Friday 10 March 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 4. Congress Man

Episode 1 of this account of the life and chess of Herbert Jacobs (1863 - 1950) - in his time one of England's strongest players (said his obituary) - showed him making his mark on local chess in Croydon. Episode 2 followed him to Brixton, and episode 3 took him to the top of the mighty City of London Chess Club ten years later. He had by this time also got himself a job, and a wife. What follows in this series is organised more by theme than chronology - though the distinction is rather porous and now and then they will cross-reference. This episode follows a Congress thread, and will help give an insight into the strengths and weaknesses of Jacobs' chess. It includes games of some weight, and less. The episode begins by going back in time so as then to progress into the future and the 1920s; by the end of it you will also have a good idea of how Herbert cut a dash in front of the camera.

Quite early on - in 1885 - Jacobs stepped tentatively on to the Congress stage, though not, it would seem, by entering an OTB tournament. Rather, he entered a three-move problem solving competition, which he won, at the British Chess Association's London Congress - its first. He cracked the one below in "about 10 minutes" to win (Morning Post 29 June 1885).

White to play and mate in 3.
Also used in The Chess Monthly solving competition  
It was a tentative beginning, just dipping in his toe, perhaps. Now we will watch him venture deeper into Congressional waters.

In At the Shallow End

So, although Jacobs was there at the Divan in 1885 for the first BCA Congress, he didn't appear to compete for any of the prizes for live play, and they included some special ones: the Poet Laureate's Prize from Alfred Lord Tennyson (President of the BCA), for men of the Church, law, medicine army and navy; and the John Ruskin Prize, for the best performing (at the board) men of the arts, science or literature. The likes of "Adonis" Donisthorpe - renowned for his doggerel in verse, but "notorious for his eccentricities" at the board (The Chess Monthly Oct 86) - was in contention for the former; Brixtonian chesser and artist Wyke Bayliss ("Sir" from 1897) for the latter - he became President of the Royal Academy.

The following year, 1886, Jacobs competed OTB in the second BCA Congress, also in London but this time at the Criterion and, after winning a play-off, finished in 5th place. He also managed to win the Ruskin prize in the Amateur tournament - it was a "fine selection of Ruskin's works, beautifully bound, presented by himself, and bearing his autograph" (BCM Jan 1900 p65), and much in vogue at the time (especially in our neck of the woods: see here). The Chess Monthly (Sep 86) approvingly referred to Herbert as "well-known as an ingenious composer of problems, and his victories [in the tournament] attest his proficiency in the game."

In August 1887 Herbert sallied forth from London to Stamford for the Counties Chess Association Congress, though he may have wished he hadn't bothered: there were only 4 entrants in his section (which he won), and he was knocked out in round 1 of the Handicap tournament by Pollock. The Congress was more noteworthy for the "heated controversy" following objections raised by other members of the CCA at the Reverend Arthur Skipworth's (head honcho CCA) autocratic conduct of the event, which "was nothing but a private undertaking". The Reverend Gentleman had his supporters, including the Reverend George MacDonnell who, with biblical allusion, eulogised him (ISDN 24 Sep) as "not merely the representative, but the incarnation" of the CCA - which surely was exactly the problem. It all makes for entertaining reading - the Chess Notes of the Nottinghamshire Guardian 20 August 1887 carried the story, gleefully recycling the Manchester Evening News. The sorry business is also covered in Renette (2016) pp 380-2, and touched on in Harding (2012) pp151-2.
In 1889, a year when, as we discovered in previous episodes, Jacobs seemed to be busy at work and obliged to trim back his chess activity, he was nonetheless in Bath for the Southern Counties Chess Union Congress, coming 2nd in his section on 12.5 (Sergeant p 238). Skip a couple of years and in March 1892 we catch him again at the BCA Amateur Championship, held this time at the British Chess Club (London Daily News 8 March 92) finishing 3rd equal and carrying off an "enameled bronze badge...artistically designed...[with]...the letters B.C.A. entwined...".

We pick up his trail in 1895, just as he was crowned CLCC champion. He won the first prize (i.e. the Challenge Cup and 8 guineas (BCM Jan 95)) at Craigside without losing or drawing a single game (CM Feb 95), playing also in a handicap tournament but finishing 5th/8 (BCM July 85 pp332-3 has the score of Rev Owen v Jacobs). Later that busy year Jacobs was in Section 2 of the Amateur tournament at Hastings. However, he scored only 4, well behind Loman on 5.5. "As Champion of the CLCC [he] didn't do himself justice" (BCM Sept 95) - witness his rout by Thorold on line here. The following year he competed again in the SCCU Amateurs, this time at Clifton, where he finished =3-5. Atkins won, chewing up Jacobs as he did so. 

From BCM November 1896 - notes by C.E.Rankin

It was about this time that Jacobs became involved in the Anglo-American cable matches - he played in seven of these between 1896 and 1909. They will provide the subject for the next episode. At the turn of the century, in 1900, he was at Bath again at the SCCU Congress, coming second to Atkins in the Class 1 Amateur tournament (the full tournament tables are in the Western Daily Press 13 September 1900, with scores of Jacobs v Stevenson 1-0, 28, in Falkirk Herald 12 Sep 00, and Jones-Bateman v Jacobs 1-0, 38, in ILN 22 Sep 00). He would have been first equal but for blowing his last round game (ISDN 22 Sept 1900)  - same old, same old, as we'll see. The additional interest for followers of Lost on Time may be the coincidental participation of the divine Louisa Matilda Fagan, in the Class II Section A tournament. I do hope she and Herbert found time to talk about votes for women between rounds.

As far as I can tell, Jacobs may not have then competed in tournaments - other than in his London clubs - until 1904, when he appeared at Hastings. This was to mark a step change in his level of competition: he entered the principal BCF event, the British Chess Championship - which he continued to do, on and off, over the next two decades until 1925.

Up At The Deep End

My chess-chum from school days, Paul Timson, has made a statistical analysis of Jacob's British Championship appearances, reproduced below, with thanks.          

Jacobs entered eight times over two decades, four times each side of the 1914-18 war. However he never reached the heights, barely even the top half of the table, yet one has to admire his perseverance against top opposition, even in his 62th year in 1925.

It's worth have a look for tit-bits in his Championship appearances, tournament by tournament. Take 1904, for example, the first BCF Championship, held in Hastings, when Jacobs might have rubbed shoulders again with Mrs Fagan. She was there: not playing this time it seems, but kibitzing and, according to the BCM October 1904, taking part in a problem solving contest.

There are some telling observations from the Western Daily Mail about Jacobs, to whom "one instinctively turns for something lively": so, anyone looking "for fun" at his board, "[was] not disappointed" (WDM 2 Sept 04). He was playing Napier, and the report continued apace: "The spectators experienced excitement on seeing Jacobs could draw. Napier, after having won a pawn, allowed his rook to get into such a position that Jacobs could compel it to move backwards and forwards." The WDM then spelled out the position, with commentary (below) on the ensuing moves.

From the Western Daily Mail 2 September 1904 - with their commentary

Thus, said the BCM, Jacobs was "not the player to accept a draw if he thinks he can win - even though...he lose in the attempt to achieve victory". In the event he was not the only one to rue his ambition - Atkins also: by declining the draw "offered by Napier" the latter's win enabled him to tie with Atkins for first place.

Jacobs' earlier win over Chepwell appeared in The Daily News of  26 August 1904 - "lively chess" it said, of a Jacobs' King's Bishop Gambit in which, once again, a Rook went walkabout - and there had been more excitement at Jacob's loss to Blackburne when, after a pawn sac for an attack, Herbert failed "at the decisive moment to push it home with the same vigour as commenced" (The Field 27 Aug 04 given in Tim Harding's Blackburne 2015 pp 430-1). Tim says that after move 27 "the game score appears not to have been preserved in any publication" - to which we can add a detail: that Jacobs hung on until "Blackburne scored in about 60 moves" (London Daily News 5 Aug).

Jacobs loss to Atkins was another tale of woe. "At the...adjournment Jacobs had two passed pawns...and it looked like Atkins must immediately resign. Then Jacobs continued to lose his advantage, and presently he was himself fighting against the odds...Eventually Atkins won." (London Daily News 29 Aug). The game-score gremlins got into this one as well. The Western Daily Press version is shown below, and you can see the BCM deviation from move 42 on Britbase, although the WDP actually has some variation even a bit earlier.

All in all, the 1904 Championship must have been a disappointment for Jacobs, and not an auspicious start to his career in the British. However, the Atkins game had to be played outwith the regular schedule to accommodate Jacobs' business obligations, so maybe he was distracted throughout the tournament.
Jacobs was at Shrewsbury during the BCF Congress in August 1906, but he didn't compete in the Championship, contenting himself with winning a one-week First Class Tournament (Manchester Guardian 18 Aug 06 quoted on Britbase), and coming 3rd in an afternoon lightning tournament. We can, by the way, note an interesting development in his club affiliation that year, because he now appears for Hampstead CC in the London League. He was, said the BCM in May, one of their "foremost players" though making only "occasional" appearances for them in Division A of the London League. Remarkably, he was (according to the BCM) already vice-president of the club. Herbert appears - imposingly - in their 1905-6 London League team photograph (he was now in his mid-forties). This is the first of a number of Jacobs photographic appearances culled from the columns of the British Chess Magazine.

Herbert, second row, third from left (BCM May 1905)
We can surmise that he had other things on his mind in this period: perhaps work, but certainly, in and after 1908, political activism for the female franchise. This will of course merit its own episode later in this series: for the current one we can take a look next at Scarborough in 1909, where the dapper Herbert, informally light-suited and hat-less, stands out among the bonnets and boaters...

...unlike his chess, where he lost 8 games out 11. It was maybe unusual for the BCM, in September 1909, to carry most, if not all, of the Championship games, so it was a shame that Herbert lost so many - especially as "spectators now look naturally towards the board occupied by Jacobs in the expectation of seeing something lively, and that enterprising player never disappoints his audience." (The Morning News 11 Aug).  Of his three wins, one was by default, and another, with White against Mr Holmes, seems rather slight for a British championship game. It is of interest mainly for its opening sequence of gambits offered and declined (1.f4 e5 2. e4 d5 3. Nf3). However, his other proper win earned him an honourable mention from Hoffer in the Championship Brilliancy Prize. Here is the game - against Mackenzie.

Jacob's other consolation was equal first with Mackenzie in the 2nd lightning tournament of the Congress (BCM Sept 09). Otherwise the Congress performance of that "intrepid player" (The Sporting Life 10 Aug) was, again, a bit of a disappointment. 

Closer to home, in the Richmond (upon Thames) BCF Congress of 1912, Jacobs managed 50% in the Championship. It was notable otherwise for the overall victory of R. C. Griffith - then working on the first edition of MCO -, the late arrival and consequent non-admission of Frank Marshall, and the inclement weather. At the closing ceremony it fell to Jacobs to thank the press for their reportage, and he could be relied upon for a good joke:
"Chess reporters had a very difficult and delicate task, as chess players are very sensitive, and it was not easy to describe a game in such a way as to please both players. They succeeded sometimes at the expense of strict accuracy. He [i.e. Jacobs - MS] had noticed that one newspaper, speaking of his game with Mr. Griffith, said 'Jacobs played a very good defence, and in the ending was only one move off a draw.' He [Jacobs] did not quite understand what was meant, as he thought even he could win a game if he was allowed two moves at once; but a truthful description of the game would have been - 'Jacobs was outplayed from start to finish and in the ending needlessly prolonged a hopeless struggle.' Glasgow Weekly Herald. "  (BCM Sept 12)      
1913 and Cheltenham, and another snap of Jacobs.

Although he again failed in the Championship  - "lack of practice" said the BCM (Sept) - actually, with 54%, it was his best ever result in all his 8 attempts. His win over Gunston appeared in the BCM, as did his win over Blackburne in yet another "lively game" annotated by Amos Burn, though not before confusion in some quarters (Burn included) over who was playing which colour (see Harding's Blackburne (2012) p 487 for the full details).

From the BCM October 1913 - with their notes (originally by Amos Burn) slightly edited

It shows Jacobs at his combative best - not intimidated by his illustrious opponent.

Incidentally, the BCM referred to Jacobs then, in 1913, as a representative of Hampstead CC, so perhaps his identification with the CLCC was over. After the 14-18 war Jacobs reappeared at the British at Edinburgh in 1920 (he was now 57), and he played in 4 of the next 6 Championships as the years caught up with him at the chess board.

He appears to have aged in this picture of the 1920 Championship contestants, yet he still had the stamina for a 83 move, 8 (!) hour game against G.A.Thomas (drawn), and could produce some "lively" crowd-pleasing chess, as his 10th round game against Middleton demonstrates.

From the BCM September 1920 - with their notes

Herbert looks older again, though still sprite, in this picture from Malvern in 1921, wearing his trademark light-toned 3-piece and wing collar; however he finished 9/11.

A couple of years later at Southsea in 1923 he exhibited another of his distinguishing features, at the board this time: "having shown the previous day how well, in this round [he] showed how badly, he can play." (BCM Sept 23). Thus, against Yates, Jacobs played his habitual Centre Counter, and this happened: 1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Nf6 3. d4 Qxd5 4. Nc3 Qd8 5. Nf3 g6 6. Bc4 Bg7 7. 0-0 Bg4 ? 8. Bxf7+ "Soon Yates had the Q's off, established a completely dominating position, leading to an easily won end-game."

As if to demonstrate that anything could happen when he was at the board, Herbert was involved in a bizarre double-oversight with Gooding in Round 9

"Position in Jacobs v Gooding. The former had just played 25. Kt - B5, not announcing check, whereon Gooding blandly replied Q-B5. The game proceeded 26. KtxR, KxKt; 26. Kt-Kt3 when a representative of the tournament committee stepped in and pointed out that Black's 25th move was illegal and the game must he replayed from that point. It was accordingly restarted, but two moves later Gooding resigned." (BCM p320 Sept 1923)

And so to the last British in which Jacobs appeared: Stratford-on-Avon in 1925, and another sub-50% performance, rescued - if that be the word - by a last round win against Spencer. Here is his one other win in which Jacobs once again plays his perennial Centre Counter, this time gambitting the pawn by design. In spite of nebulous compensation Herbert manufactured a win, aided and abetted, one feels by his veteran opponent (and member of Brixton CC).

BCM October 1925

Thus finished his long association with the British Championships, not with a bang, but with a whimper: eighth out of eleven. As unpredictable as ever, he did better against the top half of the table, than the bottom.

Here is a final image of him, from Stratford, in his 62nd year, picked out by the BCM for an individual portrait, and captioned as the "only player who took half a point from both Atkins and Yates" (BCM Oct 25).

Looking back at his record over the years (summarised in Paul Timson's table at the beginning of this section): he was the consummate also ran. On his day he could treat with the best of them, but he was too consistently inconsistent to achieve top honours. In the next episode we will see if he was more successful at chess by cable.

Book References.
Tim Harding. Eminent Victorian Chess Players: Ten Biographies.  McFarland & Co (2012).
Tim Harding. Joseph Henry Blackburne: A Chess Biography. McFarland & Co (2015).
Hans Renette. H.E.Bird: A Chess Biography. McFarland & Co (2016).
Philip Walsingham Sergeant. A Century of British Chess. Hutchinson (1934). 

1. Beginning in Croydon; 2. Brixton, Benedict and Bar; 3. City Champ5. A Load of Old Cablers; 6. Engaging Agnes7. Congress Man Replayed;  8. Madame Larkcom 9. Jacobs Crackers and all subsequent episodes via Lost in History

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