Ernst Falkeer's Gambit

Sep 18, 2009, 6:37 PM |

from The Knights and Kings of Chess
         by George Alcock MacDonnell


Herr Ernest Falkbeer
Born 1826 ; Died 1886.

     Herr Ernest Falkbeer was for many years a notable figure in London chess circles. He came to reside in this country about thirty-four years ago, and established his headquarters at Starey's Rooms, in Rathbone Place. There he had many a bout with Brien, Wormald, Campbell, Zytogorsky, and Paul Morphy, and proved himself no unworthy antagonist. He also played two or three matches with Mr. H. E. Bird, each scoring in the aggregate an equal number of games. In 1858 he took part in the grand tournament at Birmingham, and gained the second prize, Lowenthal winning the first. The struggle for the championship on that occasion was for a long time doubtful, the score being 2 to 1 in favour of Lowenthal. However, after drawing several games in excellent style, Falkbeer suffered defeat, and yielded the palm to his more patient opponent. Falkbeer was a very rapid player, original, daring, and imaginative. He could be sound when he liked, but he did not covet soundness. He delighted to be fireworky, and courted above all things the admiration of the spectators. As an analyst he occupied a high position. He was at once keen, sound, deep, and, when the humour seized him, even profound. Falkner invented many clever and valuable moves in the openings, notably pawn to king's fifth for the third move in the King's Gambit, evaded by pawn to queen's fourth. Referring to which invention, Staunton says: "It is certainly an embarrassing move to the first player; for it proves not merely a defence, but a counter-attack of considerable power." Falkbeer conducted for some years the chess column in the Sunday Times, and edited the Chessplayers' Magazine. He also translated Lange's book on Morphy. He was a good Latin scholar, and wrote capital English. He was ejected from the Chessplayers' Magazine by Lowenthal, who, having learned that an unfavourable review of his book of the 1862 Congress, from the pen of Brien, was about to appear in that publication, went to the proprietor thereof, bought up the magazine, took possession himself of the editorial chair, and of course suppressed the hostile article. In 1862 Falkbeer's winning powers had lamentably declined, as was evident from his losing to Hannah in the handicap tourney. But this defeat does not detract from his fame or lower his position among the past magnates of our game. Falkbeer and all other players will always be estimated and have their position assigned to them by capable and unprejudiced judges, not in accordance with their defeats by inferior performers in the days of decadence or adversity, but in accordance with their achievements against masters in the days of their full strength and prosperity. He was a good and pleasant talker, smart in repartee, witty in comment, and intensely appreciative of a joke, whether his own or another man's. In 1864 he left London and returned to Vienna, where he became the sub-editor of one of the leading journals. For many years he had abandoned the practice of his once darling pastime, and this may account in some measure for his premature decease in his sixtieth year. He died at Vienna in 1886.

     Falkbeer for many years frequented the Philidorian, kept by Starey, in Rathbone-place, and there he encountered Zytogorsky, Brien, Harrwitz, Wormald, and Valentine Green.  I remember visiting the Philidorian about 1862, in company with the late Mr. Boden, and playing some games there with Brien, then a magnate of the first rank, and I was greatly astonished, amused, and even dazed by a peculiar trick which one of the members used constantly to perform. When the position was critical he would analyse it with some loud-voiced critic over my board, and in rather boisterous tones, now and again jerking the pieces about higgledy-piggledy, and wind up by ramming my king into his pocket!
Then would the polite Brien, looking at me, gravely observe, " I think it's your move." And I, " True, but where is my king ?"
Then would the excited " Zyt " pause—search his pockets, and, after a short delay, unearth the buried monarch, and with loud apologies hand him to me.