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Captain William Davies Evans
Captain Evans 
Deutsche Schachzeitung - A. Anderssen 1873 p xiv.  
Number of games in database: 9
Years covered: 1825 to 1846
Overall record: +6 -1 =2 (77.8%)*
   * Overall winning percentage = (wins+draws/2) / total games.

Most played openings
C20 King's Pawn Game (4 games)

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(born Jan-27-1790, died Aug-03-1872, 82 years old) United Kingdom

[what is this?]
William Davies Evans was born on Musland Farm, St. Dogwell's, North Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK. Although never a first-rate competitor, he left a mark on chess as important as any of the players of his era. It was in 1824 whilst commanding a steam packet that sailed between Milford in Wales and Waterford in Ireland he invented the gambit for which he became famous. Its original form was 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0-0 d6 5.b4.

click for larger view

He used this gambit against Alexander McDonnell around 1825. (See Captain Evans vs McDonnell, 1826.) The opening grew in popularity and was later championed by Louis Charles Mahe De La Bourdonnais, Paul Morphy, John Cochrane, Howard Staunton, Adolf Anderssen, Joseph Henry Blackburne and virtually every master of the game during that era. Although currently out of fashion, it still is seen sometimes employed to this date as a surprise weapon, even among the highest calibre of grandmasters.

Evans analyzed the "Little Game of Chess" (an endgame composition involving only two kings with three pawns each)

click for larger view

to independently discover that it actually won for the player who moves first, not drawn as had been believed for over a hundred years. Captain Evans also invented a safety system of white, green and red lights at sea during the 1830s, which may be a precursor to modern traffic lights.

He passed away in Ostend in 1872.

See also Captain Evans / George Perigal

Wikipedia article: William Davies Evans

 page 1 of 1; 9 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Captain Evans vs McDonnell 1-0201825LondonC50 Giuoco Piano
2. Captain Evans vs McDonnell 1-0201829London (England)C51 Evans Gambit
3. Cochrane vs Captain Evans 1-0161843LondonC39 King's Gambit Accepted
4. Captain Evans vs Saint Amant  ½-½481843LondonC20 King's Pawn Game
5. Captain Evans vs Horwitz 1-0271843LondonC44 King's Pawn Game
6. Captain Evans vs Saint Amant 1-0241843Great BritainC20 King's Pawn Game
7. Captain Evans vs Saint Amant ½-½631843LondonC20 King's Pawn Game
8. Captain Evans vs G Perigal 1-0321843LondonC20 King's Pawn Game
9. Captain Evans vs Harrwitz 1-0251846Consultation GameD20 Queen's Gambit Accepted
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2) | Captain Evans wins | Captain Evans loses  

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In his "Eminent Victorian Chess Players" (McFarland 2012), here is all <Tim Harding> has to say about the origin of the <Evans Gambit>.

Notes for all of the subsequent information will be given in full in the last post.


<”Evans himself gave an account of the gambit’s origin as follows

[note that Evans refers to himself in the 3d person]:

‘About the year 1824, being then in command of a Government mail steamer, the passages between Milford Haven and Waterford were favourable to the study of the game of Chess, and at this time he invented the gambit which bears his name. The idea occurred to him while studying a narration of the Giuoco Piano in Sarratt’s treatise on the game of chess.’<26>

The following is generally agreed to be the 'official' debut of the Evans Gambit. It first appeared in William Lewis's 1832 game collection, when the normal practice was not to name the contestants, and it was Walker who later wrote: 'This game occurred upon Captain E's first showing his new Gambit to McDonnell.' <<<*>>> The loser was only in embryo the player who fought ably with de la Bourdonnais in 1834. The deferred offer of the b-pawn here, and in two, probably contemporaneous, games mentioned in the notes, shows that either Evans originally conceived the gambit in this form or was initially unsure whether b2-b4 was better at move four or five."> [Game score with notes and annotations by Tim Harding follows- the score is the same as the one in our database. Harding's header for the printed game score reads exactly as follows:

<William Davies Evans-Alexander McDonnell
London, ca. 1825. Evans Gambit (C52)]

Captain Evans vs McDonnell, 1825

<*> These are the two primary sources Harding lists for the game score provenance:

WIlliam Lewis, "Fifty Games at Chess which have actually been played" (London 1832), p.61.

George Walker, "Chess Studies" (London 1844), p.83.

Premium Chessgames Member
  jessicafischerqueen: PART TWO

<"There has been considerable debate about when this game was actually played, with Thomas dating it to 1826 or 1827 while the 'Oxford Companion to Chess' plumps for 1826. Even 1830 or as late as 1833 were sometimes assigned to the invention of the gambit but Evans's memory of 'around 1824' is a convincing detail, in view of the change to steam that year, and Walker's statement of the debut game is also usually accepted at face value, since he knew both men quite well.

Above [in the header for the game score] it says 1825 because surely Evans was eager to try out his idea against metropolitan experts, and it is hard to believe that he would have waited more than 12 months to do this- especially as it is now known that he visited London in September 1825! It has also been suggested that the game was played at Lewis's subscription rooms in St. Martin's Lane, which opened in 1825 and closed in 1827 or 1828, but attempting to date Evans's early games through speculations about Lewis is a rather indirect procedure. For a start, McDonnell had joined the London Chess Club in 1824 and Evans could have met him (and Keen) there. <<<29>>> Moreover, Thomas's arguments about Lewis are based on an incorrect date for his bankruptcy. <<<30>>> As for McDonnell's movements, throughout the period 1820-1830 he traveled between London, his home city of Belfast, and Demerara (now in Guyana) where he had 'extensive business interests.' <<<31>>> He certainly spent time in London during 1824 and in all subsequent years until 1835 when he died.

Post office records, showing the dates of Evans's absences from Milford, narrow down the possibilities in a way not considered by previous writers. A memorandum dated 9 September 1825 from Captain C[happell] to the Postmaster General shows that Evans, after being ordered to bring one of the packets to Harwich for a refit, applied for leave: 'Capt. Evans brought the 'Meteor' to the River Thames and wishes to avail himself of the opportunity to transact some business in London. There is not any Commander absent, and perhaps Your Lordship may be pleased to comply with his request.' <<<32>>>

Evans was granted a month off, but on 15 November he was refused reimbursement of his fare from London to Milford because he had not returned immediately after delivering the 'Meteor.' This provides strong evidence that Evans tried out his gambit on McDonnell and others during September 1825. Since at this date he was not yet involved in the ships' lights scheme, chess seems very likely to be his unspecified business."

Chess innovations traveled slower in those days and it took nearly a decade for the gambit to become popular. This followed McDonnel’s successful use of the Evans in his second match with de la Bourdonnais in 1834, although the Irish master had employed it himself (at knight odds and blindfold) in a game against John Worrell on 13 April 1829.<<<33>>> The first published analyses of the gambit appeared in “A Second Series of Lessons on the Game of Chess” (1832) by Lewis, while Walker also recommended it in the second (1833) edition of his “A New Treatise on Chess, based in part on analysis Evans had sent to both authors. <<<34>>>>

Premium Chessgames Member
  jessicafischerqueen: PART THREE


<26> “Grandmaster’s Journal (monthly recreational supplement) V (June 1872) p.159.

<29> London Metropolitan Archives (near Islington) A/LCH/1, "London Chess Club muniments," including an early list of members.

<30> Possibly misled by Murray, Thomas said Lewis is "known to have left" for Waterloo Place in 1827, yet the 'London Gazette' shows that St. Martin's Lane was still Lewis's address when he was bankrupted late in 1828 (not 1827 as previous writers have said). For more details, see Tim Harding, 'Correspondence Chess in Britain and Ireland, 1824-1987' (Jefferson: McFarland 2011) page 390, note 27.

<31> Their time spent in the Caribbean would have provided Evans and McDonnell with a talking point apart from chess. Although possibly not a a slaveowner himself, McDonnell was certainly a propagandist for them, as a quick search in the British Library's online catalog reveals. Between 1824 and 1830 he had published at least seven pamphlets about colonial commerce and the slavery question, and one full-length book, 'Considerations on Negro Slavery' (1824, 2nd. ed 1825) in which (page x) he says he acted as secretary to the committee of the inhabitants of Demerara. There had been a slave uprising there in 1823. In 1830 McDonnell received an appointment to represent planter's interests in London.

<32> BPMA [British Postal Museum and Archive (near Islington)] POST 34/13 Packet Minutes for July 1825-March 1826. The minutes also show that the 'Sovereign' had arrived at Milford on 24 August, so Evans probably sailed for the Thames soon afterwards.

<33> Harold Murray, “Date of the Evans Gambit," British Chess Magazine p.129. The game referred to is #186 in “Chess Studies,” where the loser is unnamed. There is also a brief second Murray letter on page 175 of that volume which adds nothing important. Alexander McDonnell undoubtedly took a large part in developing the gambit, as Staunton wrote in the “Illustrated London News” I. (23 February 1867) p.195: ‘The rough draught of the Evans’s Gambit we owe to Captain Evans; but it was so much improved by the celebrated player, McDonnell, that he may fairly be termed its co-inventor.’

<34> George Walker, “A New Treatise on Chess… Second edition, enlarged and improved” (London 1833). Then Walker, in this third (1841) edition, p.66, wrote that Evans ‘presented its leading variations in MS, at the same time to Mr. Lewis and myself,’ which is confirmed by Evans’s own statement, in his “Gentleman’s Journal” memoir, that he had corresponded with both men. Walker’s friend William Bone made out a chart of the variations for him, and a copy of this may be found in Oxford: MS H.J. Murray 67.

-Tim Harding "Eminent Victorian Chess Players" (McFarland 2012) pp. 13-16, 350.

Jan-17-14  thomastonk: <jessicafischerqueen> This about Captain Evans vs Saint Amant, 1843.

After 11 hours of research for this single game, I come to the conclusion that it is no longer a question of 1836 or 1843. The question I ask now is much more important: are the players of this game confirmed?

I've found no other/better sources than Walker's “Chess Studies” and Staunton's “Handbook”. So, if we assume that Staunton copied it from Walker, then we have only one source, and there the game is given without names!

Once arrived at this point, I checked other games that don't have player names there, and I will give you and everyone else one astonishing example. Please look at no. 937 in “Chess Studies”, p. 157.

No. 933 is Staunton vs St.Amant, and nos. 934-936 are St.Amant vs Staunton. That's already surprising, because if we assume that a game without names was played by the players mentioned last, then Walker could have omitted the names at least two times before. But that' a minor point.

The question is now, whether no. 937 is a St.Amant vs Staunton game? And the answer is: it does not belong to the two matches they played in 1843! So, did I discover an unknwon battle between these giants of their time?

This could only be answered be extensive search, and the result is a simple reference: "Chess Player's Chronicle", volume 5, p. 170-171 has this game as Rev. C.Richards vs Harry Wilson!

This proves that Walker did not use a rule like "if no players are named, then the game is played by the same players as above", and hence no. 983 is not necessarily Captian Evans vs St.Amant! So, a more complex search for this game seems to be necessary.

PS: No. 937 is not my only example, but the most impressive.

PPS: I guess somebody added Captain Evans vs Saint Amant, 1843 after May-27-13, maybe a bit premature.

Premium Chessgames Member
  jessicafischerqueen: <thomastonk>

What ingenious digging, good work on that.

Just one thing- I'm wondering *why* <Staunton> included the names if <Walker> was his source for the game, and <Walker> doesn't list the names? Captain Evans vs Saint Amant, 1843

I'm also wondering where <Tim Harding> got the date of the game from, because neither of his listed primary sources (Walker and Staunton) gives that information.

At any rate, I believe you have raised enough doubt about who actually played this game to justify saying the upload was "premature."

It seems so.

Jan-18-14  RedShield: Seeing that <> are in the process of removing professional titles such as Dr. and Professor, I'm wondering if our gallant captain will share the same fate.
Jan-18-14  thomastonk: <jessicafischerqueen> After another 6 hours of search I have the solution! And my suspicion was correct.

The moves of Captain Evans vs Saint Amant, 1843 were publihed in "Bell's Life", May 3, 1840! So, 1843 is definitely wrong. But I am sure that 1836 is wrong, too, as well as Evans and Saint Amant.

The only information given by Walker in this brief column is: "Interesting match-Game (sic) between two first raters." Since Walker usually mentioned the Captain and, in particular, foreign players, this game is due to two different players.

So, Walker's "Chess Studies" is consistent, but now it seems that Staunton introduced the wrong names, and someone else the wrong year.

I am relieved, it's over.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Tabanus: On Staunton in The Era, 3 April 1859:

".. as we are all well aware of that gentleman's forgetfulness, we do not care to rely upon the assertion."

Jan-18-14  thomastonk: <Tabanus> The assertion from your quote belongs to the famous Judy and Stella case. Please give my tired brain a hint, why Löwenthal's statement on Staunton appears here and now? Thanks.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Tabanus: <tt> Because I get the impression that Löwenthal considered Staunton generally unreliable as a source.

But maybe that's to stretch it too far.

Jan-18-14  thomastonk: <Tabanus> Just a few days ago I went through "The Era" of 1856 and 1857 in order to study the consultation games that happened regurlarly on Saturday evenings, where Staunton and Löwenthal were the main protagonists. My impression was that Löwenthal had no problems with Staunton, and even more, that he esteemed him to a certain degree.

In the Judy and Stella case, Staunton was probably forced to stay with the (wrong?) assertion.

Premium Chessgames Member
  Tabanus: <thomastonk> Yes, but I also think Löwenthal did not consider it much wrong if Staunton withheld information.

Perhaps the game is by Staunton himself? Just speculation.

Jan-18-14  thomastonk: <Tabanus: Perhaps the game is by Staunton himself? Just speculation.> Ugh! ;-)

To be serious: if I'm right with my observations, then Staunton published a lost game wrongly attributed to his arch-rival. This is a scandal in its own! But did he do this deliberately?! I don't think so. But who knows?

Premium Chessgames Member
  jessicafischerqueen: <thomas tonk, Tabanus>


I wish you two could have your own Chess History TV show in which you investigate such mysteries for the audience.

Has either of you considered actually doing this by creating a "youtube channel" devoted to such a project?

It's not actually that hard to get a good audience for such topics on youtube, because people world wide who are interested in such topics would find you out.

Apr-06-14  Conrad93: He is the Joseph Conrad of the chess world.
Apr-08-14  N0B0DY: [insert rolling eyes here]
Apr-08-14  john barleycorn: <Nobody> looks at this:
Apr-08-14  Conrad93: NOBODY, you may not know the history of Conrad, but he wrote his first novel while he was captain of a British vessel. He would write it on and off from port to port.
Apr-08-14  Conrad93: The sea is a good a motivator.
Apr-11-14  N0B0DY: <The sea is a good a motivator.> Right! The sea and the gallows refuse none.
Premium Chessgames Member
  zanzibar: Cross your fingers, a fine portrait of the good Capt should soon be appearing... from

<Deutsche Schachzeitung - A. Anderssen 1873 p xiv>

Premium Chessgames Member
  zanzibar: From "Westminster Chess Club Papers" - v3 (1872) p210:

<It is with sincere regret we learn that Captain Evans, the inventor of the Evans Gambit, is in great pecuniary distress. He is now 82 y,ears of age, nearly blind, and very infirm. He has a wife and sister dependent upon him for support. For some years past he has been residing in Belgium, but the doctors strongly recommend his removal to England, as the damp, cold climate of Ostend is killing him, and he cannot be moved unless certain little debts, incurred during his illness, are first discharged. What Arkwright was to Manchester, and Stephenson to railways, Captain Evans has been to Chess. His Opening was the greatest discovery since the days of Philidor and Lolli, and has caused more pleasure to Chess players than anything else connected with the game. It is proposed to raise £100 to assist him in his difficulties, and all gentlemen willing to help in this good cause, either with money or their names, are earnestly requested to communicate with Mr. George Walker, 40 Albion Road, Stoke Newington (who will vouch for the truth of this statement), or to Mr. Charles Mossop, solicitor, 1 Ironmonger Lane, E.C. These gentlemen will endeavour to form a committee of the leading Chess players to raise the required sum, and they will duly acknowledge the receipt of any contribution that may be forwarded to them.>

Premium Chessgames Member
  zanzibar: The excerpt from WCCP was from April, 1872. Evans never left Ostend, he died soon thereafter, in August.
Premium Chessgames Member
  zanzibar: He was buried (or rather, interred) in Ostend:

Premium Chessgames Member
  zanzibar: From Deutsche Zeitung v27 Nr. 9. September. 1872. p270/271 (google translated):

<Captain W. D. Evans from Milford.

Our readers will surely hear with regret and sympathy the sad news that we have today to communicate to them the death of the famous inventor of the ingenious Evans game. Collections were a few months ago in England held to give the 82-year Marine Capitain Evans support he needed urgently - and now, before the leaves overlooked the success of the general request comes from the east end there, at the news of his. Death in August. No one had, perhaps, at some time, a recognized world fame on so unpretentious manner attained, as the newly defunct chess friend. Thanks to him, countless players of all areas of the source of their most beautiful and successful combinations, and so could arguably the duration of his memory, with the easy part 4. b2-b4, be safe, but the memory of some ore dug in deed.

About the circumstances surrounding the Captain Evans and we expect about his activity as a chess player an essay in "Ill. Lond. News," we commemorate his time to use. At the same time we will bring a portrait of Evans.>

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