The man with the best record against Paul Morphy was the improbable Thomas Wilson Barnes. It's often written that he was one of the strongest English players of his time, but it's hard to prove that from his record.
What we know of him, besides his unrecorded scores against Buckle and probably Staunton (according to Sergeant, Barnes was "one of the strongest members of St. George's Club.") is as follows:
~ In the Kling's Coffee House Tournament of London, 1855, (won by Barnes' good friend, Adolf Zytogorski), Barnes placed 4th out of 8 contestants [5/11].
~ In the McDonnell Chess Club Tournament of London, 1856, Barnes was 1st out of 12 contestants. (2nd, György Szabó; 3rd, Franciscus Janssens; 4th, Ernst Falkbeer; 5th, Adolf Zytogorski; 6th, Robert Brien; 7th, William Kenny; 8th, Valentine Green, followed by several unknowns: Winn, Crawshay, Mueller and Bloundell)
~ Barnes vs. Joseph Campbell, Match, 1858, Barnes lost [6/13]
~ Barnes vs. Morphy casual series of games, London 1858, Barnes lost [7/26]
~ Barnes vs. Ignatz Kolisch, Match, London 1860, Barnes lost [1/11]
~ Barnes vs. Arnous Jules de Rivière, London 1860, Barnes lost [2/7]
~ London International 1862, 7th place [8.5/16]
(Adolf Anderssen [11.5/13]; Louis Paulsen [10/13]; Serafino Dubois [6.5/10]; John Owen [10/16]; Johann Löwenthal [3/3]; George MacDonnell [7/11]; Thomas Barnes [8.5/16]; Wilhelm Steinitz [7.5/14]; Joseph Blackburne [5/14]; James Hannah [4.5/11]; Frederic Deacon [2.5/8]; Valentine Green [4/17]; Augustus Mongrédien [5/18]; James Robey [2/10])
Here is an example of Barnes' play with his victory over Ernst Faulkbeer in the M'donnell Club tournament of 1856:
Barnes wasn't just a noted Chess player, but also a noted Whist player.
When he died, his obituary was placed under the Whist section of the Westminster Papers periodical.
The full name was The Westminster Papers: A Monthly Journal Of Chess, Whist, Games of Skill, and the Drama and, although a vehicle of the Westminster Chess Club, it covered a variety of recreational activities. William Norwood Potter began as one of its Chess editors, but soon founded his own venture, The City of London Chess Magazine, writing, "...our Magazine will be devoted entirely to Chess; and we say this without any disparagement of our contemporary, the Westminster Papers, which, while it appeals to a more general class of readers than is contemplated by us, nevertheless, never ceases to bestow the greatest possible attention upon that portion of its pages which is devoted to Chess... "
Vol. VII September 1874
THOMAS WILSON BARNES.
THE death of Mr. Barnes makes a blank in the Chess and Whist World not easily filled. We know, by report, that Deschapelles was the best Whist and Chess player of his day. Some think that Buckle was the best English Chess player, and that he was fond of Whist is beyond question. Barnes considered Buckle an ingenious and strong Whist player, but at that time he was scarcely a competent judge. We have no record of Buckle's Whist play; we do not know that he ever played with good Whist players, nor have we any record of the estimate in which he was held by any player of strength. Barnes ranked certainly amongst the first English Chess players, perhaps the first in his prime. It should be remembered that the period during which a player remains the best player is very short. It is almost like Cricket, the player who is first for one season may be nowhere the second, and so in Chess. How many men during the last twenty years may have been first? Barnes in our judgment was first for a short period. Boden may have been stronger [and for some time he certainly was], but so far as our observation went, and we think we have seen these two play together hundreds of games, there was seldom little to choose between them.
Mr. Boden writes to us, " a more honourable, agreeable and genial adversary I never met, and all his friends loved him." Barnes always preferred, as Buckle did, a close game; he tried also, like Buckle, to take the players out of the books, so that each player had to rely on his own resources ; he seemed to revel in difficulties, nay, to create them for the apparent object of showing his skill in getting out of the mesh. He was original in his play, and when he developed an unexpected resource he used to watch the effect of the move on his opponent, and his eyes twinkled with delight at his apparent confusion. We had good games in those days, the strong players played with strong players then, and the battles in which Barnes, Boden, Bird, Buckle, Horwitz, Harrwitz, Kennedy, Lowe and Wormald engaged, were witnessed by a gallery that now-a-days we miss. It was not until Barnes had reached the zenith of his powers as a Chess player that he took to Whist ; of course he was an enthusiast in anything he undertook. We do not care to mention the number of years ago it was, but one Saturday night there were seated at old Lowe's a party of young Whist players. Some left as the clock struck twelve, others continued through Sunday and Sunday night, and then some had to go to business. Barnes continued Monday and Monday night, Tuesday and Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning two alone remained seated at double dummy — a game at which he had never played before. Barnes went over the cards one by one, finding out and impressing on his mind the cards in the hand held up, and until he had gone through this process card by card, nothing would induce him to play.
We have heard the story from an eye witness many a time, and report has it that during these clays and nights Barnes grew a beard. When the Westminster Chess Club played the Cavendish, Barnes was selected as one
of the players who did battle for the former. Although much opposed to his ordinary habits, he consented to play. His contemporaries considered him one of their soundest players, and although the Westminster Chess Club were beaten, we are not aware that any one of the players were ashamed, but, on the contrary, they would like to play against as good a set of competitors once more. Those gentlemen who beat us have since shewn that they were foemen worthy of our steel, and we at all times hear with pleasure of the skill and success of Foster, Walker, Martin and Boyce.
Barnes's Whist play was original ; he hated the regular openings ; he always declared that he did not know what card he should lead from a given hand. He seemed, at times, to try to make the game difficult in order that, at the end, he could see through the difficulties when others could not. He was remarkably strong in the end game, but opened his game carelessly. Moreover, he was too timid ; too fond of keeping his tenaces. He saved games that others would have lost, but he failed to make the game where the more dashing players would have succeeded. He signaled seldom ; but when he did, or when he led trumps, the game was over.
When Col. Daniel went out shooting, it was known that his shot was so certain that it is said the coons called out, "Is that you, Colonel ? " and on receiving an affirmative reply, they said, " Don't shoot, we will come down," and so it was with Barnes's trumps. The coons came down. He was very particular about cutting the cards ; he always insisted on the pack being perfectly square before he would cut, and that they should be placed in a convenient position. His fingers were short, and he did not always seem able to span the cards. There is an old adage that a slovenly cut is good for the dealer ; but whether there is truth in the statement we know not. He was superstitious to a degree that was astonishing. We are not aware that any one has ever attempted to solve the problem why so many great minds are superstitious. This is not the «time nor place to attempt that solution.
We record the fact. He believed in dress having something to do with hick, and if the luck followed him he would wear the same dress, whether it was adapted to the weather or not. He believed in cards and seats. He objected to any one making a remark about his luck. He had the strongest repugnance to our backing him because of our bad luck, and we have often had to refrain from taking odds because of this fad. He was distressed beyond measure if any one touched his counters. His constant system of shuffling the cards was at times an annoyance. He believed that the pleasure of gambling did not arise from winning, but from losing ; a paradox in which pain and pleasure are equivalent terms. If he lost he would go on playing all night. If he won he would give up after two rubbers ; a system quite unsound, because if you win two rubbers which are equal to £10, and you lose two rubbers also equal to £10, in the one case you go on with £10 in, and in the other £10 out of pocket. When you lose on this system you lose much more than when you win. The winning limit is fixed at £10. The losing limit does not exist.
He had a good voice and was a capital talker. He had a fund of information at his command that seemed little short of marvellous. With a familiar spirit he would sit, smoke and talk the whole night through. Bed seemed to him unnecessary. Latterly his talk was so interlarded with Eh? Eh's? that it seemed jerky, and he would not let you have any reply ; but at his best he would pour forth torrents of eloquence to the point at issue, full of life, with plenty of illustrations and examples from sources unknown to you, and which to him appeared as household words, and it did not follow that he was always on the right side. He would argue for the love of arguing, and if you wanted to draw him out you had only to argue from the one point of view to get to know all that could be said on the other side. Few men knew more than Barnes ; his memory was wonderful. The date of any given event would be remembered at once, or recalled by a reference to a contemporary event He never shone in ladies' society ; there he was shy, and too ponderous, and it took too long a time to get to know him. He was a companion for men alone. It was only quite recently that he took to Piquet, and if he did not reach to the first rank he certainly became a most dangerous opponent. We cannot omit to say that year by year, up to the last, he enjoyed a gamble at Homburg or Baden Baden, where he usually met the leaders of Law and Equity, and obtained his accustomed rubber. It is almost unnecessary to add that he believed in a system of play at the tables, and the system would, of course, change year by year. He was a fine classic, a first class mathematician, and at times he would remain for days together studying some abstruse mathematical question as a relaxation. He was called to the Bar, but, unfortunately, some unhappy relation died and left him a competency, and this competency alone, we believe, prevents us from chronicling the death of a man who should have been one of the leaders of our time. This competency took from him the incentive to work, and hence we have a comparatively barren life. His illness has been a long and painful one. This time last year he weighed 16 stones [about 222 lbs. -SBC]; he went abroad, and his strength seemed suddenly to leave him. With difficulty he got into a cab. He gradually wasted away, until he became 7 st. 8 Ib.[about 106 lbs. -SBC], and this was the last time he was weighed [two months since], and he was certainly much less weight at the last. Physicians were in vain. No one really knows the cause of his death ; some have suspected a cancer in the stomach, and, unfortunately, he would not give permission to have a post mortem, so that the real cause will always remain a matter of surmise. Our impression is that he died from " banting." From being an enormous eater he suddenly stopped his food, taking meat only once a week ; and soon, from want of use, the stomach refused to fulfil its functions. He died in peace, and desired kind remembrances to all his friends. To us his last words were whispered, " Kind, kind to the last ; God bless your wife and little ones." He lost his voice ten days before his death, and for twelve days he ate nothing. Of his unobtrusive charity to all men — to the Chess Players of the last decade in particular — it is not for us to speak. To the present generation he was comparatively unknown, and many of the younger Chess Players will wonder who we are talking about. Hardly any of his games have been published, and he never consented to one being taken down. We give, in other parts of this Number, two of his Chess games and a Whist game. Amongst Chess rind Whist players there is one gentleman the less in the world. What was the charm about him we cannot tell ; we know that no one failed to love him who ever knew him intimately.
Barnes is dead ! and it is not in our line to moralize. We have not much faith in men's love or sincerity. The "hail fellow well met " we understand. The soft tongue and soft letter writer may have their uses in this world and their reward in the next. Of all men that we have known, no one was apparently more liked than Barnes. He was the most learned Chess player and the most beloved. Every man seemed to have an affection for him. His friends were greater than those of other men. He falls sick. He was a bachelor, and in lodgings [not an uncommon position]. Chess players have their failings, Whist players are selfish, but both have plenty of spare time. Did it never occur to any of these to try to alleviate his suffering, to soften the tedium of such an illness. It is true he had a kind and affectionate landlady, and, at the last, angels in women form visited him, and he wanted nothing ; but, we ask, are Chess and Whist players mortals, with feelings of mortals, or are they devoid of feeling? He is dead, and let the dead bury their dead. Shall other players be left to die neglected by their fellows ?
Obit -- 10th August, 1874, at 6:45 p.m., aged 49 years, buried 16th August, at Brompton Cemetery.