Friday, 11 August 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 16. Finale

We started this extended investigation of the chess and life of Herbert Levi Jacobs (1863-1950) at the end: with his obituary. In a pleasing symmetry we end it by going back to the beginning, and asking the question: how did he learn the game in the first place.

But, before we finally begin, here is a youthful picture of our subject that we have not used before, from an article in The Chess Monthly February 1895 (when he was 32), occasioned by his winning the City of London CC championship for the first time.

An accompanying biographical note suggests that Jacobs learnt his chess from...  

....his father.

Which would not be much of a surprise - if it were indeed the case. Thus, when Herbert reflected on the same question 15 years later, in the course of a long interview in the Jewish Chronicle of April 20th 1900, he said "I don't know that I received any instruction. I think [my emphasis - MS] I must have learnt chess as a child from watching my father, who used to play a good deal." So, he is not really sure how he learnt (are any of us?) and anyway wasn't strictly speaking taught to play by Jacobs Senior - he just picked it up when he was allowed to watch. Victorian children, after all, should be seen and not heard.

The article was the source of an extracted photo and comment in the de Haas Collection that we showed in episode 1 (the Collection is in the Jewish Museum). In the full article (now traced, and reproduced below as an Appendix) we can read that Jacobs appears to identify explicitly with his Jewish origins: it's an aspect of his life - and times - we haven't really touched on. Herbert also offered some observations on what he saw as a special aptitude among Jews for chess. If you've got time, it is worth comparing these passages with others in the essay Chess and Jews on Chess History here. As far as I'm aware the claim has no traction these days.

By contrast, something with more contemporary resonance is Jacobs' view on chess in schools. He is unexpectedly forthright:
"I fail to see that the teaching of chess in schools would be of any advantage. It would not afford a better training for the mind than mathematics. But mathematics is useful in almost every department of science, whereas chess is of no use beyond itself. While children are at school they had better devote their time to things that will be of the most general utility."
Forthright, and - some would say - forthwrong. Is chess useless outside itself? And what is the evidence that maths is a "better training for the mind" (as opposed to merely good for solving equations)? However, we need not go into that here.

Otherwise the interview seems designed to explain some of the mysteries of chess play to a non-chess audience. It was one of a series in the weekly that serves to register the contribution of Jews to public life - Herbert self-identifies as Jewish, and that's 12 years after his civil marriage to Agnes in Paddington Registry Office.

There was a precursor to this long interview, also in the Chronicle when it gave a short report of Herbert's dramatic win in the March 1900 Anglo-American Cable match (see episode 5).

"Talented player"..."dashing style"...and, in the longer article, "usual lively style": all familiar epithets applied to Herbert throughout his career, and they account, in part, for his popularity in the chess community. But that's not the last we hear of Herbert in the Jewish Chronicle. In January 4th 1901 he appears in a report of a correspondence game with the Chess Society of the Manchester Jewish Working Men's Club, as spotted by Tim Harding (see for example here).


"One move per week" suggests that the game may have started back in late 1900. Alas I have not been able to find any other reference in the Jewish Chronicle of 1901 or 1902 to explain what else happened in the game (7...P-K3 is obviously a typo); though I did notice, in a note in the issue of 4th April 1902, under "Manchester News" that the M.J.W.M.C. Chess Society "no longer continue[s] its active usefulness". The only other chess references that I found in the year or two following are to Jacobs' progress in the City of London CC championship in the same January 1901 issue, and this from December later in the same year, also under "Manchester News":

This time it is Lasker and Janowski who are identified as Jews, though it is the Lasker-Manchester connection, rather than the chess as such, that was the real news.

Let's get back to the beginning again (as promised above). As we haven't had any proper chess for a long time in this series, I give below the earliest Jacobs' games that I have been able to find. They are from 1883, which is earlier even than the games against Sussex champion Pierce played after Jacobs won the Surrey County championship, one of which we gave in episode 1. These early games are energetic, though lightweight: Jacobs blew away his opponents in short order - he was in a clearly in a different league. Both games were played in the Croydon Guardian Correspondence Tournament, and were reported in the press in July 1883 with notes in the same no-nonsense style. The first was published in the Croydon Guardian July 14 1883.

And the second in the Surrey County Gazette July 21 1883.

This was at the time of Herbert's early association with Croydon CC, after which came his involvement with Brixton CC - and that continued beyond up to and beyond 1924, the year when we find him, on June 20th, at the Annual Dinner of the Club. There was a report in the BCM of the high jinks at the occasion (below). It is likely to be of particular interest to my fellow members of Streatham and Brixton Chess Club as they prepare for their 2017 AGM (note, dear colleagues, the attendance figure).  The 1924 event was a jolly affair not confining itself to such routine business as the celebration of the club's triumphs i.e. topping Division 1 of the London League - for the third time - and the winning the Surrey Trophy - for the fifth season in succession. In general, the club appears to have been an all-singing and all-dancing combo:
  "The third Annual Dinner of the Brixton Chess Club was held at the Half Moon Hotel, Herne Hill, on June 20th, about forty members being present.
   Dr. F.St.J. Steadman proved a genial chairman and great cordiality characterised the proceedings. E.S.Tinsley gave the toast of the club and referred to the fact that Brixton had after many years again won the London Chess League Shield.  The response was by G. A. Felce.
   H. Buck proposed the Visitors, and Herbert Jacobs in a witty speech replied.
   A delightful programme of music was given, all the artists being genuine chess players, G. R. Hardcastle (hon. secretary, London Chess League), the brothers H. G. and P. W. Tempest, H. Williams, A. E. Pavey (hon. secretary, Brixton C.C.) with B. Herring at the piano."
Once again Herbert Jacobs appeared in the record doing what made him so popular. He was given to witty turns in his role as a barrister, as well. There was, to take one example, that "one move took a month" (and a whole game four years) gag in court in 1939. We mentioned it in episode 14. It merited a cartoon in the Birmingham Gazette 18 May 1939, where the pondering chesser bears a coincidental similarity to someone else familiar from a World Championship Match 33 years later.

(Photo flipped) 
It was remiss not to mention before that the above court appearance by Jacobs was in a suit for damages brought by the Jaques Company where they claimed the exclusive right to apply the term "genuine Staunton" to their chess sets. Staunton himself had authenticated the design Jaques employed. B.H.Wood (well-known as the founder of Chess magazine) was the alleged transgressor, having appropriated the label for his own merchandising. In court, the Judge was apparently impressed by the evidence, on Wood's behalf, from an impressive list of chess players, and in a canny verdict declared that "Staunton" referred to a design and not its manufacture, thus anyone could use the name, though only Jacques could attach the appellation "genuine Staunton" to their product. The judge was inclined not to award costs to either side - adjudicated a draw, you might say (Birmingham Daily Post 27 May 1939) - but Jaques and Co. pursued the point...and then that was appealed...etc., etc. (See more at Chess History here @ 1939).

Jacobs' way with words was the tool of his trade in the courts, but this talent was also deployed in the chess world: not only informally as in Brixton in 1924, as noted above, but formally at Congress dinners etc., for example on behalf of the BCF at Cheltenham in 1913, and Malvern 1921. He also entertained as a lecturer on chess matters: "the Art of Combinations" to the National Liberal Club Chess Association in 1911, "illustrated by means of a vertical chess board and chess men" (London Daily News 12 Oct), was one of his efforts. The NLC must have, by then, made their peace with Jacobs: you'll remember from episode 11 his indiscretion in December of the previous year when, even though himself a Liberal, he stood on a women's suffrage ticket against the official Liberal candidate in the General Election. He spoke on Bird's Opening to the CLCC in 1912, also "with illustrations" - the game with Ruth, below, no doubt - (Globe 14 Sep); and, as we noted in episode 9, he explored the parallels between Chess and War in 1915/6 at the NLC, and Hampstead CC. His popularity, and willingness to engage at club level, is evidenced by the number of simultaneous displays he gave. He was not a chess professional, nor even semi-professional, and one doubts that such engagements were necessary to supplement his barrister's income: they were more likely borne out of a sense of service to the chess community.      

In that way Jacobs also took up various elected positions in the chess world, and was honoured in return. Earlier episodes have noted his office-bearing for the Surrey Chess Association - even if it was perhaps honorific only. His long involvement with the City of London CC, which he joined in the 1880s, is recognised in his Vice-presidency to which there are various references: in 1906, again in 1924 and, yet again, in 1934. He was elected President of the London League in 1915 and a Life Member of the British Chess Federation in, or about, 1920.  

To wind up this final episode it is worth noting once again the comment in the BCM in 1941 in course of a sympathetic report about Jacobs' chambers having sustained bomb damage. The BCM felt it necessary to address its comment "to those that remember" him, suggesting that Herbert was - at the age of 78 - no longer an active presence on the chess scene. The magazine said that for many years he "represented what is best in British amateur chess": a tribute of which he could be proud.

After the war he was at the same address - 57 Talbot Road, near Westbourne Grove - until his death on 11th February 1950. There is not much to say about these few post-war years. Jacobs faded from public view, to be cared for by family members. Joy Larkcom (his grand-daughter) mentioned to me a half-remembered family story of Herbert tending an allotment - a nice echo of episode 15. I wondered whether this might have been a "dig for victory" conversion of the manicured lawns of the Inns of Court, relishing the thought of Jacobs in wig, gown and wellies - but their archivist told me that, while there is suggestion of an allotment among the barrage balloon cables, unfortunately there is no record of our learned friend contributing in this way to the war effort.

Finally then, his obituary in the BCM, by E.G. Sergeant. He was generous about Jacobs' chess, while putting his finger on Jacobs' limitations. He is also referred to Jacobs' "banter...never barbed with malice". But otherwise he omits, sadly, any mention of the other aspects of Herbert Jacobs' rich life, for which this series has - I hope - provided a remedy. The game Sergeant gave, against Ruth in the 1909 Cable Match, was, he says "one of [Jacobs'] best". It is a fitting way to finish this series.

This is the splendid photograph of Herbert Jacobs in the John White collection at Cleveland Public Library kindly brought to our attention by Gerard Killoran - see Comment Box below. It is undated, but Jacobs looks in his 30s/early 40s.

Thanks again to Dr. Tim Harding for the postal game tip (also referenced in his history of correspondence chess), to James Lloyd at the Inns of Court Archive, and Joy Larkcom for her continuing interest (I have just received today - the day of posting - the sad news that Joy's husband Don Pollard, mentioned in episode 15, has passed away. Condolences to the family).

Previous episodes: 1. Beginning in Croydon2. Brixton, Benedict and Bar3.City Champ4. Congress Man5. A Load of Old Cablers6.Engaging Agnes7. Congress Man Replayed8. Madame Larkcom9. Jacobs Crackers10. Votes for Women!  11. Votes for Jacobs! 12 Intermission Riff13 Barrister. 14.Still at the Bar15. Down the Line. See also Lost in History; and more Chess History

Appendix: Interview in the Jewish Chronicle April 20 1900


Ilkley Chess said...

There is a nice photo of Herbert here...

...which I don't think you've used

Thanks for the series, its been fun reading it.


Martin Smith said...

Thanks Gerard. Pleased that you enjoyed it all. And thanks for the photo reference. When/if I can get beat Blogger into submission I'll add it to the post.

Martin Smith said...

Now done.

Ilkley Chess said...

I think I have found his earliest published OTB games...

[Event "Surrey Challenge Cup"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1884.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Jacobs, Herbert Levi"]
[Black "Collins, Mr."]
[Result "1-0"]
[ECO "C30"]
[Opening "KGD: classical variation"]

1. e4 e5 2. f4 Bc5 3. Nf3 exf4 (3... d6 {is the correct move. White now obtains
the better game.}) 4. d4 Bb6 5. Bxf4 d6 6. Bc4 Be6 7. Bxe6 fxe6 8. Bg5 Qd7 (8...
Ne7 {or}) (8... Nf6 {quite safe, is preferable.}) 9. O-O Nc6 10. c3 h6 11. Be3
g5 {Premature. Black should not attack before castling Q side.} 12. Nh4 {Pretty
and sound; the capture of the Kt involves immediate loss of the game.} 12...
gxh4 {Stupidly reckless; if} (12... O-O-O 13. Ng6 {wins the exchange. Black
might also defend by}) (12... Ne5 {but in any case he has an inferior game. E.
J. Winter-Wood in the Hampshire Magazine}) 13. Qh5+ Kd8 14. Rf8+ Ke7 15. Qf7#
{The Leeds Mercury, Saturday, March 8, 1884 p.7} 1-0

[Event "Counties Chess Association Handicap Tournament"]
[Site "Birmingham"]
[Date "1883.??.??"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Jacobs, Herbert Levi"]
[Black "Leather, Robinson Kay"]
[Result "1-0"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "rnbqkbnr/ppppp1pp/8/8/8/8/PPPPPPPP/RNBQKBNR w KQkq - 0 1"]

1. e4 e6 {I rather like c5 first move.} 2. d4 c5 3. c3 d5 4. e5 {This move is
quite satisfactory at these odds, though it would be weak in equal game.} 4...
Nc6 5. Nf3 Qb6 {This, with the following moves results in a decided loss of
position. I should prefer to develop by 5...g6 follwed by Nh6.} 6. Bd3 cxd4 7.
cxd4 Bb4+ 8. Nc3 Nge7 9. O-O Bxc3 {Again not good - though it is difficult to
find a good move. Of course castling is out of the question.} 10. bxc3 Qc7 11.
Ba3 b6 12. Bd6 Qb7 13. Ng5 g6 14. Qf3 Nd8 15. Bb5+ Bd7 {Mr. Leather is probably
not quite at home at these odds, and his opponent plays the whole game in good
style.} 16. Qf6 Bxb5 17. Qxh8+ Kd7 18. Qxh7 Nc6 19. Rfb1 Bd3 20. Rd1 Bc4 21. Qf7
Kc8 22. Qxe6+ Kd8 23. Bxe7+ {Notes by Arthur Marriott - The Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Saturday, March 22, 1884 p.8} 1-0

The latter chess column has a problem by A. F. Mackenzie 'Inscribed in congratulation to Miss Agnes Larkcom, a first prize winner in the M. R. Solution Tourney.'

Martin Smith said...

Thanks Gerard. Brilliant.

I feel an Episode 17 coming on...

Hans Renette said...

Truly wonderful! I am looking forward to further articles on some Victorians.


Martin Smith said...

Thanks, Hans.

Maybe more...but no promises.