Playing the Odds

May 20, 2012, 4:19 PM |

    Games at odds were quite common in the 19th century for establishing a hierarchy and for allowing players of disparate skills to play together with interest and even for stakes.  Sometimes the games are rather ponderous with the more skillful player gradually gaining equality and finally winning; sometimes the games showboat the odds-giver's tactical finesse. In either case it's always interesting to watch games in which heavy odds were given unfold.  


   Alexander McDonnell played, and lost to, La Bourdonnais in their historic match (actually a bundle of 6 matches)  in 1834. McDonnell or M'Donnell, an Irishman living in London, was known for his slow, ponderous style and his complex, though often inaccurate attacks. Below he gives his unknown opponent Knight-odds.


Herbert William Trenchard (1857-1934) was a member of the North London Chess Club and the British Chess Club and one of the strongest strictly amateur English players of his time.  Trenchard gives his opponent even heavier odds - a Rook.

I noticed gives only one game by C.H. Blood and no biographical material.  For the sake of completeness: Charles H. Blood was born on Aug. 24, 1843 in Kennebunk Port, Maine to Charles and Olivia Blood.  He fought in the Civil War from 9/101862-7/17/1863 as a private in the 27th Maine Volunteers.   On Aug. 11, 1868 he married Mary Barclay with whom he had two children, Roxie Emma and Frederic E. (who lived less than a year).  The family lived in Biddeford, Maine. Charles H. Blood died on May 26, 1915.
     In the game below, Blood also gives Rook-odds.



The next series of gamesl involve Maj. Otho Ernst Michaelis and mostly Rook-odds. Now, Otho, also called Otto, Michaelis, while a career Army engineer, was also diverse enough to have had lengthy obituaries in "Photographic Times,"   "The Chronicle: A Weekly Insurance Journal," and "The Proceedings of the American Society of Civil Engineers."   As a youth of 16 he played four games against Paul Morphy who gave him Rood-odds. Morphy won 3, Michaelis 1.  The first game is one of Morphy's wins - and although Morphy was a tactical magician, the game is one of the ponderous kinds.


The wonderful chess editor, Miron James Hazeltine wrote an essay about "The Morphy Rooms" where he often played (Hazeltine was a member of the NY Chess Club; the Morphy Rooms were located at the corner of Broadway and 4th St.) . The time is 1859-60.  Otho Michaelis, still 16, played there also.  Hazeltine describes him:
You will rarely see so young a man on whom both nature and cultivation have so placed the impress of dignity and self possession. He scarcely promises to attain a height in due proportion to his otherwise splendid form. His dark eyes glow with the fires of genius, and his brow bears the impress of assured intellectual superiority. What wonder that such ardent minds are captivated by the perfections of Chess! Crowned by that highest praise of youth, modesty, his deportment is affable, his language refined, and he is a most agreeable antagonist. I predict a gratifying record of this young man's future. Such youths, from the flatteries of admiring but injudicious friends, are but too apt to become offensively self-conceited and egotistical. The exceptions are the more noteworthy.

Below is a game from the Morphy Rooms in which Michaelis gives, in turn, Rook-odds to his nameless opponent.


In this last game Michaelis gives his opponent Queen-odds.   Even Morphy failed when giving Queen-oods to CA Maurian when Maurian was still a novice.  Otho, whose opponent seems halfway decent, wins with a very clever mating trap.