CHESS PLAYERS I HAVE KNOWN
British Chess Magazine May and June 1888
"To gratify the curiosity of those votaries of Chess who may feel interested in the chronology of Chess-players, I have made an alphabetical list of the chief players whom I have encountered during my forty years Chess career, with the approximate date of those encounters."
Alexandre (1840—41).—He was then an old man, and had recently.published his Encyclopedic des Echecs. His game was full of most ingenious combinations, frequently marred, however, by gross oversights. He was more apt to leave a piece en prise than the man to whom he could ordinarily give a Rook.
Anderssen (1851—62).—Excepting Morphy, he was the most splendid and chivalrous player whom I ever encountered. Higher praise I cannot give, and to say less would be committing an injustice. Some of his recorded games display the very highest order of Chess strategy.
Buckle (1831—32).—With this eminent writer I only played a few games. He was in his prime and I was only a tyro. He was a very fine player, perhaps more elegant than solid, but in neither quality was I, at that time, at all fitted to cope with him.
Cochrane (1836).—A most imaginative player, fertile in brilliant and audacious attacks, but so bent on onslaught as often to fall into traps laid by a cautious adversary. Most of his recorded games are interesting to play over. I played very little with him before his departure for India, and had not that pleasure on his return to London some twenty years afterwards.
Deacon (1852—62).—A very ingenious player, but rather lithe than muscular. His games occasionly exhibited some "pretty bits of play," and he was fond of showing these "pretty bits " to others, when he found a listener.
De Riviere (1856—63).—A very fine player, who rapidly sprang from a mere Chess student to the foremost rank of Parisian celebrities. He was a great friend of Morphy, during the sojourn of the latter at Paris, and even from him he occasionally snatched a much prized victory.
Captain Evans (1840—48).— This was the far-famed inventor of the Evans Gambit, an opening that has produced some of the finest games on record. Although he was a strong player he never reached the highest rank.
Fraser (1834—5).—One of the finest players of his day. He was a pupil of Lewis, whose supremacy he finally ventured to challenge. He however did not play much, and he retired at an early date from the Chess arena.
Albany Fonblanque (1856—57).—The witty Editor of the Examiner was exceedingly fond of Chess and played a very good game ; but although he never sacrificed a friend for a witticism, however smart, yet he would often sacrifice a piece for an attack that was not sound.
Duncan Forbes (1832—33).—A strong player and an erudite inquirer into the origin of Chess. I took lessons from him in the Arabic language, and we generally wound up the lesson with a game of Chess. He was as much my master in the latter as in the former pursuit, for I was then but a learner in both.
Harrwitz (1850—55).—A player of first-rate strength, although not equal to either Anderssen or Morphy. He had the misfortune of being both contentious and witty—the former quality involving him into constant disputes, and the latter rendering those disputes bitter and personal. I got on very well with him myself, probably because he beat me. It was chiefly those whom he could not beat that he hated. With Staunton his feud was deadly.
Horwitz (1846—50).—Nearly as strong a player as his countryman Harrwitz, but a contrast to him in temper. He was a profound analyst, but withal a simple, kind-hearted man, deservedly popular.
Kieseritzki (1848—49).—A fine specimen of the Parisian school of Chess, and very successful as a blindfold player. He was deeply learned in the openings and excelled in analysis. He was, however, so nervous and impulsive in actual play that he was sometimes beaten by inferior opponents, and in match games he generally played below his real strength.
Kolisch (1853—55).—A very brilliant player of the first rank. He was rather unequal, but when in good form was fertile in elegant and profound combinations. There are extant some fine specimens of his style.
La Bourdonnais (1833—36).—The acknowledged king of Chess in his day, and probably the finest player that has lived between the death of Philidor and the advent of Morphy. At once brilliant and sound, he played with marvellous rapidity, and yet rarely made a mistake. His sight of the board was so keen that all its latent possibilities seemed revealed to him. If the germ of a brilliant combination were there, he would seize on it and rear it into life and maturity. Give him the slightest "coign of vantage," and there at once flashed upon him all the subsequent moves that were to lead to victory. He then marched on without pause or hesitation, and his moves at once followed the moves of his doomed adversary with the rapidity and certainty of machinery. " Tout ce que je demande" he used to say, "c'est une petite position." The moment he got his " petite position" his opponent's fate was sealed. His almost boisterous vivacity and sportive wit (for while he played, he was, except during his match games with McDonnell, unceasingly talking and joking),—his accessibility to everyone who wished to encounter him,—the rapidity with which he made his moves—the boldness of his play, which led to novel, interesting, and unexpected positions—his fertility of resource when his game seemed desperate—the combination of all these traits rendered him immensely popular, and indeed it was a rare treat to watch his skilful play and listen to his merry conceits. I was at that period only a third-rate player, but the great master did not disdain to play with me. He gave me the odds of a Knight, and out of thirteen games he won eight and I five. But I did not play my best. His rapidity dazed me. Although talking and laughing all the time, no sooner had I made my move than his at once came down with a loud impact upon the board, as if he meant to break it. He left me no breathing time. I became flurried and confused, and played quicker, precisely when I ought to have played slower than usual. I was fascinated, and fell an easy prey to the huge python.
Lewis (1830—31).—This great master of the game formed the connecting link between the Philidorean and the present Chess era. McDonnell, with whom I have played, was the pupil of Lewis, who was the pupil of Sarratt, who was the pupil of Philidor. For a time Lewis was the acknowledged English Chess champion, but when McDonnell developed his strength and could no longer be beaten by his master at the odds of Pawn and move, Lewis declined playing even, retired gracefully from the field, and ceased playing match games. His style of play was rather solid and sound than brilliant. He was great as an analyst, and published several excellent works on the game. With Lewis I only played two games. It was in 1831, when I was in my infancy as a player. He gave me the odds of a Rook and I won both games. He thereupon pronounced that I had in me "the make of a good player," and he knighted me, that is to say, he decided that no one could give me more than the Knight; and I held myself promoted accordingly.
Lowenthal (1850—70).—A very fine player, and an indefatigable votary of Caissa. His whole life was devoted to playing chess, writing chess, editing chess periodicals, contesting chess matches or organizing chess clubs, &c., &c. He lived entirely for chess, and unfortunately for himself, lived almost entirely by chess. To live only for the game is by no means a lofty career, but to live by it is altogether a wretched one. No man was ever more ready to play at all times and with all comers than Lowenthal, and few men were less elated by victory, or less depressed by defeat. Of both he had his full share, for though a very strong, he was rather an unequal player. There would sometimes come over him, at critical moments, a wave of languor and feebleness, from which he would suddenly, but too late, recover.
McDonnell (1833—35).—This great player died young, and yet some years before his death he had maintained his supremacy as the best English player. I deem him to have been unequalled as a successful giver of odds; in that respect, I consider that he was superior to La Bourdonnais and perhaps to Morphy, But this may be accounted for when we remember that McDonnell hardly ever played on even terms except with La Bourdonnais, and nine-tenths of his games were with players to whom he gave odds. On the other hand, Morphy encountered on even terms alt the great players in Europe, while he played but few games at odds. Each of the two players might excel in that branch they had most practised. At that period, I received the Knight from both McDonnell and La Bourdonnais, and fancied that I had (barring panic from his instantaneous moves and his sledge-hammering pieces on the board) the best chance with the Frenchman. It was at the Westminster Club, in 1834, that McDonnell encountered La Bourdonnais, in that celebrated series of 85 games, which furnished the finest specimens of Chess play on record till the appearance of Paul Morphy, a quarter of a century later. Both competitors were in the prime of life and at the zenith of their powers, but there was this difference: the French champion came over from Paris flushed with a thousand triumphs, and, having defeated every rival at home, felt assured of an easy victory in England. On the other hand, McDonnell had only recently emerged from the ranks ; to the last he had been receiving pawn and move from the veteran Lewis, and the trophies he could show were few and merely local; his admirers rather prophecied his future than proclaimed his past glories.
Mayet (1843—51).—An elegant and ingenious German player, with whom I had much pleasure in contending during his occasional visits to London. He played on even terms with the strongest of his countrymen : Anderssen, Von der Laza, Von Bledow, &c., and he was but a shade inferior to the best of them.
G.W.M. (1835—70).—One of our strongest English players, many fine specimens of whose play are recorded in our Chess annals. I have before alluded to him as having been for many years honorary secretary to the London Chess Club, and also to the British Chess Association. We played many games together, with about even results.
Paul Morphy (1858—59).—In my estimation, Morphy was the finest player that ever lived. Born at New Orleans in 1837, he came over to Europe on a Chess expedition in 1858. Thus, at the age of 21, he vanquished all the finest Chess players then living, including Anderssen, Lowenthal, Harrwitz, and indeed all the Chess celebrities of the day except Staunton, who declined playing with him. In a lively and entertaining little book called, "Paul Morphy, the Chess Champion," written by F M. Edge, who accompanied him throughout his European tour, and published in 1859, a full account may be found of Morphy's exploits. These may be summed up as follows :—Over the board he played on even terms, in the course of the few months which he spent in Europe, 158 games ; of which he won 122, lost 22, and drew 14. He played 33 games without seeing the board, of which he won 21, drew 11, and only lost 1. He played 4 matches, viz.: with Lowenthal, Anderssen, Harrwitz and myself, and won them all. In 1859 he returned triumphantly to America, and, sated with victories, he relinquished the practice of Chess. Most of his games have been recorded, and no one can play them over without admiration for the wonderful skill which they display. No player has so often made startling sacrifices to gain a winning position, and no player has so seldom made them in vain. This combination of brilliancy and soundness distinguished his blindfold as well as his ordinary games. It really appeared to me that he played nearly as well when contending with eight players simultaneously, without seeing the board, as when playing over the board with a single antagonist. I frequently played off-hand games with him in London, but very rarely won. In February, 1859, I went over to Paris, where he then resided, to play with him a long-talked of match of seven games. Of these I drew one and lost the rest. He seemed to play without effort and without fatigue. He was never excited, and after the most critical and prolonged contests, he preserved to the full that calm and gentle manner which was habitual to him. He bore his honours with the quiet reserve and courteous dignity of a thorough gentleman, modestly conscious of his powers, and unmoved by the applause which their display elicited.
Rev. J. 0. (1843—70).—A very strong player, but more remarkable for his resisting than his attacking powers. As a defensive player, few surpassed him; he fought an "uphill" game with the tenacity and pluck of Turkish troops behind retrenchments. He chiefly gained his victories by foiling his adversary's attacks, and by converting the repulse into a rout. He was a peculiarly slow and reflective player. He and I had to play a single game together at the Tournament of 1862, and it took 33 hours to decide the battle. Not that the one game lasted that time, but that we had to play three games, the two first being drawn ; and the games averaged eleven hours each. The third game he won by a pawn.
Paulsen (1857—64).—An American player of first-rate strength, both as a board and blindfold player. He won the 2nd prize at the Grand Tournament of 1862,—the 1st being taken by Anderssen, and the 3rd by the Rev. J. 0 , of whom we have just treated. Paulsen's style was sound rather than brilliant; he seldom emitted a flash of genius, but on the other hand he hardly ever made a mistake. He was a " hard" player, with whom you could take no liberties. With Anderesen he played several games, and only lost a small majority. His manner was even more correct and cold than his play.
George Perigal (1834—54).—An elegant and finished player, of whom I. have already spoken. His refined wit and general courtesy made him the "pet" of the London Chesa Club, to which he was honorary secretary for many years. Many fine specimens of his play are on record, and they exhibit rather the keen and polished blade of an accomplished fencer, than the heavy blows of a battle-axe dealt by a strong arm. The weapon which he wielded was slight and bright, but the wounds which he inflicted were none the less mortal. I had a great affection for him, and he for me.
Popert (1834—36).—One of the strongest players of his day, who not ingloriously contended with Lewis, Fraser, and McDonnell. His style of play was heavy and laborious, and he took so long a time to ponder over his moves, that when the position was critical, and required deep calculation, his opponent had ample time to go away, eat his lunch, and return before Popert had made up his mind what to do. On the other hand, his move was generally worth waiting for. In difficult and complicated positions, involving a comparative review of numberless variations, five or six moves deep, he almost always made the best move and consequently achieved victory. It was in these profound calculations that he was pre-eminent as a player. Patient, prudent, plodding and tiresome !
Wellington Pulling (1834—44).—The very reverse of the preceding, with whom he had numerous contests. He was one of the most brilliant, imaginative, and rapid of players, which qualities, however, he marred by occasional oversights and by insufficiency of calculation. I remember once playing nine games with him in an hour and a half. Of course such games (skittles, as they were called) were woefully unsound, and teemed with errors; but when he took time and pains, Pull ing's games frequently displayed great originality of conception and fertility of resource.
St. Amant (1840—60).—The pupil of La Bourdonnais, and the best French player of his day. He played with success and renown against all comers, and although he lost his match with Staunton in 1843, his standing as a player was by no means impaired thereby. He ably edited "Le Palamede," a monthly Chess review, which obtained a wide circulation. As a player, he did not inherit the brilliancy of his predecessor, La Bourdonnais, but he was ingenious and sound—committed few errors—and retained his high rank as a player until he drifted into other pursuits.
F.L.S. (1834—44).—A very able player, who rapidly rose to a high rank, and might have risen to the highest, had he continued his Chess career; but he soon abandoned the practice of the game, and contented himself with becoming a spectator and critic of other players' exploits. His actual play was chiefly with McDonnell, G. Walker, Popert, and their contemporaries, but his interest in the game extends, I believe, up to the present era (1882).
Howard Staunton (1836—58).—Justly celebrated both as a Chess player and a Chess writer. Of his style of play, and of the rank to which it entitles him as a player, a correct judgment may be formed from his match games with St. Amant in 1843, in which he was the victor, and of his numerous encounters with Cochrane, of which he won a large majority. He assumed, for some years the Chess Championship of England, but he reigned over a divided nation, and his rule was by no means recognized by the unanimous suffrages of the Chess community. His defeats by Anderssen, and his refusal to enter the lists against Morphy, greatly impaired his prestige. He was, nevertheless, a player of first-rate strength; but rather patient, elaborate and tough, than original and brilliant.
Steinitz (1860—70).—He is probably the best player of those who take an active part in the game at the present time (1882). He has just carried off the prize at the Vienna tournament, where he had for competitors the leading players of Europe. His style is a happy combination of the safe and the brilliant. In the early part of the game, he seems to adopt the strategy of defence and development. He meanwhile watches for the slightest error or premature advance on the part of his antagonist, and he then rushes on him with a vigorous and irresistible attack. As to his relative strength., I should rank it as about equal to that of Anderssen when in full activity, and I deem it only one shade inferior to the calibre of Morphy and La Bourdonnais.
Szen (1851).—With this sturdy Hungarian player I only had a few games during his short visit to London in 1851, and I came off second best. His style was about the slowest, the heaviest, and the most tedious that I ever came across, and the man himself was eccentric, ungenial, and dreamy. His great power of abstraction, however, enabled him to concentrate all his attention on the game, and he was great at unravelling the knot of an intricate position.
Von Bledow (1845).—A strong player, deeply learned in the book openings. He was at that time the acknowledged Chess king of that region (Berlin); but, as kings sometimes are, he was more feared than liked. He did not " bear his honours meekly." He won games but not hearts. I happened to win of him the first two or three games right off, whereupon, coming to the Club next day, a little before Von Bledow appeared, I was, to my surprise, not altogether unmingled with disgust, overwhelmed with praise and congratulations at my victories over their own champion and chief. One of the "rebels " said to me frankly : " We are heartily glad that you have come to take down that fellow's conceit; he not only beats us—that we could bear,—but he snubs us besides. He is like a stern pedagogue, who expects us to be his submissive pupils." At that moment Von Bledow entered, and all were hushed into silence. I lost the game that evening, and was amused at the symptoms of disappointment which the bystanders evinced. They eagerly resorted to that old manoeuvre so well known to Chess players, of insisting that at this point, or at that point, I might easily have won if I had played so and so,—that I lost by a mere slip—that virtually the game was mine, &c., &c. ; but I was too old a stager to be so beguiled, and I knew very well that I had lost simply because my antagonist had made fewer weak moves than I had. Presumably the "rebels" must finally have returned to their allegiance, for, after all, of the entire series of games that we played together, Von Bledow won the majority.
George Walker (1832—60).—A very enthusiastic player and a prolific writer on Chess, with whom I was well acquainted, but with whom I hardly ever played. At the period when he was in full activity as a player, I was a mere tyro; and when I had attained some proficiency in the game, he had retired from the arena, and the artist had become an art-critic. He never arrived at quite the first rank as a player, but played innumerable games with McDonnell and La Bourdonnais at the odds of pawn and move, and pawn and two moves, in which he evinced great aptitude for stubborn defence and very little for brilliant attack.
NOTES ON THE ABOVE.
On reading the first instalment of Mr. Mongredien's "Chess players I have known," we saw at once that his autobiographical recollections were likely to afford useful material to some future historian of the game, but that they were disfigured by some lapses of memory which, in the interest of correct Chess annals, ought to be pointed out. In some other cases it appeared to us he wrote from insufficient knowledge, and we have obtained the editor's permission freely to criticise both his facts and his opinions, having been for this purpose furnished with a proof of the second and concluding part.
The recollections were written, as we now know, at the advanced age of 75 years, and it is no disparagement to Mr. Mongredien to say that, in looking back over a Chess past which already extended beyond fifty years, his memory, though in general tenacious, does not seem to have been perfectly orderly. He gives 1829 as the date when he began to take interest in Chess, and not long afterwards became a frequenter of the Divan. The anachronism he commits as to his acquaintance with Buckle is altogether extraordinary, and it was no mere slip of the pen, as it appears in his recollections at p. 243, as well as in the alphabetical list at p. 221. He evidently thought that Buckle was in his prime when he (Mongredien) was a "tyro," and thinks that they played their few games in 1831—2 or thereabouts. Now Buckle, whose life has been written in a very sympathetic spirit by his friend Mr. Alfred Huth, was nearly fifteen years younger than Mongredien, having been born in November, 1821; and was a mere boy when Mongredien was already President of the Liverpool Chess Club. Buckle it is true ripened early, and was a well known first-class amateur about the age of 20; but 1841—2 is the earliest possible date for the games in question. In these years the opening volumes of the Chess Players' Chronicle contain games between Staunton and Mongredien, at the odds of pawn and two, between Staunton and Buckle at the pawn and move only. At thirty, when we first saw him. Buckle looked older than he was, and this may have contributed to the delusion respecting his age ; it nevertheless strikes us as very singular that he should have been set down among the players of the era of the first reform bill (1832). Why he should have been styled "more elegant than solid" will also pass the comprehension of those who are acquainted with his published games. Boden knew better, and classes him among the "unerring" ones.—(See B. C. M., 1882, p. 55.)
Of Lowenthal, we are told that" he lived entirely for Chess, and unfortunately for himself lived almost entirely by Chess. To live only for the game is by no means a lofty career, but to live by it is altogether a wretched one." We feel bound to protest against these words, as giving to the younger generation, who do not remember Lowenthal, an altogether misleading notion of the manner of man he was. Lowenthal of course drew a salary as Chess editor, first of the Era, and afterwards of Land and Water; but he did not make money by professional tours, at least after his first few years in England, and he did not live by shillings acquired in casual play. It was well known to his friends that he had other sources of income. He dressed like a gentleman, and travelled like a gentleman ; he was simple in his habits, but entertained on occasion, not without taste, in a quiet bachelor way. Our Hungarian friend had nothing of the Bohemian about him. As the author of Chess Life Pictures has correctly stated, he was welcomed in good society, in eluding that of ladies. The best proof that his career was not of the "wretched" sort Mongredien imagined is, that he did not spend the money presented to him as a testimonial. A part of it went to clear a debt on the Chess Players' Magazine, which commercially was not a success ; the rest he left by will to trustees as the "Lowenthal Fund," the disposal of which is well known. We will add,we hope without offence to the many Chess players who have adopted a different course, that he did not publish by subscription; his two chief works, "Morphy's Games " and the "Games of the Congress," were published, like Staunton's Chess writings, in Bohn's Scientific Library.
In Part II., the "G.W.M.," who was secretary both of the London Chess Club (in this succeeding Perigal) and of the British Chess Association, is of course Mr. G. W. Medley, still a member of the St. George's Chess Club, though, to the regret of his friends, he no longer plays. Here again there is a wrong recollection as to dates. Those same friends would be very much astonished at hearing that Mr. Medley's Chess career had begun in 1835 ; he was quite young when he first became known as a player about 1848, or 1847 at the earliest.
The Rev. "J. 0.," the winner of the 3rd prize in the Grand Tournament of 1862 is easily identified as the Rev. John Owen, who on that occasion came out above G. A. McDonnell (4th prize), Dubois (5th), and Steinitz (6th). Mr. Owen, whose Cambridge days only just preceded our own, will, we are sure, not wish it to be thought that he was in the arena as early as 1843, the date given.
The initials F.L.S. point to Mr. Frederick L. Slous ; still happily to the fore, and retaining in 1888 the interest in Chess which Mongredien chronicles in 1882. We cannot do better than refer our readers to Mr. Slous' youthful poem, published in 1823, but written, it is believed, in the reign of George III., and reprinted in the B.C.M., for July, 1884.
It is a mistake to suppose that the Paulsen family is American. Louis Paulsen, the winner of the second prize in 1862, emigrated to America in early life, and was first heard of as a chess-player through his games with Morphy, in 1857 ; but he was born in Germany, in the same district, we believe, where he now resides. He returned from America nearly thirty years ago, and we doubt if he has crossed the Atlantic since. The " several games" with Anderssen here mentioned grew to be several matches in the end, and Paulsen we think was not a loser on the balance. He certainly won the last match they played, in 1876.
Perigal must have been almost exactly the contemporary of the friend who writes so admiringly of him. At the time of his death, in 1855, he was only 48 years of age.
Some injustice is done to Staunton by the remark that he assumed a Chess championship which was not generally recognised. For ten years before 1851 even his enemies did not doubt that he was the foremost English player. After his victory over St. Amant, he not unnaturally thought himself the champion of the world, and no one appeared to dispute the position with him. The ease with which he defeated Horwitz and Harrwitz, in 1846, did much to confirm this impression, and we see no proof in the published games of the foremost Pleiads that they could have wrested the laurels from him. By 1851 his decline had commenced ; his fault or misfortune was that he did not abdicate gracefully, but showed the greatest jealousy of rising talent in the cases both of Morphy and Steinitz. His vigorous and striking personality secured him, till his death, the most prominent and representative place among English players ; and with this, like Anderssen in Germany, he ought to have been content.
Of Dr. L. Bledow we must observe that he was not a " von " (some people think that all Germans are " vons," and we remember to have seen " Herr Von Harrwitz " with a big V in a weekly column), and further, that he was not the acknowledged Chess king of Berlin in 1845. Von der Lasa had perhaps retired (on entering the diplomatic service) at the time of Mongredien's visit; but where was Hanstein ? Bledow was already in failing health, and died in 1846; Hanstein, who retained his Chess powers to the last, surviving him four years. The story told of Bledow may or may not be a caricature, but for more authentic information about the Berlin Pleiads, of whom he was one, we shall take the liberty of referring to two articles in the B.C.M. for 1886.
George Walker was exactly four years older than Mongredien ; he gives the date of his birth as March, 1803 ; and in 1829 was still receiving the Knight from Alexander McDonnell. After that he seems to have improved more rapidly; his long career of Chess authorship began about 1832, and till 1847 he was in full play at the club of which Mongredien was president. Here, again, the contrast between the " tyro " and the " proficient " seems a little mixed ; but other causes, which Mongredien no longer remembered when he wrote, may have contributed to prevent their playing much together.
If we have been led to assume the critic's pen, it is in no spirit of fault-finding, but simply for the sake of accuracy of fact. Mr. Mongredien's double career, as man of business and as author, was enough to absorb the energies of a strong man ; it is not to be wondered at, therefore, that he jotted down his recollections without referring to documentary evidence. The students of Chess literature must inevitably be few.
-W.W [the Rev. William Wayte ]