Captain Evans and his gambit in 19th century
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Captain Evans and his gambit in 19th century

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There are some cases that an opening theory novelty is really noticeable!

William Davis Evans was born on 27 Jan 1790 at Musland Farm in the parish of St. Dogwell’s, Pembrokeshire, in southwest Wales. He was a student at Haverfordwest Grammar School as a child. Since 1802, he and his family are found at Steynton, close to Milford Haven, Wales. In 1804, at the age of 14, Evans went to sea on a West India ship as apprentice. And as he's describing in 1817 through years he managed to take the Command of a ship in the Mediterranean trades [...after he was released as a war prisoner in France! ~ Napoleonic wars].

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Milford Haven by H. Gastineau, in Wales illustrated, 1830

Besides his great contribution on chess opening theory with his gambit, one thing that must be remembered for, is "his system of green, red and white lights for maritime safety at night, which was adopted by the British Admiralty in 1848..." [more on this check Tim Harding, Eminent Victorian Chess Players, 2012, p. 9].

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This great photo is found in Harding's p. 10  with the note: "A previously unpublished photograph of Captain William Davies Evans at his chess table. Courtesy C. Colin Kitchingman." Must say that it probably has already been used in American chess magazine, v2 (Nov 1898), p. 205 [check appendix] but in real worse resolution and maybe turned 2-3 degrees clockwise. It's obvious that Harding used a first print copy of the photograph for his book.

THE CAPTAIN PLAYS HIS GAMBIT

Captain Evans learnt the rules of the game at the age of 28 [1818 ca].

"About the year 1824, being then in command of a Government mail steamer, the passages between Milford Haven and Waterford were favourable to the study of the game of Chess, and at this time he invented the gambit which bears his name. The idea occurred to him while studying a narration of the Giuoco Piano in Sarratt’s treatise on the game of chess." [in Supplement to the Gentleman’s Journal, V (June 1872), p. 159, with the note that it was favoured to the journal by the Captain a year ago, also found in BCM 1928, p. 17].

#1 Game. The first

This is the first recorded game played with the Evans' gambit by its inventor against Alexander McDonnell ["amateur d'une très-grande force, et qui était destiné à faire faire de grands progrès aux échecs" in Palamede 1836, p. 227]. Harding sets the date-year of the game at 1825, taking as proof the Captain's memory of "about the year 1824". William Napier [in Paul Morphy and the golden age of chess, 1957, p. 123] sets it at 1826-27, taking in account Thomas in BCM 1928 and Captain's memory too. But this slight difference doesn't really matter. For the record the game was first published in Lewis' 50 games, 1832 [#34, p. 61].

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Evans gambit appeared first time in theory in Lewis' Second Series, p. 133, [with only 5... Ba5 variation] with this note: "For this ingenious Variation in the King's Knight's Game, I am indebted to my friend Capt. W. D. Evans, of Milford, who has also obligingly furnished me with most of the moves in this and the following Game." While in 1834 McDonnell tried the opening many times in his match against la Bourdonnais. George Walker in his 1841 treatise analyses more thoroughly the opening referring to Evans as a "friend" too.

Evans was a member of Westminster Chess Club [founded by Walker in 1833 and dissolved around 1841 // for the record wasn't the same with the club under the same name, founded in 1866, although the latter adopted somehow its history].

#2 Game. Gambit accepted. 5... Ba5 6. 0-0 Nf6

Tim Harding discovered an Evans' gambit game in 24.06.1838 Bell's Life in London [hereafter BLL] played in 1838 and published without names but under the title "Drawn game between two good players". By the following Walker's text, where an Evans-Staunton battle is said that had already taken place in Westminster Club, Harding makes the strong hypothesis that this game was of this battle [footnoting: "If Staunton was indeed involved, then this could be his earliest identifiable published game, but Bell’s Life possibly published earlier anonymous games from the club that were his too."] I would like to notice that the title of the game "...two good players" agrees with this, as Evans was considered a first rate amateur chess player and Staunton's star was just rising [Walker describes Staunton "a very brilliant player" for first time, 6 months later, in BLL 16.12.1838].

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BLL 24.06.1838 found in www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

#3 Game. Gambit accepted. 5... Bc5 6. 0-0 d6

Around 1840 Evans played his gambit against Walker [found in Walker's Chess Studies, 1844, #718, p. 124]. Gambit accepted, 5... Bc5

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EVANS AS THE "GOODWILL AMBASSADOR OF LONDON CHESS"

In BLL of 06.03.1842 Evans is said to be at Corfu playing chess...happy.png

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found in www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk

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Strada Reale, Corfu, by Prout & Finden in Shores and Islands of the Mediterranean, 1839

In 1843, Chess Player's Chronicle [v4 p. 147] [hereafter CPC] has written about Irish chess: "A few amateurs, however, who really knew the game, where to be found at Belfast, the birth-place of the celebrated Mr. M‘Donnell; but the only spot where real Chess could be met with, was at Dunmore, in the Bay of Waterford; Captain Evans, the well-known inventor of The Evans’ Gambit, who was stationed there, created around him a small circle of players, which continued unbroken while he remained to give it vitality, but upon his removal it fell to pieces and was dispersed."

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Dunmore Pier by W. H. Bartlett in Ireland Illustrated, 1831, after p. 80

Nice trips made the Captain!!happy.png

In 1847 Evans was proposed to be an honorary member of London Chess Club [CPC 1847, v8, p. 178]. And it's well known his involvement in the Staunton's second games against St. Amant [eg. in CPC 1845, v5, p. 313 & Palamede 1843, p. 415] and Harrwitz's against Staunton [CPC 1854, v15, p. 81, 183], as their second. Then referee in 1849 Mr. Ries Divan chess tournament [CPC 1849, v10, p. 66]...

TO THE END

In 1868 Evans "rejoins" Westminster Chess Club [Round Table, v8, 1868, p. 60]. A club that was created in 1866 by the initiative of Bird, Hewitt, De Vere, Staunton [Illustrated London News, v48, 1866, p. 595]. This club was directly related to The Westminster Papers [hereafter WP].

In April 1872 the Papers published a column about the Captain's bad health and financial condition with a request for help by the readers [WP v4, April 1872, p. 210], followed by a Walker's touching letter [in WP v5, May 1872, p. 5] [copied excerpts at the appendix below]. A request that was reproduced in Walker's BLL of 06.04.1972 and in foreign chess press [DZeitung 1872, 205, AusZeitung 1872, 26, Sissa 1872, 253]. About £90 were donated in a month. Unfortunately Evans died a couple of months later, in Ostend, Belgium, on 3rd of August 1872.

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Het kursaal op de zeedijk van Oostende by François Musin, ca. 1865-1870

#4 Game. Gambit accepted-Compromised Defence. 5... Ba5 6. d4 exd4 7. 0-0 dxc3

This period the great and famous Steinitz - Zukertort 1872 match started. First game was on 06.08.1872! Of course, I don't know if news could have traveled that quickly from Belgium. But second game was played two days later, at Westminster Chess Club, on 8th of August 1872. Steinitz chose as white to play the Evans' gambit and won. I saw it as a tribute...

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THE GAMBIT IS ADOPTED

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#5 Game. Gambit accepted. 5... Be7

The new opening was spread through playing. McDonnell, after his first touch with Evans, tried his gambit in his against la Bourdonnais match in 1834. The latter, in one of his games, tried successfully the safe 5... Be7 defense. This defense was considered bad at the beginning, cause of some possible traps [solution was given a century later by Max Euwe and afterwards became the second most popular defense]. La Bourdonnais excited by the new opening, tried it within "le parisien cercle des echecs". In Palamede 1836, p. 97 he analyzes the opening through games. The first one described is against Boncourt and Mouret in consultation. La Bourdonnais won.

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THE GAMBIT IS DECLINED

In CPC 1845, v5, pp. 55-56, a proposition for an alternate defense was made. 4... d5 - Countergambit. The one that signed the proposition was some A. Tyro. This was discussed thoroughly in the next pages of CPC. Walker insisted at 5... Ba5 as the best [p.77] and some complaint was expressed for this [p. 116]. Some Kenrick analyzing somehow the counter-gambit, agreed with Walker [p. 142]. Even the great van der Lasa was involved [p. 317], supporting 5... Ba5 as best. The discussion ended somehow. But in CPC 1847, v8, p. 297, some New Yorker "Philo-Chess" retried to analyze the opening in favor of counter-gambit. Kolisch also tried it unsuccessfully against Anderssen in Paris, 1860.

#6 Game. Gambit declined. Countergambit. 4... d5

As a response, 4... d5 is really less popular. I couldn't find some big disadvantages for black. Here's a Schiffers - Pillsbury game of 1896. Schiffers won but I don't think cause of the opening.

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THREE MASTERPIECES

...without comments

#1 Anderssen's Evergreen

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#2 "Gunsberg needs a fair biographer!" by Napier

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#3 Euwe's brilliancy!

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In Deutshce ShachZeitung 1873, p. 1


NOTES

1. This blog couldn't have been made without some main guidelines found in Tim Harding's, Eminent Victorian Chess Players, 2012. A really pleasant chess history book!

2. For a real better analysis of the opening here're some articles & videos in chess.com...

APPENDIX

1. Evans' problems

Staunton in his Chess Handbook, 1947, p. 498, represents the Szen's position problem: "This position was first introduced to the notice of chess-players by M. Szen... For this clear and simple resolution of the celebrated problem "King and Three Pawns versus King and Three Pawns" we are indebted to the skilful industry of Capt. W. D. Evans, the inventor of the beautiful opening called the Evans' Gambit." Try it.

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I discovered happy.pnghappy.pnghappy.png an Evans' retro problem in Gentleman's journal, 1871, p. 400.

nullProblem's stipulations: White to move and mate the King at the square he now occupies with a Rook on the Knight's file, without capturing the adversary's Kt's Pawn or permitting the Black to take either of the White Pawns.

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2. Excerpts

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in American chess magazine, v2 (Nov 1898) p.205 & 250

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Obituary in Illustrated London News, 17.08.1972, p. 168

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Westminster Papers, v4/1.4.1872, p. 210

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Walker's letter in Westminster Papers, v5/1.5.1872, p. 4-5

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... I hope that my first trip in opening chess theory was nice for all of ushappy.png