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Blackburne - Zukertort Match

Johannes Zukertort9.5/14(+7 -2 =5)[games]
Joseph Henry Blackburne4.5/14(+2 -7 =5)[games] Chess Event Description
Blackburne - Zukertort (1881)

At the time of the match, Zukertort was aged 38, and Blackburne 39. On the Chessmetrics June 1881 rating list (, Zukertort is the first placed player and Blackburne second placed, whilst on EDO they are respectively second and third behind an inactive Wilhelm Steinitz (

"We have great pleasure in announcing that a match has been arranged between the two masters above-named, which is to commence on the 20th of next month. The principal conditions already settled are, that the stakes shall be £100 a side, and the winner of the first seven games shall be declared the victor; drawn games not to count. Play will generally proceed four times a week; half of the games at least to be played at the St. George’s Chess Club, and the other half probably at some private room. The time limit is fifteen moves per hour, and Mr. Samuel Standidge Boden will act as umpire." - The Field, London, 1881.05.21.

"As a sign of the wide interest taken in the match amongst lovers of the game abroad, who have no opportunity of watching the match personally, and can only become acquainted with the games through the medium of their publication in this country, we may mention that some prominent members of the Paris "Cercle des Echecs" have offered to back either player, merely for the purpose of facilitating the conclusion of preliminaries. We learn that neither party has accepted this chivalrous and complimentary offer, for Mr. Zukertort’s stakes were already covered at the time the proposition was made, while Mr. Blackburne’s subscription list was also far advanced." - The Field, London, 1881.06.11.

"We are glad to announce that all the conditions of this match have been satisfactorily settled. The stakes were deposited on the 17th inst. in the hands of the hon. treasurer of the St. George’s Chess Club, the Rev. William Wayte, and the commencement of the contest was fixed for not later than Monday next, the 27th inst. Both players have been out of town, but we learn on good authority that there is some probability of the first game being played, by mutual consent, to-day at a private room in Simpson’s establishment in the Strand. We also understand from the same source that, under any circumstance, the place of meeting for Monday’s game, whether in commencement or as continuation of the contest, is fixed at the St. George’s Chess Club, 20, King-street, St. James’s. Admission for the purpose of witnessing the play will be granted by vouchers signed by both players. The particular days of play are subject to alteration, but the programme will be fixed each time at the beginning of the week." - The Field, London, 1881.06.18.

"A very interesting match is now in progress between two of the first players in the chess world — Mr. Blackburne and Herr Zukertort. The former has held the position for a long time of the foremost English player, owing to his success in various British and international tournaments. He won the first prize in the Grand Tournament of 1876, and was third in the Paris International Tournament of 1878; he also tied for first prize with Herren Englisch and Schwarz at Wiesbaden last year. Herr Zukertort, always a player of great note, has during the past few years greatly increased his reputation. He was first in the Paris International Tournament of 1878, and he last year defeated the French champion, M. Rosenthal, with a score of seven games to one, 11 having been drawn. Both of the rivals are equally celebrated as blindfold players, and in their various personal encounters they have avoided exactly even games. The match under notice was for £100 a side; the winner of the first seven games (draws not to count) to be pronounced victor. The time limit is 15 moves per hour." - Bury and Norwich Post, Tuesday 12 July 1881, p. 3.

London, 27 June - 29 July 1881

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 Zukertort ½ ½ 1 1 1 0 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 0 ½ 1 9.5 Blackburne ½ ½ 0 0 0 1 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 ½ 0 4.5

Progressive scores:

Zukertort 0.5 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 4.0 5.0 5.5 6.5 7.0 8.0 8.0 8.5 9.5 Blackburne 0.5 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0 2.0 2.0 2.5 2.5 3.0 3.0 4.0 4.5 4.5

+7 -2 =5 in Zukertort's favor. Zukertort was White in the odd numbered games.

"The opening game was played on June 27, at the rooms of the St. George's Chess Club. This, and the second, which took place at Simpson's Divan on the 29th, were both drawn. In the latter game, which Mr. Blackburne opened with a Scotch Gambit. Herr Zukertort for a long time had much the best of the position; but Mr. Blackburne extricated himself by a series of manoeuvres, and ultimately forced a draw in a well-conducted ending." - Bury and Norwich Post, Tuesday 12 July 1881, p. 3.

"The third game, played at the St. George's Club, was a Sicilian defence adopted by Mr. Blackburne, which was soon turned into the double fianchetto. An early exchange of queens was effected, and it came to a hard fought ending, which was most skilfully conducted by Herr Zukertort, who ultimately won with a piece ahead, and passed pawn." - Bury and Norwich Post, Tuesday 12 July 1881, p. 3.

"The fourth game, at Simpson's, was opened by Mr. Blackburne, who had much the best of the position for a long time. Herr Zukertort defended himself with great tenacity and eventually obtained an even game; while Mr. Blackburne made an unsound sacrifice of a piece for two pawns. Owing to some remissness in Herr Zukertort's conduct of defence, Mr. Blackburne recovered his piece, and only remained one pawn behind; but at a critical moment, Mr. Blackburne neglected his opportunity of pinning the adverse knight, which would have secured a draw, and his opponent won the game." - Bury and Norwich Post, Tuesday 12 July 1881, p. 3.

"At St. George's Club, last week, Mr. Blackburne adopted the Sicilian, turned into the King's fianchetto. He had apparently much the worst of the opening, but had just seemed to extricate himself with a fair even game when he in-cautiously left himself open to an ingenious sacrifice of the exchange. Herr Zukertort pursued the attack with excellent judgment, and at last Mr. Blackburne was bound to lose the queen, and his game broke down." - Bury and Norwich Post, Tuesday 12 July 1881, p. 3.

"The sixth game was commenced on Tuesday at Simpson's, and ended in a win for Mr. Blackburne on Wednesday at the St. George's Club. The match, therefore, stood as follows: — Herr Zukertort, three games; Mr. Blackburne, one game; two draws." - Bury and Norwich Post, Tuesday 12 July 1881, p. 3.

"The seventh game, played at the St. George’s, on Monday, the 11th inst. This game, which was due to be played on the previous Saturday, was adjourned to the above date in consequence of Mr Blackburne having felt indisposed. By the rules of the match each player is entitled to claim two days’ exemption within eight weeks; but we understand that Mr Zukertort agreeably consented not to count this postponement; and thus each player retains his full privilege for two adjournments." - The Field, London, 1881.07.17.


a) 1881 Blackburne-Zukertort, London Match, researched by Nick Pope at
b) Bury and Norwich Post, researched by User: Chessical.

Original collection: Game Collection: Blackburne-Zukertort 1881 London Match, by User: optimal play.

 page 1 of 1; 14 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Zukertort vs Blackburne ½-½281881Blackburne - ZukertortB45 Sicilian, Taimanov
2. Blackburne vs Zukertort ½-½501881Blackburne - ZukertortC45 Scotch Game
3. Zukertort vs Blackburne 1-0631881Blackburne - ZukertortB23 Sicilian, Closed
4. Blackburne vs Zukertort 0-1621881Blackburne - ZukertortC53 Giuoco Piano
5. Zukertort vs Blackburne 1-0491881Blackburne - ZukertortA07 King's Indian Attack
6. Blackburne vs Zukertort 1-0571881Blackburne - ZukertortC53 Giuoco Piano
7. Zukertort vs Blackburne 1-0331881Blackburne - ZukertortC11 French
8. Blackburne vs Zukertort ½-½221881Blackburne - ZukertortC53 Giuoco Piano
9. Zukertort vs Blackburne 1-0661881Blackburne - ZukertortA46 Queen's Pawn Game
10. Blackburne vs Zukertort ½-½771881Blackburne - ZukertortC45 Scotch Game
11. Zukertort vs Blackburne 1-0441881Blackburne - ZukertortA13 English
12. Blackburne vs Zukertort 1-0211881Blackburne - ZukertortC45 Scotch Game
13. Zukertort vs Blackburne ½-½761881Blackburne - ZukertortA13 English
14. Blackburne vs Zukertort 0-1521881Blackburne - ZukertortC45 Scotch Game
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
Feb-09-13  optimal play: <<The match was productive of some interesting novelties, which are capable of further development.

The kind of Giuoco pianissimo which Mr Blackburn [sic] adopted several times during the contest will, we believe, not be so easily disposed of if the first player takes the initiative of advancing P to KR3 and P to K Kt 4 in the manner suggested by Mr Zukertort's defence.

Nor will analysis shrink from recommending the Scotch gambit, on account of the peculiar defence which Herr Zukertort favoured in the twelfth and last game of the match, if the position arrived at on both occasions on White's tenth move is its legitimate issue.

As regards the close games which occurred in the match, the first Sicilian has added a new feature, worthy of great attention, to the knowledge of openings; but the games, which turned in the Q gambit and fianchetto on both sides, ran their usual already well-known course on the part of the attack, which Herr Zukertort conducted with consummate skill; while the modifications introduced for the defence, like Q Kt to R 3 or Q 2, did not produce any favourable impression.

The character of the play in the majority of the games was of high standard, and notably does the fifth game stand out as a masterpiece of strategy on Herr Zukertort's part. The movements of his two bishops in that game until he had planted them in opposite directions from their respective original stand-points, and the arrangement of all his forces against the weak point in the enemey's camp, combined with the fine finish, belong to the finest examples of chess tactics.

Not [sic] will the conduct of his defence in the tenth game be easily matched for development of resources in actual play, which ultimately succeeded in averting a defeat which for some time appeared almost inevitable.

On the other hand, the peculiar mode of drawing the thirteenth game reflects great credit on Mr Blackburne's ingenuity under difficulties, which seemingly left no room for hope.

In conclusion, we have great pleasure in stating that the progress of the match was not disturbed by the least dispute, and the two combatants showed towards each other the utmost courtesy and good feeling during the contest.>

The Field, London, 1881.08.06>

Feb-10-13  optimal play: Amazing to compare Blackburne’s superb performance at the Berlin tournament just a month or so later with his relatively poor showing in this match with Zukertort. Although roundly beaten in this match by 7 wins to 2, in the Berlin tournament he scored 12 wins out of 15 (including Zukertort) only losing the one game (against Mason) and finishing a clear 1st.

Interesting to consider Wilhelm Steinitz’s assessment of Blackburne’s playing style and how it was more suitable to tournaments rather than a one-on-one match: <<Mr Blackburne’s anti-drawing inclination makes him one of the most dangerous rivals in tournaments where the draws count half ; but the same characteristic places him at great disadvantage in a single-handed match, more especially when he stands already behind in the score. In such a case it is most dangerous policy to try to force a win at some hazard, for this amounts actually to giving the large odds of the draw, which, in the opinion of some authorities, is equivalent to pawn and move, while it is clearly the wiser plan for the party who stands at a disadvantage in the score to take such odds for himself by keeping on the defensive, and watching for more positive opportunities of increasing his score.> The Field, London, 1881.07.16>

Steinitz wrote that comment during this match and before the Berlin tournament, so Blackburne's rivals should have been well aware not to underestimate him.

Premium Chessgames Member
  MissScarlett: Harding's Blackburne biography, p.129, discusses the earlier aborted match between the two players. It began exactly four years previously (June 27th 1877), again being the first to seven wins, but lasted just two games (each player scoring a victory) before financial irregularities involving Blackburne's backers (see James Glover Grundy) led to a postponement and finally its abandonment.

<It is strange, considering how well the matter was documented, that some subsequent writers overlooked the correct details of this match. Sergeant said Zukertort won 2-0. Di Felice, conflating it with their games from the Divan tournament, assigns the match to 1876 and gives a 2-2 result. ChessBase has three games between them dated to 1876, one of which was actually the first game of this 1877 match. Domanski and Lissowski's biography of Zukertort made no mention of the match at all; Adams's book on Zukertort had the right result and Zukertort's win, but no text about the curious circumstances. <Eminent Victorian Chess Players> was probably the first book to give a full and accurate account of what happened[…].>

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