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Belfast Chess Club in the 1886-1887 Season

The Irish Chess Association Congress, held in Belfast from 20th September to 1st October 1886 and which featured the participation of the English masters, Blackburne, Burn and Pollock, had a profound effect on the immediately following chess season in the city.

Only two weeks later the Belfast News-Letter chess column reported that at a special meeting of the Belfast Chess Club on Monday13th October it was decided to re-organise the club. It also mentioned that no less that fifteen new members were elected to the club on the night. The column expressed the following hope for the future:

The members of the Salvio Club have hitherto held aloof for the most part from the older institution, and many other local players have followed their example in this respect. It is hoped that the old club, reorganised, in a new home, and endowed with a new vitality, will now draw within itself all who are interested in the promotion of the game in Belfast and its neighbourhood, and will quickly attain to a prosperity exceeding any it has known in its chequered history.

The following week’s column reported that

in their new programme of reform, the Belfast Club are about to remove to more convenient and comfortable rooms at 5, Murray’s Terrace, where during the coming season the club will meet every Wednesday and Saturday evening. At the new rooms, we understand, refreshments from the lightest to the most substantial can be obtained by members, and in order to meet the convenience of those who may wish to dine in the club rooms before commencing play, they will be open to members from five o’clock on Wednesday evenings, and on Saturdays from three o’clock. It is intended that the club shall subscribe to all the leading chess periodicals and columns, and shall funds permit, accumulate a good chess library, so that the new rooms shall be chess reading-rooms as much as chess-playing rooms.

Elsewhere, the Salvio Chess Club had opened its season on Monday 20th October, when several new members were elected, the annual winter tournament had commenced and a match with the Lurgan Club was under consideration.

The Belfast Chess Club met its new rooms for the first time on Wednesday 3rd November. The Belfast New-Letter column the following weeks brought an update on developments. Forty-two (!) new members had joined the club since the opening of the season and the idea of a match with the Dublin Chess Club in Belfast was being mooted [the match did in fact take place in April 1887]. A revised code of rules had been adopted: Rule IX provided that

In addition to such other matches or competitions as may be from time to time arranged there shall be (1) an annual handicap tournament … and also (2) a continuing competition for the championship of the club, and the possession for the time being of the club’s silver cup and medal.

James Neill, the veteran of the Belfast-Dublin telegraph matches of the 1860s, was elected initial champion. All the members of the first class had the right of challenge the champion in a match for the first to three wins. Other members in the lower classes could challenge their way up to first class. What happened in respect of the club championship has not come down to us, but the first annual handicap under the new rules received quite a lot of attention in the press.

The Belfast News-Letter column for 2nd December reported that entries for the club handicap were about to close, while new members had now reached fifty-three. Two weeks later the column reported the handicap had attracted twenty entries and was now underway.

Three months on and the Belfast News-Letter reported in early March 1887 that

There are now two tournaments - a major and a minor – in progress at the Belfast Chess Club. The former, in which there are twenty competitors, is well advanced, and in a short time we will be able to form an estimate as to the probable result. The latter, formed for the benefit of those unable to join the former, is not yet far advanced. The winter tournament of the Salvio Club is also drawing to a conclusion.

On the 9th June the Belfast News-Letter chess column revealed that Robert Boyd (of the 7th class) had won the Salvio Chess Club Winter Handicap. Four weeks earlier, on the 5th May, it had reported the final results of the Belfast Chess Club’s handicaps and also offered a review of the season:

The season 1886-7 of the Belfast Chess Club, which closed on Saturday evening, has proved, we believe, the most successful it has ever had. The meeting of the Irish Chess Association last autumn, attended by several players of the first rank, attracted a new interest to the game in local circles, and led to a large increase in the club membership, raising it, we believe, from about fifteen to seventy. Numerous alterations were made at the beginning of the season in the organisation and regulations of the club. Of these the majority have worked well, but the year’s experience has pointed to some defects which it would be wise to remedy. A change, for instance, is required which, increasing the number of match games played on even terms relatively to those played at odds, will make the practice more improving; especially to the stronger players. By the introduction of such a change it may be expected that the standard of skill will be so raised that the Dublin club may be again faced with a result different from the last. The two handicap tournaments played out during the winter and spring have been keenly contested throughout. They have resulted as follows. The figure placed after a player’s name refers to the class in the club in which he is, the higher classes giving odds to those below them:-

1st   E. L. Harvey (1)  won 18    lost 1
2nd   Henry Seaver (4)  won 16.5  lost 2.5
3rd   A. Hill      (1)  won 15.5  lost 3.5
4th   James Neill  (1)  won 15    lost 4

1st   A. W. Child  (5)  won 10    lost 1
2nd   J. L. Downey (4)  won  8	  lost 3

The Irish Chess Chronicle for 15th May 1887 also reported the results of the two Belfast Chess Club handicaps and confirmed the step-change in the club’s fortunes:

On Saturday, 23rd ult., the Belfast Chess Club closed after the most successful season within the recollection of the oldest member. Everything is on the right side of the account with this fine Club.

The following game, between arguably two of the three best Belfast players of the time, appeared in the same issue of the Irish Chess Chronicle, and was probably played in the Major Tournament.

James Neill - E. L. Harvey: Belfast Chess Club Major Tournament 1886-1887
[Annotations by A. S. Peake in the Irish Chess Chronicle for 15th May 1887]

Play through this game in Our Game Viewer

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Bd3
4.Nf3 is usually played first, but it is not of much importance.
I have a preference for 4...c5. By the move in the text Black must lose a move, being obliged to defend the d-pawn.
5.Nc3 c6 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.Be3 Nf6 8.h3 Bh5 9.g4 Bg6 10.Qe2 Qe7 11.0-0 Nbd7 12.Rae1 0-0 13.Qd1 Qd8 14.Bg5 Qc7 15.a3
Lost time. 15.Nh4 preserves the attack, and negatives the strong counter effect of the opponent. We give a diagram of the position; it is abounding in pretty variations.

Image 85

15...h5 16.Bxf6 hxg4 17.Be7
Instead White might have played 17.Bxg6.
If 17...gxf3 18.Bxg7 Kxg7 19.Bh5 winning the f-pawn, and retaining chances of winning the game (in this line 19.Bf5 is probably even better - Ed.).
If 17...fxg6 18.Bxg7 Kxg7 19.Ng5 with fair prospects (as 18...Rxf3 in this line gives Black the advantage, White should content himself with 18.Ng5 Rxf6 19.Qxg4 giving equal prospects - Ed.).
If 17...gxf6 18.Bf5 gxf3 19.Qxf3.
If 17...Nxf6 18.Ng5 fxg6 19.Ne6
17...Bxd3 18.Bxd6 Qxd6 19.Qxd3 gxf3 20.Qxf3 Rae8 21.Kh1 Qh6 22.Rg1 Re6 23.Qg4 Rfe8 24.Rxe6 Rxe6 25.f4 Nf6 26.Qf3 Nh5 27.Rg5 Nxf4
Brilliant and sound. A pretty termination to a well played game.
28.Qxf4 Qxh3+ 29.Kg1 Re1+ 0-1

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