Category Archives: History

Remembering Frederick Forrest Lawrie Alexander (13-XI-1879, 01-IV-1965)

Frederick Forrest Lawrie Alexander, photograph located by Richard James from Ancestry.co.uk
Frederick Forrest Lawrie Alexander, photograph located by Richard James from Ancestry.co.uk

Remembering Frederick Forrest Lawrie Alexander (13-XI-1879, 01-IV-1965)

Interesting article from Woodseats Library

Here is an article from the Chess Composers Blog

He was seven times champion of Battersea Chess Club

The Surrey County Chess Association has The Alexander Trophy as one of its main awards : is it awarded for the top knockout competition.

Here is some history of the trophy from Surbiton Chess Club

Here are a handful of his games from chessgames.com and here is what chessgames.com has to say about FFLA :

“Frederick Forrest Lawrie Alexander played in the 1932 British Championship, but with little success. At age 70, playing at the 1950 Southsea tournament, he shocked the pundits by defeating Efim Bogoljubov and Harry Golombek.”

Here is more detail and photographs of the Alexander Cup from Britbase / John Saunders

Remembering John Arthur Fuller (12-v-1928 – 08-xii-2004)

John Arthur Fuller
John Arthur Fuller

We remember John Arthur Fuller (12-v-1928 – 08-xii-2004)

From The Encyclopedia of Chess by Anne Sunnucks :

“British Master, British Boy Champion in 1946 and British Correspondence Champion from 1953-1955. Born on 12th May 1928 Fuller learned to play chess when he was 11. In 1946 , the year in which he won the British Boys Championship, he also tied for the London Boys Championship. He went on to win the Middlesex Championship three times and the Warwickshire Championship twice. Fuller played for England in matches between Scotland and the Netherlands and in the Clare Benedict International Team Tournament. He also had the best British score in the Premier Tournament at Hastings in 1949 and 1955.

He was a design engineer.”

According to ancestry.co.uk he is survived by a son, Robert.

There has been considerable discussion of JAF in another place.

John Arthur Fuller
John Arthur Fuller

BCN would like to acknowledge help received from Richard James, Leonard Barden, Rob Fuller and John Upham in putting this article together.

Subsequent to this post being published our attention was kindly drawn by John Saunders to the obituary in BCM, Volume 125, #5, page 247. Readers are recommended to see this.

Remembering Gerald Abrahams (15-iii-1980)

Gerald Abrahams by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd), whole-plate film negative, 21 August 1933
by Lafayette (Lafayette Ltd), whole-plate film negative, 21 August 1933

Death Anniversary of Gerald Abrahams (15-iii-1980)

Here is his Wikipedia entry

See his games at Chessgames.com

Technique in Chess
Technique in Chess
Not Only Chess
Not Only Chess
The Chess Mind
The Chess Mind
Test Your  Chess
Test Your Chess

Gerald Abrahams contributed to opening theory in the Queen’s Gambit Declined / Semi-Slav Defence with his creation of the Abrahams-Noteboom Defence as discussed in the following video :

Remembering IM William Albert Fairhurst CBE (21-viii-1903 -13-iii-1982)

IM William Albert Fairhurst CBE
IM William Albert Fairhurst CBE

Remembering IM William Albert Fairhurst CBE (21-viii-1903 -13-iii-1982)

From The Encyclopedia of Chess by Anne Sunnucks :

“International chess master, British Champion in 1937 and Scottish Champion in 1932, 1933, 1934, 1936, 1937, 1938, 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949 and 1962.

Born in Alderney Edge in Cheshire on 21st August 1903, Fairhurst taught himself to play chess from books on the game, when he was 13, when he was 18 he won the Cheshire Championship.

His first major international success was at Scarborough in 1927, where he tied for Yates for 2nd prize, ahead of Bogoljubov, Sir George Thomas, Buerger, among others.

In 1931 he went to live to Scotland, quickly established himself as a leader of Scottish chess and played a major role in agreements between the British Chess Federation and the Scottish Chess Association. In 1932 he gave a blindfold simultaneous display, winning nine games and drawing three, in the Polytechnic Club in Glasgow, and in 1933 he drew match of six games against Eliskases.

Fairhurst has represented Great Britainin matches against Czechoslovakia and the USSR in 1946 and 1947; against the Netherlands in 1937, 1938, 1949 and 1952 and against the USSR in 1954. He also played in the Great Britain v. Australia radio match in 1947. He has represented Scotland in six chess Olympiads, those of 1933, 1956, 1958, 1964, 1966 and 1968.

At Hastings in 1947 he came 5th and went through the tournament without losing a game.

Senior partner of a leading firm of engineers and designer of the new bridge over the River Tay at Dundee (the longest river crossing in Europe), Fairhurst was Chairman of the Scottish Branch of the Institute of Structural Engineers and author of Arch Design Simplified. He was also a member of the Royal Fine Art Commission for Scotland.”

Arch Design Simplified
Arch Design Simplified

Here are his games

Here is his Wikipedia entry

Remembering John Cochrane, (04-ii-1798 02-iii-1878)

John Cochrane
John Cochrane

Death Anniversary of John Cochrane, (04-ii-1798 02-iii-1878)

Here is his Wikipedia entry

From The Oxford Companion to Chess by Hooper & Whyld :

Scottish player, barrister, called to the bar in 1822. If the so-called romantic style existed then Cochrane has a claim to be regarded as its founder. A dashing player, he attacked at all costs often sacrificing pieces with abandon, a style that was successful in the England of the 1820s; but when in 1821 he went to Paris, then the world’s chess centre, he was beaten by both Deschapelles and Bourdonnais. Subsequently he studied the game but he did not change his style. In 1822 he published A Treatise on the Game of Chess, a popular book largely based on Traite des Amateurs (see Verdoni) and Lolli but with a few contributions of his own.

Although Cochrane came from an old Scottish family he led the London team in the famous correspondence match against Edinburgh, 1824-8. He persuaded his team to play the Scotch Gambit, but when London had obtained a fine position Cochrane left for India. Although the Londoners, led by Lewis, failed to carry the attack, the Scotch Gambit became fashionable for more than 15 years, and other lively attacking openings were developed.

Cochrane stayed in India until his retirement in 1869 except for one visit to England, 1841-3, when he played hundreds of friendly games against Staunton, who began by winning a large majority, Wilhelm Steinitz knew both contestants and states that their last encounter was a match of 12 games. Staunton conceding pawn and move for the first six- and that Cochrane made an even score when receiving odds but won (-1-3—2— !) when playing on even terms, John Cochrane should not be confused with James Cochrane (c, 1770-1830), co-author of a book on the Muzio gambit.

The Cochrane Gambit is :

and the Cochrane Variation in the King’s Gambit is :

The Sicilian Defence, Staunton-Cochrane Variation is :

and the Scotch Gambit, Cochrane Variation is :

The Cochrane Defence is a drawing method for in the rook, bishop & king vs rook & king ending.

Gata Kamsky – Chess Gamer, Volume 2: Return 2004-2013

Gata Kamsky - Chess Gamer, Volume 2: Return 2004-2013
Gata Kamsky – Chess Gamer, Volume 2: Return 2004-2013
GM Gata Kamsky
GM Gata Kamsky

“Grandmaster Gata Kamsky, five times US champion, has one of the most extraordinary career trajectories of any chess player. In 1989 he arrived in New York, at the age of 15, with his father from his home country Russia. Just two years later he became for the first time US champion. He reached the top 10 at the very young age of 16 and played a World Championship match at the age of 22, losing to the reigning World Champion Anatoli Karpov. He then decided to stop playing chess for 8 years, studying Medicine and Law. In 2004 he reappeared as a full-time player, became again a world-elite player winning many international tournaments and supporting the US team for many successes.”

GM Gata Kamsky
GM Gata Kamsky

What we have here is 22 annotated games (mostly wins, but there are a few draws as well) played by Gata Kamsky between 2004 and 2013, during which period he harboured aspirations towards the world championship.

Kamsky had White in 18 of the 22 games: perhaps it would have been good to learn more about his approach to playing the black pieces. His opponents included the likes of Carlsen, Anand, Aronian, Topalov, Karjakin and Grischuk.

22 games in 450 pages? Yes, that’s an average of about 20 pages per game, often with two or three pages devoted to just one move. There are annotations almost every move: lots of words, and lots of variations as well. Bobby Fischer managed to cram 60 Memorable Games into a lot less space, but then he didn’t have computers to help him.

To give you some idea of what to expect, let’s take a fairly random example: this is Kamsky-Carlsen from the 2007 World Cup in Khanty-Mansiysk.

In this position Carlsen played 17… Re6?

Kamsky comments:

“Probably Black’s only big mistake, but one that costs him the game. The rook is not the best blockader, and once I have figured out how to remove it (by re-routing the knight from g3 to h5, it will only help White accelerate his initiative on the kingside.

“17… Qb3! was perhaps the only move to stop White’s ambitious plans. Black gives up his weak d-pawn in order to open up the position for the rest of his pieces, especially the blocked-in f8-bishop, thus making the rest of his pieces much more effective.”

He then goes on to explain that he was planning to meet 17… Qb3! with 18. Qd2! We then have three pages of notes on this position, with one line ending up with White a pawn ahead on move 42 and another where White wins with a queen sacrifice on move 33.

Eventually returning to the game, we reach this position.

Carlsen has just given up the exchange hoping to set up a fortress. Kamsky explains:

“Black is down a whole exchange, but his structure looks very solid, and if he somehow manages to re-route his knight to f5, while building a strong pawn blockade on the queenside, he might stand a chance. However, White is an exchange up, which means he only needs to open one file for his rooks to infiltrate to win the game. And that is something that Black cannot prevent.”

Kamsky eventually managed, with some help from his opponent, to open the h-file for his rooks, winning on move 46.

The verbal explanations of positions and plans are, as you can tell, models of clarity but you might well think there are too many variations. You’re going to need at least two, more likely three chess sets to find your way through some of the thickets.

The games are not all you get for your money, though. Each game is put into context, and, Kamsky warns us in the introduction: “I must also caution that some of the views and comments expressed on subjects other than chess will sometimes be found to be quite controversial and not ‘correct’, in which case I would invite the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.”.

We are, perhaps fortunately, spared Kamsky’s views on Donald Trump and Brexit, but we do get his opinions of his opponents along with some flashbacks to his childhood.

You may well be aware of the reputation of his father, Rustam Kamsky. Gata’s descriptions of their relationship doesn’t make comfortable reading:

“… I had no education and was under the complete domination, in both body and soul, of my father. He literally threatened to kill me many times, including chasing me with a knife on numerous occasions after a terrible tournament…

“When I came home from the one and only occasion I went to the authorities for help, my father burned my hand to the bone and told me that if I told the authorities about him again, he would kill me. Being physically beaten was an everyday occurrence; it was the psychological attack with his words that made me feel very old and not want to live.”

Given this background it’s perhaps understandable that he has a jaundiced view of some of his fellow grandmasters, even including the universally respected Vishy Anand. He has the rather strange habit of referring to some of them, particularly, it seems, those with whom he has come into conflict in the past, as, for example, Mr Topalov.

In some respects, then, this is a very personal book: much more than just a games collection.

Every one of the games is fascinating, the annotations are superb, but you probably need to be round about 2200 strength to gain full benefit from following all the variations. Below that level, you might find yourself shouting “too much information, Mr Kamsky” and perhaps prefer to spend your money on something with more games and fewer variations.

The production standards, as usual from this publisher, are excellent. I noticed very few typos (a redundant check sign and Jeffrey rather than Jeffery Xiong). If you’re looking for a collection of grandmaster games with exceptionally detailed annotations, along with some very personal insights into the world of top level chess, this is the book for you.

 

Richard James, Twickenham, 26th February 2020

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 454 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1 edition (7 Nov. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9492510588
  • ISBN-13:  978-9492510587
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 1.9 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Gata Kamsky - Chess Gamer, Volume 2: Return 2004-2013
Gata Kamsky – Chess Gamer, Volume 2: Return 2004-2013

Remembering Jacques Mieses (27-ii-1865 23-ii-1954)

Jacques Mieses
Jacques Mieses

Death Anniversary of Jacques Mieses (27-ii-1865 23-ii-1954)

From Chessgames.com :

“Jacques Mieses was born in Leipzig. He won the chess championship of Berlin at the age of 17, and in 1888 he placed joint second at Leipzig and third at Nuremberg.

In 1889 he came third at Breslau (1889). He was, however, rather eclipsed by two great emerging talents – Emanuel Lasker and Siegbert Tarrasch. Mieses was crushed by Lasker in a match – Lasker – Mieses (1889/90) in Leipzig (December 1889 to January 1890). He also performed poorly at 8th DSB Kongress (1893) coming only 7th out of 9 against a field which was relatively weak compared to previous DSB congresses.

1894-95 was a busy period for Mieses. He drew a match with Karl August Walbrodt. (+5, =3,-5) in Berlin (May-June 1894). Mieses then played in the extremely strong 9th DSB Kongress, Leipzig (1894) (3rd-14th September, 1894) coming 10th out of 18. He had then toured Russia giving simultaneous displays, before travelling to Paris to play a match with David Janowski (8th January to 4th February 1895).

Mieses then crossed the English Channel to play a short match against Richard Teichmann in London (16th – 21st February 1895) which he lost by +1 =1 -4. A month later he played this match, Mieses next professional engagement would be (which was his first tournament outside his own country) came at the famous Hastings event of 1895. Although he finished only twentieth (in a field of 22 players), he soon adapted to this level of play and in 1907 he took first prize at the Vienna tournament scoring ten points from thirteen games.

In 1909, Mieses played a short blindfold match with Carl Schlechter, winning it with two wins and one draw. The very next year Schlechter played Emanuel Lasker for the World Championship and drew the match 5-5.

Mieses tried his hand as a tournament organizer in 1911, putting together the San Sebastian event that marked the international debut of future World Champion Jose Raul Capablanca. Mieses was defeated by one of Lasker’s title challengers, Siegbert Tarrasch, in a match in 1916 (+2 -7 =4). In 1938 Mieses resettled in England and took British citizenship. He was awarded the grandmaster title in 1950.”

Jacques Mieses
Jacques Mieses

Here is his Wikipedia entry

Jacques Mieses
Jacques Mieses

From The Oxford Companion to Chess by Hooper & Whyld :

German-born Jewish player and author from Leipzig, International Grandmaster (1950), International Arbiter
(1951). He never assimilated the positional ideas of Steinitz and Tarrasch; instead he preferred to set up a game with the direct object of attacking the enemy king, a style that brought him many brilliancy prizes but few successes in high-level play. His best result was at Vienna 1907, the first Trebitsch Memorial tournament, when he won first prize ( +9 =2 —2) ahead of Duras, Maróczy and Schlechter. Later in the year he shared third prize with Nimzowitsch after Bernstein and Rubinstein in a 28-round tournament at Ostend. He played 25 matches, mostly short, and won six of them including a defeat of Schlechter in 1909 (+2-1).

Mieses reported chess events, edited chess columns, and wrote several books. In 1921 he published a supplement to the eighth edition of Bilguer’s Handbuch, and he revised several editions of Dufresne’s popular Lehrbuck des Schachspiels, He also organized chess events, including the tournament at San Sebastian in 1911 for which he insisted that competitors were paid for travel and board, a practice that later became normal.

After living in Germany for 73 years he escaped the clutches of the Nazis and sought refuge in England. A prim, courteous, and dignified old gentleman, still upright in bearing, he became widely liked in his adopted country. Asked about his lameness in one leg, caused by a street accident in 1937, he merely answered ‘it was my turn to move,’ Soon after naturalization he became the first British player to be awarded the International Grandmaster title. A generation before him his uncle Samuel Mieses (1841-84) had been a German player of master strength.

Jacques Mieses
Jacques Mieses
Jacques Mieses
Jacques Mieses
Jacques Mieses
Jacques Mieses
Jacques Mieses
Jacques Mieses

Remembering John Frederick Keeble (27-viii-1855 19-ii-1939)

John Frederick Keeble
John Frederick Keeble

We remember John Frederick Keeble who passed away on February 19th 1939

From The Oxford Companion to Chess by Hooper & Whyld :

Problemist and chronicler who lived in Norwich all his life. He edited the chess column of the Norwich Mercury from 1902 lo 1912, contributed many significant articles elsewhere, investigated a number of chess questions, and established the burial place of several great players and arranged the tending of their graves. He lived at only two addresses for 73 years, worked for the railway company for 53 years, and was a member of the Norfolk and Norwich chess dub for 61 consecutive years. Winner of the club championship in 1884, he did not compete again until 1933 and then won it three years in succession.

John Frederick Keeble
John Frederick Keeble

Here is his (italian) Wikipedia entry

John Frederick Keeble
John Frederick Keeble
An English Bohemian
An English Bohemian

Kings of the Chessboard

Kings of the Chessboard
Kings of the Chessboard

“Grandmaster Paul van der Sterren (1956 ), was one of the strongest chess players of the Netherlands. He became twice national champion and represented his country eight times during the Chess Olympiads. In 2001 he retired from being an active player and focused on writing books drawn from his rich chess experience. This is his first English chess book written for Thinkers Publishing.”

Paul van der Sterren
Paul van der Sterren

Many chess players are strikingly ignorant of their game’s heritage, so there’s always a place for a new book offering readers a quick spin through chess history.

There are, broadly speaking, several ways this could be approached: a selection of Famous Games for those who haven’t seen them before, a history of the world championship itself, or an essay on the development of chess style and opening theory over the centuries.

Van der Sterren’s book seems to combine all three approaches. How does it fare?

As I have a particular interest in pre-20th century chess history I decided to dive in at the beginning.

We start, not unreasonably, with Philidor. After some biographical information we might be looking forward to seeing how he played.

Alas, not. The author makes the extraordinary claim that “It is true that some fragments of his games have made it into today’s databases, but their authenticity is doubtful and it is likely that these are mostly fictitious games invented by him for the purpose of teaching or demonstrating a particular point he wanted to make.”.

Really? Is van der Sterren confusing Philidor with Greco, perhaps? While it’s true that the games in his books, and there were only a few, were fictitious, my database has one piece of analysis from 1749 along with 60 complete and 5 partial games against named and known opponents from between 1780 and 1795, all but the first played in London. They were collected by Philidor’s friend George Atwood and many of them were published by George Walker in 1835. There is no doubt at all of their authenticity.

We then move onto the match(es) between La Bourdonnais and McDonnell in 1834.  A complete game would have been good but all we get is the Famous Position where the Frenchman forced resignation with three pawns on the seventh rank, without any explanation as to how the position arose.

Then comes the first international tournament: London 1851. We meet Staunton and Anderssen, and, guess what, we see the finales of the Evergreen and Immortal Games. Again, if you really want to publish them because your readers might not have seen them before, why not give the complete games?

According to van der Sterren, “Now Black has to play the defensive move 20… Na6.”. Historians disagree about whether or not Kieseritzky resigned before playing this move (he claimed he did), or whether he played the move and Anderssen announced mate, but why not mention the much better, but still insufficient, defence 20… Ba6?

Come to think of it, why not mention that both the Immortal and Evergreen games were casual encounters in which Anderssen could afford to take risks?

Moving on, inevitably, to Morphy, by this point I started to play a game with myself, guessing what I’d find in each chapter.  Opera House game? Tick! Queen sac v Paulsen? Surprisingly not.

On to Steinitz. Bardeleben at Hastings? Tick! Van der Sterren talks about Steinitz’s advocacy of positional chess, and then aims to justify the inclusion of this tactical game atypical of his late style by incorporating some callout boxes labelled ‘Misunderstandings’ in a rather ugly childish font: something not repeated elsewhere in the book.

Lasker? Exchange Lopez ending v Capa? Tick! Then, on p49, in a moment of carelessness, we meet ‘Dawid Janowksi’,

On the same page we see a Famous Pawn Ending between Lasker and Tarrasch:

We’re told that “By looking at the position in a concrete way instead of relying on general considerations, it is possible to find a concrete path to salvation for Black.”. It’s White, not Black, who finds a concrete path to salvation by playing, after 40. h4 Kg4, 41. Kg6  rather than the losing Kf6. Although the annotations throughout the book are mostly verbal we do get a variation which demonstrates why Kf6 loses.

Capablanca? Qb2 v Bernstein? Tick! Rook ending v Tartakower? Tick! But not full games.

Alekhine? v Réti in 1925? Tick!  Bogo in 1922? Tick! Again, only the closing stages so we don’t get to see how he reached those positions.

To be fair, the book improves as it approaches the 21st century, and we start meeting players the author knew or knows well.

Here, for instance, is a position from a game I must have seen at the time, but had forgotten about.

This is Anand-Karpov Las Palmas 1996. Here, Vishy played Bxh7+!.

“Anand must have felt there is bigger game to be hunted than just a pawn. Still, to forego a perfectly reasonable option with an extra pawn and a draw in the bag, in favour of a piece sacrifice with unpredictable consequences, is not a decision many players would have made. It is a sign of self-confidence, great powers of calculation and bravery; in other words the hallmark of the most pure, sparkling talent.”

This is typical of van der Sterren’s style of annotation: words rather than variations and a tendency towards hero-worship.

Anand himself is, typically, more modest: “Here, I spent a few seconds checking 21. Rxd5 which leaves White with an extra pawn, but as I mentioned earlier I couldn’t be bothered. I saw Bxh7+ and didn’t waste any more time on Rxd5. I then spent some time analysing Bxh7+, and didn’t see a defence for Black. I then realized that I was too excited to analyse and decided to get it over with. He had hardly any time left already and I was sure that he wouldn’t find a defence.”

Does the book succeed? Although I don’t like being negative in my reviews, I’m afraid not. It suffers from trying to do too much in too short a space, and from a lack of historical knowledge and awareness. If you know anything at all about the history of our beautiful games you’ll have seen almost everything before, and you’ll be frustrated by the broad brushstrokes.

Back in 1987, Mike Fox and I were criticised by some reviewers for including a chapter of Greatest Games in The Complete Chess Addict, but they failed to understand that our target market was social players who wouldn’t have seen them before. By the same token, there may still be a market for a collection of Famous Games, Famous Combinations and Famous Endgame Studies. There are several other histories of the world championship, and treatises on the development of chess style and opening theory, but books that are up to date and whose authors have something new to say are always welcome. This book doesn’t really do any of these things very well, and there is very little original content or thought. If you try to be everything to everyone you end up being nothing to nobody.

However, the book is, for the most part, nicely produced, with a lot of attractive photographs. For someone just starting out in competitive chess who would like to know more about the game’s history, this could be just what they want to pique their interest and encourage them to study this fascinating aspect of chess in more detail.

Richard James, Twickenham, 18th February 2020

Richard James
Richard James

Book Details :

  • Paperback : 264 pages
  • Publisher: Thinkers Publishing; 1 edition (20 May 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9492510537
  • ISBN-13:  978-9492510532
  • Product Dimensions: 17.1 x 1.9 x 23.5 cm

Official web site of Thinkers Publishing

Kings of the Chessboard
Kings of the Chessboard

Remembering Cecil Valentine De Vere (14-ii-1846 09-ii-1875)

Cecil Valentine De Vere (14-ii-1846 09-ii-1875)
Cecil Valentine De Vere (14-ii-1846 09-ii-1875)

We remember Cecil Valentine De Vere (14-ii-1846 09-ii-1875)

From The Oxford Companion to Chess by Hooper & Whyld :

Cecil Valentine De Vere, pseudonym of Valentine Brown, winner of the first official British Championship tournament organized by the British Chess Association in 1866. He learned the game in London before 1858 and practised with Boden and the Irish player Francis Burden (1830-82). De Vere played with unusual ease and rapidity, never bothering to study the books. His features were handsome (an Adonis says MacDonnell), his manner pleasant, his conduct polite. He “handled the pieces gracefully, never “hovered” over them, nor fiercely stamped them down upon the board … nor exulted when he gained a victory…in short, he was a highly chivalrous player.’ So wrote Steinitz who conceded odds in a match against De Vere and was soundly beaten, (See pawn and move.) De Vere’s charm brought him many friends.

At about the time that he won the national championship his mother died, a loss he felt deeply, “The only person who ever cared for me”.

Receiving a small legacy he gave up his job. which Burden had obtained for him at Lloyds the underwriters, and never took another. He entered some strong tournaments but always trailed just behind the greatest half-dozen players of his time. His exceptional talent was accompanied by idleness and lack of enthusiasm for a hard task. On the occasion of the Dundee tournament of 1867 he took long walks in the Scottish countryside with G. A. MacDonnell, who writes that a ‘black cloud’ descended on De Vere. It may have been the discovery that he had tuberculosis; more probably he revealed to the older man a deep-rooted despair, the cause perhaps of his later addiction to alcohol.

In 1872 Boden handed over the chess column of The Field to provide him with a small income; but in 1873 the column was given to Steinitz on account of De Vere’s indolence and drunkenness. At the end of Nov, 1874 his illness took a turn for the worse, he could hardly walk and ate little. His friends paid to send him to Torquay for the sea air, and there he died ten weeks later. He had failed to nourish a natural genius in respect of which, according to Steinitz, De Vere was “second to no man, living or dead*.

Cecil Valentine De Vere (14-ii-1846 09-ii-1875)
Cecil Valentine De Vere (14-ii-1846 09-ii-1875)

From The Encyclopedia of Chess by Anne Sunnucks :

First official British Chess Champion, Cecil de Vere was born on 14th February 1845 (in Montrose, Angus, Scotland : Ed.) and was taught to play chess when he was 12 by a strong London player, Francis Burden. By the time he was 15, he was a regular visitor to “The Divan” on a Saturday afternoon.

At the age of 19 De Vere played a number of games against MacDonnell winning the majority of them. So great was his promise that the City of London Chess Club raised a purse for a match between him an Steinitz, Steinitz giving the odds of a Pawn and a move. De Vere won.

In 1866 the first British Championship, organised by the British Chess Association was held. De Vere won, ahead of MacDonnell and Bird, and so became the first British Champion at the age of 21.

The following year in the Paris 1867 tournament, he was 5th out of a field of 13, and he tied for 3rd prize in the Dundee Congress, ahead of Blackburne, having beaten Steinitz in their individual game.

While he was in Dundee, De Vere learned that he was suffering from Tuberculosis. The news changed his whole life. Having recently inherited a few hundred pounds, he gave up his job at Lloyd’s and started living on his capital, determined to enjoy the few years he had left. He continued to play chess, but his performances were marred by his newly acquired addiction to the bottle.

De Vere was once described as “A Morphy without book knowledge”. His talent was great enough for him to be able to take on the leading masters of the day without any study or preparation, but more than that is needed to reach the top. De Vere lacked the strength of character and health to fulfill his early promise. He died a few days before his thirtieth birthday.

From The Encyclopedia of Chess by Harry Golombek :

The first official British Champion and a player of great promise who might well have attained world fame had he not be carried off by that nineteenth-century British scourge, tuberculosis, before he attained the age of thirty.

Most of the details of his life are to be found in the writings of G.A. MacDonnell, who met him when De Vere was fourteen and was so struck by his good looks as to refer to him as “Adonis”.

His first tournament success came in 1866 at the London Congress organised at the St. George’s Club in the first few days and then in other venues by the British Chess Association. De Vere played in two events, a Handicap tournament and a Challenge Cup event which was in fact the first British Championship tournament.

The Handicap tournament was run on the same lines as London 1851, i.e. it was a knock-out event with matches of three games, draws not counting. De Vere met Steinitz in roudn 1 and lost by 2-1.

The first British championship tournament was an all-play-all event in which the ties were decided by the first player to win three games and in which the championship went to the winner of the biggest number of games. De Vere was en easy winner with 12 wins, followed by MacDonnell and J.I. Minchin 6, H.E Bird 3 and Sir John Trelawney 0.

Thus De Vere was the first British Champion and at that age of twenty-one. A photograph of him about this time shows that he bore a remarkable likeness to the international master John Nunn, who won the European Junior championship a hundred years after De Vere’s death.

De Vere confirmed his position as a leading British player by coming first in another tournament in 1866 at Redcar in North Yorkshire. This was an event open to all British amateurs and among his opponents were Owen, Thorold and Wisker.

It was in the following year that he commenced his career in international chess. In the important double-round tournament at Paris he occupied an honourable fifth place out of 13 players. At Dundee (the third congress of the British Chess Association) he finished equal 3rd with MacDonnell, below Steinitz but beating him in their individual game and coming ahead of Blackburne.

It was during his visit to Scotland (he went to stay with relatives after the tournament) that he learnt he was afflicted with consumption. This knowledge, together with the death of his mother, drove him to drink which was to accelerate his end.

inheriting a few hundred pounds, presumably from his mother, he gave up his post at Lloyd’s and decided to live on his capital together with such additional sums as he could earn from chess.

In this respect his addiction to drink proved a handicap. For example, he held the post of chess editor of The Field in 1872 but lost it after some eighteen months through inattention to work.

Meanwhile he continued to show his great talent for the game. Defending the title of British Champion in a very strong field at the next British Chess Association congress (1868/9) he cam equal first with Blackburne but lost the play-off at the London Club in March 1869.

In 1870 at the very strong Baden-Baden double-round tournament, he came equal sixth with Winawer but was much outdistanced by Blackburne who came third with 3.5 more pints than De Vere. But already his illness was taking a strong hold on him. At his next and last appearance in a tournament of note. London 1872, he tied with Zukertort and MacDonnell =3rd out of 8 players. In the play-off for third and fourth prizes he lost to MacDonnell and scratched to Zukertort, Later in the year he did tie for first place with Wisker in a weaker British championship tournament and, with De Vere now clearly ill, Wisker had an easy victory in the play-off.

At his last appearance at a chess event, a match at the City of London Club between that Club and Bermondsey, he looked a dying man. A subscription was made to send him to Torquay but it was too late and he died within five days of his thirtieth birthday.

Here are some of his games at chessgames.com

Here is his Wikipedia entry

The English Morphy?: The Life and Games of Cecil De Vere, First British Chess Champion by Owen Hindle & Robert H. Jones
The English Morphy?: The Life and Games of Cecil De Vere, First British Chess Champion by Owen Hindle & Robert H. Jones