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- Chess History and Reminiscences - 30/38 -

47 K to K2 K to Kt3 48 R to K6 ch K to B4 49 R to K7 Kt to K4 50 R to K8 P to Kt5 51 R to B8 ch

Driving him where he wants to go!

51 K to K5 52 R to B6 P to B6 ch 53 K to Q sq P to Kt6 54 R to B8 P to Kt7 55 R to Kt8 P to B7 Resigns.



The Arabs are the first we read of among the people of the East who excelled in playing chess without seeing the board. The introduction to one of Dr. Lee's manuscripts in his Oriental collection, relates examples of the early Mohammedan doctors, and even of companions and followers of the Prophet, who either themselves played chess or were spectators of the game. Some of them also are said to have played behind their back, i.e. without looking at the board, and it may not be generally known that the manuscript in the British Museum 16,856 copied in 1612, which is a translation and abridgment of an older work in Arabic, contains a full chapter with a lengthy description, combined with maxims and advice for playing chess without seeing the board. Al Suli, who died A.D. 946, and Ali Shatranji, at Timur's Court, 1377 A.D. (the chess giants of their respective ages), were each highly proficient in Blindfold Chess. A man named Buzecca, in 1266, on the invitation of Guido du Novelli, the friend and munificent patron of Dante, and who was Master of Ravenna, gave an exhibition of his powers at Florence, which occasioned much surprise and admiration.

The unknown author of the famous and unique manuscript, bequeathed by Major Price, the eminent Orientalist, to the Asiatic Society, which has formed the subject of so much discussion among the learned, parades his own chess prowess, in a manner not unworthy of some great chess exponents of the present age. "And many a one," he says in his preface, "has experienced a relief from sorrow and affliction in consequence of this magic recreation"; and this same fact has been asserted by the celebrated physician Muhammad Zakaria Razi, in his book entitled: "The Essence of Things": "And such is likewise the opinion of the physician Ali Bin Firdaus, as I shall notice more fully towards the end of the present works, for the composing of which I am in the hope of receiving my reward from God, who is Most High and Most Glorious."

The philosopher continues: "I have passed my life since the age of fifteen years among all the masters of chess living in my time, and since that period till now, when I have arrived at middle age, I have travelled through Irak Arab, and Irak Ajam, and Khurasan, and the regions of Mawara al Nahr (Transoxania), and I have there met with many a master in this art, and I have played with all of them, and through the favour of Him who is Adorable and Most High I come off victorious."

"Likewise in playing without seeing the board I have overcome most opponents, nor had they the power to cope with me. I the humble sinner now addressing you, have frequently played with one opponent over the board and at the same time I have carried on four different games, with as many adversaries, without seeing the board, whilst I conversed freely with my friends all along, and through the Divine favour I conquered them all. Also in the great chess, I have invented sundry positions as well as several openings, which no one else ever imagined or contrived."

Notwithstanding the accounts and allusions to Blindfold Chess here referred to, it would seem to have been generally unknown to us at the time when Philidor performed his intellectual feat of playing two games blindfold, and one over the board, on several occasions at the St. James Street Chess Club, about a century ago. The club which was held at Parsloes Hotel, was formed in 1770, and its members comprised many prominent, celebrated, and distinguished men: Pitt, Earl of Chatham, C. J. Fox, Rockingham, St. John, Mansfield, Wedderburn, Sir G. Elliott, and other well-known names are recorded among the visitors and spectators there. Whilst the players who contended against Philidor at the slightest shade of odds included Sir Abraham Janssens, the Hon. Henry Conway, Count Bruhl, Mr. George Atwood (mathematician and one of Pitt's financial secretaries), Dr. Black, the Rev. Mr. Boudler, and Mr. Cotter. Stamma, of Aleppo, engaged in London on works of translation, and who was one of the best chess players, was matched against Philidor, but won only one out of eight games. These contests took place at Slaughter's Coffee House, in St. Martin's Lane, long a principal meeting place for leading chess players. Philidor does not seem to have tried more than two games blindfold, but such was the astonishment they caused at the time, that doubts were expressed whether such an intellectual feat would ever be repeated; and certainly from the tenor of press notices of the event, and Philidor's own memoranda, it seems that it could not have been contemplated or conceived that performances on the scale we have witnessed in our days by Louis Paulsen, 1; Paul Morphy, 2; J. H. Blackburne, 3; and Dr. J. H. Zukertort, 4, would become, comparatively speaking, so common in a future generation. The following article, from a newspaper of the period, was thought to reflect with tolerable accuracy the general impression prevailing at the time in regard to these performances.

The World, a London newspaper in its issue of the 28th May, 1783, makes the following remarks upon Philidor's performance of playing two games simultaneously without sight of the board. It scarcely, however, comes up to our American cousin's views of Morphy in 1858, just three-quarters of a century later. It says: "This brief article is the record of more than sport and fashion, it is a phenomenon in the history of man and so should be hoarded among the best samples of human memory, till memory shall be no more. The ability of fixing on the mind the entire plan of two chess tables without seeing either, with the multiplied vicissitudes of two and thirty pieces in possible employment on each table, is a wonder of such magnitude as could not be credible without repeated experience of the fact."

Philidor himself notes also, being of opinion that an entire collection of the games he has played without looking over the chess board would not be of any service to amateurs, he will only publish a few parties which he has played against three players at once, subjoining the names of his respectable adversaries in order to prove and transmit to posterity a fact of which future ages might otherwise entertain some doubt.

During the years 1855-6 and 7, Louis Paulsen at Chicago, and other cities in the west of America, first accomplished the feat of playing ten games at chess simultaneously, without seeing the board or pieces, now familiarly called Blindfold Chess; and at Bristol, in 1861, and at Simpson's Divan, London, in the same year, he repeated the performance, on the last occasion meeting twelve very powerful opponents.

The phenomenon Paul Morphy, from New Orleans, when twenty years of age only, conducted eight games blindfold at Birmingham, in August, 1858, losing one to Dr. Salmon of Dublin, drawing with Mr. Alderman Thomas Avery, and winning the remaining six. Morphy at Paris, in March, 1859, repeated the performance, and won all eight games; his play was superb, and all agree has never been surpassed, if equalled, and drew forth press notice even more gushing than that bestowed upon his predecessor Philidor.

J. H. Blackburne appeared in 1862, and with Louis Paulsen, the pioneer of the art upon the extended scale, was engaged by the British Chess Association at their International Gathering, in 1862, to give blindfold exhibitions; each played ten games with great success, amid much appreciation. Mr. Blackburne's subsequent thirty years blindfold chess is too well known to require comment, he is admitted to be second to none in the exposition of the art, some even claim superiority for him over all others.

Dr. Zukertort, on the 21st December, 1876, at the St. George's Chess Club, contended blindfold with sixteen competitors, comprising the best players that could be found to oppose him. From a physiological point of view Zukertort's powers appear the most extraordinary, because his abstraction for chess was far less pronounced, and his mind seemed to be of a more varied and even discursive kind. It would scarcely have been less surprising to have seen players like Staunton, Buckle, or Der Lasa performing blindfold chess.

The number of players of all grades of chess force who now can play without seeing the board is amazing; a tournament for blindfold play only could well be held. The faculty of playing chess blindfold is thought to apply mostly to those who have extraordinary retentive memories of a peculiar kind, and great powers of abstraction very slightly brought into action or diverted by other pursuits. This seems to be confirmed in considering the great chess exponents who have played blindfold, and those who have not, a comparison has been adduced but which might seem invidious to expatiate on.

NOTE. Sachieri, a Jesuit of Turin, who lived in the 17th century, had a most surprising memory. He could play at chess with three different persons without seeing one of the three boards, his representative only telling him every move of the adversary. Sachieri would direct him what man to play, and converse with company all the time. If there happened a dispute about the place of a man, he could repeat every move made by both parties from the beginning of the game, in order to ascertain where the man ought to stand. He could deliver a sermon an hour long in the same words and order in which he heard it. This is very remarkable, as the Italian sermons are unmethodical and unconnected, and full of sentences and maxims.

Blackburne does the same. At one of the few blindfold performances I have witnessed by him, viz., at Montreal, in 1889, during our adjournment to dinner the positions had become disarranged, but Blackburne on resumption called over all the eight games, with great facility, and perfect accuracy, the resumption being delayed not more than five minutes.

The Razi referred to above (called by our medieval writers Rhasis) was a celebrated physician of Bagdad, where he died about A.D. 922.

The Author of the British Museum M.S. says:

Chess History and Reminiscences - 30/38

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