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The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
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"On the Square" Article
 

Thanks to chess historian John Hilbert for providing another excellent article on the history of correspondence chess, the 11th article he has written for The Campbell Report. For more information on John Hilbert please check his previous articles in the On the Square Menu. For your convenience, the links to his other articles are also given at the bottom of this page. In addition, the games in the article are provided for download in PGN format.

A number of John Hilbert's articles on this site have been reprinted in his excellent book Essays in American Chess History (Caissa Editions 2002), winner of the 2002 Cramer and Chess Journalists of America Award for Best Book of the Year. Congratulations to John Hilbert for his well-deserved recognition by the Cramer Committee and the CJA.

John Hilbert hasn't rested on his laurels, though, and has had three more books published in the last three months. If you're interested in American chess history check out these new Hilbert books:

  • New York 1940 (Caissa Editions)
  • Young Marshall (Publishing House Moravian Chess)
  • Walter Penn Shipley: Philadelphia's Friend of Chess (McFarland)

You can obtain these books from Chess Cafe and other chess book suppliers.

Download games in PGN format.

John Hilbert can be reached at: Jshchess@aol.com



Howard Staunton, as seen
by readers of the
Illustrated London News
for July 14, 1855
(Detail from Line Engraving)

Howard Staunton and
Chess by "Electric Telegraph"

by John S. Hilbert

Although Howard Staunton (1810-1874) is best remembered by chessplayers today as the only English world champion and the man who refused to play a match with Paul Morphy, his contributions to chess and the popularity of its play tend to be lost in the dusty pages of time. Staunton was also a gifted and highly productive writer, both in and outside of chess. Although known as a Shakespearean scholar, Staunton produced other works as well, including, for instance, in 1865, a 517 page book on the history of major English public schools, including the likes of Eton, Winchester, and Westminster. The work's full title is a perfect example of the Victorian period's love of long-winded literary receptacles: The Great Schools of England: An Account of the Foundation, Endowments, and Discipline of the Chief Seminaries of Learning in England; Including Eton, Winchester, Westminster, St. Paul's, Charter-House, Merchant Taylors', Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Etc., Etc. (Sampson Low, Son, and Marston: Milton House, Ludgate Hill 1865).

Staunton's best known chess work, however, was written nearly twenty years before his text on English public schools. The Chess-Player's Handbook first appeared in 1847, and became the chess bible of generations of English speaking players. Two years later, his Chess-Player's Companion appeared. In 1852, Staunton published The Chess Tournament, the book of the world's first international chess tournament, held at London in 1851, which Staunton not only played in, but organized as well.

Perhaps less well known to chessplayers today, however, is that although Staunton largely gave up serious chess play by 1852, he continued to write about the game as chess editor for what at the time was considered the world's most influential chess column, appearing in the Illustrated London News. Staunton produced his weekly column for this sixteen page newspaper, for many years published on excellent rag stock, from February 1845 until his death, nearly thirty years later, in 1874. Hooper and Whyld in their essential The Oxford Companion to Chess, New Edition (Oxford University Press 1992) speak of Staunton's column in the Illustrated London News as being "the most important of his journalistic tasks," and they are no doubt right. During his long reign as editor, Staunton produced over 1,400 weekly reports on the state of chess for his readers. And while most of his columns dealt with over-the-board play, in terms of serious games, club play, consultation games and even blindfold displays, a significant number considered correspondence chess, including the sub-genre known as chess by telegraph.

Indeed, Staunton took an interest in this new-fangled, chess-at-a-distance pursuit almost from the beginning. According to Hopper and Whyld, the first electric telegraphic match took place in 1844, between Washington and Baltimore, "just linked by the first American telegraph line." By April 1845, a mere two months after Staunton started writing his column for the Illustrated London News, he and Captain Kennedy traveled to Gosport, on the west side of Portsmouth Harbour, southwest of London, to play against a group of four players in London. As R.D. Keene and R.N. Coles speak of it in their Howard Staunton: The English World Chess Champion (B.C.M. Quarterly No. 17: St. Leonards on Sea 1975), early in 1845 "Staunton was proposing playing chess by telegraph-'Messrs. Cooke and Wheatstone's marvelous messenger,' as it was described-and two games on successive days, between Staunton and Kennedy in Gosport and a team in London comprising Evans, Perigal, Tuckett, and Walker, with Buckle occasionally making valuable suggestions, were played. The second game on 10th April, in which Staunton and his partner were Black, came quickly to a neatly drawn ending so that the Gosport players could catch the last (5 o'clock) train back to London." Staunton himself would later remark that the games took place shortly after "the first electric telegraph had been laid down to any distance in London." Illustrated London News, April 4, 1856. The ending of the second game was as follows:

Diagram a

Evans, Perigal, Tuckett, Walker - Staunton, Capt. Kennedy
Telegraph Game, April 10, 1845
1.Rf3 Rg3 2.Rdf2 Re2 3.Rxd3 Rxg2 4.Rxe2 Rxe2 5.Rd2 Re5 -

Howard Staunton: The English World Chess Champion,
by R.D. Keene and R.N. Coles, p.12

Those interested in learning more about the development of the telegraph in the nineteenth century, in a very readable fashion, are encouraged to track down Tom Standage's The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph and the Nineteenth Century's On-line Pioneers (Berkley Books: New York 1998). Although Standage does not write about how chess made use of this technological marvel, there is still a chess connection: Standage more recently has written The Turk: The Life and Times of the Famous Eighteenth-Century Chess-Playing Machine (Walker & Company 2002), a fitting companion to Gerald M. Levitt's The Turk, Chess Automaton (McFarland 2000).

Staunton's interest in chess by telegraph did not end with the two games he participated in between London and Gosport. He continued coverage of chess by telegraph in the pages of the Illustrated London News. For example, in April of 1856, his readers learned of a contest by telegraph between teams in Liverpool and Manchester. Staunton noted that the English Telegraph Company had been reluctant to leave open a line exclusively for this form of chess play between London and any other major English metropolis, but that such a condition had been met for these two cities. He quoted the description of an eye-witness account by an on-looker in Manchester, which appeared the day after the game in the Manchester Guardian, for March 29, 1856. The very detail with which the account appeared suggests something of the novelty still inherent at that date in chess by telegraph:

The Consultation Game at Chess, between the Manchester and Liverpool clubs, transmitted to and fro by electric telegraph, commenced yesterday afternoon at five o'clock. The strict game was to be played, and for no stake. The Manchester players were-Messrs. Du Val, Kipping, jun., Cohan, Pindar and Hasche; the umpire representing Liverpool at Manchester being Mr. M.B. Wood. The Liverpool players were-Messrs. Sparke, Sinclair, Saul, Poeschmann, and Jones; the umpire for Manchester at Liverpool being Mr. Morecroft. The first move was to be drawn for; but as the hands were more than thirty miles apart it had to be guessed for. It was arranged that one of the Liverpool players should hold in one hand a black pawn, and in the other a white one-the latter to have the first move. Manchester guessed the hand that held the black pawn, consequently Liverpool won the move. The game excited considerable interest in both towns; and, through the courtesy of the Telegraph Company, the clubs were accommodated with rooms at each terminus, so as to be in close proximity of the wires. By this means a move made on the board at the Manchester telegraph office, for instance, could be known to the Liverpool players, even before the messenger dispatched from the same office could carry the intelligence of the move to the other members of the Manchester club, who were assembled in the Ridgefield, a walk of three minutes. In these rooms of the club many persons interested in Chess assembled, the club having given a public invitation, and numerous players had their boards, following the course of the game. In Liverpool, also, the rooms of the club, which are in the Medical Institution, Mount Pleasant, were open to the public. Up to eight o'clock only eleven moves had taken place-those made by the Liverpool club occupying much more time than was taken by the Manchester gentlemen. At one o'clock the moves numbered 28, when the game was drawn by mutual consent, having lasted eight hours.

The game witnessed during those long, eight hours, was the following:

Liverpool - Manchester [C50]
Telegraph Game,
March 28, 1856
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.0-0 Nf6 5.Re1 d6 6.c3 Bb6 7.d4 0-0 8.Bg5 exd4 9.cxd4 Bg4 10.d5 Ne5 11.Nbd2 h6 12.Bh4 Ba5 13.Be2 Ng6 14.Bxf6 Qxf6 15.Rb1 Bxf3 16.Bxf3 Ne5 17.Be2 Qf4 18.b4 Bb6 19.Rf1 f5 20.g3 Qg5

Diagram b
Position after 20. … Qg5

21.Kg2 f4 22.Nf3 Nxf3 23.Bxf3 Rf6 24.h4 Qe5 25.g4 a5 26.b5 Bc5 27.a4 Kf7 28.Qe2 Ke7 -

Illustrated London News, April 5, 1856

Interestingly enough, as Hooper and Whyld tell us under their entry for "telegraph chess," in The Oxford Companion to Chess, "In 1858 Staunton offered to play Morphy by the new transatlantic cable. Fortunately the challenge arrived after Morphy had left for England, for the cable failed after a month and was not successfully replaced until 1866." Many difficulties plagued those who initially attempted to connect England with the United States by wire, though eventually more secure methods would be found. Such problems, however, did not attend chess by telegraph over land.

As the years passed, the novelty of such games by telegraph began to wear off, although Staunton continued to publish them occasionally, and in several instances annotated them as well. In May 1863, while the Civil War was raging south of its border, players in Canada connected by telegraph for their mock fight among the chessman. As Staunton introduced it to his readers, "The following smart Affair was played by telegraph a few weeks since between the Chess Clubs of Hamilton and St. Catherine's, in Canada West." As the game was originally published, the Hamilton players, taking the first move, played Black. The game has been converted to standard form, Hamilton playing White:

Hamilton - St Catherine's [C51]
Canadian Telegraph Game
April 1863
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Bc5 6.0-0 h6
This is not a good move; it loses time at a moment when the second players have none to spare. They should have played 6...d6. 7.d4 exd4 8.cxd4 Bb6 9.Qb3 Qe7 Again Black throw away valuable time. They ought to have moved their Queen at once to f6. 10.Ba3 Na5 This counter-irritant does not prove so efficacious as it promises to be; though we doubt if the St. Catherine's players had any better line of action. 11.Qa4 Qf6 12.e5 Qd8 They had no good move left; but 12...Qh5 would have been less injurious than retiring her thus.

Diagram c
Position after 12. … Qd8

13.e6 The game move; for whether Black take this terrible Pawn or leave it, the result must be a position hopelessly broken up and exposed. 13...fxe6 14.Bxe6 Nc6 15.Bxg8 Rxg8 16.d5 Qf6 Had they moved the knight, mate would have followed in a very few moves. 17.Re1+ Kd8 18.dxc6 d6 They evidently would have lost their Queen if they had captured the rook by Be7+, Bf6+. 19.Nbd2 g5 Why not? The game is lost, so what have they to fear? 20.Nc4 Bxf2+ As good as any other move. They might with impunity have followed it with sacrificing their Queen; the end must have been the same. 21.Kxf2 g4 22.Nxd6 cxd6 If they had taken the other Knight with Pawn, White could have mated them in three or four moves. 23.c7+ Kxc7 24.Qc4+ Kb8 25.Rac1 Qd8 26.Qxg8 1-0

Staunton's annotations
Illustrated London News
, May 2, 1863

Unlike the other games in this piece, the following effort appears in Mega Corr2, Tim Harding's excellent correspondence chess database, although without citation as to source. No doubt Staunton also took the game score from another publication, likely American, though he offers no attribution. He simply states that "The following is one of two Games lately played, by telegraph, between the Clubs of Boston and Springfield, United States." As in the previous game, the first players, from the Boston Chess Club, chose to play with the Black pieces. The game has been converted to White moving first.

Boston - Springfield [C51]
Telegraph Game
Early 1869
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Bc5 6.0-0 d6 7.d4 exd4 8.cxd4 Bb6 9.Nc3 Bg4 10.Bb5 Bxf3 11.gxf3 Kf8 12.Ne2 Qf6 13.Bxc6 bxc6 14.f4 c5 15.e5 dxe5 16.dxe5 Qe6 17.Ng3 h5 18.Qf3 Re8 19.Bb2 Qh3 20.Qe4

Diagram d
Position after 20. Qe4

20Nh6 Many would have preferred playing 20...h4, with an eye to the continuation 20...h4 21.Nf5 Nf6 but if White then reply with 22.Qg2 the counter-attack does not come to much. 21.a4 Ng4 22.Qh1 c4 23.Ra3 Rd8 24.Rf3 h4 25.Ne4 Qxf1+ 26.Kxf1 Rd1+ 27.Kg2 Rxh1 28.Kxh1 Rh6 29.Kg2 Rc6 30.Rh3 Nh6 31.f5 Boston has now the better game, notwithstanding the deficient pawn. 31...Ba5 32.e6 f6 33.Kf1 Bb4 34.Bc1 Ke7 35.Bxh6 gxh6 36.Ke2 c3 37.Kd1

Diagram e
Position after 37. Kd1

37c2+ The bold advance of this Pawn, and the consequent danger of White, render the position here one of striking interest. 38.Kc1 Rc4 39.Re3 Ba5 40.f3 Bb6 41.Re2 Rxa4 42.Rxc2 Ra5 43.Kd1 Rxf5 44.Ke2 Kxe6 45.Rc4 Rf4 46.Nc5+ Kf5 47.Ne4 a5 48.Rc6 Ke5 49.Rc3 f5 50.Nd2 Kd5 0-1

Staunton's annotations
Illustrated London News
, March 20, 1869

In the years to come, chess by telegraph would expand from the play of one game at a time among consulting parties to telegraph match play. In February 1871 a seven board match was played half way round the world, between teams in Sydney and Melbourne. In that affair the Sydney players lost, 3-1, with 3 draws. Another match, however, proved the Sydney team much more successful. As Staunton described it, "As in the previous contest, the team on each side consisted of seven players, each pair of players having to play a single game. The Sydney champions were the Rev. J. Pendrill, and Messrs. F.J. Gibbs, C.Y. Heydon, J. M'Rae, Mark Russell, T.J. Ryan, and R. Smith. On the other side the combatants were Messrs. A.H. Beyer, W.J. Fullerton, R.B. Hale, J. Mann, W.D. Scott, R.M. Steele, junior, and S. Tyrell." The match was to start at noon on May 24, 1869, Queen Victoria's fiftieth birthday, but owing to "the unsettled state of the weather throughout the colony, the match was greatly delayed at starting. From the same cause, the play was adjourned more than once, and was even suspended altogether for some days." Eventually Sydney triumphed, in this belated birthday celebration in honor of Her Majesty, by a score of 5-1, with 1 draw.

Staunton, while giving no games with his initial report, did note with evident appreciation that the distance between Sydney and Adelaide being on the order of 1,500 miles, and as every move had to be repeated, a move traveled 3,000 miles. Not only were some moves conveyed in less than three minutes, he added, but the longest game, lasting 74 moves, according to the math he employed, traveled in all a distance of 220,000 miles. Illustrated London News, August 19, 1871. One might add that, as the distance between Earth and Moon at perigee is only 225,744 miles, it seems a shame the game couldn't have lasted a couple more moves.

Of less celestial import, although no doubt more significant to the players involved, two more chess games by telegraph were published by Staunton the year before his death. They involved two major Canadian cities, and were dutifully presented to readers in April 1873. Curiously enough, and no doubt learned through experience, by now questions of cheating needed to be addressed by telegraph chess match rules. Inventive as ever, chessplayers contesting over the wires clearly needed to have such matters addressed. The two games involved four players at each board, the men at one board not permitted to assist the men at the other, and no chess books to be consulted by either side. Further, no assistance was to be received "from spectators or other outsiders." Time, too, was an issue, and a limit of ten minutes' deliberation on each move was enforced. These were the only alterations to the governing regulations, the rules of the Canadian Chess Association.

Staunton gave the following information: "The players at board A were:-Professor A.H. Howe and Messrs. H. von Bokum, J. Barry, and J.G. Ascher on behalf of Montreal; and Professor J.B. Cherriman, and Messrs. J.H. Gordon, G.L. Maddison, and G.H. Larminie on behalf of Toronto."

Montreal - Toronto [C62]
Telegraph Game, Board A
Early 1873
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 d6 4.Bxc6+ bxc6 5.0-0 Nf6 6.Re1 Be7 7.c3
Somewhat tame. They should rather have played 7.d4. 7...0-0 8.d4 Bg4 9.dxe5 Bxf3 10.Qxf3 dxe5 11.Bg5 Nd7 12.Bxe7 Qxe7 13.Qe2 Rfd8 14.Na3 a5 15.Rad1 Qc5 16.Rd2 Nb6 17.Red1 Rd6 18.Kf1 f6 19.Rd3 This move looks to us to be a loss of time. What was the object of it? 19...Rad8 20.f3 Kf8 21.R1d2 Ke7 22.h3 Na4 23.Rxd6 Rxd6 24.Qf2 Another ambiguous move. Why not have saved the Pawn by playing Nb1? 24...Qxf2+ 25.Rxf2 Rd1+ 26.Ke2 Nxb2 27.Nc4 Rb1

Diagram f
Position after 27. … Rb1

28.Nxb2 They could not safely take the a-pawn, because their opponents would have answered with ...Nd1 effectively. 28...Rxb2+ 29.Ke3 Rb1 It was rightly thought by the on-lookers that Toronto should have exchanged Rooks at this moment. 30.Kd3 g6 31.Rd2 Very well played. 31...a4 32.Kc2 Rb5 Manifestly a lost move, as they cannot maintain the Rook in this position. 33.c4 Rb4 34.Kc3 Rb6 If 34...c5, White wins easily by playing 35.Rd5. 35.Rb2 Kd6 It was shown afterward that they ought to have exchanged the Rooks. 36.Rxb6 cxb6 37.Kb4 Kc7 38.Kxa4 Kb7 39.Kb4 Ka6 40.h4 f5 41.g4 fxg4 42.fxg4 h6 43.g5 h5 44.a3 Kb7 45.a4 Ka6 46.c5 b5 47.axb5+ cxb5 48.c6 1-0

Staunton's annotations
Illustrated London News
, April 19, 1873

"The Players at this Board were Professor W. Hicks and Messrs. T. Workman, W. Atkinson, and J. White, for Montreal; and Messrs. F.T. Jones, H. Northcote, J. Young, and W. Dye, for Toronto." The Toronto players chose to move first with Black, and the game has been standardized here.

Toronto - Montreal [C01]
Telegraph Game, Board B
Early 1873
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.exd5 exd5 5.Bd3 Nf6 6.Nge2 0-0 7.0-0 h6 8.Ng3 Bxc3 9.bxc3 Nc6 10.Re1 Be6 11.h3 a6
Comparatively useless. Toronto have now the superiority in position. 12.Qf3 b5 Another ineffectual move. 13.a3 Nh7 14.Qh5 Nf6 15.Qh4 Nh7 16.Qf4 Rc8 This move affords their adversaries a favorable opportunity to advance the a-pawn. 16...Ra7 would, therefore, have been a safer mode of defending the c-pawn. 17.a4 Rb8 18.axb5 axb5 19.Ra6 A very difficult move to answer. 19...Qd7 20.Nf5 Threatening to win a clear piece. 20...Ne7 21.Nxg7 More effective as well as more artistic than taking the knight and then playing Ba3. 21...Ng5 22.Qf6 Ne4 23.Bxe4 dxe4 24.Nh5 Nf5 25.Rxe4

Diagram g
Position after 25. Rxe4

25Qd8 The Toronto players now announced mate in five moves. 1-0 [One attractive variation runs 26.Rg4+ Kh7 27.Qxf5+ Kh8 (27...Bxf5 opens up the rank for the Rook, and 28.Rxh6 mate follows) 28.Rg7 Bxf5 29.Rxh6+ Bh7 30.Rhxh7 mate.-JSH]

Staunton's annotations
Illustrated London News
, April 19, 1873

Staunton died a little over fourteen months after the games above were published, on June 22, 1874. He did not live to see the historic Anglo-American Cable Matches that took place between 1895 and 1911, although surely he would have approved of the series played between some of the strongest players the countries had to offer, and delighted in the fact that in 1911 the team from Great Britain won its third match in a row, gaining permanent possession of the silver Newnes Cup, offered in competition by Sr. George Newnes years before. The Cable Match competition itself, and the interest in the chess world it generated, no doubt would have been taken by Staunton as proof positive that his early interest in chess by electric telegraph had been wise indeed.

© 2003 John S. Hilbert, All Rights Reserved.


Howard Staunton, as seen by readers
of the Illustrated London News for July 14, 1855
(Detail from Line Engraving)

John Hilbert's other articles at The Campbell Report
23-Oct-2000: A Correspondence Chess Historian Meets the Computer Age
5-Dec-99: Mordecai Morgan: Mystery Man Of Correspondence Chess
3-July-99: Emil Kemeny and the Value of Correspondence Chess: An Historical Perspective
2-May-99: "To Checkmate the Kaiser": American Correspondence Chess at the Conclusion of the Great War
30-Nov-98: Oh, Brother: The Duffer's Guide to Handicapping
Correspondence Chess Siblings
6-Sept-98: "Emanuel Lasker, Vol. I (1889-1907)" by Egon Varnusz
2-Jul-98: Chess Columns: Now and Then
4-Jun-98: A Century Ago in Correspondence Chess
29-May-98: Two Generations, Generations Ago
28-Apr-98: Stalking the Blue-Eyed Chess Score

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