As I often do, I take a book with me to read when sleep won’t come.
Last night it was Tim Harding’s Joseph Henry Blackburne. In this massive (582 letter-sized pages) we find over a thousand games, many, many of them annotated and tons of pictures, many taken from the J.G. White collection in Cleveland including one of a player (Hector Shoosmith) using a new Fattorini chess clock (“the tilting chess clock”) which from the looks of the one I saw in St. Louis looks like it might weigh 20 pounds!!!
Where we all owe Mr. Harding a debt of thanks (and you can offer yours by getting a copy of his book on Blackburne) is the depth to which he dug into all kinds of publications and newspapers. Humongous! If that would be compared today there would be no comparison, period. And not just because there are virtually no publications that run anything on chess except chess publications.
The struggles are endless as are the simultaneous exhibitions and the repeated novelty of doing “blindfold games. Blackburne may have done more of those than anyone else.
What Do You Wish For?
Recently I asked a customer what he would like to see more of in our publications and he cited “quizzes” and “trivia.” His wish has been accepted and we will start out with Blackburne because he had many, very many examples because in those days he was news since the things he did were unmatched by any know-it-all reporter.
Invariably there were disagreements, false claims, and irritations. Involved over the course of this period were Henry Bird, Wilhelm Steinitz, and sometimes Blackburne as well as lesser-lights. Some of these events were amazingly weird.
Money was often at the root of problems, not having any! In one paragraph a collection was being taken up to buy a decent chess set for Blackburne as he did not have one (this isn’t too hard to believe, Reshevsky didn’t have one). Of course a set of his own wasn’t needed for many of his exhibitions as they were provided. The idea was that Blackburne had provided so much entertainment over the years that surely reciprocation should be considered! Ha, little did they know chess players because in a later paragraph a fellow named Edward Marks wrote about the lackluster response:
“We begin to fear that the accusation of niggardliness commonly made against chess players has some foundation. There are forty-four clubs in London. Only one has sent us anything. If the other forty-three will post us one shilling each, we shall be able to buy men and board worthy of Mr. Blackburne’s acceptance.”
In spite of this idea being held open for a couple more weeks, not enough shillings were collected so Marks made up the balance out of his own pocket. Gratitude! Whether Blackburne was sent this “Christmas present” was not known.
There are many such examples even better than this but this is a busy week and I have to make some $$$ myself so here’s what I will do. I have a copy of the Blackburne book on the shelf which retails for $75.00 and it’s not a joke to say it is worth every cent. I sell it for $67.50 plus some S&H at $6.00.
However I will be getting in the new book H.E. Bird by Renette (almost 1200 games, 600+ pages) which has a retail also of $75.00 and offering it at $67.50 + $6 for S&H. Keep in mind that MacFarland offers a smaller discount than other chess publishers. However, if you want both Blackburne and Bird, I can offer the two for $125.00 plus $10 for S&H. We might have to wait a few weeks to receive the Bird book. No doubt these two books will provide enjoyment, off and on, for years. Bird played everyone and was occasionally regarded as a first class S.O.B. by some of his contemporaries (even in the Blackburne book!) think a lot of this was, and is, always about money and the lack of it. Mental skill couldn’t compare to some other athlete who could punch someone else’s lights out. Bird quit (a good idea?) being an accountant to pursue chess!
No PayPal on this one unless you add a 4% surcharge. Sorry. But where you won’t be sorry is in the richness of play, players, and the crazy stuff which exudes from the pages of Mortal Combat!
Bob & Jack
Remind me to include an up-to-date price list of MacFarland books. You are appreciated. If those guys in the “olden days” only understood that selling chess books could be eminently more unprofitable than playing chess! But play chess they did. Guys like Blackburne even did his own letter writing to get up chess engagements. As to his drinking it is hard to say whether it “helped him” or “hurt him.” Maybe it depended on his mood.
PS: It is hard for me to put the Blackburne book down! Here’s one more:
Want to Increase Number of Members or Start a Chess Club?
In the late 1800s a “blindfold exhibition was the best means.” We know from personal experience at Chess Festival IV in 2004 that the blindfold exhibition given by Canadian IM Jonathan Berry drew a BIG interest even though the 10 games lasted about 10 hours! Berry won all his games but 2 (a loss and a draw). Anyway, that’s what my memory says. But where does one get such a player with that ability? I think the facts are this: it will cost you but what is the outcome worth? Newspapers are likely to still mention this mental feat if the story in the press release is written well. To myself and the average person this is still quite a mental feat. Once I played 15-16 moves of a blindfold chess game at the local airport and my opponent threw in the towel. Good thing he did because I couldn’t hold any more moves in my head and was about to agree to a draw after winning the Exchange! Blackburne gave lots of these exhibitions and by his own admission they were fairly easy and the board order didn’t mean anything to him. Blackburne concluded that “problem composers are frightful bores, and are fast becoming an intolerable nuisance” because when you enter a chess club they insist on showing you their latest positions.
While typographer Frederic Goudy was responsible for the phrase “The old guys they stole all of our best ideas!” in a way it was used 50-60 years earlier in chess but without attribution.
Speaking of blindfold chess, Eliot Hearst and his friend John Knott wrote a magnificent treatise on Blindfold Chess and also published by MacFarland. Also full of fascinating anecdotes (trivia) and a front cover picture of Alekhine sitting with his back turned to his opponents (28 of them in Paris, 1925).
This incredible book retails for $40.00 and has 437 pages but I will make you another deal should you take all 3 (Blindfold Chess, Blackburne, and Bird). $155 and the postage still at $10.00.
Okay, Okay, Okay!!!
One more to tempt your credit card. I have two volumes sitting on a table beside me of another brilliant player, from England. It was written by Richard Forster and comprises 984 pages! It’s two volumes and I will have to add some more $$$ for S&H because they are two books. The guy is an odd-looking duck but was considered a heckuva player on either attack or defense though he is also known for his “killer grip” in quiet games–the late IM Colin Crouch. 866 games and no less than Edward Winter labelled this tome as “impeccable.”
In my opinion what you have with these four book sets (this one set of 2 retails for $49.95) are unmatched historical reporting from an exciting era, no less its own “Golden Age” are games you and I can feel for even though these guys were legitimate masters and grandmasters (Blackburne, Alekhine, ?) 5 books in all for just $195.00 plus $18.50 for S&H.
We will go ahead and ship you everything and send the remaining H.E. Bird book when it arrives!
This may surprise some of you, but it is likely that SOMEONE will get this whole lot. Because good collectors know value when they see it, they will be saving future money and be giving themselves a lifetime of reading and PLAYING enjoyment. If I could have any one affordable present THIS YEAR this would be an incredible start since I own NONE of these books! Only one set without reordering. Allow a few days from me for packing and shipping. Then a few more days for the post office. Comes with the usual money-back guarantee of satisfaction. Every title is champion-stuff.