Friday 24 March 2017

Herbert Jacobs: 5. A Load of Old Cablers

....And so to continue this account of the life and chess of Herbert Levi Jacobs (1863 - 1950). After following Jacobs' Congress career (episode 4) over a span of four decades we now follow another chess thread that occupied him on and off for barely more than one - chess by cable. The thirteen Cable Matches between Team GB and Team USA (as we might call them these days) ran from 1896 to 1911, though we shouldn't forget a precursor in 1895 between the British CC and Manhattan CC. Jacobs played in seven of the main series: his first in 1897, his last in 1909, by which time he was competing in the British Championships on until 1923, which is where we got to last episode (this series is a bit cavalier with chronology, so apologies if we now seem to be going backwards).

The name Sir George "Tit-Bits" Newnes (1851 - 1910) figures much in contemporaneous accounts of the cable matches. He was an enthusiastic supporter and sponsor. We have encountered him before in our blogging: he was a chum of the unavoidable "Adonis" Donisthorpe, with whom he went on a Boy's Own-style adventure as recounted here. It was Newnes who provided the trophy for the main run of cable contests, and when he died in 1910 the matches fizzled out a year later when GB finally claimed ownership of his trophy with a third successive win.

Sir George and his trophies. 
Tit-bits evolved into a pin-up mag. 

The Cable Matches have been well documented in two excellent booklets by A.J. Gillam, to which this episode is indebted. They are of invaluable help in reproducing material from the contemporaneous chess press on this side of the pond - most especially The Field . There is also a more accessible Wiki article here that gives all the players and results over the years (and see the Appendix below for a summary) - the matches are also mentioned in Harding's Blackburne as Joseph played in eleven of them. So, in this blog episode we don't need to go into comprehensive detail, and we will try instead to concentrate on Herbert's efforts (though, inevitably, we may be distracted). We can also draw on American sources - principally The Brooklyn Daily Eagle - these days available on-line. Occasionally we get a revealing contrast in the respective reportage from each side. And there will be pictures.

Trans-Atlantic cable communication had only become anywhere near reliable in the late 1860/early 70s, and the match of March 9th 1895 provided a test-bed for the chess series that was to follow. Here is how Chess Monthly 1895 pp 104-5 described the technical side of it:
"Two special wires were placed at the disposal of [the Commercial Cable Company] by the Post Office, and worked from the Criterion to the cable office of Royal Exchange, and there joined on a repeating instrument, thus establishing direct through communication via Waterville, co Kerry, Ireland, to Canso, Nova Scotia, and from there over the cable laid in New York harbour, direct to the Manhattan Chess Club. The time occupied in the transmission of a move was in most cases a matter of seconds, some getting through in 15 sec. Some replies were received within 3 min."         
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (10 Mar 95) - at the receiving end, as it were - reported a snag: that the moves had to be converted into German notation "which for the sake of brevity was used on the wire, and this took considerable time, so that progress in the games was none too fast." There were also transcription gremlins which disrupted proceedings (Gillam). The first match kicked off at 11.00 am New York time (i.e. 4.00 pm in London), yet by the first intermission at 2.00 pm they "had barely reached beyond the openings."

There was a 30 minute intermission at 7.00 pm London time, when "Sir George Newnes, with his usual kindly forethought, arranged an impromptu dinner, inviting the players, tellers and officials." There were no reports from the Daily Eagle of refreshments on the other side. Later "it appeared ...that there would be very few of the games finished when the time for the adjudication arrived" i.e. at 11.30 pm in London (6.30 pm in New York) where "the public hall in which the Britishers were playing, had to close, according to the law." Their strap-line put it rather more tartly: "Early Closing Law in London Is Alone Responsible for the Unfinished Condition of the Contest". (BDE 10 March)

The Eagle also reported that at the end of play "the first and only actual result [was]...reached on board 4": Baird v D.Y. Mills, drawn - though the BCM says there was another: Hanham v Lord on 5, also drawn. Of the other boards (whether eight or nine) Lasker - the adjudicator - took the diplomatic escape route and declared them all also to be drawn. The BCM in April approved: "though advantages were claimed on each side in some of [the games] they were not of a sufficiently pronounced character to enable [him] to give a verdict in favour of any player."

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle wasn't convinced: "As it was, [four of the American players] claimed superiority of positions, while certainly none of the others were at a disadvantage", and the spectators in New York - "four or five rows deep" - took it badly, though this "may be set down somewhat to an extra amount of patriotic sentiment." So, as honours were adjudged by Lasker to have been even, three cheers resounded at each end of the cable. The BCM opined that, apart from the expense, there is no reason why other countries "should not now engage in battle of this kind." Thus the Anglo-American cable matches became an annual fixture from 1896 through to 1911, except for a break in 1904, 1905 and 1906.

Before things got going in 1896 there were some issues to resolve, as revealed in Tony Gillam's booklet. Thus, in late 1895 there was some controversy at the New York end over which club would be more representative of America, with the Franklin Chess Club "taking umbrage" at the pretensions of Brooklyn CC. As to who could represent the two countries: for the British, "native born players only" was the preferred criterion (in teams of 10) - although that would exclude incomers Lasker, Gunsberg and Teichmann. The Americans, on the other hand, wanted to include 'domiciled' players e.g. Steinitz, Lipschutz and Kemeny. Eventually the Americans agreed to "native born" but only if the match was not considered to be played for "national supremacy". Consequently it was not the full international match required to meet the Brooklyn Daily Eagle’s offer of a trophy. Sir George Newnes came to the rescue with another, valued at 800 dollars (quoting The Chess Monthly of 1895).

The 1896 Kick-off
In March 1896 Jacobs took part in a "tournament at the British Club ...being played in order to determine on some amateur competitors in the forthcoming cable match against America". Alas, he failed to qualify: "somewhat surprising considering the good form he has shown recently" commented the Morning Post on the 2nd March (which then went on to demonstrate otherwise, by showing a 24 move defeat he had just suffered at the hands of Trenchard).

Thus Jacobs was not to appear in this nice illustration of the "principals" from 1896 along with the Newnes Trophy (given by Wiki, and from an American source).

GB - Blackburne and Bird at the top, then clockwise: Burn, Lord, Locock, Blake, Trenchard, Rice (Umpire for GB in New York), Hoffer (Umpire for America in London), Jones, Atkins, Mills, Donisthorpe, Mills, Tinsley.
Baron de Rothschild (referee) above Trophy, Newnes to the right, then America clockwise; Baird, Durville, Labatt, Delmar, Showalter, Pillsbury, Hodges, Hymes, Johnston, Helms, Barry, Margan.  
[Click on to enlarge]

The Americans won the match 4.5 v 3.5 - played over 8 boards (subsequently always 10) and two days rather than one. The London Daily News 16 March reported that on the second day - Saturday - the spectators (at the Cannon Street Hotel) included "a number of members of the Ladies' Chess Club". They would have followed events on normal-size demonstration boards lined up to one side, and the top board Pillsbury v Blackburne game (won by the latter) on a "novel kind of exhibition board....placed on the floor...over 7 ft across...the pieces moved by a kind of very long toasting fork", devised by a Mr Hely of Bognor (Gillam)

The same, or similar, set-up appears still to have been in use in the tenth match in 1908; let's have a look at it now...
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News March 21 1908, p 83. sign, though, of the "very long toasting fork".

In the Team From 1897
Jacobs was selected by the "Playing Committee" (under the auspices of the British Chess Club) for the next match on the 12th and 13th February 1897, after successfully "heading the score in the trial tournament" (The Sketch 10 Feb). He was a barrister, said The Sketch, adding that "...he may be seen almost any day, intent over some intricate position, at Groome's Coffee-house in Fleet Street."

For a bit of atmosphere, here is a charming evocation of the historic Groom(e)'s, at No 16 Fleet Street, close by Jacobs' Chambers:
Lichfield Mercury 19 February 1909

The Dundee Telegraph (9 Feb 1897) listed Jacobs as a member of the British Chess Club, and grumbled that many of the other strongest players were not in the team. However, in the event, Team GB won 5.5 v 4.5. At the match itself there was "overcrowding" at the Princes Hall of the Hotel Cecil, said the BCM, and it was busy at the New York end too; but as ever The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (14 Feb) was more colourful in its account, evoking the "eyes of 1000 people...placed on Hodges, the former chess champion of the country" on whom hope depended to save the match for America. But he had to concede a draw, and so the Newnes Cup returned to England (America having won it in the previous year). Jacobs played McCutcheon on the bottom board of ten, winning on day one: the first game to be concluded. "There was great cheering" said the Pall Mall Gazette (13 Feb), which gave the game in full. It did the rounds: the Illustrated London News 27 Feb, the March BCM (which gave the latter stages); The Brooklyn Daily Eagle had given it on the 13th February.

The BCM (March) offered a handy overview: "Mr. Jacobs played a Centre Counter against Mr. McCutcheon and a very eccentric game followed, the American having much the worse of it, as his King had to move to the Q sq on the ninth move, and his case looked very black indeed. Steadying himself, however, he managed for a time to beat back what looked like an overwhelming attack, and Mr. Jacobs seemed to be losing ground, but this was more seeming that reality, for he speedily got a strong centre attack." It then gave the game score from move 19.          

The Telephone Calls
Familiar now with cable chess, one can imagine Jacobs enthusiastically answering the call of telephone chess - the latest innovation - and here he is in the CLCC team that took on Yorkshire County Association down the line in December 1897.

Standing l to r: Tietjen, Hoffer (umpire) Physick, Russell (hon sec CLCC), Ward, Kaizer, Blackburne (referee).   
Seated l to r: Coles, Jacobs, Smith, Trenchard.   
On board 2, Jacobs "defended his favourite Centre Counter Gambit. He got a slight advantage of position in the middle-game but Mr Atkinson soon equalised the position, and an early draw ensued" (London Evening Standard 19 Dec 87), though the City Club ran out winners 5.5 v 2.5. The Physick v Hall game on board 1 is note-worthy for Hall's 1.e4 Nf6 - in 1897 - something he was "very partial to". Maybe the Alekhine has been mis-named all these years.

In 1897 the telephone was still in its infancy; yet - said the Evening Standard - "the transmission went smoothly and fairly fast without the least hitch", although 'G', writing in the Illustrated London News dated 25 December (!), said that he was "informed that there was far more time lost in the transmission of moves...than the Anglo-American Cable match." The telephone match was evidently an event of some moment as the BCM, in January 1898, devoted considerable space to it, with a note on each of the players. Jacobs, it said, was "the hero of a hundred victories in matches and tournaments...Full of resource, well-versed with every part of the game, he is a very dangerous opponent... He is a most chivalrous... and hardly ever declines a challenge." It also said that he had been a member of the CLCC "for nearly seventeen years" - which therefore goes back to 1882, which maybe a touch earlier than we suggested elsewhere in this series. Incidentally the Shipley Times 26 February 1909 notes Jacobs playing another telephone match, CLCC v Manchester CC, and there were probably more.

To the End of the Century
At the next cable match in 1898, the conditions for players and spectators in London were much improved, as noted the Glasgow Herald's Correspondent in London (19 March): they played now in the Grand Hall of the Hotel Cecil, and "the ten players are ranged down one side... Hung up on the opposite side are corresponding boards on which the moves are recorded as each is played, and in the centre of room, on the floor, surrounded by seats for the spectators, is a huge board with pieces to match, on which the moves as at the premier game of Pillsbury v Blackburne, so that the spectators.... can easily follow and discuss the play of the leading champions" - the ten-board display innovation had been employed in New York the previous year.

Once again the American chess press showed us the players - theirs anyway:

Left, the American team: Clockwise from Pillsbury at 1 o'clock: Delmar, Hodges, Hymes, Young, Baird, Showalter, Barry, Galbraith; Robinson centre. Right: Hoffer, Rice and Lasker. 
[Click on to enlarge] 

... and once again Team GB won, 5.5 v 4.5, with Jacobs contributing a victory over Robinson. "A large crowd of spectators had gathered to see the end of the match. Just as time was called Mr. A.K. Robinson resigned to Mr Jacobs" (BCM April)  - "Thank you for your patience" said the US cable - thus making the score 4.5 to 3.5 in favour of the British team, and the other two boards were agreed drawn.

This is Jacobs' fine win, with (idiosyncratic) notes by Amos Burns in the BCM, and Leopold Hoffer in The Field (as given by A.J.Gillam).   

Of the next match in 1899 we get an illustration... 
The Preston Herald March 18 1899
... which shows the apparent proximity of the spectators. Presumably the lady directly beside Blackburne's board is the teller there to record and relay the moves. Blackburne v Pillsbury was a perennial top board contest through to 1902. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle was fulsome in its coverage of the match, including verbatim the customary exchange of messages before a pawn was pushed, a list of distinguished visitors, an approving note of "the arrangements enabling the chess enthusiasts to follow the moves", and so on and so forth.

As to the chess: the Voigt v Jacobs clash got a short mention in The Preston Herald: it had a "brilliant opening", which nonetheless developed into a draw, and it was the first game to finish (or "the second" if you read the London Daily News (13 March)) - "a relief as [Jacobs] was thought to have a difficult game." The Eagle was more penetrating, with a pen portrait of the American players (Showalter "shaggy hair"; Barry buried in overcoat and Fedora; Johnston "constantly puffing" - a year later it described Voigt as "the stout Quaker expert"), noting that Jacobs' Centre Counter was exceptional among seven Ruy Lopez's.
"It was Voigt’s (sic) luck to be paired…with Herbert Jacobs… the only player whom he did not care to meet, owing to a certain peculiarity of his style. In addition to this the English lawyer selected a defense not much in vogue, but of which he has made a close study. As it transpired, however, Voight (sic) had not much to complain about, for his game developed smoothly enough for him and assumed an aspect not any too favourable to his opponent." (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 10 March 1899 p 2)       

And Into the 20th
The following year, 1900, Jacobs appeared on board 8. The Deseret Evening News of the 17th March carried this picture of the American team....

Clockwise from the Newnes Trophy at the top: Hymes, Delmar, Newman, Hodges,
Marshall, Barry, Voight, Showalter; with Pillsbury in the centre.

...but they left out Jacobs' opponent: newcomer Samuel Bampton.

So here he is:

BDE 8 March 1900
And Bampton had his work cut out in the game, too...
"Bampton ran into a variation of the King's Gambit declined, which the German Handbook gives as distinctly favorable to White, having first been noticed by the recently deceased German analyst, Max Lange. Moreover he was handicapped by the nervousness natural to a new comer in cable match ranks." (The Brooklyn Daily Eagle 27 March).

The match was won by the Americans, but - said The Eagle -  it was of a "kaleidoscopic nature", and unusually marred on their side by Marshall losing on time (amid some confusion, but resolved amicably and honourably) and an outbreak of hissing - tut, tut - when Hodges (better in his game) proposed a draw to Bellingham "in order to bring a conclusion to the match". When Bellingham resigned all was forgiven. This was the second American match-win in succession. A third would entitle them to retain the Newnes Trophy, and bring the series to a conclusion. Much hung on what might happen the following year.

Jacobs didn't help Team GB's cause by losing in 1901, (his first, and only, loss in the cable series) - to another Quaker, C.J. Newman from Philadelphia, who "practically saved the Yankees [as the Eagle called its compatriots] from defeat".
"Jacobs was thought to have, if anything, a slight pull on the situation, but in the course of time it developed that the knight which the American had left was much more useful to him than was Jacobs' bishop to the Englishman. At any rate the latter's pawns began. one by one, to drop by the wayside. The Londoner put up a desperate resistance and made an unsuccessful attempt to catch the Quaker napping. Newman, however administered a neat final touch and forced the exchange of rooks, leaving the win a matter of a few moves." (BDE 21 April 1901)             
The notes are by Hoffer in the Field (as transcribed by A.J. Gillam).


No games had finished on the first day, and at "time" on the second - extended by half an hour to enable the games to resolve - it was evens at 3 v 3, upon which the Brits proposed squaring it out to 5 v 5 : the "Yankees" accepted, having felt earlier that things were slipping away. Match drawn! The first ever in the series - and, by saving the Newnes Trophy, it felt to the Brits like a win: all the more so as they had expected to lose (see for example Yorkshire Post 22 April). Now the Trophy was still up for grabs - and all remained to play for in 1902; though The Eagle reported that Colonel William Hestor of the Brooklyn Eagle Association had promised a replacement should the Americans have gained their third successive victory.

Another first was a photo of the "action" in 1901 - at the American end:

"Pillsbury is seated at the Left of the Picture;
Barry is Poring Over His Board, at the Right" (BDE 21 April 1901) 

The demonstration boards are visible on the back wall. 

In 1902 the BCM reported that "Mr Jacobs was unfortunately unable to play" - but that won't stop us having a look this wonderful illustration from the Penny Illustrated Paper of 22 March 1902

The artist's signature (bottom left) seems to be "D.C. 02" - I haven't yet found out who that was.

The illustration appears to show something like this position around move 23 of the Pillsbury - Lawrence game (see below) - with some artistic errors and/or licence e.g. swapping Black's Knight and King so as not to obscure the lady.

And so to 1903 - the first year when the City of London CC took over the management of the team, inviting "every principal chess organisation in the country to nominate its best player for the guidance of the committee" (Cambridge Daily News 4 April) - in so doing they had tried to be "scrupulously fair" to the provincial bodies. But Scotland felt hard done by (and not for the only time in the series), and the Falkirk Herald railed against, well, just about everyone, even though D.Y. Mills had been playing in the Cable matches when Scottish champion (see here).

Falkirk Herald April 8 1903
Jacobs "uninteresting game" (Falkirk Herald) with Delmar, on board 8, looks suspiciously as if it was strung out at the end as a bargaining chip to wrap up the match. America had already won, and the draw offer was finally made if America would resign the game against Guston. He was President of the Cambridge Chess Club, and his victory thus attracted favourable comment in the Cambridge Daily News of 6 April - perhaps getting up Scotland's nose in the process. This was a second successive American victory - shades of 1900 and the dire consequences of a third (which, again, didn't happen).

Jacobs' game went round in circles in a blocked position for the last 20-odd moves (so tedious is it
that the Eagle didn't print the last dozen or so) which, if you have nothing else to do, you could play through here.  Of perhaps more interest is this fascinating photograph of the London end from the Tatler...

The Tatler 15 April 1903
...which seems to show the demonstration boards in the foreground, and I think you can just make out the players at their boards on the far side, roped-off.  There are a couple of bonnets among the toppers. The match was as the Cannon Street Hotel, where things had kicked-off back in 1896. The Tatler observed that "in a few years one may hope to see these matches conducted by 'wireless wire'". According to Bill Wall, the first chess by radio game - ship to ship - had already happened in 1902.

Jacobs' Endgame
Finally we jump ahead, to Jacobs final match in 1909. It followed the suspension of the series from 1904 to 1906 for a cocktail of reasons: the international situation; cost; Cable Company default - the 1905 match was ready to go but was cancelled at the last minute.

The London venue was now the Savoy, and it seemed to do wonders for Jacobs' play, producing what E.G. Sergeant - playing on the board next to him - said in his obituary was one of Jacobs' finest. The Linlithgowshire Gazette (21 May) was, it said, of the same opinion as the Liverpool Courier: "if a [brilliancy] prize had been awarded on this side of the water it would have gone to Mr Jacobs" (Frank Marshall had been awarded one on the other for his victory over Blackburne here). The notes below (given in A.J. Gillam's booklet) are by Herbert himself.

The game is a nice one on which to end this account of Jacobs in the Cable matches. Although there were to be two more, he didn't play  being rather busy elsewhere - as we shall see.

Looking back, he did well by cable: his record was +4, =2, -1 (71% - his average board was 8.6). His habitual Centre Counter Gambit with 2...Nf6 served him admirably with a win and two draws, and his trademark Bird/Dutch formation with a P-KB4, QB fianchetto, and King's side offensive gave him two nice wins - though he lost a third when thwarted by a Staunton Gambit. It is especially interesting to see how many times he was referred to in terms of that "certain peculiarity of style" - combative, creative, off-beat - to the extent that he was notorious for it, and even feared as a result. As we found in the last episode, the punters loved it.

Sir George Newnes, Bart. died in 1910, by which time issues of cost for the Cable Matches were being raised, on both sides of the pond, and there seemed to be no appetite for continuing the scheme beyond 1911, the year Team GB finally bagged the Trophy after three successive wins.

Next episode: we wander a bit off piste chess-wise.



Cable Matches 1895 - 1901, and 1902 - 1911 (2 vols), A.J.Gillam pub The Chess Player Nottingham (1997).  

Previous and subsequent episodes on Herbert Jacobs may be accessed via Lost in History

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