Monday, 20 February 2017

The Chess Openings by H. E. Bird

I bought this at the Cambridge Book Fair at the weekend:

The Chess Openings, Considered Critically and Practically by H. E. Bird, London 1878. 

This is not especially scarce or sought after, but what a wonderful front cover! They just don't make them like that anymore.

This book features a three-part folding frontis containing three problems by A. P. Barnes forming Bird's initials, H. E. B.

Henry Edward Bird was inspired to write Chess Openings during his trip to North America in 1876 and 1877. He visited Montreal, New York and Philadelphia, where he finished third in the Fourth American Chess Congress of 1876.

Betts 13-18 dates this work to 1877, stating that this date was taken from the Preface. However, although the two introductory articles are both dated 1877, the Preface is actually dated April 1878, and Bird explains that he had originally intended to publish in America in late 1877 but "circumstances rendered it desirable for me to return and publish it here" i.e. London.

It seems that the book was ready for the press in America in 1877 but Bird was unable to find a publisher to take charge of the work and, although this was eventually printed and published in London, the endpapers include three large adverts for New York based businesses.  

Three times, in the introductory pages, Bird acknowledges that there are more elaborate and comprehensive works on the chess openings, referring particularly to R. B. Wormald's The Chess Openings and Staunton and Wormald's Chess: Theory and Practice, and explains that his book presents a condensed, but more digestible, form of the openings. The book includes many of Bird's own opening innovations and novelties.

Bird's book was, in fact, one of the earliest chess books dedicated to the openings, published in English, certainly one of the first ten.

The board position on the front cover, and on the title page, is taken from a sparkling game between the Rev. G. A. MacDonnell and S. S. Boden, and shows the situation after white's 20th move. The continuation is given on page 198. (see below). This game is included in Bird's Chess Masterpieces, on pages 61-62, and can also be found on pages 248-249 of 500 Master Games of Chess by Dr. S. Tartakower and J. du Mont.


The analysis of the openings includes many illustrative games, most of which were taken from Bird's previous book Chess Masterpieces, published in London in 1875. 

The Appendix has 27 Noteworthy Positions many of which are also included in Chess Masterpieces

Bird briefly mentions his book Chess Masterpieces in the introductory pages, stating that the third or American edition was to be published in June 1878 with the co-operation of Mr. I. D. J. Sweet, but I am not aware of any edition apart from the first.

Few Victorian chess books were complete without a selection of problems, and Bird included 15 in the problem section on pages 219 to 236 of Chess Openings. However, there is some confusion here as only the first eleven problems are listed in the index; page 231 gives a game which should have been included in the earlier part of the Appendix dealing with recent positions and variations; and page 232 should have been included with the Noteworthy Positions pages.

The book is completed by two lists of subscribers, firstly in America and Canada and secondly in England (including Scotland).

Scribbled notes and comments in these old books by previous owners are often interesting and this book includes the following alterations:

"fast" has been amended  to "first" on page [1].

The game between Mieses and Anderssen, mentioned on pages 86, 182 and 195, has been corrected to Rosanes - Anderssen. This is game 21 from Chess Masterpieces where it is described an an Allgaier but is in fact a Kieseritsky. This is also game 2 in Masters of the Chess Board by Richard Réti, London 1933.

Previous owner also suggests B to Q5! for black's 10th move on page 105, and K to K4! (instead of K to Q3) for Morphy's 40th move on page 199.

Anyway, back to that beautiful cover, which was also available in green, red and brown.

                                         © Michael Clapham 2017

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