Belfast 1892. A Chess Tournament and A Grumpy Bird!

Belfast 1892. A Chess Tournament and A Grumpy Bird!

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I have never considered myself to be a 'Chess Historian' What date a player was born on doesn't interest me in the least. And so on. What interests me is how that player actually played the game - particularly in the context of how chess was being played at the time. I describe  myself as - a somewhat pretentious title, but the best I can come up with - a 'chess evolutionist', and studier of chess games from any era.

To understand a player, you have to put him in context of the time that he played. For that reason, the perennial debates about 'the greatest player of all time', and so on, are really pointless. A player can only be the 'best' of his time, or a major player and/ or contributor to chess thinking, within his own time, and all other arguments are not only stupid and pointless, but often detract from how we put players into a historical context.

To that end, I have studied tournament books - masses of them! I don't know how many tournament books and bulletins have passed through my hands, but it is a stupidly big number.

In my profile, I have said that I have studied 50,00 master level games. On reflection, that is a significant understatement!!  I recall one week where I was on holiday and went through all the games of a 1925 tournament, and the bulletins of the most recent USSR and British Championships - in a week! I have decided to go 'back to my roots', so to speak, and start studying tournaments again, and will do some articles on what I am looking at.

So, to start with, a forgotten tournament from what was a big year for British Chess - 1892. I have touched on this year in an article about the Lasker - Blackburne match of that year.

Henry Bird wrote a strange - almost bizarre - book.

In it he includes his thoughts on that particular tournament. He missed out on a share of first place by half a point, and seems to rather blame Francis Lee

Lee at Ostende 1907. W.S. 1907 page 253

for that fact. He also gives the games with  lots of general comments. ( Not all of which I will give here)

Firstly a list of 'catagories' into which he fits the games, and then, when giving the games he adds an introductory comment.

So, let's do the history - as seen by Bird and others - stuff first, and then go look at the games. 

Bird's thoughts from the book.

Bird via Chess Monthly as sourced by Hans Renette.

Some nice stuff in there! You might want to go back to Bird's views after studying any of the games you might choose to go through.
The comments on Lasker and Gunsberg are fascinating - however, as for their participation in the tournament, Lasker tells things a little differently, before the event, in 'The London Chess Fortnightly'. i.e.

August 1892. Page 15.

There has been some talk in the papers about a triangular match which is to take place between Mr. Blackburne, Mr. Gunsberg and ourselves in the course of September.We may state, however, that our engagement with Mr. Bird at Newcastle and with the manhattan Chess Club in New York prevents us from entering into such a contest. ( Lasker sailed for New York on Sept. 28th. Simaginfan)

Bye the bye, there is some talk about a quadrangular match between Mr. Blackburne, Mr. Gunsberg, Mr. Mason and Mr. Bird, but it seems Doubtful whether Mr Gunsberg will take part therein. We hear that Lee will probably take his place.

The relevant pre-event 'talk' was summarized in The Chess Monthly after the tournament. (Renette quotes BCM similarly)

' The congress was really the outcome of a proposed match between Messrs Blackburne and Gunsberg for the championship of England, and the arrangements were in an advanced stage when Mr. Blackburne succumbed to Herr Lasker ( see my article on the match. Simaginfan)

After this, Herr Lasker was, with the consent of all parties, included in the proposed match. Two weeks later he withdrew, and on his place being filled by Messrs. Bird and Mason, Mr. Gunsberg withdrew. The match, therefore, finally resolved into a quadrangular contest between Messrs. Bird, Blackburne, Lee and Mason, in which each player contested three games with each of the other competitors, under a time limit of twenty moves an hour.

As to Bird's criticism of Lee's fighting spirit, more than one source states that he was ill at the time. The following - from The Belfast Newsletter - is particularly interesting, as it gives not only that, but the fact that despite his illness Lee not only played a simultaneous exhibition that he had agreed to, but also seems to have immediately followed up with another one - stepping in to compensate for the absence of - Bird!!

( Bird did, in fact, give a simultaneous exhibition on the 21st, as reported in the Belfast Newsletter.)

Belfast Newsletter. Sept. 19th. 1892.I will come back with some more snippets from that publication after the games.

The final tournament table.

As you can see - a tie for first place, with Bird half a point back. Had he taken his chances - particularly against Lee - Bird could have done better  )although he was more than a little fortunate in the final round - as you will see.)
I will throw in a few pictures as I go along. Firstly this interesting historical document.

Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News. Sourced by Tim Harding.

So on to all the games from the event, in the order that they were played.

Apologies for the font change - software problem and I can't be bothered to start again!!
Mason. Britishchessnews.

Bird. Chess Monthly.
James Mason. One of the wonderful 'Bradshaw' photographs from the Hastings 1895 tournament.
A bit of a disaster for Lee, and one which changed the whole complexion of the tournament. After this, Blackburne seems to have reconciled himself to playing for second prize.
The earliest known image of Blackburne.
Next, 'A steady, well played and instructive game' - Bird.
'Lee for once in this tournament worked his very hardest and his 41st move was of the very highest order. Bird's attack seemed irresistible. The game was drawn after 73 moves'. Bird. Actually, Bird just blew it!!
' A lamentable example of woodshifting'. Bird. As I say, by this point Blackburne - not in the best of health - seems to have settled for second place. To fight for first, as things stood,  he really needed to have won this game, but things turned out differently!!

And so to the last round. Bird's position was horrible, and Mason looked assured of clear first place. Blackburne and Lee
Lee at New York, 1893.
decided not to push things in their state of health. Then, the impossible happened!!
All of which left the final table as you see it above. 

Some more of the coverage from the Belfast Newsletter. Two from before the event.
BNL. Sept.01/1892.
BNL. Sept.08/1892.
And to finish with, the report from the end of the tournament, which also gives us a nice report on a Blackburne speciality.

ISDN. Sept.29/1889
BNL. Sept.26.1892.
via. Britishchessnews
Put together with my grateful acknowledgements to three outstanding modern chess historians.
Hans Renette for his book on Bird.
Tim Harding for his book on Blackburne.
Both very nice guys who have been more than kind to me over the years, for which they have my most humble gratitude.
And the extraordinary compiler of chess games from contemporary sources who has inspired - and indirectly helped - me for many years, A.J.Gillam, for this book:-
Please - if you are interested in chess history - support these guys by buying their work, rather than looking for free pirated downloads from which they earn nothing. Thank you!!