Ye Olde London Chess Club


Way back in 1893 an Englishman by the name of J. S. Edgar compiled a fairly detailed history of the Liverpool Chess Club.  After reading it, I thought bits and pieces of that history might capture the imagination of some of my dear readers. So, I picked through the chronology and culled some of what I considered among the most interesting of all the items Edgar relayed.


Liverpool Chess Club
By J. S. Edgar

The LIVERPOOL CHESS CLUB was founded 1837 at the Lyceum, Bold Street, by certain members of that Institution ; but only after much opposition and many discussions. Its first meeting was held there on December 12th and adjourned to the 15th, when Rules were drawn up and signed by the following 49 "Fathers of the Club" :—

One of the rules adopted would, in these times, be considered as of Draconian severity ; it read as follows : —
"Rule Eleven. — That no wines, spirits, or malt liquors  shall be introduced, nor shall smoking be allowed."
. . .
Still, it remained in force for some years, surviving even migration to hotels.
In April was held the First Annual Meeting, by which time the membership had increased to fifty-eight.

In 1844 the Club and individual members  guaranteed £50 towards a proposed second match between St. Amant and Staunton. But the negotiations between them fell through, and the match never came off.
At the Annual Dinner in January, 1845, the Chairman, Mr. Mongredien, proposed, in his speech, a match between himself, St. Amant, and Staunton, saying ". . .as the proposed second match between St. Amant and Staunton hung fire,"  he was willing to play both of them a match of eleven games at  pawn and move, for a stake, as that might be an "indirect test of their relative strengths."
This match also did not come off.

[note: Augustus Mongredian -1807-1888, despite being a resident of Liverpool, was elected president of the London Chess Club in 1839, a position he held until 1870. In 1859, he lost his famous match to Morphy and in 1860, he also lost a match to Harrwitz (a favorite of the London Chess Club) - SBC]

1847 Mongredien, President of the Club, and Chairman for the occasion, lifted the proceedings out of the dull groove of routine, by propounding an idea quite Napoleonic in its breadth and boldness, as witness his words : — " . . . He noticed with feelings of pleasure the enthusiasm of their neighbours, the Yorkshire Chess Players, whose annual festivals could not be too highly appreciated. . .  He hoped, with the help of the Yorkshire players and other clubs, that they would shortly be able to muster some three or four thousand chess players from all parts at a "grand Chess Players' Festival."
By the side of this heroic proposal a match of a hundred a side seems commonplace — a mere chess "small and early."

1848 -Harrwitz was a visitor for some days, and  on one occasion played two simultaneous games blindfold, then thought an astounding feat, against four members of the Club, two at each board, and won both games.* The second was resigned at the nineteenth move, when there was mate in three, in three different ways.

In 1858 Harrwitz visited the Club, as  also did the the two blind boy players.

In 1860 Kolisch and the blind boy player Lumby were visitors.

The removal [that is, the change of location of the club - SBC] is thus commented on in the Chess Column of the Liverpool Albion, 15th March, 1873:
"The removal of the Liverpool Chess Club from the Medical Institute took place in 1857, and was the cause of considerable changes — in fact, it might be called acomplete revolution. The new room was situated at the top of the building now used as Cobham's (then Anderson's) Restaurant, and will be known to many of our readers as the inner smoking room. The approach to it was through the general smoking room, usually dim with clouds which half obscured the counter with the glittering plated coffee urns, the tea cups, glasses, and other furniture of a bar, including the neat barmaids and waitresses. Refreshments of all descriptions were to be had at a moment's notice, and the change from the severe abstinence and self-denial imposed on the members at the Medical Institute resembled much the march of the famished troops of Hauibal into Capua. The hitherto prohibited weed, tobacco, was consumed to such an extent that anyone playing a game in the reeking atmosphere found himself, on emerging into the air, perfectly saturated with nicotine, and an object of much annoyance to those whose olfactory organs declined to enjoy the odour. Hence arose many resignations of non-smoking members, who not only endured partial suffocation while playing, but became walking nuisances afterwards to themselves and others. But whether in tobacco lies some hidden virtue congenial to chess or not, certain it is that the strength of play decidedly increased — possibly from the meetings being now held daily instead of, as previously, only on Monday and Friday evenings.
Although the room was small and rather inconvenient, the attendance of members was greater, and it was often overcrowded, especially as strangers from the outer room often strayed in, in spite of the notice "Liverpool Chess Club (private)"  which hung upon the door. This frequently caused annoyance, and was one of the reasons which eventually led to another removal. . .

At the Annual Meeting in December, 1866, many alterations were made in the Rules. The prohibition against wine, &c., -was withdrawn, and the game of Draughts ceased to be recognised. Staunton's Praxis was adopted as regards Rules of Play, and the Club was to be open daily from 12 noon to 12 midnight. During the season  The veteran Horwitz, always a favourite in Liverpool, was once or twice a guest of the Club for a week or so, and all who had the pleasure of his society will remember the genial way in which he would checkmate them daily, or show those beautiful problems, and end games in which he has few, if any, equals.

1871 - Blackburn was a visitor, and played ten simultaneous games blindfold. On this occasion non-members were admitted to the Club by tickets, price 2s. 6d. each. The match lasted nine-and-a-half hours,* Blackburn winning eight games and drawing two.
Including an interval of about one hour for refreshments. Before resuming the game Mr. Blackburn voluntarily performed the "Knight's Tour" blindfold, starting from any square named.

1880  - A telegraphic match of two games was  played with the Calcutta Chess Club, one game was resigned by Calcutta on the sixteenth move, the other was drawn. The telegrams cost each Club about £30, but would have cost several times as much, had it not been for an ingenious code invented by Mr. W. W. Rutherford, a member of the Liverpool Club by which any two moves combined could be sent in a single word.

1887 - Her Most Gracious Majesty's Reign, but also of the Liverpool Chess Club, and it was appropriately commemorated.
In this year's Club Tournament a novelty in odds-giving was tried by way of experiment. The first class gave odds on the following scale : — Pawn and two moves (Pawn and move being abolished), Knight, Eook, Rook Pawn and move ; the other classes giving odds on the same scale, each class conceding Pawn and two moves to the one immediately below it.
The experiment was not a success, and has not been tried again.