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Blackburne - Zukertort Match

Joseph Henry Blackburne9/14(+5 -1 =8)[games]
Johannes Zukertort5/14(+1 -5 =8)[games] Chess Event Description
Blackburne - Zukertort (1887)

British Chess Club, Covent Garden, London ENG; 7 May 1887—9 June 1887

1 1 1 1 1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 Wins ————————————————————————————————————————————— Blackburne ½ 1 1 ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 5 Zukertort ½ 0 0 ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 1 ————————————————————————————————————————————— Format: First to five wins, draws not counting. Purse: £25, £15 to go to the winner, £10 to the loser.

To sum up: following Blackburne - Zukertort (1881), this was a return match held in London, England. It was effectively a match between the second and third players in the world behind Wilhelm Steinitz. Blackburne dominated, winning by 5 to 1 with 8 drawn games. Despite the one-sided result, the quality of the games was seen as high and perhaps superior to those of the Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship Match (1886).

Venue and players

"A match has been arranged between Messrs. Blackburn and Zukertort for the winner of the first five games, to be commenced at the British Chess Club in the first week of May. This encounter will no doubt excite great interest among chess players, who may reasonably anticipate that it will be more productive of fine examples of chess play than was Zukertort's encounter with Steinitz a year ago. The remarkable game between Zukertort and Blackburn in 1883, probably the finest the former ever played, is well remembered. A match between these two players in 1881 resulted in a victory for Zukertort by 7 games to 2. Another match was arranged but was not concluded, each player having won one game."(1)

Zukertort was 44 years old, soon 45. His peak was between 1881 and 1885. In this period he had been first or second in the world rankings, and had achieved his career best performance in London (1883), ahead of an elite field including the top seven players in the world. After he lost the Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship Match (1886), he was now ranked fourth in the world.

Blackburne was 45. Having been badly affected by the death of his wife in 1880, he had recovered and was ranked second in the world. His peak was between 1886 and 1888. In 1887, he played three matches prior to facing Zukertort, defeating Francis Lee and George MacDonnell, but losing to Isidor Gunsberg. After defeating Zukertort, Blackburne went onto achieve his greatest career result in Frankfurt (1887). This match was therefore between two masters one just beyond his peak and the other approaching his steadily.


"Through the good offices of different amateurs a match of five games up has been arranged between Mr. Blackburne and Mr. Zukertort. Three games per week are to be played and the time limit is 20 moves per hour. The stakes are nominal, but it is understood a liberal prize has been provided for each player."(2) "The Bohemian reports a match, Blackburne vs Zukertort, promoted by that indefatigable worker in chess, F. H. Lewis, Esq. ... substantial rewards are provided for both victor and vanquished. This pleasant opinion is added: 'There is reason to hope that Dr. Zukertort has recovered his old form.'"(3) The prinicipal organizer appears to have been Frederic Hyman Lewis, a London barrister who made a number of contributions to chess matches and tournaments. His wife and son gave £150 to the London (1899) tournament in his memory.(4)

St. Louis Globe-Democrat of May 28, 1887 states that the match is played for $125. "I understand that the arrangements are now being made for a match between Messrs. Bird and Blackburne, on similar terms to the match now being played between the latter player and Zukertort. The principal conditions are 1st - No stakes, but a purse of £25 to be played for, £15 to go to the winner, £10 to the loser. 2. - The winner of first five games to be the victor, draws not to count. 3rd. - Time-limit 20 moves per hour. 4th. - Play to commence about a fortnight after completion of pending Blackburne-Zukertort match. It is evident that these short and friendly matches continue to maintain their popularity, and I trust they long may do so, as it is evident that Chess gains thereby."(5)

"The Handicap Tournament, which is now approaching its conclusion, will be succeeded by a match between Messrs. Blackburne and Zukertort. The idea originated with Mr F. H. Lewis, who kindly arranged the match and drew up the following conditions in consultation and perfect agreement with the players. The main points are: Play to commence on Saturday, May 7, at the British Chess Club; the winner of the first five games to be the victor; drawn games not to count; three games to be played each week, on Tuesday, Thursdays, and Saturdays; unfinished games to be played out on the following bye days; hours of play from 2 o'clock till 6.30, and from 8.30 till 11.30 p.m.; time limit, twenty moves per hour."(6)

The match was the complete opposite of Blackburne - Zukertort (1881). It was Blackburne who had the initiative throughout the match and Zukertort who was attempting to catch him up. From 1886, although only 44 years old, Zukertort's health began a marked deterioration. This led to patchy results and a fall away from the top ten chess masters. After this match, he had a 15th place at the 5th German Chess Federation Congress (see Frankfurt (1887)), five points behind Blackburne and 6.5 points behind the winner George Henry Mackenzie. This was followed by a mediocre 7th in London (1887), six points behind the winner Isidor Gunsberg. This supports the hypothesis that he was now unable to consistently muster and then maintain his physical strength.

Contemporary reactions

"The match between Mr. Blackburne and Dr. Zukertort, which has been progressing during the past week at the British Chess Club, was concluded on Thursday. The last game was a particularly interesting one, and by his masterly play in a very intricate ending Mr. Blackburne won the game and the match, the final score being — Blackburne, 5; Zukertort, 1; drawn, 8. The fact that there were so many as eight draws in 14 games shows that the players are remarkably evenly matched, and proves how tenaciously Dr. Zukertort conducted an uphill contest. Mr. Blackburne is to be congratulated on his brilliant success. The match produced several brilliant games and many examples of high-class chess strategy. The games are certainly superior to those played between Steinitz and Zukertort last year and Blackburne having won by a larger proportion of games than did Steinitz, the wish is very generally expressed that a match between Blackburne and Steinitz may be arranged. As, however, the latter has foregone his intention of visiting Europe this year, that interesting contest, if it should ever come off, will not be for some time."(7)

"MATCH: BLACKBURNE v. ZUKERTORT.-- The match was concluded on the 9th ult., the final score being: Blackburne 5, Zukertort 1, and 8 drawn games. As we publish the games, we leave the reader to form his own opinion on their merits, and congratulate Mr. Blackburne cordially on his well-deserved victory. Everything passed off smoothly, and not the slightest contretemps marred the feeling of good-fellowship between the combatants."(8)

The match also was great boost for Blackburne's reputation, and his performance against Zukertort was contrasted favourably with Steinitz's own. It gave Blackburne's reputation a significant filip - he was now seen as a world championship contender.

"I hear that an effort is being made by the leading members of the British Chess Club to arrange a match between Blackburne and Steinitz. The superiority shown by the former over Zukertort in the match now concluded was so decided that friends of the English champion are convinced that he is able to lower the colours of that redoubtable player."(9)

"In the great championship match being played in London between Blackburne and Zukertort the former leads by the score of four to one and six draws, with but one more game to win. The prospects are that he will defeat Zukertort by a more decisive score than that of the Steinitz-Zukertort match, which will confirm Blackburn's claim to the title of chess champion of the world."(10)

"The match between Blackburne and Zukertort, so long and stubbornly contested, has at last terminated in a very decisive victory for the English champion, ... The match has probably excited a wider interest than any event occurring in the chess world since the conclusion of the Steinitz-Zukertort match last year."(11)

Zukertort's health problems

It is notable that at the time Zukertort's health problems were not fully recognised. From contemporary reports it was accepted that he had a frail physique and that his health would be delicate but it was not considered to be chronic. "Mr Zukertort is now in excellent health, and if his capital performance in the Handicap of the British (British Chess Club Handicap Tournament, June-July, 1888 - ed.) is to be any guide to his present form, he will be a most formidable foe."(12)

"On sitting down to play both player looked in good form, Mr Blackburne especially seemingly being in the best of health, though hardly so stout looking as he was a little while ago, whilst Mr Zukertort seemed entirely to have thrown off that jaded look which he had on his return from the States which he retained unfortunately for many months."(13)

"Dr. Zukertort being now apparently quite restored to health, much better examples of first-rate modern chess may be expected in the match than in the recent Steinitz-Zukertort contest."(14)

"It is only five years ago that, after winning the London International Tournament, Dr. Zukertort was universally admitted to be pre-eminent as a chess player. The great strain of that contest, however, undoubtedly had an injurious effect upon his delicate constitution, and this effect was increased by the match he played with Steinitz in 1885. He engaged in this contest in spite of urgent medical advice to the contrary, and he returned from America after his defeat in a seriously debilitated state of health. After that time he showed a marked falling off in his powers of chess combination, but he nevertheless won the handicap at the British Chess Club last year. He was engaged in the tournament which is now progressing at the same club, and the excellence of some of his games gave rise to the hope that he was recovering his form."(15)

In the following report of the match, Zukertort's form is affected by fatigue late in two games early in the match: (In the second game) "... Dr. Zukertort became tired and a series of rather weak moves on his part contributed in no small degree to Mr. Blackburne's victory. The third, game, played on the 12th, was a more interesting game than any yet played in the match. It was evenly contested to nearly the close, when Dr. Zukertort overlooking a beautiful combination of Mr. Blackburne's, fell into what looked very like a trap and again contributed to his adversary' score at a point when there was every chance in favour of a drawn game."(16)

Only a year later, on the 20th June, 1888, Zukertort died suddenly and unexpectedly. He was 46 year's old. "Dr. Frank Jeeves, the house physician of Charing-cross Hospital ... had since made a post-mortem examination, and found that death was due to cerebral hemorrhage. The kidneys of the deceased were slightly unhealthy ... and the arteries and the base of the brain were diseased. ... and the jury accordingly returned a verdict of death from natural causes."(17)

Steinitz's comments

"In the current number of the International Chess Magazine, Mr. Steinitz refers to the late Blackburne-Zukertort match, and, after carefully explaining that he has no wish to disparage Mr. Blackburne's "highly creditable performance," goes on to show that "the previous contest between the same players in 1881 which was played for seven games up under the 15 move (per hour - ed.) time limit, and was won by Zukertort by 7 to 2 and 4 draws, afforded a surer test of relative strength, at least for the time being, than the last short match for five wins only, under the 20 move time limit. For frequently the ultimate victor in a match has made a bad start, and it requires no argument to prove that in such a case the really better player is more likely to recover in a long match from the demoralising effect of his first losses than in a short one. As regards the time limit, there can be no doubt that Zukertort is essentially a fast player, but I have seen him occasionally take his full time even in sittings of more than eight hours' duration, under the 15 move per hour rule. . . . . The games of the match, on the whole, were neither better nor worse than the average of games played under the fast time rule." One is tempted to ask, then, where the "highly creditable performance" comes in?"(18)

(1) Morning Post, Monday 18 April 1887, p. 2.
(2) New York Daily Graphic, Saturday 21 May 1887, p. 615.
(3) New York Clipper, 21 May 1887, p. 16.
(4) Otago Witness, Issue 2, 371, 10th August 1899, p. 48
(5) British Chess Magazine, volume 7, June 1887, p. 263
(6) Chess Monthly, volume 8, May 1887, pp. 257-258.
(7) Morning Post, Monday 13 June 1887, p. 2.
(8) Chess Monthly, volume 8, July 1887, p. 323.
(9) Sheffield Evening Telegraph, Monday 20 June 1887, p. 2.
(10) The Daily Graphic (New York), Saturday 18 June 1887, p. 891.
(11) Belfast News-Letter, Thursday 16 June 1887, p. 3.
(12) British Chess Magazine, 1887, p. 218.
(13) British Chess Magazine, volume 7, June 1887, p. 268.
(14) Belfast News-Letter, Thursday 21 April 1887, p. 3.
(15) London Morning Post, Thursday 21 June 1888, p. 3.
(16) Australian Town and Country Journal, Saturday 9 July 1887, p. 44.
(17) Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, Monday 25 June 1888, p. 8.
(18) Nottinghamshire Guardian, Saturday 16 July 1887, p. 8.

Many thanks to User: thomastonk, whose extensive research found original material in the British Chess Magazine which he uploaded and disseminated. He also consulted Chess Monthly, volume 8, September 1886 - August 1887. This allowed the match dates to be confirmed, and exposed the difference in scores between British Chess Magazine, Chess Monthly, and The Field (games 1, 11 and 13). The British Chess Magazine is the primary source for this collection's game scores. Thanks also to User: Phony Benoni who added the dates to the games from <thomastonk>'s information. The Chess Monthly (published in London) was co-produced by Leopold Hoffer and Zukertort. Original collection: Game Collection: Blackburne - Zukertort, and text by User: Chessical.

 page 1 of 1; 14 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Blackburne vs Zukertort ½-½251887Blackburne - ZukertortC50 Giuoco Piano
2. Zukertort vs Blackburne 0-1541887Blackburne - ZukertortD05 Queen's Pawn Game
3. Blackburne vs Zukertort 1-0351887Blackburne - ZukertortC83 Ruy Lopez, Open
4. Zukertort vs Blackburne ½-½601887Blackburne - ZukertortD02 Queen's Pawn Game
5. Blackburne vs Zukertort 0-1661887Blackburne - ZukertortC29 Vienna Gambit
6. Zukertort vs Blackburne ½-½581887Blackburne - ZukertortD00 Queen's Pawn Game
7. Blackburne vs Zukertort 1-0561887Blackburne - ZukertortC77 Ruy Lopez
8. Zukertort vs Blackburne ½-½321887Blackburne - ZukertortD00 Queen's Pawn Game
9. Blackburne vs Zukertort ½-½251887Blackburne - ZukertortC65 Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defense
10. Zukertort vs Blackburne 0-1221887Blackburne - ZukertortD00 Queen's Pawn Game
11. Blackburne vs Zukertort  ½-½291887Blackburne - ZukertortC65 Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defense
12. Zukertort vs Blackburne ½-½721887Blackburne - ZukertortA20 English
13. Blackburne vs Zukertort ½-½511887Blackburne - ZukertortD35 Queen's Gambit Declined
14. Zukertort vs Blackburne 0-1701887Blackburne - ZukertortA20 English
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  jnpope: <Dr. Zukertort has recently written to a friend in this country as follows:

"It is over a year now that I quitted America, broken in health and chess reputation, as I found on my return to Europe. Of course, I was nobody, and I soon found during the tournament in London that I was really not fit to play, that Steinitz had beaten my shadow. Unfortunately it seems that I lost my chess capacity forever. The result of my present match with Blackburne, which is not finished yet, corroborates it sufficiently. I play better than a year ago when I came out of a tournament as eighth, but what I lost and did not recover, I feel it myself, is stamina.

"I want to know from you whether, after all, there is any chance of your sixth tournament coming to anything. I do not ask on my account. I would not participate under any circumstances but you would do me a great service in my editorial capacity if you would furnish me at your earliest opportunity with reliable information.">

Toledo Daily Blade, 1887.06.30

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