This was a match between Britain's two best players. Joseph Blackburne, the 1886 British Chess Federation Champion, and Isidor Gunsberg, who tied for first in 1887 and won the title outright in 1888. They were two credible and obvious challengers to World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz. The match was level until Game 10, and Gunsberg then pulled away with three wins, two of which were with the Black pieces. His victory in this match (+5 -2 =6) reversed his previous loss to Blackburne in 1881. It was a great achievement, and gave him the status as a credible challenger to Steinitz for the world championship.
The match commenced on Monday 26 September 1887, at the Victoria Hotel in Bradford, and concluded on Wednesday 9 November 1887, at the British Chess Club in London. The match had national interest. It was opened by the Mayor of Bradford, John Limber Morley, in the prestigious Victoria Hotel (now Great Victoria Hotel) in Bridge Street, Bradford. This large and impressive brick railway hotel designed by Lockwood & Mawson, is now officially recognised as being of special historical and architectural significance. Bradford had grown immensely in the 19th century due to industrialisation and especially textiles. There was the money in the local economy to pay for chess matches. “Between 1800 and 1850 Bradford changed from a rural town amongst the woods and fields to a sprawling town filling the valley sides. The town centre expanded and its old buildings were largely replaced by new ones with lavish Victorian architecture still much in evidence today. Bradford was granted city status on 9th June 1897...” - http://www.visitbradford.com/things...
Blackburne was 45 years old and Gunsberg was 32 years old. Respectively second and third in the world behind Steinitz, having overtaken Johannes Zukertort in ratings in 1886 (Chessmetrics). This was before the emergence of Emanuel Lasker, Siegbert Tarrasch and Mikhail Chigorin as the dominant players. In August 1886, Blackburne had won the British Chess Federation championship. Blackburn would remain a top-ten player for most of the 1890's. He had won the London tournament in 1886, and in 1887 he had beaten in match play George Alcock MacDonnell and a declining Zukertort (Blackburne - Zukertort (1887)). These were Blackburn's peak years. A great career achievement coming second Frankfurt (1887) was just around the corner. - In December 1887, Gunsberg and Amos Burn tied for first in the British championship, and Gunsberg won the title outright in 1888. Gunsberg also peaked at the end of the 1880's, having good results in New York (1889), Chigorin - Gunsberg (1890) in Havana (drawn at 11.5 points out of 23), Manchester (1890) (2nd behind Tarrasch), and losing the Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship Match (1890) by 8.5 to 10.5.
"The difference in style between the two players has been very well brought out in the present match. Gunsberg is impetuous and Blackburne is careful, but both have a wonderful power of combination, and are capable, of very brilliant strokes. The level score points to the probability of a protracted contest, but in any case it may be anticipated that public interest in the match will be maintained to the end. A large proportion of drawn games seems to be inevitable in every first-class match, but it is doubtful whether the custom of not counting them in the score tends to reduce their number." - Morning Post, Monday 10 October 1887, p. 2.
They had played a match in 1881, Blackburne winning 5.5 to 2.5. Since then they had played five times, with Blackburne scoring four victories to Gunsberg’s one. These were tournament games and illustrates the lack of tournament opportunities at the time. It is notable that three of the five games were in Germany.
IMPORTANT CHESS MATCH. A chess match, in which five won games are necessary to win, was begun by the renowned players Blackburne and Gunsberg this afternoon at the Victoria Hotel, Bradford. The Mayor of Bradford welcomed the competitors, and made a first move for Gunsberg. The Four Knight's opening was chosen, and, after two hours' play, and twenty-two moves, the game was quite even, Gunsberg working a well-resisted attack on the King side. The play was watched with great interest. - Manchester Evening News, Monday 26 September 1887, p. 3.
The match between Mr. J. H. Blackburne and Mr. I. Gunsberg commences at 1.30 to-day, at the Victoria Hotel, Bradford. The match will go to the winner of the first five games, draws not counting. The time limit is 15 moves an hour. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays are the days appointed for play. - Morning Post, Monday 26 September 1887, p. 2.
Bradford & London, 26 Sept - 9 Nov 1887
+5 -2 =6 in Gunsberg's favor. Gunsberg was White in the odd numbered games.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3
Gunsberg 1 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 8
Blackburne 0 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 1 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 5
The match was level until Game 10. Despite suffering a disaster in the opening of the Game 8 and resigning in only 11 moves, Gunsberg pulled away from his opponent in the final quarter of the match with three wins, two of which were with the Black pieces. It may be that as reported Blackburne's health took a turn for the worse in the latter stages of the match; he was indisposed after the 11th game.
Contemporary reports on the games
Game 1 - Monday 26th September 1887
IMPORTANT CHESS MATCH. An important chess match between Blackburne and Gunsberg, the scorer of five games to win, was commenced at Bradford yesterday. The Mayor of Bradford made the first move for Gunsberg. The opening developed into the Four Knight’s game. Gunsberg got a strong attack upon the King's side, and finished in a brilliant advance of the Pawn on the King's file, which, combined, with a strong position of his officers, necessitated Blackburne's resignation on the 32nd move, when a mate in five was inevitable. Time occupied: Gunsberg, 1 hour 30 min.; Blackburne, 1 hour 50 min. - Sheffield Independent, Tuesday 27 September 1887, p. 7.
BLACKBURNE V. GUNSBERG. The first game in this chess match ended last night in a brilliant win for Gunsberg. To-day Blackburne played the Scotch Gambit, varying the usual continuation at the eighth move, which made the game very instructive. At the eighteenth move there was absolutely no advantage, the game being, however, very complicated. When play was adjourned at the 22nd move matters looked highly interesting. There was an assembly of local chess enthusiasts. - Manchester Evening News, Tuesday 27 September 1887, p. 3.
The match between Messrs. Blackburne and Gunsberg was commenced at Bradford on Monday, and the play during the week has excited considerable interest. Four games have now been contested, with the result that each player has won one and two have been drawn. Accounts of the progress of the match have appeared daily in our columns, so that it is now only necessary to refer to the quality of the play. The first game was weakly defended by Blackburne, but Gunsberg's pretty combination at the end has excited much admiration. The second game was poorly played on both sides, Gunsberg missed more than one opportunity of drawing, if not of winning, and Blackburne's victory is mostly to be attributed to his opponent's bad play. The game played on Friday was the most interesting of all. Both players exhibited more boldness than in the previous encounters, and each in turn seemed on the verge of victory, only to be foiled by the accuracy of the defence. It should be remembered that drawn games are not counted, and, as one of the player must win five games, sometime must elapse before the match is concluded. - Morning Post, Monday 3 October 1887, p. 2.
Game 2 - Tuesday 27th September 1887
CHESS GUNSBERG v. BLACKBURN. This match was resumed at Bradford yesterday, Blackburn having the move and playing Scotch gambit. The game was perfectly even for 20 moves. On the 21st Gunsberg had a strong advantage in position, which encouraged him to indulge in experimental moves for the purpose of winning when a draw could easily have been secured. He made three successive palpably weak moves which finally brought about defeat, Gunsberg's King not being able to approach two pass Pawns, Blackburn winning a stubbornly fought game in 40 moves. Time: —Blackburn, 2 hours; Gunsberg, 1 hour 40 minutes. - Sheffield Independent, Wednesday 28 September 1887, p. 7.
CHESS. BLACKBURNE v. GUNSBERG. In this competition the players agreed upon resting yesterday, and the match will be continued today. A careful analysis of games first and second shows that both were faulty, and not very fine specimens. In the first game Blackburne made a few initial mistakes, also relying much upon the breakdown of Gunsberg's attack. The second was spoilt through Gunsberg's three weak moves in the end of the game. Barring these faults the games were finely contested, and never lacked interest. - Sheffield Independent, Thursday 29 September 1887, p. 7.
THE CHESS MATCH.- The match between Gunsberg and Blackburne was resumed at Bradford yesterday, Blackburne having the move, and playing the Scotch Gambit. The game was perfectly even for twenty moves. Gunsberg subsequently made three successive palpably weak moves, which finally brought about defeat, Gunsberg's King not being able to approach two passed Pawns, Blackburne winning a stubbornly-fought game in forty moves. Time; Blackburne two hours, Gunsberg one hour and forty minutes. - Pall Mall Gazette, Wednesday 28 September 1887, p. 10.
Game 3 - Thursday 29th September 1887
BLACKBURNE V. GUNSBERG. The third game of the match between these players was commenced this afternoon. Gunsberg played Giuoco Piano. The time occupied showed that the game was more carefully opened than the previous ones. After careful development of the pieces, Gunsberg offered the sacrifice of a Knight, which was not accepted. The attack is on the King's side, which is finely defended. The complications of position when the adjournment took place were so delicate that the prediction of the result was quite impossible. - Manchester Evening News, Thursday 29 September 1887, p. 3.
THE CHESS MATCH AT BRADFORD. The third game of the match between Blackburne and Gunsberg was played at Bradford yesterday. Gunsberg played Giuoco Piano, which proceeded to 12th move according to book. Both players had castled on King's side, and White's establishment of the Bishop on King's Knight's fifth gave Blackburne much trouble. White, to gain a Pawn, got his Queen at Queen's Rook's second, when Blackburne might have won Queen by intricate combinations. After this oversight Gunsberg played very well, offering a draw at the 39th move, when only Kings, Knights, and Pawns were left. Blackburne, two hours; Gunsberg, one and a half. - Morning Post, Friday 30 September 1887, p. 3.
Game 4 - Friday 30th September 1887
CHESS. The fourth game of the chess match at Bradford between Blackburne and Gunsberg was played last evening. Blackburne played White, and adopted the Ruy Lopez, Gunsberg adopting the Berlin defence. This is much the best game played so far, both masters attacking in turn, and defending in thoroughly sound style. The result could not have been predicted at the 29th move. Gunsberg then forced the game, when Blackburne was within an ace of scoring. At the 38th move Gunsberg offered to draw, which was accepted, and subsequent analysis fully justified the result. Blackburne was two hours one minute, and Gunsberg one hour 52 minutes. Play will be resumed on Monday. - Morning Post, Saturday 1 October 1887, p. 3.
At the thirty- eighth move Gunsberg offered to draw, which was accepted. Blackburne, two hours and one minute; Gunsberg, one hour fifty-two. - London Standard, Saturday 1 October 1887, p. 3.
Game 5 - Monday 3rd October 1887
THE BLACKBURN-GUNSBERG CHESS MATCH. The Blackburne-Gunsberg chess match was resumed this afternoon. Gunsberg offered a King's Gambit, which was declined. Blackburne prepared an attack on the queen's side, which prevented Gunsberg from castling on the King's side. Soon after Blackburne had castled on the King's side Gunsberg got up a powerful attack on the King, and Mr. Blackburne took twenty minutes' consideration over his twenty-second move. Gunsberg's position looks very good, but if this attack does not succeed he has practically no chance. - Manchester Evening News, Monday 3 October 1887, p. 3.
CHESS - The fifth game of the match between Blackburne and Gunsberg was played at Bradford yesterday. Gunsberg offered King's Gambit, and Blackburne declined. Gunsberg did not castle, but advanced Pawns on the King's side, and developed a heavy attack on his opponent's castled King with the queen, Rook, two Knights, and Pawns. A smart defence enabled Blackburne to come out with the loss of exchange of two Pawns, but the middle of the game was marred by Gunsberg's losing an opportunity for a certain win. The end of the game was very pretty. It was drawn when Rook and Pawn opposed a Bishop and three Pawns. Blackburne was 1h. 55 min., and Gunsberg 2h. min. - Morning Post, Tuesday 4 October 1887, p. 3.
Game 6 - Tuesday 4th October 1887
CHESS. In the sixth game of the match between Blackburne and Gunsberg, which was decided at Bradford yesterday, Blackburne played the Queen's Gambit. Gunsberg declined to accept and introduced a comparative novelty by playing Pawn to Kings Knight's third at fourth move. The game was very sound, and neither player was able to obtain any advantage. Exchanges early in the game left it pretty certain that a draw was inevitable, and, though the master played on doggedly with opposite Bishops, one Knight each, and an equal number of Pawns, nothing better could be done. - Morning Post, Wednesday 5 October 1887, p. 3.
THE BLACKBURNE-GUNSBERG CHESS MATCH. The sixth game of this chess match at Bradford was commenced this afternoon. Blackburne offered the Queen's Gambit, and Gunsberg declined. The game was remarkably well contested, and neither player was able to get any advantage. At the sixteenth move an exchange of Rooks simplified matters, and the exchange of the Queen's at the twenty-seventh move practically determined a draw. The game was adjourned at the thirty-fourth move. Gunsberg consumed less than, half the time taken by Blackburne. - Manchester Evening News, Tuesday 4 October 1887, p. 3.
Game 7 - Wednesday 5th October 1887
The seventh game of the match between Blackburne and Gunsberg was played at Bradford yesterday, and proved to be one of exceptional interest. Gunsberg played King's gambit, to which Blackburne responded with the Falkbeer Counter Gambit. Neither player castled. Gunsberg, though his King was queen's second early in the game, maintained a strong attack and won two Pawns; Blackburne never surmounted the embarrassments of his position, and Gunsberg got two powerful passed Pawns, which completely defeated his opponent, who resigned at the fortieth move. Time — Gunsberg, one hour and ten minutes; Blackburne, one J hour and forty minutes. Present score: Gunsberg, two; Blackburn, one; drawn, four. - London Standard, Thursday 6 October 1887, p. 2.
Game 8 - Thursday 6th October 1887
THE BLACKBURNE - GUNSBERG CHESS MATCH. A remarkable change took place in today's play in this match at Bradford, a game being disposed of at one o'clock in 42 minutes. Blackburne opened with the Ruy Lopez, and at the seventh move Gunsberg, who, as usual, was playing the opening very quickly, committed a grave blunder, which led to his resignation upon the eleventh move. Time: Gunsberg, 15 min.; Blackburne, 27min. - Manchester Evening News, Thursday 6 October 1887, p. 3.
Game 9 - Thursday 6th October 1887
CHESS. BLACKBURNE v. GUNSBERG. The players then proceeded with the ninth game, in which Blackburne played French defence. The game was wearisome and stereotyped, and at the fifteenth move it was agreed to draw, as remaining Bishops were on opposite colours. Play was adjourned till Monday. - Sheffield Independent, Friday 7 October 1887, p. 5.
Game 10 - Monday 10th October 1887
BLACKBURNE V. GUNSBERG. The chess match was resumed at Bradford this afternoon with the score standing at two games each and five draws. Blackburne played Queen's Bishop's opening. After Blackburne had castled, Gunsberg got up a heavy attack on the King's side and compelled him to place the King on the King's second. The position is very complicated and all the pieces are on the board, except one Knight and a Bishop. Twenty six moves have been made. - Manchester Evening News, Monday 10 October 1887, p. 3.
Game 11 - Tuesday 11th October 1887/Wednesday 12th October 1887
BLACKBURNE V. GUNSBERG. This match was resumed to-day. Gunsberg played the White. Blackburne adopted the French defence. Gunsberg eventually pushed his Pawn to the King's fifth, thus altering the tactics from Thursday's game. Both castled on the King's side. Gunsberg at once proceeded with the attack. At the adjournment the game looked rather interesting. The tenth game was won by Gunsberg after seventy-seven moves. The score at present stands Gunsberg three, Blackburne two, and five drawn. - Manchester Evening News, Tuesday 11 October 1887, p. 3.
CHESS. — The 11th game of the match between Blackburne and Gunsberg, which was adjourned on Tuesday, terminated in a draw yesterday, Blackburne deciding to allow Gunsberg to draw the game by perpetual check. He certainly could have played the ending with three minor pieces against the Queen, but it was very difficult to foresee what would have been the result of Gunsberg's attack on the Rook's file. Subsequent analysis shows that Gunsberg's attack, although powerful, could not have been fatal, Blackburne defending in excellent style. Owing to Blackburne's indisposition another game was not commenced, and the match will be resumed to-day. - Morning Post, Thursday 13th October 1887, p. 3.
CHESS MATCH. BLACKBURNE v. GUNSBERG. Play was resumed yesterday, Blackburne (Black) playing the French Defence. The usual moves were made up to the twelfth, when Gunsberg initiated an attack by a Pawn to a King Knight third. Both players had then castled King's Rook. Then Gunsberg followed with the King's Knight second Rook Rook square, &c. The game became very exciting. Blackburne succeeded in establishing a strong counter attack on the queen's side, compelling Gunsberg to force the pace by sacrificing the Knight. The game adjourned at the fortieth move. Blackburne, 2 hours 15 minutes; Gunsberg, 2 hours, 30 minutes. Play will be resumed today. - Leeds Mercury, Wednesday 12th October 1887.
CHESS. BLACKBURNE v. GUNSBERG. The eleventh game (which was adjourned on Tuesday) of chess between these masters terminated in a draw yesterday. Blackburne decided to allow Gunsberg to draw the game by perpetual check. He certainly could have played, ending with three minor pieces against the Queen; but it was very difficult to foresee what would have been the result of Gunsberg's attack on Rook's tile. Subsequent analysis shows that Gunsberg's attack, although powerful, could not have been fatal. Blackburne defending in excellent style. Owing to Blackburne's indisposition another game was not commenced. - Sheffield Independent, Thursday 13 October 1887, p. 7.
After a long examination before adjournment Black decided to allow White to draw the game by perpetual check. Black certainly could have got out with three minor pieces against the queen, but it was very difficult to foresee the result of White's attack on the Rook's file. - Morning Post, Saturday 15 October 1887, p. 3.
Game 12 - Thursday 13 October 1887
The twelfth game of the match between Blackburne and Gunsberg was played on Thursday at Bradford. played White and opened with the Lopez, to which Gunsberg responded in the usual way, Blackburne adopted the unusual course of castling on the queen's side after his opponent had castled on the King's side, thereby abandoning the King's Knight's Pawn. A very interesting contest ensued, but Gunsberg defended soundly, maintaining his advantage and being three Pawns ahead on the forty-fourth move when Blackburne resigned. Score:—Gunsberg, four; Blackburne, two; drawn, six. - Derby Daily Telegraph, Friday 14 October 1887, p. 4.
BLACKBURNE V. GUNSBERG. The twelfth game in the chess match was commenced at Bradford today, and, at the adjournment for dinner, was left in a position which did not show advantage on either side. It is a Ruy Lopez game. Blackburne playing White, again adopted the old-fashioned continuation of Q—K2 (Qe2), and also departed from custom by castling on the queen's side. Eighteen moves occupied an hour and a half. - Manchester Evening News, Thursday 13 October 1887, p. 3.
CHESS. The match played at Bradford between Blackburne, the champion player of England, and Gunsberg, now stands adjourned, the conditions limiting play at Bradford to three weeks, with four games weekly. Twelve games played resulted in Gunsberg winning four, Blackburne two, drawn six. Play must be resumed in London within two months. The match may be considered a great success, as it was supported by all sections of the community, even non-chess players, headed by the Mayor of Bradford attending it. The quality of the play was dashing and enterprising, therefore also pleasing to chess players. - Morning Post, Saturday 15 October 1887, p. 3.
Game 13 - Wednesday 9 November 1887 (British Chess Club, Covent Garden, London)
The match between Messrs. Blackburne and Gunsberg stands adjourned, to be completed in London. Those who have been interested in following the play are doubtless disappointed that the match was not finished at Bradford.
The three weeks during which the players undertook to remain in that town have, however, expired, and it appears that there is a further reason for adjourning in the unsatisfactory state of Mr. Blackburne's health. Twelve games were contested, which, generally speaking, were of a high order of merit. The score stands at present — Gunsberg, 4; Blackburne, 2; drawn, 6. - Morning Post, Monday 17 October 1887, p. 2.
Chess.— The match between Blackburne and Gunsberg, recently commenced at Bradford and adjourned, was resumed yesterday at the British Chess Club in London. Gunsberg opened with Queen's Pawn, and attacked vigorously, but Blackburne defended well, and even positions resulted. On the 25th move Blackburne injudiciously advanced a Pawn, enabling Gunsberg to win his Queen. Blackburne was mated on the 42nd move, the time being — Gunsberg, 1 hour 55 min; Blackburne, 2h. 10 min. By this victory Gunsberg, with the score of 5 to 2 games and 6 draws, wins the match. - Morning Post, Thursday 10 November 1887, p. 3.
Thanks to User: thomastonk whose who provided a breakdown of the Blackburne - Gunsberg games played between their 1881 and 1887 matches and who realised that there was another and 13th game to the match. His research provided the score to the 13th game from the British Chess Magazine, Vol. 7, p. 454. Thanks also to User: Karpova for indicating valuable secondary sources.
Original collection and text: Game Collection: Blackburne-Gunsberg Match, Bradford-London 1887., by User: Chessical.