Friday 10 February 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 2. Brixton, Benedict and Bar

This series, in several parts, is following the career - chess and otherwise - of Herbert Levi Jacobs (1863 - 1950), considered by his obituarist in the British Chess Magazine as, in his day, "one of England's strongest players". Incidentally, there was no mention at the time, that I could find, of his passing, in Chess - then, and since, the country's other monthly chess mag.

Part 1 documented the beginnings of his chess career in Croydon and Surrey. We now follow him north, both for his chess, and the first step in his Legal career. However, before we rush headlong towards the City, we need to mark Herbert's involvement in Brixton Chess Club. He is part - if a small one - of the S&BCC story, and thus of some interest hereabouts. However, first we back up a bit, before we plough on into the future.

Simultaneous equations

We noted last time Herbert's foray into simul playing when he took on the cream of the Whitgift School Chess Club in Croydon, eight of them, in 1885. He managed to win only six games. He either lost two, or drew them - according to which account you prefer (see last episode). It was claimed, on his behalf, that he "underrated" the opposition: not the first simul player ever so to do, nor will he be the last. Maybe he had expected an easier ride than with his "first venture" into the format on the 25th April when he had taken on eight "good second class" players of Brixton CC. "Simultaneous play is not to be monopolised by the professionals, apparently" commented the BCM (April 1885), in what may be a note of muted approval for his raid on the elite closed shop. However, "...he was much fatigued by the unusual nature of his exertions, he was successful in six games, drew one, and lost only one to Mr Balfour; for this result Herbert was "to be congratulated".

I wonder if the sole victor in that simul was the Mayor of Croydon, Jabez Spencer Balfour M.P. playing as a kind of guest of honour. The report is not precise as whether the venue was Brixton or Croydon, but the Mayor was "very fond of chess [and] has joined the Croydon Chess Club" (Croydon Guardian May 1884). However, in spite of his status as a public figure, and presumably some kind of role model, the Honourable Member for Tamworth (Liberal) was - a few years later - up to considerable mischief. His wheeze was to swindle would-be home-buyers out of their investments via his tastelessly named Liberator Building Society. Unmasked he fled to South America, was pursued and apprehended by Inspector Froest (oh, yes) of the Yard, and in 1895, was bundled back to face justice. He got 15 years, and plenty of time to practice his chess.

Jabez Balfour 
"Very fond of chess" - and other people's money. 
By Spy Vanity Fair March 1892 
Herbert with Brixton, and Surrey County

As for Brixton CC: they had won the Surrey Chess Association trophy in 1885 and 1886, and were one of the strongest clubs in the county. In the 1885-6 season they also played in the London clubs' competition - the Baldwin-Hopper Trophy (see here) - and managed to win the "The Chess Player's Chronicle Prize" (CPC 31 March 1886) - though I'm not sure what that was, or for. The Chronicle gave Brixton's tally that season as +11, =2, -1 and 1 undecided. Helpfully it also gave stats on members who had played in 10 matches or more: Herbert managed +4, =4, -3; his younger brother Harold +7, =2, -1. So it appears that by this time, 1885, Herbert had transferred his allegiance to Brixton, even though he still was living in Croydon. Harold by the way, was at Mervan Road in downtown Brixton in the 1891 census, living with one of his sisters. Several years later in 1894 Herbert could still be found playing for Brixton in the SCA Trophy competition, on Board 1, against South Norwood (with Harold on Bd 6) (CM January 1895).

Herbert was a stalwart of the Surrey County side for over 20 years. The Match Books show him as a regular, often on Board 1, playing from the early matches in 1884 - though with decreasing frequency after the mid-1890s - until 1911, a few years before war broke out in 1914. After the war (he was 55 in 1918) he seemed to prefer Congresses (which we will explore in a later episode).

Jacobs on Board 4 in the second Surrey County Match, 3 May 1884 
One coincidence is that in 1901 he played the peripatetic Daniel Yarnton Mills (who Jacobs has apparently somehow usurped as SCA champion in 1884-5, see last episode) who this time popped up on board 1 for Gloucester. Mills won.

Here is Jacobs loss from the 8 May 1886 Surrey v Sussex match given in the BCM June 1886 (with their notes).

- it was rather an off-day for our hero. Was that the best the occasional Surrey Champ could do?

Herbert was a staunch supporter of SCA events, and it is a pleasure to refer once again to the "capital entertainment" at the Vestry Hall in Anerley (a neighbourhood near Croydon) in December 1885, and to his fulsome participation. We covered it here - based on a report in the BCM January 1886 - including the score of Jacob's win in Gunsberg's simul, his participation in a problem solving competition (he come 2nd), and a tussle in a team consultation game in which the Jacobs' Brixton side lost to South Norwood. So, it was a busy day of chess for the energetic Herbert, but sadly there is no mention in the BCM of the "clever" Miss Larkcom among the other visitors - though one suspects she may have wanted to be there, even if professionally engaged elsewhere.

Herbert supported the SCA in other ways, too. We catch him playing a friendly at the conclusion of the AGM in 1886; and doing his stint on the committee, for example in 1893, the year that brother Harold was re-elected as Treasurer (which he had been since 1891 - The Chess Monthly Sept 91). The following year, in the session after the 1894 AGM, Herbert beat Gunsberg, yet again, in a simul - though this time Isidor took on 19 opponents (+13, =1, -5): "Mr Gunsberg's opponents were unusually strong" the BCM dryly remarked (Dec 94). Incidentally, two chess playing brothers on the same patch invites the obvious question: did they play each other in competitions? One example is Herbert beating Harold to win the SCA Beaumont Handicap Challenge Cup in 1887, and he did so conceding pawn and move. (BCM Oct 87).

Herbert with the City Club 

Back in 1883, while still living in Croydon and emerging onto the Surrey chess scene, Herbert was admitted to the Inner Temple and maybe not long afterwards to the City of London CC. The CLCC kept aloof from the Baldwin-Hopper, offering instead to its members the Club's substantial, and keenly contested, internal tournaments, team and one-on-one matches. Brixton did compete, however, so Jacobs' membership (from 1885, as seems likely) would have been a means whereby he could get access to the wider London chess scene. As to when he joined CLCC, the short biographical article in The Chess Monthly of February 1895 said he emerged "as a promising player in the tournaments of the CLCC about a dozen years ago..." - which would suggest 1883 or thenabouts - "...and ever since has worked his way up to the first rank of our best amateurs", and we will track his progress through the ranks below.

Incidentally, a history of the CLCC in the BCM January 1893 (after 40 years of the Club's activity) suggests that 1883 was a "great year" for the Club as it "shared in the 'boom'....produced" by the London Chess Congress that year. Perhaps, then, Herbert was also an '83 chess-boomer. However, the earliest record that I have come across of him at the CLCC is playing in a 3rd class section of the CLCC Winter tournament in 1885 (CPC 23 Dec 85) - though this may not be definitive as to his first year of membership of the Club. And in that same period he was playing for the 3rd class CLCC team against such as Sussex, when he defeated - once again - W.T.Pierce.

The Chess Players Chronicle 9 December 1885

The BCM December 1886 gave a game from 23 June played in the CLCC Spring tournament, at pawn and move against Pollock: Herbert lost. I give the game if only for the opportunity to diagram the starting position, not something you see often in your chess mags these days. In the game itself Pollock was not unduly handicapped by the missing f7 pawn - conversely there is one place where it appears that its absence was a positive advantage. The notes (adapted to algebraic) are by J. G. Cunningham, sometime co-editor of the BCM, whose well-turned prose belies a chequered past in the manner of Mr Balfour.

From the BCM December 1886 - with notes by J.G.Cunningham

In the following Winter event, the "great Tournament of 130 players" (BCM 1886) graded into 10 sections of 15 or so players, Jacobs played in the second class section. The Rev. G.A. McDonnell was the sole first class player competing with 14 seconders: Jacobs, Jacob de Soyres, George Wainwright, Daniel Mills, "Adonis" Donisthorpe, et al - "the 'cream' of London Chess" (BCM 1886). Jacobs was doing well at the time of the January BCM report, having beaten Hooke, Rynd, de Soyres (in short order  - on-line here), and Wainwright; but Heppell ran out winner (12.5/14), with Jacobs tied second on 10.5 (BCM 87 p169).

This is Herbert's summary win over Wainwright. It is of interest not for the quality of the game (George played way below par) but for - once again - Mr. Cunningham's elegant notes : it is nice to see an annotator (whatever his past misdemeanors) slip in a bit of Shakespeare - even if slightly misquoted (but by enough, perhaps, to have Shakespeare scholar Howard Staunton spinning in his grave).

From the BCM January 1887

In the BCM of March '87 Jacobs is reported as playing a match with a Mr Woon at the City Club, and as "able to play about a similar number" of blindfold games as Rynd and Loman. It continued: "a team of blindfold players is being arranged" - though you wonder what they did for opponents: could any other club muster so many adept in the dark art? Loman, by the way, is another name of note: not only because he was CLCC champion in 1891, and Dutch champion later, but because he also passed through Streatham, playing the organ as he did so (as was related here).

To the Bar

1887 was the year when Herbert was called to the Bar qualified as a barrister, and shortly afterwards his professional address was 7, King's Bench Walk - but more on his Legal career later.  Herbert also competed in the 1887 CLCC Winter tournament (BCM Nov 87). Otherwise regular, perhaps annual, matches between the elite Central London clubs seemed to be the order of the day (without blindfolds). Thus, we can find Jacobs in a match versus St.George's in 1887 when he played the "veteran" Marmaduke Wyvill on board 10 - "it proved a very hollow affair, as Mr Wyvill did not do himself justice" (BCM June 87); and again in 1888, when he was in the CLCC first team, now above such as Loman, Lord, Mocatta, Pollock, Rynd and Tinsley, and beating a well-known name: Rev. J. "..b6" Owen (The Chess Monthly April 88). St. George's, observed the Chess Monthly, had "great expectations...from the support of their country members; but lack of continuous practice...proved detrimental to those gentlemen", who lost 5 v 10 despite praying in aid the Revs Wayte, Ranken, Owen and Skipworth, and the good Dr. Ballard.

Jacobs was now sufficiently well established in the City Club to be able to take on Rudolph Loman in a "little match, 7 up" (BCM June 88). He was started well and his win was published: Jacobs beats Loman with Black was worthy of note - in spite of the implausible end to the game. (Northampton Mercury 9 June 1888).

After that improbable win, Loman got his revenge in this game given in the Morning Post 16 July 1888.

And here is another Jacobs win from the same match with his favourite Dutch set-up (Morning Post 30 July 1888). Loman's Queenside adventure comes to nothing and Jacobs rips him apart with a "slashing attack" (as his method was described in another game).

This game was published in the Morning Post of 16 July 1888 which also reported the final result of the match: Jacobs ran out winner 7 v 5 with one drawn (my date of June for the games is a plausible guess based on the dates of the reports).


In 1888 Herbert also took on Miss Larkcom: "Mr Jacobs entered the holy state of matrimony a few weeks ago..." The BCM's correspondent wished "the happy couple every earthly facility", he was "glad to see that the change of state has not brought about a change of feeling, and that London Chess had not lost one of its most brilliant younger members through becoming a Benedict" (BCM June 1888): "becoming a Benedict" - that's getting married, not entering a monastery, on 14th April 1888 to be precise, in the Registry Office at Paddington. His address was 41 Fitzroy Square St.Pancras; hers, 158 Portsdown Road.

Portsdown Road, Maida Vale in 1913 from here
Back to the chess. We will also catch up with Mrs Herbert Jacobs later.

The BCM was only half right, "The holy state of matrimony" did not apparently result in a "a change of feeling" for chess, and his activities continued.  Herbert was doing well in the CLCC Spring handicap tournament (BCM Sept 89), and was engaged now in a match against Mr Block (5 up, this time), but it had to be adjourned because "Mr Jacobs has run over to Holland 'to look on' at the tournament" unfolding in Amsterdam where Loman was playing. It is not reported whether Mrs Jacobs "ran over" with him. However, so busy was he that year  that he was obliged to give up organising the London University Chess team, which had been very much his baby.                

London University Chess Club

Back in early 1886, and as if not to be outdone in chess organisation by his fellow Whitgift Old Boy L.P. Rees, Jacobs set about making "strenuous efforts" (BCM May 86) to establish a "fighting team" team of players from his alma mater: London University. The Chess Player's Chronicle reported a meeting on 20 April 1886 at which it was constituted, with Herbert Jacobs elected as Hon. Sec. The first engagement was to be a match against a "mixed team" from the CLCC on the 12th May 1886. This was carefully planned by both sides so as to match the players strength for strength, which almost succeeded with a 9.5 v 7.5 win for the University. Mr Cutler, President of the City Club called for "three hearty cheers" to conclude proceedings (BCM June 86). In fact 4 LU players, including Jacobs himself, were CLCC members. He drew with S. Tinsley.  

In the second match, on 5th January 1887, the CLCC got "a more accurate gauge" of "the real force of the University men" i.e they turned out a stronger team, and duly won 6.5 v 5.5. Jacobs was on board 3 for LU, and won. The BCM (Feb 87) spun the yarn that on board 2, University man Dr Hunt "regaled" his CLCC opponent - Mr S.J.Stevens - with the "most sumptuous dinner" (the game being played in Dr Hunt's residence for convenience) "causing that gentlemen's stomach to act as his (the Dr Hunt's) secret ally. Stevens indignantly denies this...the truth is that the game was as good as the supper."

Herbert's Surrey connection served him well in setting up two matches for LU in 1887 against own County. He played for the University both times, losing to Gover (12 March), and beating Anderson (8 December). Brother Harold played those same matches for Surrey, losing twice. My guess is that the University chess operation was depending on players with too many chess commitments elsewhere (Jacobs included) and by 1889 the BCM had to report (in September) that LUCC "had ceased to exist". Not only "could Mr. H. Jacobs no longer find time to act as hon. secretary" but with "no other gentleman seeing his way to take the appointment, the club had to be broken up". Some consolation, perhaps, that the "considerable funds in hand...were divided amongst the members." London University CC reincarnated later between the wars in the London League, and (maybe without continuity) post-war, when it won the LL Championship in 1970-1 - though Herbert was not alive to see it.

Herbert's progress at the City Club continues...

So, it seems possible that Jacob's professional duties "at wig and gown" (as the BCM put it in 1889) were now curtailing his chess activities, to some degree anyway. He also withdrew from the Thetford Times problem solving competition, due to "pressure of work" (Thetford and Watton Times 26 Jan 1889), and perhaps, after all, marriage had its chess consequences. We will follow his CLCC fortunes further in the next episode - the current one having gone on long enough - when we will finish our account of Jacobs' progress at the City Club.

Part 1. Beginning in Croydon 
and see Lost in History for links to 14 subsequent episodes.

No comments: