Wednesday 20 March 2024

Recent auctions part 2 - Transactions of the British Chess Association

 LSAK auction November 2023

The Transactions of the British Chess Association for the years 1866 and 1867; containing a report of the proceedings at the London and Dundee meetings, with a selection of the games played, and of the problems sent in for competition; edited by J Löwenthal and G.W. Medley, Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, London 1868. 4 + 164 pp


This is one of the earliest chess tournament publications; prior to this only the major international tournaments at London 1851, New York 1857, London 1862 and Paris 1867 had generated full scale tournament books. The lesser events at Amsterdam 1851, Manchester 1857, Birmingham 1858, Nijmegen 1858, Cambridge 1860, Bristol 1861, and the first five West German Chess Federation Congresses at Dusseldorf 1861, 1862, 1863, 1864 and Elberfeld 1865 also had coverage in Reports, pamphlets or as part of other publications.  

In March 1866 the British Chess Association, after a few years of inactivity since the London Congress of 1862, had resolved to place itself on a permanent footing, to hold a chess congress in London every alternate year, to put up a challenge cup for the British Championship, to offer financial assistance to provincial meetings in non-congress years, and to publish a regular Book of Transactions.  

This first Transactions gave details of the Annual General Meetings of 1866, 1867 and 1868 together with lists of officers, members and subscribers etc. More importantly, it gave full reports on the congresses in London 1866, and Dundee 1867, and also gave the games of the 1866 match between Adolf Anderssen and William (Wilhelm) Steinitz, won by the latter, following which Steinitz was generally regarded as the world chess champion.

The principal objective of the London Congress of 1866 was the establishment of a Grand Challenge Cup, to be contended for by British players only, for the title of British Chess Champion. The Congress also included a Handicap Tournament open to all-comers, a Problem Tourney with a closing date of 1st January 1867, and the historic match between Anderssen and Steinitz.   

According to Di Felice in Chess Results 1747-1900 the Handicap Tournament took place in June and July while the Grand Challenge Cup was not completed until November 1866. The knockout Handicap Tournament had 15 competitors, but, unfortunately, the unseeded draw pitted the two strongest players, Steinitz and De Vere (playing level) against each other in the first round. Steinitz won this match and proceeded to win the tournament without losing a game. 

The tournament for the Grand Challenge Cup attracted only five competitors; Cecil De Vere, George Macdonnell, James Minchin, Henry Bird and John Trelawny (who withdrew after playing one match against Minchin). De Vere won every one of his nine games and thus became the first British Chess Champion. 

The Dundee Congress held in September 1867 embraced The Grand Tournament with 10 competitors which was won by Gustav Neumann (founder and editor of Neue Berliner Schachzeitung), The Scotch Tournament, contested by eight players for the title of Scottish Chess Champion, won by Dr. James Fraser, and The Handicap Tournament with 16 players and won jointly by Steinitz and Dr. Fraser. 

Here I will briefly mention that not everyone was supportive of The British Chess Association. Staunton, in particular, was a very vociferous opponent and published some extraordinarily disparaging and contemptuous articles and correspondence criticizing the Association in his Chess World magazines from 1865 to 1867, notwithstanding that Staunton was a member of the General Committee of the BCA in March 1866 and he was "in the chair" when the arrangements for the Anderssen - Steinitz match were completed. Here is The Chess World's treatment of the Dundee Congress on page 268 of volume II:



It is noticeable how little coverage was given to the match between Anderssen and Steinitz in this book. The report was confined to just one sentence, although the 14 games are given with light notes towards the end of the book.


This confirms the view that the match was of lesser significance at the time and only later came to be recognised as the starting point of Steinitz's tenure of the world chess championship.

In addition to the 14 games from the Anderssen - Steinitz match (largely played in the swashbuckling style of the Romantic Era), the book includes 37 games from the London Congress of 1866 and 45 games from Dundee 1867. (Betts states 46 but I can only count 45). All games have brief notes. The book is completed with 64 problems from the The Problem Tourney, and a Critique on Successful Problems, followed by the solutions.

The Transactions of the British Chess Association for the years 1866 and 1867 was originally distributed free of charge to subscribers to the Association and was also for sale at the price of 3s.6d.(about one sixth of a pound).  

This is a scarce book in its original form and this copy sold for €275. There is also a Moravian reprint and a digital copy is available at google books via Worldcat. A second, slimmer, volume of Transactions was published in 1869 covering the years 1868 and 1869, and this seems to be the rarer of the two volumes. No more Transactions were published.

More LSAK auction items next time.





No comments:

Post a Comment