Defending: Amos Burn on Defence
Amos Burn playing Richard Teichmann

Defending: Amos Burn on Defence

Apr 3, 2018, 11:44 AM |

Vladimir Kramnik, Paul Keres, Siegbert Tarrasch. These three players are very well-known, despite spending #2 in the world rankings for 189 months between them and never reaching top spot. However, I predict the name 'Amos Burn' will not be so familiar to most chess fans, even though he peaked at #2 in the world rankings in September 1876. (Chessmetrics)

Amos Burn was born on New Year's Eve 1848 in Hull, England. However, he moved to Liverpool and became apprenticed to a firm of shipowners and merchants at the age of 13. According to Richard Forster, Burn learned chess in Liverpool, receiving early guidance in the game from John Soul. In 1867 Burn was old enough to join the famous Liverpool Chess Club- where he would eventually become president- and won the Second Class of a handicap tournament through the winter of 1867/1868.

Because he was never fully committed to the game, Burn took extensive breaks from the game on three occasions.

Although he was never a professional chess player, he had a long tournament and writing career. Able to hold his own against the greats of his time, the Englishman's best performance came in Cologne in 1898 when he ended top of the pile with 9/12, ahead of players such as David Janowsky, Mikhail Chigorin, Carl Schlechter, and Wilhelm Steinitz.

Here is the game between Burn and Steinitz, which was actually a clash of pupil vs teacher; Burn took lessons from Steinitz in London in his younger days.


The great Wilhelm Steinitz, a mentor to Burn in London

Despite only learning to play at the relatively late age of 16, Burn was soon able to be described as one of the world's best. Here he defeats Joseph Henry Blackburne- an established top 10 player at the time- at the mere age of 20:

While this game demonstrates Burn's attacking abilities, he is best known for his defensive play. In fact, Aron Nimzowitsch named him as one of the world's six greatest defensive players in his book 'Chess Praxis'.

In my post on Lasker and defence I provided some games from his Common Sense in Chess lectures and his views on defensive play. The following game is featured in the lectures, with analysis from Lasker. Once again Burn demonstrates great ability in defence.

An admirable performance. Here Burn finds a balance between both defence and attack, as he patiently waits before counter-attacking. 

Move 26 would have been difficult for Burn to make. Although he returned the extra pawn, it paid off because it made his opponent find the best continuation- which he did not- and allowed Burn to launch that ruthless counter-attack. I think this is a good example of how to handle defence when under pressure: make things as difficult as possible for your enemy.

The next game is featured in the mammoth collection that is '500 Master Games of Chess' by Savielly Tartakower and Julius du Mont, which is a real gem of a book.

This was "a beautiful example of self-possession which succeeds in overcoming all his opponent's powerful attempts". The game was played in the 1898 tournament in Cologne which was touched upon in the introduction. As was mentioned, Burn won the tournament ahead of a strong field that featured Stenitz and Schlechter, to name a few.


11th DSB Kongress, Cologne (1898), which Burn won.

Burn's contribution to opening theory is the Burn variation of the French Defense. He first played it in 1887 and the game below, which was played in 1905, is the last time he used it in tournament play.

Next, a game between Burn and Bird, the creator of Bird's Opening (1.f4):

As promised, here is a game of Burn's where he plays without his Queen's Knight:

A Morphy-esque game. Although Burn was capable of brilliancies such as the one above, he was human like everyone else and the game below is certainly proof of that!

A good lesson on how not to defend, there! My friend Simaginfan had this to say about odds-giving:
"In off hand games he (Burn) would often deliberately take on dificult or even impossible defensive tasks in order to practice defending - many people will do tactical excercises etc for the purpose of practice, but few people work on  defence!! Growing up as a player, I never studied openings, and frequently got in to difficulties, so I learned to defend in that way! Eventually, I learned that  it was possible to win games in that way - the so called 'odds giving style'."
So, what can Amos Burn teach us about defence? Among many things, what stands out in his play is his patience and calmness to weather a storm and combat everything that his opponent throws at him. When it seems like he is being overwhelmed, he dodges threats like the "first-rate boxer" that Emanuel Lasker described in his Common Sense in Chess lectures. Also, from Burn we can learn that it is important to challenge yourself to fine-tune your skills- particularly concerning defence, which can so often be neglected- and to not worry about the consequences. After all, chess is a game!


Just a caricature of Burn that I thought was quite cool!

Any feedback is appreciated, I love hearing from you all. As always, take care and thanks for reading.