the Violet
David Lindsay’s Chess Game

Alongside further entries in its chess-problem tourney and some international chess news, the regular Friday chess column of The Kentish Mercury for 17th March 1899 included the following item:

We are indebted to Mr. D. Lindsay, of Blackheath-rise, for the following game. “It was played by two amateurs, and appears to be a variation of the Jerome Gambit.” :—

  White Black
1 P—K 4 P—K 4
2 Kt—K B 3 Kt—Q B 3
3 B—B 4 B—B 4
4 P—Q 4 P x P
5 B x P ch (a) K x B
6 Kt—Kt 5 ch K—K sq
7 Q—B 3 Q—K 2 (b)
8 Castles Kt—K 4
9 Q—Q Kt 3 P—K R 3
10 Kt—R 7 P—K Kt 3
11 P—K B 4 P—Q 6 dis ch
12 K—R sq Kt—Kt 5
13 P—B 5 Q x Kt
14 P x P Q x P
15 Kt—B 3 Q—R 4
16 B—B 4 Kt—B 7 ch
17 R x Kt B x R
18 R—K B sq B—Q 5
19 Kt—Q 5 B—Kt 3
20 B x P P—Q 3
21 B x P Q—Kt 3
22 R—B 8 ch (c) K—Q 2
23 P—K 5 Kt—K 2
24 Q—Kt 5 ch Kt—B 3
25 Kt—B 6 ch K—K 3
26 Q—Q 5 ch K—B 4
27 P—K 6 dis ch Resigns

(You can go through the game on the board below. Click the board to advance a move, use the buttons, or click a move in the above list to display it.)

Move: 0

The column compiler adds the following notes (click a note letter to jump the board to the move referred to):

(a) It is interesting to meet with these variations from the ordinary dull methods. But this line of play cannot be commended.

(b) If now Q—R 3 all White’s attack (?) vanishes. Black might even play Kt—K 4 at once.

(c) Much easier and simpler was 22 Q—Kt 5 ch, and mate in two moves.

In his biography of Lindsay, Bernard Sellin says Lindsay went through a period of interest in chess, “to which he devoted himself with so much fervour that it brought on a nervous breakdown.” (p. 16) In the Translator’s Preface to Sellin’s book, Kenneth Gunnell describes how he played a few games against a much older Lindsay, now living in Hove, but found his abilities “at best, no more than that of a very average club player” (page xxii). After winning two games, Gunnell thought to flatter his host by letting him win the next, but Lindsay saw through the attempt.

Whenever David’s involvement with chess started, I first find him mentioned as playing for the Lewisham Chess Club in 1898 (when he would have been 22), in a match against the Argus Bicycle Club’s chess team. One of the Argus’s more enthusiastic members (editing their gazette, sitting on their committee, being a steward at some of their social gatherings, often acting in the farces they put on as part of their annual “Bohemian Concerts”, and having the highest bicycle-run attendance in 1898) was David’s brother, Alexander, who is listed as playing on the Argus chess team — though not against his brother. David wins his match, Alexander loses his.

The Lewisham Chess Club seems to have, at this time, recently reformed itself. It had been around in 1891, but petered out in 1895 after briefly becoming the Lewisham and Greenwich Chess Club. This 1898 match is the first mention I can find of it since then.

This 1898 match, and the subsequent ones where we find David playing, were part of the Kent County Cup, a competition which had been around since at least 1891. Chess enjoyed a boom in the second half of the 19th century, particularly in London, which hosted some of the first international tournaments. Local clubs formed, counties formed associations and arranged county-wide competitions. The Kent County Cup (among other prizes) was awarded at the Kent Chess Association’s annual Congress in the summer.

David Lindsay can be found playing in the 1898–1899, 1899–1900, 1900–1901, 1901–1902 and 1902–1903 seasons for Lewisham. In none of these years did Lewisham get to the final, despite David (and the Lewisham club overall) seeming to win most of the games I find him participating in — until, that is, the final season, when he loses. (Frustratingly, matches aren’t reported consistently in the local papers.) They certainly stood a chance of winning, as one of their members, O C Muller, was individual county champion in 1900, and won second place in 1901.

In the 1901–1902 season David is obviously still enthusiastic about the game, as he’s now the club secretary, arranging the meetings (at the Plough, near Lewisham Station) and taking membership subscriptions. But in the 1902–1903 season, Lewisham as a club don’t do as well as before (they don’t enter the County Cup at all the following year, only the Junior-level Lewis Cup), and David loses the only game I find his name mentioned in. It’s tempting to read this, in the light of the brief mention chess gets in Sellin’s biography, as the start of his break with the game, but it’s impossible to be sure.

One reason it’s a pity Lewisham didn’t get to the final during his time with them is that David, as club secretary, might have gone to the Kent Chess Association’s congress to receive the prize — and so have met one of the prize-givers, fantasy author Lord Dunsany (though his first book, The Gods of Pegana, wouldn’t come out till after all this, in 1905). Dunsany was a chess enthusiast, member of the Sevenoaks Chess Club for 54 years, and at one point was president of the Kent Chess Association.

The Kentish Mercury’s chess column was compiled by “S. Tinsley”, who I guess is the same Samuel Tinsley (Wikipedia page here) who ran The Times’s chess column until his death in 1903. (He was buried in Lewisham Cemetery.) After that, his three sons took over the work, one of whom was also an S. Tinsley, who once gave a presentation on chess on the BBC. (See Chess for more on the Tinsleys.)

I can’t help feeling Tinsley’s comments on Lindsay’s game amount to a bad review, though they could also be taken as educational, of course. The Jerome Gambit mentioned in the quote (which I presume is from Lindsay himself, who I’d guess is one of the “two amateurs” that played the game), is, as its Wikipedia entry has it, an “unsound chess opening”, though one that “has the saving grace of leading to a lively game”, which had some currency in the last quarter of the 19th century. It was first published in the Dubuque Chess Journal in 1876, which is also David Lindsay’s birth year.