The Gambiteers Guild

Hall of Fame

Blackburne, Joseph Henry (1841-1924)

by Wim van Vugt

Blackburne was born in Manchester (England) where he also grew up and learned drafts at an early age. This board game was for long more popular than chess and only when Morphy inspired so many folks also Blackburne was attracted to the game, only at the age of 18. At the age of 20 years he played a 5-games match against the local club champion Pindar but was heavily defeated: 5-0, but three months later he had already enormously grown in strength and won the revenge match with 6-2. Shortly thereafter he became the new club champion himself, ahead of Pindar and Horwitz. Besides his outstanding tactical capacities he became one of the leading endgame players of his time. Blackburne was also one of the strongest blindfold players of all times. Besides tournaments he earned his livelihood by simultaneous displays, for which he constantly toured all over England for more than 50 years.

A well know gambit line in the Vienna was invented by him (1876): 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 d5 4.fxe5 Nxe4 5.d3 Bb4! (better than de deceptive 5…Qh4+ 6.g3 Nxg3 7.Nf3 Qh5 8.Nxd5) 6.dxe4 Qh4+ 7.Ke2 Bxc3 8.bxc3 Bg4+ 9.Nf3 dxe4 10.Qd4 Bh5.

Known as ”every inch an Englishman” he always kept true to his country, but in chess he put off all gentleness to set a Spanish fire to everyone’s legs. He has won a many games for his country. An anecdote tells that during a certain tournament he had played against a German opponent whom he had overtaken by sly play in the end whereupon this guy had spread: ”Dieser Linkmiechel hat mir doch ganz beschwindelt!” Blackburne could not understand what was a ”Linkmiechel” and asked around if anyone could explain the word, but nobody could. In the end he went to the tournament director to ask: ”Please tell me, Sir. What do you know about a Linkmiechel? Is he a gentlemen or is he not?” Because of his exquisite schwindling capacities in seemingly dead positions, he became known as ”Der schwarze Tod” (the black dead). He remained strong at even high age. The beautiful win he scored at the age of 73 over the young Nimzowitsch in 1914, for which he deservedly received the beauty prize, will duly remember him.

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