Chess Archaeology HomeChess is a scientific game and its literature ought to be placed on the basis of the strictest truthfulness, which is the foundation of all scientific research.W. Steinitz

Joseph H. Blackburne (left), seemingly relaxed slumped in his chair and smoking a cigar, played simultaneously and blindfolded ten games at the new club room of the City of London Chess Club on June 28, 1876. The games that were not finished that evening were played out two days later, on June 30, 1876.

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Blackburne Blindfolded at the City Club

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Joseph H. Blackburne gave an exhibition of blindfold play at the City of London Chess Club on Wednesday, June 28, 1876.1 This annual performance was organized on a special occasion: the chess club had moved to new quarters in Mouflet's Hotel, 24 Newgate street. Land and Water, July 1, 1876:

The late place of meeting at the foot of Ludgate Hill having proved inconvenient or unsatisfactory, new quarters have been secured at Mouflet's Hotel, 24, Newgate-street, where the house warming was celebrated on the 28th ultimo, opening with a blindfold performance by Mr. Blackburne against ten of the members. Mr. Blackburne is facile princeps in blindfold chess, and such a display of very peculiar mental qualities as that of contesting ten games of chess simultaneously without seeing any of the boards, is worth witnessing even in this age of marvels. The meeting was therefore largely attended by the members and their friends, and was concluded at a late hour amid general satisfaction.

The old place at the foot of Ludgate Hill was the grand Café Restaurant, 74 Ludgate Hill, where the club had moved to in February, 1876. Evidently the sojourn  had been short, just four months. Previous to that the City of London Tavern and the City Restaurant had functioned as the headquarters. The club members had their meetings at the first mentioned locale for many years. 

Even though Blackburne's appearance in the new premises of the City of London Chess Club had a festive touch, many details of the exhibition are lacking. For example, the playing hours are unknown. Just four names of the ten opponents have been found: Detmold, Izard, Klein and M'Leod.2 Their names are known for a good reason: they won or drew against Blackburne, who had lost 1 game, drew 3 and won 6 on this occasion.3 The lost game was against Izard. Also missing are the board numbers, and no games of this exhibition have been found.

Some particulars of the meeting were recorded. Not all games were finished on the first evening of play: three were adjourned and played out on Friday, June 30, 1876.4 Many spectators witnessed Blackburne's achievement as the picture above shows, and several contemporary sources confirm.  

As said, Blackburne held annual exhibitions of blindfold play at the City of London Chess Club. This tradition commenced on March 4, 1870, when he played against ten opponents at the City of London Tavern.  The particulars of that meeting were:5  

Result +4 =4 -2; score 60 percent; hours of play 5:00 p.m. — 12:55 a.m.

Opponents (board numbers are missing):

Blackburne — Bingham

˝-˝

 

Blackburne — Smith

1-0

Blackburne — Chappell

0-1

 

Blackburne — Standing

˝-˝

Blackburne — Down

0-1

 

Blackburne — J. Swyer

1-0

Blackburne — Jackson

1-0

 

Blackburne — S. Swyer

˝-˝

Blackburne — Lamb

˝-˝

 

Blackburne — Watts

1-0

The game with J. Swyer was adjudicated. Two games of this meeting have been found.

Joseph H. Blackburne - W.T. Chappell

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, March 4, 1870, board number is missing

  • C21 Center Game

1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. c3 c5 4. cxd4 cxd4 5. Bc4 Nc6 6. Nf3 Bc5 7. 0—0 d6 8. Bf4 Nge7 9. Ng5 d5

If he had castled, Mr. Blackburne would have gained an irresistible position by playing his queen to h5.

10. exd5 Na5 11. d6 Nxc4 

12. dxe7

We should have preferred giving the check with the queen at once, for then: 12. Qa4+ Nc6 (12. ... Qd7 (best, if Bd7 or Kf8, White gains a piece as before.) 13. Qxc4 Bxd6 14. Qxf7+ Kd8 15. Bxd6 Qxd6 16. Qxg7, and White has a winning position.) 13. Qxc4, and Black, apparently, must lose a piece.

12. ... Bxe7 13. Qa4+ Bd7 14. Qxc4 Bxg5 15. Re1+ Be7 16. Bc7 Qc8 17. Nd2 Be6 18. Qc2 0—0 19. Rac1 Qd7 20. Nf3 Rac8 21. Ne5 Qd5 22. Qd3 Rxc7

Very well played.

23. Rxc7 Bd6 24. Rd7 Bxd7 25. Nxd7 Rd8,

and Black wins.

Source: The Era, March 20, 1870 (annotator is unknown)  

Joseph H. Blackburne - J. Watts

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, March 4, 1870, board number is missing

  • B32 Sicilian Defense

1. e4 c5 2. d4 cxd4 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. Nxd4 e5 5. Nxc6 bxc6 6. Bc4 Bc5 7. 0—0 d6 8. Nc3 h6 9. Kh1 Nf6 10. h3 Be6 11. Bd3 d5 12. f4 exf4 13. Bxf4 dxe4 14. Nxe4 Nxe4 15. Bxe4 Qb6 16. Qf3 Rc8 17. Rae1 Be7 18. Be5 Rg8

He dared not castle, on account of 19. Qg3.

19. Bh7 Rh8 

20. Bf5

This is very good; but possibly, with the board before him, and only one combatant to deal with, Mr. Blackburne would have given us a more artistic finale. For instance, by playing his queen's bishop to d6, which leads to some pretty variations, and wins the game with certainty: 20. Bd6 Rxh7 (20. ... Bxd6 21. Qxf7+ Kd8 22. Rxe6, and White forces the game in three or four moves; 20. ... Rc7 21. Rxe6 fxe6 22. Qf7+ Kd8 23. Bxe7+ Rxe7 24. Rd1+ Kc8 25. Qxe7 Rxh7 26. Qd7+ Kb8 27. Rd3, and White wins; 20...Kd7 21.Bxe7 Rxh7 (best) 22.Rxe6 fxe6 (best) 23.Qf7 , and Black cannot avoid immediate defeat.) 21. Qxf7+ Bxf7 22. Rxe7+ Kd8 23. Rfxf7 Rh8, and White checkmates by force in six moves.

20. ... Bd5 21. Qg4,

and Mr. Watts abandoned the game.  

Source: The Era, March 20, 1870 (annotator is unknown).

His following annual blindfold exhibition at the club took place on  May 2, 1871. Again Blackburne opposed ten adversaries in the City of London Tavern. The details of this séance are:6  

Result +5 =3 -2; score 65 percent; playing hours 5.30 p.m. — after midnight

Opponents (board numbers are missing):

Blackburne — Argall

˝-˝

 

Blackburne — Manning

1-0

Blackburne — Beardsell

1-0

 

Blackburne — Morton

˝-˝

Blackburne — Cousin

1-0

 

Blackburne — Sutton

1-0

Blackburne — Fenton

0-1

 

Blackburne — Vyse

1-0

Blackburne — Keates

0-1

 

Blackburne — Younger

˝-˝

It seems that the game with Younger was drawn because of the late hour. Nine games of this match have survived.

Joseph H. Blackburne - H.K. Argall

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, May 2, 1871, board number is missing

  • C01 French Defense, Exchange Variation

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Bd3 Nf6 5. Nf3 Bd6 6. 0—0 0—0 7. Be3 Be6 8. Nc3 Nc6 9. Qd2 Qd7 10. Bg5 Be7 11. Rae1 h6 12. Bxf6 Bxf6 13. Ne5 Qd6 14. Nxc6 bxc6 15. Ne2 c5 16. dxc5 Qxc5 17. c3 Rab8 18. Nf4 Bg5

 19. Nxe6 

A very ingenious conception to exchange the pieces, and thus simplify the game. 

19. ... fxe6 

If Bxd2, then Nxc5, followed by Nd7 attacking both rooks. 

20. Qc2 Rb6 21. Re2 Bf6 22. Rfe1 e5 

Bxc2 seems safe enough, and would certainly have imparted some interest to the battle. 

23. Qc1 Bg5 24. Qd1 e4 25. Bb1 Rbf6 26. Qc2 Qd6 

Drawn.

Source: The Westminster Papers, June 1871, page 23 (notes by Patrick T. Duffy)

Joseph H. Blackburne - T.N. Beardsell

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, May 2, 1871, board number is missing

  • C21 Center Game

1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. c3 d6 4. cxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Be7 6. Bd3 Be6 7. f4 d5 8. e5 Bg4 9. Nf3 Nfd7 10. 0—0 c5 11. Nxd5 Nxe5 12. dxe5 0—0 13. h3 Qxd5 14. Bxh7+

Resigns.

Source: The Westminster Papers, June 1871, page 24.

Joseph H. Blackburne - I. Cousin

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, May 2, 1871, board number is missing

  • C52 Evans Gambit 

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 Bxb4 5. c3 Ba5 6. d4 exd4 7. 0—0 Nf6 8. Ba3 d6 9. e5 d5 

If dxe5, then Qb3 and Re1 winning. 

10. Bb5 Ne4 11. Qa4 Bxc3 12. Bxc6+ bxc6 

13. Qxc6+ Bd7 14. Qxd5 c6 

It would have been better to take the rook at once. 

15. Qxe4 Bxa1 16. Nbd2 Bb2 

To enable him to castle at any cost. If Bc3, then Nc4 and Black's game goes to pieces. 

17. Bxb2 0—0 18. Nxd4 c5 19. N4b3 Rc8 20. Nc4 Qg5 21. f4 Qg4 22. h3 Qe6 23. f5 Qc6 24. Qg4 g6 25. Nd6 Rb8 26. Qg5 

Resigns. Because if f6 to prevent f6, then exf6 followed by fxg6 winning easily.

Sources: The Westminster Papers, June 1871, page 23; Mr. Blackburne’s Games at Chess, 1899, pages 227-228 (notes by Joseph H. Blackburne).

Joseph H. Blackburne - R.F. Fenton

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, May 2, 1871, board number is missing

  • C29 Vienna Gambit

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nf6 3. f4 d5 4. d3 Nc6 

This move is much inferior to either Bb4 or dxe4. 

5. fxe5 Nxe5 6. d4 Ng6 7. e5 Ne4 8. Nxe4 dxe4 9. Bc4 c5 10. c3 cxd4 11. cxd4 Bb4+ 12. Bd2 Bxd2+ 

If Qxd4, then follows Qa4+, etc. 

13. Qxd2 0—0 14. Ne2 Be6 15. b3 Qb6 16. 0—0—0 

This looks desperate, but he dare not castle on the other side because of Nxe5, etc. 

16. ... Rfc8 17. d5 

17. ... Nxe5 

An excellent conception. 

18. dxe6 Nxc4 

Black should rather have taken bishop with rook, when, if White retakes, he loses his queen by Nd3+. 

19. exf7+ Kf8 20. bxc4 Rxc4+ 21. Nc3 Rac8 22. Qb2 Rxc3+ 23. Kb1 Qxb2+ 24. Kxb2 Rd3 25. Rxd3 exd3 26. Rc1

White's only hope of a draw lies in exchanging pieces. 

26. ... Rxc1 27. Kxc1 Kxf7 28. Kd2 Ke6 29. Kxd3 Kd5 30. g3 b5 31. Kc3 a5 32. Kd3 b4 33. h3 a4 34. g4 a3 35. Ke3 Kc4

Resigns.

Sources: The Field, May 13, 1871; The Westminster Papers, June 1871, page 23 (notes by Patrick T. Duffy).

The Field offered only 30 moves.

Joseph H. Blackburne - Keates

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, May 2, 1871, board number is missing

  • C31 King's Gambit Declined, Falkbeer's Counter Gambit

1. e4 e5 2. f4 d5 3. Nf3 Nc6 4. Bb5 Bg4 5. Qe2 f5 6. d3 Bc5 7. exf5 Bxf3 8. Qxf3 Qd6 9. Nc3 0—0—0 10. Bxc6 bxc6 11. Bd2 exf4 12. 0—0—0 Be3 13. Bxe3 fxe3 14. Qxe3 

An excusable slip under the circumstances. 

14. ... d4 15. Qh3 dxc3 16. f6+ Kb8 17. fxg7 Qf4+ 

18. Kb1 

Interposing the rook would not have been so immediately disastrous, and might even have given White some chance of a draw. 

18. ... Qb4 

Resigns.

Source: The Westminster Papers, June 1871, page 24 (notes by Patrick T. Duffy)

Joseph H. Blackburne - J.A. Manning

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, May 2, 1871, board number is missing

  • C50 Giuoco Piano

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Qf6 

Black's opening may be associated with those appearing in the French works, under the denomination of Défenses faibles

4. 0—0 d6 5. Nc3 Be6 6. Nd5 Bxd5 7. exd5 Na5 8. d3 h6 9. Bd2 Nxc4 10. dxc4 Qd8 11. Re1 Be7 12. Bc3 Nf6 13. h3 0—0 14. Nh2 Qd7 15. Ng4 Qf5 16. Nxf6+ Bxf6 17. Qd3 Qg6 18. Qxg6 fxg6 19. Re2 g5 20. b4 Rad8 21. a4 e4 

White wins.

Source: The Westminster Papers, June 1871, page 24 (notes by Patrick T. Duffy)

Joseph H. Blackburne - Sutton

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, May 2, 1871, board number is missing

  • C10 French Defense

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 g6 4. Bd3 Bg7 5. Nge2 Ne7 6. 0—0 0—0 7. Be3 e5 8. dxe5 Bxe5 9. f4 Bxc3 10. bxc3 c6 11. e5 Bf5 12. Bc5 Nd7 13. Bxe7 Qxe7 14. Bxf5 gxf5 15. Nd4 f6 16. Nxf5 Qc5+ 17. Kh1 Nxe5 

He must postpone the fatal check at g4 as long as he can. 

18. fxe5 fxe5 19. Qg4+ Kf7 20. Nd6+ 

Resigned. Because of rook takes rook, when White wins either both rooks or the queen, or mates in a few moves.

Source: The Westminster Papers, June 1871, page 23 (notes by Patrick T. Duffy)

Joseph H. Blackburne - W.E. Vyse

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, May 2, 1871, board number is missing

  • C11 French Defense

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. e5 Nfd7 5. f4 c5 6. Nf3 h6 7. Be2 Nc6 8. Be3 Qb6 9. dxc5 Bxc5 10. Bxc5 Nxc5 11. Nb5 Ne4 

The second player has now obtained the superior position. 

12. Rf1 0—0 13. Nd2 Nxd2 14. Qxd2 a6 15. Nc3 Qxb2 16. Rb1 Qa3 17. g4 Qe7 

18. Qe3 

This is done to secure a counter attack. Black being a pawn ahead, it is necessary for White to do something at any cost. 

18. ... d4 19. Qg3 dxc3 20. h4 f6 21. exf6 Rxf6 22. g5 hxg5 23. hxg5 Rf5 24. Bd3 Nd4 25. Rh1 Kf7 26. Rh8 b5 27. g6+ Kf6 28. Qh4+ 

Resigned.

Sources: The Westminster Papers, June 1871, page 23; Mr. Blackburne’s Games at Chess, 1899, page 228 (notes by Joseph H. Blackburne).

Joseph H. Blackburne - Younger

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, May 2, 1871, board number is missing

  • C01 French Defense, Exchange Variation

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Bd3 c5 

The advance of the queen's bishop's pawn is given in the older treatises as the best; experience however shows that the queen's pawn is thereby left in isolation and exposed to the assault of almost all the adverse pieces. 

5. dxc5 Bxc5 6. Nf3 Nf6 7. 0—0 0—0 8. Nc3 Nc6 9. Bg5 Be6 10. Qd2 Be7 11. Rad1 Ng4 12. Rfe1 Nge5 13. Nxe5 Bxg5 14. Nxc6 bxc6 

The second player would not have lost anything by taking the queen with bishop. 

15. f4 Bf6 16. Kh1 Qd7 

17. Ne2 

This error is the first of a series, which result in leaving the first player with a hopeless inferiority. The knight might have been advanced to a4, and afterwards established at c5, by means of pawn to b4, for the adverse bishop could not be played to e7 on account of f5. 17 h3 is also good play. 

17. ... Bxb2 18. c3 Rab8 19. Nd4 c5 20. Nxe6 fxe6 21. Bc4 

Merely a loss of time. 

21. ... Qf7 22. Bb3 Ba3 23. Bc2 Rb2 24. Rb1 Rxb1 25. Bxb1 Qxf4 26. Qxf4 Rxf4 27. g3 Rf6 28. Kg2 c4 29. Re2 h6 30. Bc2 Kf7 31. Bd1 Ke7 

Can't wait.

Source: The Westminster Papers, June 1871, page 23 (notes by Patrick T. Duffy)

March 20, 1872, was the date of the third annual performance at the City of London Chess Club. The unseeing player opposed once more ten antagonists in the City of London Tavern. The particulars of this competition are:7

Result +8 =2 -0; score 90 percent; playing hours 4.30 p.m. — unknown

Opponents (board numbers are missing):

Blackburne — Ballard

1-0

 

Blackburne — Keats

-

Blackburne — Baxter

1-0

 

Blackburne — Knight

˝-˝

Blackburne — Cole

-

 

Blackburne — Pearson

1-0

Blackburne — Coumbe

1-0

 

Blackburne — Thomson

1-0

Blackburne — Cousin

-

 

Blackburne — Woodward

1-0

The results of three individual games are missing.

There was an interval of about one hour between 8.00 p.m. and 9.00 p.m. for refreshments, in which Blackburne displayed a knight’s tour blindfolded.  Six games were played out the next week, on March 27. Land and Water of April 6, 1872:

On Wednesday last Mr. Blackburne resumed the play in the series of blindfold which, owing to the lateness of the hour, had to be adjourned on the Wednesday previous. The players left in were Dr. Ballard, Rev. A.C. Pearson, Messrs Knight, Baxter, Woordward, Thomson, and Coumbe, the latter, however, owing to his inability to attend, resigned the game. Previous to the commencement of the play Mr. Blackburne gave, from memory, the exact position in each game, by requesting the several players to place the pieces on the board as they stood when the games were discontinued on the previous Wednesday. He performed this with the greatest rapidity and accuracy, and, which elicited the admiration of the audience.

Three games have been found of this session.

Joseph H. Blackburne - William R. Ballard

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, March 20, 1872, board number is missing

  • C44 King's Pawn Game

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 exd4 4. Bc4 Bc5 5. Ng5 Nh6 6. Qh5 Qe7 7. 0—0 Ne5 

Pawn to d6 is more generally played at this point. 

8. Bb3 d6 9. h3 Ng8 

This loses time, as it enables White to advance his king's bishop's pawn immediately. 

10. f4 d3+ 11. Kh2 

Kh1 would have given less scope for attack, although the move in the text, with correct play subsequently, is not absolutely dangerous. 

11. ... Nf6 12. Qd1 

Qh4 demands consideration. 

12. ... Neg4+ 

The game now assumes phases of great interest. 

13. hxg4 Nxg4+ 14. Kg3 

Although Kh1 looks hazardous, it is in reality sounder than the move in the text. 

14. ... h5 

An excellent rejoinder, threatening to win at least the queen. 

15. f5 Be3 

Again an extremely fine move on Black´s part. 

16. Bxf7+ 

This seems to be exceptionable, as White will in a manner be afterwards compelled to give up his queen. Let, however, some plausible, and apparently safe move, such as Nf3, be substituted, and the danger in which White really is placed, may be demonstrated. The positions arising therefrom are very intricate: space therefore will oblige us to confine ourselves to the principal variations. Suppose: 16. Nf3 h4+ (White has now only two replies worth considering (for Nxh4 is obviously bad and Kh3 best.) In the first place: 17.Kxg4 Qxe4+ 18. Kh3 Qf4, and wins. In the second place: 17. Kh3 Qxe4 18. Qxd3 (If Qxe3, then Qf4, as before, but if Bxe3, then Nxe3, and wins) 18. Nh2 (This certainly does not look a good move: careful examination, however, has convinced us that it is by far the best resource, and that without the greatest care on his opponent's side the game might after all terminate in White's favor. At first sight it seems that Black may win by checking with his knight at f2, and indeed all the variations except one are to his advantage, but that one, the key moves of which are Qf3 and Ng4, is not satisfactory. Consequently Black must play:) 18. ... Nxh2 (White must now either take the knight or play his rook to e1, for Bxe3 would of course be answered by Nxf1, etc.) 19. Kxh2 (19. Re1 Qe5 20. Rxe3 (Apparently his best move.) 20. ... Bxf5+ 21. g4 hxg3+ 22. Kg2 Be4+, and should White now take the bishop with rook, Black will capture the rook with his queen, checking, and on king's taking the passed pawn, check with queen at h4, then on h3, etc., but should White play 23. Kg1, then 23. ... Ng5, leaving White no resources. In these variation the reader will have noticed that White could many times take the bishop's pawn with bishop, checking, but in all such cases Black will simply play Kf8 with perfect safety.) 19. ... Qe5+ 20. Kh1 h3; or 18. ... Nf2+ 19. Rxf2 Qf4, and wins.  

16. ... Kf8 17. Qxg4 

By his bold resolution to give up a queen at once, Mr. Blackburne escapes all such intricacies as those traced in the last note. 

17. ... hxg4 18. Bxe3 Qe5+ 19. Bf4 Qxb2 

In games where a player has a queen against three minor pieces, great care must be taken to avoid her absence from the real scene of action. Otherwise the minor pieces will rapidly form a compact mass, which will win by its own weight.

 20. Nd2 dxc2 21. Nc4 Qc3+ 22. Ne3 Bd7 23. Kxg4 Ba4 24. Nd5 Qd3 25. Bg6 Rh6 26. Ne6+ Kg8 27. Ne7+ Kh8 28. Rh1 Qd1+ 29. Raxd1 cxd1Q+ 30. Rxd1 Bxd1+ 31. Kg3 Rh1 32. Bd2 Bh5 33. Bc3 Rg8 34. f6 

An admirable termination to a well played game on both sides. 

34. ... Bxg6 35. Nxg6+ Kh7 36. f7

and Black resigned.

Sources: Land and Water, April 20, 1872 (notes by Janós J. Löwenthal); The Illustrated London News, May 18, 1872; The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, September 29, 1881; Mr. Blackburne’s Games at Chess,1899, pages 226-227. Mr. Blackburne’s Games at Chess claimed that this game was played in 1871. .

Joseph H. Blackburne - A.B. Baxter

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, March 20, 1872, board number is missing

  • C41 Philidor's Defense

1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. Bc4 d6 4. Nf3 Be6 5. Bxe6 fxe6 6. Nxd4 Qf6 7. Nc3 g6 8. 0—0 Bg7 9. Be3 Qe7 10. Qg4 Bxd4 11. Bxd4 Nf6 12. Qh4 0—0 13. Be3 Nc6 14. Bg5 Qf7 15. f4 Nh5 

16. g4 Ng7 17. f5 Nd4 18. f6 Ne8 19. Bh6 Nxc2 20. Rac1 Nd4 21. Rcd1 c5 22. Rd3 Nc7 23. Rh3 

Resigns. Because if he tries to save the exchange Bg7 would prove fatal.

Sources: The Field, April 6, 1872; Mr. Blackburne’s Games at Chess, 1899, page 237 (notes by Joseph H. Blackburne).

Joseph H. Blackburne - Thomson

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, March 20, 1872, board number is missing

  • C51 Evans Gambit

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 d5 5. exd5 Nxb4 6. Ba3 Qe7 7. 0—0 Bg4 8. d4 Bxf3 9. gxf3 Qg5+ 10. Kh1 exd4 11. Rg1 Qf6 12. Nd2 0—0—0 13. Ne4 Qb6 14. Rb1 a5 

15. Bc1 Qa7 16. Rxg7 Nxd5 17. Rxf7 Be7 18. Qg1 Ndf6 19. Qg7 Nxe4 20. fxe4 Qc5 21. Bd3 Qh5 22. Ba3 

Resigns. Because if he tries to save the piece by Re8 the following combination is probable: 22. ... Re8 23. e5 Nh6 24. Qg2 Nxf7 25. Qxb7+ Kd7 26. Qd5+ and if bishop interferes, then e6+, winning the queen.

Sources: The Field, April 6, 1872; Mr. Blackburne’s Games at Chess, 1899, pages 237-238 (notes by Joseph H. Blackburne).

Blackburne's fourth appearance in the City of London Tavern was on May 7, 1873. Once again he opposed ten members of the club. All games were adjourned and played out the following Monday, May 12. The Illustrated London News (June 28, 1873) offered details of the continuation:

The seance at which these games were played began on a Wednesday evening at six o'clock; but, as no game was finished by 11.30 p.m., the conclusion was postponed to the Monday following, the unseeing player engaging not to look at the position of any game on a chessboard meantime. Upon the resumption of hostilities, five days after they were suspended, the opponents of Mr. Blackburne, as well as the assembled spectators, were delighted and surprised at his indicating with the greatest readiness and with unerring correctness the exact situation in every game when the former sitting broke up.

Play commenced on the second day at 6.00 p.m. The particulars of this meeting are:8

Result +6 =3 -1; score 75 percent; playing hours 6.00 p.m. — 11.30 p.m.

Opponents (board numbers are missing):

Blackburne — Ballard

1-0

 

Blackburne — Martin

1-0

Blackburne — Bearne

˝-˝

 

Blackburne — Stow/Wood

˝-˝

Blackburne — Gastineau

1-0

 

Blackburne — Thomson

0-1

Blackburne — Keates

˝-˝

 

Blackburne — Walrond

1-0

Blackburne — Macfadyen

1-0

 

Blackburne — Webber

1-0

Two games have been discovered.

Joseph H. Blackburne - William R. Ballard

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, May 7, 1873, board number is missing

  • C60 Ruy López

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nge7 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 g6 6. Be3 Bg7 7. Nc3 0—0 8. h4 

This is the move of all other moves the most to be dreaded by the second player when he elects to defend himself by moving pawn to g6, as in the present instance. 

8. ... d6 9. h5 Ne5 10. f4 Ng4 11. Bg1 c6 12. Be2 Nh6 13. g4 f5 14. hxg6 hxg6 15. g5 Nf7 16. Bd3 Qa5 17. Qd2 Nh8 

18. e5 

The accuracy with which this daring attack is conducted by Mr. Blackburne would be remarkable were he only playing the present game and had the board before him. When we reflect upon the fact that he was playing nine other games at the same time with no aid but his memory, the whole thing is astounding; and, to those who have not witnessed an exhibition of the kind, incredible. 

18. ... dxe5 19. Bc4+ Nd5 20. Nb3 Qd8 21. Nxd5 cxd5 22. Bxd5+ Nf7 23. Qh2 

Admirably played. 

23. ... Re8 24. Qh7+ Kf8 25. Bc5+ Re7 26. 0—0—0 Qc7 27. Qxg6

and Black abandoned the game.

Sources: Land and Water, May 17, 1873; The Illustrated London News, June 28, 1873 (notes by Howard Staunton); Mr. Blackburne’s Games at Chess, 1899, pages 242-243.

Joseph H. Blackburne - Major Martin

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, May 7, 1873, board number is missing

  • C39 King's Gambit Accepted

1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 g5 4. h4 g4 5. Ne5 Bg7 6. d4 d6 7. Nxg4 Bxg4 8. Qxg4 Bxd4 9. Nc3 Be5 10. Bxf4 h5 11. Qf3 c6 12. 0—0—0 f6 

This involves Black in difficulties. He should have played Nd7 instead. 

13. Bc4 

White has already obtained a fine attacking game. 

13. ... Qe7 14. Rhf1 Nd7 15. Bxg8 Bxf4+ 

This move was essential, to prevent the loss of a pawn. 

16. Qxf4 Rxg8 17. Rxd6 Rxg2 18. Rfd1 Qe5 19. Qxe5+ Nxe5 

20. Rxf6 

White has gained a pawn, sufficient for Mr. Blackburne to secure the victory. 

20. ... Ng6 21. Rf5 Nxh4 22. Rxh5 Ng6 23. Rh7 Ne7 24. e5 Rd8 25. Rh8+ Rg8 26. Rdh1 Rxh8 27. Rxh8+ Kd7 28. e6+ Kc7 29. Rh7 Kd6 30. Ne4+ Kxe6 31. Nc5+ Kf6 32. Nxb7 Rd5 33. c4 Rg5 34. Rh3 Rg6 35. Rd3 Rg4 36. b3 Rg2 37. Na5 Ke5 38. Rd7

and after a few more moves Black resigned. 

Source: Land and Water, May 17, 1873 (notes by Janós J. Löwenthal).

Blackburne opposed just eight members in the 1874 exhibition, which again took place the City Restaurant, to which the club had removed. Date of play was May 20. Five of the games were finished this day; the remaining three (against Ballard, Down and Rippin) were resumed two days later, on May 22. Woodard was not able to finish his game and his place was taken by Mans, who had the honor of defeating Blackburne. The details of the 1874 performance are:9

Result +6 =1 -1; score 81.3 percent; playing hours are unknown

Opponents (board numbers are missing):

Blackburne — Ballard

1-0

 

Blackburne — Rabbeth

1-0

Blackburne — Beardsell

1-0

 

Blackburne — Rippin

˝-˝

Blackburne — Down

1-0

 

Blackburne — Wilson

1-0

Blackburne — Gastineau

1-0

 

Blackburne — Woodard

0-1

According to The City of London Chess Magazine (June 1873, page 110), the games with Ballard and Down had an exceptional ending.

The two games against Mr. Down and Dr. Ballard were finished off by the blindfold player in capital style, he announcing a mate in five moves in each case. In the latter instance it was most unexpected, both to the player and to the lookers on.

One of these two games has been found, as well as another game.

Joseph H. Blackburne - H.F. Down

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, May 20, 1874, board number is missing

  • C21 Center Game

1. e4 e5 2. d4 exd4 3. c3 Bc5 

Black can capture the offered pawn with safety; a good move is also 3. d5. The move in the text is by no means recommendable. 

4. cxd4 Bb6 5. Bc4 Qe7 6. Nc3 c6 

After this, and the two following moves, Black is so far behind in the development of his forces that his ultimate fate is already sealed. 

7. Nge2 Bc7 8. 0—0 h5 9. f4 d6 10. f5 Nd7 11. Bf4 Nb6 12. Bb3 Bd7 13. Rc1 

As Black clearly intends to castle on the queen's side it was preferable, I think, to leave the queen's rook on its square, and to play Qc2. 

13. ... 0—0—0 14. Qd2 Be8 15. a4 Kb8 16. a5 Nc8 17. d5 Bxa5 18. Qc2 f6 19. Kh1 c5 20. Ra1 Bb6 

21. Ba4 

A very judicious exchange, as the adverse bishop is the only piece which can stop the advance of White's forces.

21. ... Nh6 22. Bxe8 Rdxe8 23. Ra4 Nf7 24. Rfa1 a6 25. Be3 Qc7 26. Nf4 Ne5 27. Ne6 Qd7 28. Bg1 Ba7 29. b4 cxb4 30. Rxb4 Bxg1 31. Kxg1 Ka8 32. Nb5 Reg8 

Black has no move to prevent immediate loss. White mates in 5 moves. White forces the mate in five moves, viz.: 33. Nbc7+ Kb8 (33. ... Ka7 34. Rxa6+ bxa6 35. Qf2+, and mates next move; 33. ... Qxc7 34. Qxc7 Nb6 35. Qxb6, and mates, in two moves, with queen or knight) 34. Nxa6+ Ka7 (If 34. ... Ka8, White mates in two moves) 35. Nac7+ Qa4 36. Raxa4+ or Qxa4+ Kb8 37. R or Q mates.

Source: The City of London Chess Magazine, July 1874 (notes by Johannes H. Zukertort).

Joseph H. Blackburne - J.A. Rabbeth

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, May 20, 1874, board number is missing

  • C39 King's Gambit Accepted

1. e4 e5 2. f4 exf4 3. Nf3 g5 4. h4 g4 5. Ne5 h5 

We refer our readers to the remarks in our issue of the 3rd of January last upon Paulsen's defense, which we consider much superior. 

6. Bc4 Nh6 7. d4 Qe7 

The proper reply would have been d6, followed, if the knight retired to d3, by c6. The move in the text allows White to gain at least a very important move for the development of his attack. We may here remark that it is generally dangerous in the early part of the opening to play the queen to e7 of f6 so long as the adversary has the answer of knight to c3 in reserve.

8. Nc3 d6 9. Bxf4 

This is high style, and in estimating this elegant and original sacrifice we must bear in mind that Mr. Blackburne was conducting seven other games at the time without sight of board and men. 

9. ... dxe5 10. Nd5 exf4 

Three minor pieces are rarely an equivalent for the queen in the early stage of the opening before the forces are well developed. Yet, this exchange was Black's best resource, for had he retreated the queen to d8, White would have taken the pawn with bishop, threatening at the same time the capture of the king's rook and Nxc7+. 

11. Nxe7 Bxe7 12. Qd2 

12. ... Bd7 

Pawn to f3 would have given Black a better chance of retrieving his fortunes, as White would not have been able to open the king's bishop's file without allowing Black an excellent post for his queen's bishop at g4. The game might then have proceeded as follows: 12. ... f3 13. gxf3 gxf3 14. Qf4 c6, and if now White takes the bishop's pawn at f3 with the queen, Black answers with Bg4; and if White follows up the attack with 15. d5 or Qc7, Black might make a stout resistance by Nd7.

13. Qxf4 Bd6 14. e5 Bf8 

We should have much preferred guarding the point at f6 by returning with the bishop to e7. If White then castled, Black had two good answers by Nf5 or Bf5. 

15. Qf6 Rg8 16. 0—0 Be6 17. Bxe6 fxe6 18. Qxe6+ Kd8 19. Qxg8 

The simplest and easiest mode of winning; White at once gains three pieces for the queen, and must at least win another piece in a few more moves by doubling the rooks on the 8th row. 

19. ... Nxg8 20. Rxf8+ Kd7 21. Rxg8 

Black resigns.

Source: The Field, May 30, 1874 (notes by Wilhelm Steinitz).

The City of London Chess Club welcomed Blackburne in 1875 on April 21. According to The City of London Chess Magazine (May 1875, page 102) he was in his best form this evening. The Field of April 24, 1875, wrote:

Shortly after ten the blindfold player announced mate in four moves on Board No. 6, against Mr. Peyer, and explained rapidly, and without hesitation, the beautiful and difficult solution, which consisted of three fine variations, giving in each his reply to any defense of the opponent with clearness and precision. This remarkable feat was greeted with loud applause, which was repeated when, shortly afterwards, Board No. 7 resigned against the blindfold player, and was renewed subsequently each time as one of Mr. Blackburne's opponents struck his flag.

The details of this gathering:

Result +9 =0 -1; score 90 percent; playing hours 6.00 P.M. — 12.00 P.M.

Opponents:

1

Blackburne — Martin

1-0

 

6

Blackburne — Peyer

1-0

2

Blackburne — Rosenbaum

0-1

 

7

Blackburne — Huckvale

1-0

3

Blackburne — Rabbeth

1-0

 

8

Blackburne — Desvignes

1-0

4

Blackburne — Webber

1-0

 

9

Blackburne — Macfadyan

1-0

5

Blackburne — Gastineau

1-0

 

10

Blackburne — Atkinson

1-0

Two games of the 1875 session have been found.

Joseph H. Blackburne - V.C. Peyer

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, April 21, 1875, board 6

  • C52 Evans Gambit

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 Bxb4 5. c3 Ba5 6. 0—0 Nf6 7. d4 exd4 

The move in the text leads to a position which generally is known to result from 6. d4 exd4 7. 0—0 Nf6, as played in the first game of the match Anderssen against Morphy. This line is nowadays given up entirely, as Black has no satisfactory answer against 8. Ba3. He ought to have played 7. ... 0—0. 

8. Ba3 d6 9. e5 Ne4 10. Re1 d5 11. Bb5 Nxc3 

If 11. ... Bd7, White would proceed with 12. Qb3. 

12. Nxc3 Bxc3 13. Nxd4 Bxd4 14. Qxd4 Be6 15. Rac1 Qd7 16. Qa4 Kd8 17. Rxc6 Kc8 

If 17. ... bxc6, White forces the game by 18. Bxc6 Qc8 19. Qb4. We may, in fairness to Mr. Peyer, point out that he proceeded with the game only in order not to strike his colors as first among the ten. 

18. Rec1 Kb8 19. Ba6 

White conducts the game all through in a vigorous and fine style. 

19. ... Qc8 20. Qb5 Bd7 

White announced mate in four moves. Mr. Blackburne gave the continuation 21. Rxc7 Bxb5 (21. ... Qxc7 22. Qxb7+ Qxb7 23. Bd6+; 21. ... Bc6 22. Rxb7+ Bxb7 (If 22. ... Qxb7, then 23. Qxb7+, etc.) 23. Bd6+ Qc7 24. Qxb7, mate) 22. Rxb7+ Qxb7 23. Bd6+ Qc7 24. Bxc7, mate.

Sources: The City of London Chess Magazine, June 1875, pages 151-152 (notes by Johannes H. Zukertort); Mr. Blackburne’s Games at Chess, 1899, pages 251-252.

Joseph H. Blackburne - James A. Huckvale

  • City of London Chess Club, Blindfold Exhibition

  • London, April 21, 1875, board 7

  • C01 French Defense, Exchange Variation

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. exd5 exd5 4. Nf3 Nf6 5. Bd3 Bd6 6. 0—0 0—0 7. Nc3 c6 

7. ... Nc6 was certainly better. 

8. Ne2 Bg4 9. Ng3 Qc7 10. Be3 Re8 11. Qd2 Bxf3 12. gxf3 Nbd7 13. Nf5 Bxh2+ 

An injudicious continuation, which improves the chances of the adversary's attack and exposes the bishop to danger.

14. Kh1 Nf8 

15. Nxg7 

A beautiful coup. The blindfold player seizes the opportunity to show his thorough knowledge and profound examination of the position. 

15. ... Rxe3 

If 15. ... Kxg7, White emerges from the encounter with a piece ahead after 16. Bh6+ Kg8 (best) 17. Qg5+ Ng6 18. Qxf6 Be5 19. dxe5 Qxe5 , etc. 

16. fxe3 Kxg7 17. Qxh2 Qxh2+ 18. Kxh2 Ng6 19. Rg1 Re8 20. Rae1 Re6 

This well-timed blunder enables Black to resign a game which was lost before. 

21. f4 

Resigns.

Sources: The City of London Chess Magazine, June 1875, page 152 (notes by Johannes H. Zukertort); Mr. Blackburne’s Games at Chess, 1899, pages 250-251.

Joseph H. Blackburne

George A. MacDonnell wrote in The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News of December 24, 1881, that Blackburne had no theory on blindfold play further than that it involved, on the part of the performer, a faculty for chess combined with mnemonic power cultivated and strengthened by practice in this specialism of the chess game.  

Blackburne explained in an interview with Robert J. Buckley that he found giving blindfold performances fatiguing, but not exhausting:11

"Five or six hours close attention to anything is tiring enough; the only disagreeable result is extreme wakefulness, owing, no doubt, to brain excitement. I cannot sleep after a blindfold performance until six or eight hours have elapsed."

The Birmingham Daily Post (November 17, 1887) offered more details of how Blackburne experienced blindfold play: 

... he has played against as many as fifteen antagonists at once without seeing the board, and has discontinued to do so only because every fresh game adds half an hour to the period of physical and mental endurance which he must pass through, and increases the tedium of his fellow-players. Mr. Blackburne states that he does not form a picture of the board in his mind’s eye, but merely remembers the relations which the pieces bear towards each other as the game develops. He seldom makes a slip, and, when he does, it is commonly by forgetting some unimportant move of a small piece which was made at a much earlier stage of the game, and which has been unessential to the central combination. His chess memory is extraordinary. Although he plays many games a day, he can usually recollect all the moves in any one of them, unless it be quite commonplace, for a month or more, and he has been known to recall perfectly the stages of an encounter in which he was one of the parties nine years before. Zealot as he is, he confesses nevertheless that, playing chess, wholly chess, and nothing but chess, he is sometimes tired of it.

The claim in this quote that Blackburne had played fifteen games at once blindfolded is doubtful. No proof has been found for this assumption.12 Just one occasion has been discovered in which Blackburne opposed twelve players: this was at Stewart’s Telegraph Dining Hall in Manchester on June 20, 1863.13 It is often stated that Blackburne opposed twelve antagonists at the Commercial Hotel in Warrnambool, Australia. He only engaged ten opponents that day (January 21, 1885). Two players never showed up.14  

The Times of April 19, 1877, claimed that Blackburne had only opposed twelve players, The paper wrote that he could just as well conduct twenty. However, eight was a more convenient number, as it admitted that the games were finished in one evening. Most of Blackburne's blindfold exhibitions between 1860 and 1887 (and in later years) were against eight or ten players.

Back to Blackburne's performances at the City of London Chess Club: according to Wilhelm Steinitz, Blackburne's annual blindfold match formed one of the chief attractions for the members of the club (The Field, May 30, 1874). Blackburne would give many more exhibitions at the club after 1876.

----------

Notes:   1 The Field, July 1, 1876; Land and Water, July 1, 1876; The London Figaro, July 5, 1876; The Westminster Papers, July 1876, page 49.   2 The Field, July 1, 1876.   3 The London Figaro, July 5, 1876.   4 The Field, July 1, 1876.   5 The Era, March 20, 1870; The Penny Illustrated Paper, March 12, 1870; The Sporting Gazette, March 12, 1871.   6 The Field, May 6, 1871; Land and Water, May 6, 1871; The Westminster Papers, June 1871, pages 21-22.   7 The Field, March 23; Land and Water, March 30 and April 6, 1872.   8 Land and Water, May 17, 1873; The Field, May 17, 1873; The Westminster Papers, June 1873, page 25.   9 Land and Water, May 23, 1874; The Field, May 30, 1874; The City of London Chess Magazine, June 1874, page 110.   10  The City of London Chess Magazine, May 1875, page 102; Land and Water, April 24, 1875; The Field, April 24, 1875.   11 Birmingham Weekly Mercury, November 16, 1889.   12 No reports have been found to support the claim of Blackburne having played against fifteen opponents. The author has searched the following British and Australian (Blackburne visited Australia in 1885) sources: The Argus 1885; The Australasian 1885; The Belfast News-Letter 1886-1887; Bell’s Life 1860-1870; Births, Marriages and Deaths 1872; Brief - The Weekend News 1878-1880; Brighton Guardian 1881-1882; Bristol Mercury 1886-1887; The British Chess Magazine 1881-1887; The Chess Monthly 1879-1887; The Chess Player's Chronicle 1860-1862, 1868-1875, 1877-1882, 1885-1886; Chess Player's Magazine 1863-1867; The Chess World 1866-1869; City of London Chess Magazine 1874-1876; Daily News 1886-1887; Dublin Evening Mail 1885-1887; The Era 1860-1873; The Field, 1860-1887; Glasgow Weekly Herald, 1873-1887; The Glowworm 1868-1869; Hackney Mercury 1885-1886; Huddersfield College Magazine 1872-1880; The Hull Packet and East Riding Times 1880-1882; The Illustrated London News, 1860-1887; The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News 1874-1887; Knowledge 1881-1887; The Ladies’ Treasury, A Household Magazine 1876-1887;  Land and Water 1870-1885; Leeds Mercury 1879-1887; Letts’s Illustrated Household Magazine 1883-1884; The London Figaro 1872-1882, 1887; Manchester Evening News 1887; The Manchester Express and Guardian 1860-1862; The Morning Post 1883-1887; The Newcastle Courant 1876-1878; The Nottinghamshire Guardian 1883-1887; The Old Cross 1878-1879; Our Corner 1883; Routledge's Magazine for Boys 1866; The Science Monthly 1884-1885; The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent 1882-1884; The Sporting Gazette 1862-1865; The Standard 1883-1887; The Sydney Mail 1885; The Sydney Morning Herald 1885; The Times 1881-1887; Western Mail 1869-1870; The Warrnambool Standard 1885; The Westminster Papers 1868-1879.   13 The Era, May 9, 1863; The Illustrated London News, July 4, 1863.   14  The Warrnambool Standard, January 22, 1885; The Argus, January 23, 1885 ; The Sydney Mail, February 7, 1885.

----------

Pictures: Blackburne's Blindfold Performance at the City of London Chess Club 1876 (The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, July 15, 1876); Joseph H. Blackburne (Illustrirte Zeitung, January 4, 1890). 

 © February 2014 Joost van Winsen. All Rights Reserved

Corrections  © December 2016 Joost van Winsen. All Rights Reserved


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