Joseph Henry Blackburne

by Bill Wall

Joseph Henry Blackburne was born on December 10, 1841 in Manchester (Chorlton-on-Medlock), England. As a youth he became an expert at checkers. His father was a great temperance reformer who travelled all over Britain and Ireland, taking his son with him. It is ironic that Joseph Blackburne became famous for his hard drinking of whiskey while giving simultaneous chess exhibitions.

In 1859, at the age of 18, he learned the game of chess after being inspired by Paul Morphy. At the time, Blackburne was assisting his father producing daguerreotypes.   In 1860, Blackburne joined the Manchester Chess Club.

In July 1861 he lost all 5 games in a match with Manchester's strongest player, Edward Pindar. Three months later Blackburne defeated Pindar with 5 wins, 2 draws, and only 1 loss. In November 1861 Louis Paulsen came to Manchester to give a simultaneous blindfold exhibition. Blackburne was one of his opponents, and lost. Blackburne was inspired by Paulsen to also give blindfold exhibitions. Blackburne was soon playing chess blindfolded with 3 players simultaneously.

In 1861-1862 Blackburne was the champion of the Manchester Chess Club. Runner-up was Horwitz. He then entered the London International Tournament (the world's first chess round robin or all-play-all tournament) in 1862 and defeated Steinitz in their individual game. Blackburne came in 9th place. Time was measured with sand glasses. It was actually Blackburne who suggested chess clocks.

In 1862 Blackburne was giving blindfold exhibitions. He challenged 10 members of the Manchester chess club, winning 5, drawing 3, and losing 2. He did the same with the same score during the London International Tournament in July, 1862. (source: London Times, July 5, 1862, p. 32)

Blackburne had been working in a warehouse, but upon his return to Manchester, his job was taken over by someone else. So he turned to chess to be his profession.

At the end of 1862 (December 1862-January 1863) he played Steinitz in a match in London and lost. He had lost 7 games, drew 2, and won one game.

In 1863 Blackburne began travelling all over Britain to give blindfold simultaneous exhibitions.

By 1866 Blackburne was playing chess professionally.

In 1867 Blackburne was playing chess at the Pursell's chess club in London. Steinitz said that Blackburne assaulted him and gave him a black eye. Steinitz then spit on Blackburne. Other sources say that Steinitz spit first, and then Blackburne knocked Steinitz through a window in retaliation. This incident was repeated in Paris a few years later. In September 1867, he took 5th place at Dundee, England, behind Neumann, Steinitz, MacDonnell, and De Vere.

In 1868-9 Blackburne won the 2nd British championship after defeating the former title holder, de Vere, in the last round. He won the British championship one more time, in 1914 when he was 72.

In March, 1869 Blackburne won the playoff to the British championship. He was now regarded as England's best player, a position he held for over 30 years.

In July-August 1870, he took third place at Baden-Baden, behind Anderssen and Steinitz. During the tournament, Blackburne was arrested for being a French spy. It was all a mistake. It turned out that Blackburne's carriage driver was the French spy.

In June-July 1872, he took second place in London, behind Steinitz.

In April 1873, Blackburne gave a 10-board blindfold simul at the Sheffield, England chess club.  He won 6, drew 2, and lost 2.

In July 1873, he tied with Steinitz in Vienna, but lost the play-off match against Steinitz with two losses. The tournament book called Blackburne the Black Death (der schwarze Tod) and that became his nickname.

In 1874, he was giving blindfold and simultaneous chess exhibitions in Holland.

In February-March 1876, Blackburne lost a match against Wilhelm Steinitz, losing all 7 games. The games were played in London at the West-End Chess Club. It was considered an unofficial world championship match. This was the first time that spectators were charged an entrance fee (half a guinea) to see a chess match.

In March-April 1876, Blackburne won a London tournament with 10 out of 11.

In 1878 Blackburne defeated Bird in a match with a 5-2 score. He also took 3rd place in Paris in July, behind Winawer and Zukertort.

In 1880 he won at Wiesbaden, Germany and gave exhibitions in Holland.

In August-September 1881, he took first place in the 2nd German Chess Federation Championship in Berlin, 3 points ahead of Zukertort, Tchigorin, and Winawer. He then defeated Zukertort in a match in June-July in London. Blackburne won 7, drew 5, lost 2.

In May-June 1882, he took 6th place at Vienna.

In April-June 1883, he took 3rd place at the 1883 London tournament, behind Zukertort and Steinitz.

In July 1885, he took 2nd at the 4th German championship, held in Hamburg. First place went to Gunsberg. Later that year he had suffered a severe illness and was ordered to take a long voyage. In 1885 Blackburne travelled to Australia and New Zealand to give chess exhibitions.

In 1886 Blackburne played in the Irish championship, but it was won by Pollock. He won the British Chess Club Championship in London.

In 1887 Blackburne defeated Zukertort in a match with 5 wins, 7 draws, and 1 loss. In July 1887, he took 2nd at the 5th German championship, held in Frankfurt. First place went to Mackenzie.

In May 1889, Blackburne took 4th place in the 6th American Chess Congress in New York.

In July 1889 he tied for 1st in the 6th German championship in Breslau.

In 1890 he took 2nd at Manchester, behind Tarrasch.

In 1891 he was invited to go to Havana for a chess exhibition. He defeated the champion of Spain and the champion of Mexico in matches while there. He beat Golmayo with 5 wins, 2 draws, and 3 losses. He defeated Vasquez with 5 wins and 1 draw. These were his last matches.

In 1892 Blackburne tied with Mason in Belfast, Ireland.

In September 1894, he took 4th place in the 9th German championship in Leipzig.

In 1895 he drew a match with Bardeleben with 3 wins, 3 draws, and 3 losses.

In August-September 1895, he took 10th place at Hastings (won by Pillsbury).

In July-August 1896, he took 11th place at Nuremburg, Germany. In September-October, he tied for 1st at Berlin.

In May-July 1898, he took 11th at the Kaiser Jubilee in Vienna.

In the 1890s he was playing over 2,000 games a year in simultaneous exhibitions.

Blackburne was still giving simultaneous exhibitions in his 70s. During a simultaneous exhibition at Cambridge University, the students thought they would gain the advantage by placing a 2 bottles of whiskey near the boards. Blackburne won all his games in record time and finished off both bottles of whiskey before the exhibition was over.

In 1899 Blackburne defeated world champion Lasker at a London tournament. It was the first time a British player had defeated a reigning world chess champion. He took 6th in that event (won by Lasker). That year he also published Mr. Blackburne's Games at Chess, edited by P. Anderson Graham.

In 1904 he took 3rd in the British Championship at Hastings. In 1907 he tied for 2nd. In 1910 he tied for 2nd. In 1913 he took 3rd. In 1914 he tied for 1st with Yates at Chester, England. He was 72.

He defeated Nimzovich at St. Petersburg in 1914 when he was 72. That same year he tied for first place in the British championship with Yates. This was Blackburne's last international tournament.

In 1918 a bomb fell near his home and Blackburne suffered from severe shock.

In 1921 Blackburne was still giving simultaneous exhibitions.

In 1922 his wife died.

In 1923, Blackburne had a slight paralytic stroke.

He died at his residence at Lewisham on September 1, 1924 at the age of 82. His funeral took place at Ladywell Cemetery on September 4, 1924. It is estimated he played over 100,000 chess games in his career, more than any other chess player. His Elo historical rating is at 2570. He participated in 53 national or international tournaments in 53 years of international play. His nickname in England was "Prince of Tournament players."

Blackburne - Fleissig, Vienna 1873

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.Qe2 Bc5 6.c3 b5 7.Bc2 d5 8.exd5 Qxd5? (8...Ne7) 9.d4 Bd6 10.Bb3 Qe4 11.Qxe4 Nxe4 12.Bd5  1-0