Cecil De Vere. 'The English Morphy'. Part One.

Cecil De Vere. 'The English Morphy'. Part One.

simaginfan
simaginfan
Dec 6, 2018, 10:11 AM |
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O.K. A handful of you will have seen the bulk of this article before, but I have, in view of new information and further digging, decided to redo it in two parts. I have also added some notes to all the games.

Since my original effort, I have found some new, surprising and fascinating information, via the ecforums site, about De Vere's birth, original name, and early circumstances. Rather than copy it here, I will direct you to here to find it. Please take a look, and support our British Chess Historians.

For anyone interested in a full biography, I would recommend the book 'The English Morphy?' by Owen Hindle and Bob Jones, published by Kerevel Chess Books.

Also, I would recommend, to anyone who wants to lose themselves in the chess of the time, visiting the Chess Archaeology website, and finding the links for Potter's magazines - much explored and quoted for this article. Right, to begin!

 

De Vere is an almost unique case in chess history. If you look at the historical ratings sites - edoratings for example- his first rating is his highest. That is simply extraordinary. To emerge as a novice into the top ranks of the game is not unique, although most I could name had developed quietly behind the scenes, playing strong opponents in informal games and matches within strong clubs.

However, with experience will normally come an increase in strength, and a rise in ratings. That is the true tragedy of De Vere. Had his life and personality have been different he would - in my opinion - have become one of the immortals of chess.

He had a sublime talent. In some of the games I will give, he will make sacrifices, not  following up with a series of hammer blows, but with simple looking quiet moves, against which his opponents are helpless. And he did it against the best - Steinitz, Zukertort, Blackburne, the mature Paulsen, Winawer, Bird etc.

Unlike many, he did not have admirers ready to record and pass on his games, particularly in off-hand encounters for posterity. Indeed, many of his serious games have gone unrecorded. And so, as I.O.H. Taylor was to remark, many of his most beautiful accomplishments are lost forever. (That is an important point! When thinking of the likes of Morphy, Anderssen, etc, it is often their off-hand brilliancies which come to mind - 'The Opera Box game', 'The Immortal', etc. With De Vere, we have no such games. Who can tell what treasures are lost.)

His career slipped quietly away, the talent unfulfilled.

The decline, as I say, was down to a combination of his personality and circumstances. He was always frail and unhealthy. When you look at the few images of him that are available, you will notice that his clothes seem to be 2 sizes to big, his face hollow, and his eyes shrinking back into his white, almost bloodless, face. At the Redcar meeting of 1866 it was remarked that he would not live long, and so it proved.

He was to die of T.B. - consumption as it was called in those days - shortly before what would have been his 29th birthday. (He was born on February 14th - Valentine's Day, 1846, and died February 9th, 1875, in Torquay.)

He suffered from what we would now call depression - melancholia was the term of the time. Macdonnell in his 'Chess life Pictures', dates this from a visit to his family during the Dundee tournament of 1867. However, it is likely that this set in earlier - his mother, to whom he was utterly devoted, died in 1866. He had no other family nearby. He also suffered form the curse of the Victorian era - overuse of alcohol, which is certainly no cure for depression.

As with all player's of the era, The objective opinion on De Vere comes from William Norwood Potter in his obituary. (A little later he added a small 'addendum'.)

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City of London Chess Magazine. March 1875.

The addendum.

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I have discussed the match between Steinitz and De Vere in my very first post on this site. here

There is also a little background on De Vere there.

Some relevant material - often quoted in part, but never in full, to my knowledge, from 'The Chess World', ed. Lowenthal, vl 1. pages 345 and 379.

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It is speculated that the man behind the words was Staunton - the proprietor of the magazine.

Shortly afterwards De Vere became the first Official British Chess Champion by winning the inaugural event for the B.C.A. Challenge Cup. The event was not, despite value of the trophy - estimated at £50 - well supported. In the event, only De Vere, Bird, and MacDonnell of master strength entered. De Vere made a mockery of the whole event. Bird, MacDonnell and James Minchin - a name that crops up a lot in the chess of the time- all got the same treatment. 4-0.

A nice photo of the Rev G.A.Macdonnell, from www.chessarch.com 
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This event was followed by the congress at Redcar mentioned above. A Photo of the event is available - see previous posts, but I do not have permission to give it here. (The photograph is also important in that it contains an image of John Wisker ) It was to be the last time, within a year of his emergence to master level, that De Vere played to his full potential. He won all his games except one - against the strongest of the chess playing 'Reverends' of the era, Thorold, who finished in second place. He lost that game by blundering a won position, thereby depriving himself of 19 straight wins in tournament play. Sadly only one game of his ,apart from that loss, - against Rev. Owen, has been preserved.

  From here on, his inexorable slide down the chess ladder began.

From 'The Chess World', ed. Lowenthal comes this report of the Redcar event. As Staunton was present, it has been speculated that the report emanates from him.

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A photograph taken at Hereford. Thorold is Standing, second from left of picture.

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The following game was played in a small practice match by De Vere against his mentor Frank Burden, which he probably used as preparation for the great Paris tournament which followed soon after.
The tournament in Paris in 1867 was a very significant one in chess history, but was also a very controversial one. Apart from the late entry of Kolisch, there were also some tournament rules that did not go down well. Three years later, in his column in The Field, De Vere was still commenting on the rule concerning the time controls. Overstepping the time limit incurred a fine, rather than the loss of the game. The other big bone of contention was the scoring system. In particular, draws simply did not count for anything, and were effectively a loss for both players. See this game, for example. De Vere has an obvious draw at move 48. Since that was effectively a loss, he played on.

The game against Rosenthal is regarded as De Vere's best in the Paris Tournament. 

Rosenthal, ca. 1878.

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MacDonnell in 'Chess Life Pictures' says:-

'In 1867 we both visited Dundee, where we were most hospitably entertained by his Scotch relatives' and afterwards we spent a most delightful time at Montrose, and the burn which, fourteen miles northward, glides at the foot of one of the Grampian Hills. In the winter of that year De Vere returned to London, and from that time forward he gradually declined in steadiness of play and seemed to have lost much, if not all, his enthusiasm for chess. I happen to know that there was an efficient cause for this declension and apathy on his part, and i mention it not by way of reproof to De Vere but in vindication of his memory.. When in Scotland, a dark cloud overshadowed his path, and instead of waiting for it to pass by, he resigned himself to its gloomy influence and despaired of ever seeing the returning sunshine again.'

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The sketch of De Vere from 'Chess Life Pictures.

Generally De Vere's play at Dundee is sketchy at best - it is clear that his mind was not on the job at hand.


 Despite everything else that was going on, it was at Dundee that De Vere played his most famous game.


An interesting observation on De Vere by Potter. 

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This remarkable game from Baden-Baden 1870 illustrates Potter's points.

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A Photograph of the great Adolf Anderssen as he would have looked around this time. I have seen it on many websites, without mention of the primary source. (fancy that!!) For the benefit of anyone who wishes to use it, I have scanned it straight from my copy of the Leipzig Tournament Book - Edition Olms facimile - with the title page.

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O.K. That's it for Part One. 

De Vere had been recognized as being of master strength for around four years. He was to live for less than another 5.

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