and famous, others will be more obscure - in a time period where competition is scarce, I believe there is some value in digging for hidden gems in the form of smaller, less known events.

London 1883: The Minor Tournament

The London 1883 tournament is our next event of interest, but unlike with prior tournaments, I'll be starting off with the "minor" tournament. The benefits of this are plentiful: the major tournament has little interesting trivia regarding its lore, so this introductory section would be rather dull; the major tournament is quite large, and I really don't want to write too many big posts all in a row; and lastly, this minor tournament allows me to give a more proper introduction to an individual that we'll be seeing in the big leagues starting in a couple of chapters.

The overall congress was primarily organized by the St. George's Chess Club - the same club with which Howard Staunton was chiefly affiliated when he organized the London 1851 tournament - and its Honorary Secretary James Innes Minchin personally edited the tournament book (and let me tell you, having one of those as my primary source, in English no less, is such a relief). Among the larger donors were the usual suspects, Baron Ignatz von Kolisch and Baron Albert von Rothschild, as well as some members of English nobility like The Duke of Albany (Prince Leopold George Duncan Albert) and The Earl of Dartrey (Richard Dawson, formerly Lord Cremorne, president of the club). The goal was to raise £1000 for the major tournament's prize funds, and needless to say, they accomplished that goal and then some.

To procure even further funds, subscriptions were opened in India - given that Minchin was born in Madras and served in the Indian Civil Service for many years, there's certainly a good reason to do this. The support was heartily given, specifically support in the form of about £300 in subscriptions, along with an additional gift that is the catalyst for our present event: a donation of £200 from the Maharajah of Vizianagaram (spelled Vizayanagaram in the tournament book, hence the chapter title). Minchin apparently knew the Maharajah's father quite well, and so he decided to honour the son of his close friend by using the entirety of this gift as the prize fund for a minor tournament, which the funds gathered would have trouble supporting.

It's perhaps worth noting that this minor tournament had its fair share of difficulties separate from the major tournament. There was, of course, the issue some people took up with having an entire tournament named after the Maharajah of Vizianagaram (I'm sure I don't need to tell you what the average 19th century Englishman thought of the Indians, right?). More logistical errors, like determining who was permitted to enter the minor vs. major tournament, as well as scheduling such a large event, also plagued the organizers. Things worked out well enough, and while the reporting on this particular event is scarce (of course the major tournament takes priority), there's just about enough to warrant a blog post. Thus, here I am.

Format and Prizes

As there were ultimately 26 entrants, the format was a single round robin, with some players opting to play two games per day - play in the evening was mandatory, scheduled late enough so that the game could be played after work, while play in the morning was optional for those who were free. The time control was 20 moves per hour, which was somewhat mandatory to accommodate such a cramped schedule.

The Maharajah's donation was split up in the following manner:

Another £40 was added to this prize fund, though the tournament book doesn't have as nice a picture to show. The 1st prize would ultimately be raised to £80, and there would be prizes for the top eight finishers overall.


There's a lot of them.

Casimir de Weidlich (6 on that list, if you're curious) was unable to show up.

There were two names in this list that initially gave concern: George Alcock MacDonnell and Isidor Gunsberg. MacDonnell was a prominent figure in many of the 1860's tournaments, while Gunsberg had held his own in a match against Joseph Henry Blackburne (Blackburne won +7-4=3) and was the present operator of the chess automaton Mephisto. However, both were allowed to play, and given that neither of them won the event (or even came in second), the decision was somewhat justified.

The Winner: Curt von Bardeleben

Since Bardeleben won the minor tournament at Berlin 1881, he would be appearing in the major tournament for the upcoming German Chess Federation tournament later in 1883. This tournament gives us a nice opportunity to look at a couple more of his games before he's thrown into the deep end against the world's best. It's time to look at the London 1883 Vizayanagaram tournament from the Winner's POV.

Prologue to the Games, and Some Games

As I previously mentioned, some players opted to play twice a day, while others only played in the evenings. Because of this, there aren't really rounds of this tournament; because of this, I'll be presenting the games in whatever order I want. Furthermore, very few games actually survived, as there was no official copy for most of them. Minchin mentions in the tournament book that his friend Walter Gattie is primarily responsible for the rescue of the majority of the surviving games, so we're working with what we've got.

Of the surviving games, a handful of them aren't all that impressive, and so I'll clump them all together below. We have wins against Francis Ensor (a British amateur) and Levi Benima (the 1881 Dutch Champion), as well as a draw against Charles Ranken (runner-up at the London 1851 Provincial tournament). I'll present these without comment for you to look through on your own.

vs. James Innes Minchin

As far as this series is concerned, we've only seen our Honorary Secretary at the London 1876 tournament. He's played in many national events between now and then, with the standout being six "Lowenthal Cup" appearances, named after previous Winner's POV subject Johann Löwenthal

The Queen's Gambit Declined would be the opening of choice for this game, and the dynamic was made clear rather early on with Minchin giving himself an IQP. The decision was initially incorrect, but as Bardeleben began attacking the weak pawn, a surprisingly powerful counterattack was initiated. Minchin's Knights jumped into the center, and after Bardeleben's light-squared Bishop was picked off, things seemed to be going quite well for the Secretary.

As we often see these days, the move right before the time control is often the make-or-break point. Here it was much closer to break, as while Minchin's 20th move wasn't a losing one, it gave Bardeleben a key tempo to jump his Knight into the attack. Two moves later Minchin made the actual losing blunder, and his Queen left the board shortly after.

vs. Walter Gattie

Prior to this event, Gattie's main chess events were the annual matches between Oxford and Cambridge universities, with Gattie playing for the former. Edo has a match that he played against his good friend Minchin, with the Secretary giving the odds of pawn and move; Gattie won that match 5-1, leading me to believe that the odds were perhaps not very well balanced.

This game was a Sicilian that followed contemporary theory at least until the 8th move, with Gattie noting that discussions have been made up until Black's 11th move. This game continues the trend of Bardeleben being presented with a weak pawn that he can quickly attack, however the trend also continues that the attack is perhaps not great. Gattie was permitted to throw his Queenside pawns up the board with tempo, and soon his "weak" pawn on d6 was firmly supported by a healthy pawn chain.

While I wouldn't call this game a masterclass in exploiting the space advantage, it's still worth noting how easy Gattie's moves were leading into the Rook and minor piece endgame. Bardeleben's pieces had nowhere satisfactory to go, and they were caught in an awkward positioning that allowed Gattie to win a Knight for two pawns. The following endgame was quite manageable for him to convert, and he gave Bardeleben his only loss of the entire tournament.

vs. George MacDonnell

We last saw MacDonnell at the same London 1876 tournament as Minchin, though unlike Minchin, MacDonnell hadn't really done much since then. While he played in some of the London Chess Club events, and would later appear in the so-called Counties Chess Association meetings, this could be considered his final major event.

This Sicilian shows off why the contemporary theory strongly encourages playing Nc3 as early as possible, as Bardeleben was able to quickly equalize with 7... d5. This didn't deter MacDonnell, who lifted a Rook over to the h-file and planted his Bishops in position for a future Kingside attack. Bardeleben, meanwhile, placed most of his forces on the Queenside in typical Sicilian fashion. At the first time control, White was certainly for choice, but both players had achieved setups with great potential.

Unfortunately for MacDonnell, things started to go wrong for him staring with his 25th move. He saw an opportunity to snatch up a pawn, which would have given him connected passers on the Queenside - an alluring proposition. However, he failed to see the rather short sequence that resulted in his Bishop being trapped, and he watched as it (and his passed pawns) disappeared from the battlefield in short order.

vs. Bernard Fisher

It's definitely weird to be ending this chapter with a game against someone this obscure, but it feels correct given that Fisher (not Fischer) ultimately came in second place. This man was a frequent competitor in the Counties Chess Association tournaments, and was well established as one of the stronger provincial players. This tournament was practically made for him.

This was yet another Sicilian where the White player deviated from best practice by playing Bd3, and again Bardeleben advantageously played d7-d5. It was said in the tournament book that Fisher's second place was owed to "cautious, careful play," which is an optimistic way to describe what he did here. His setup was quite solid and inoffensive, and it gave Bardeleben the opportunity to build up an attack at his leisure.

This game ultimately joins the list of anticlimactic final games, as Fisher's 22nd move was a very horrible blunder that allowed Bardeleben to execute his King attack without any serious obstacles. Arguably the most interesting thing I can say about this game is that Bardeleben missed checkmate in 1 on his 27th move, though the following King hunt was certainly interesting in its own right.


I'm using the crosstable given in the tournament book as I really didn't want to make my own 26-person crosstable. Sue me.

The games themselves are certainly not of the highest quality we've seen, but as mentioned, this chapter was more of a segue into the main London 1883 tournament that we'll be exploring in the next chapter. This was also a way to properly introduce Bardeleben into the fold, as he'll be a regular in the following chapters and deserves to be known for much more than that one game against Steinitz. Hopefully this, and my quick discussion of him in the Berlin 1881 chapter, do this goal justice.

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