History of the Norfolk & Norwich Chess Club

Early Norfolk & Norwich Chess Club History (continued)

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Early on, Rainger had discovered the importance of inviting chess masters to a city that was far away from the main centres of population. Paul Morphy had excited the chess world with his blindfold exploits and although the club’s first visitor, the young blind player George Lumley, was far below the status of the great American player, considerable interest was aroused by his visit in March 1859. He was invited back again in January the following year. Rainger in his chess column provided this retort to one reader : “Had you attended the chess meeting on Friday evening last there would have been no necessity for your query respecting the play of Mr. Lumbley (sic). We beg to apprize you that Mr. L. did play four games simultaneously with the following result :- he won two games, lost one and the last was drawn.” Lumley, who came from Manchester, was particularly unusual in that he actually was blind. He earned a meagre living giving displays throughout Britain during 1859-1862 and then disappeared without trace.

Later in 1860, Josef Kling , a famous end game specialist and a player of some repute, gave the first standard simultaneous display (i.e. non-blindfold) in the city. It was not reported if his wife, who happened to have been Norwich-born, accompanied him.

The first master of true world class to visit was Ignatz Kolisch in June 1861. Presumably, he regarded provincial players as easy meat for he insisted on giving knight odds on every board. His result of 8 wins 2 draws and 3 losses just about justified his confidence.

The foresight shown by Rainger and Howard Taylor in their inspired choice as their next invited master is something of which the club can be proud. Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924), possibly the greatest of all British chess players, was becoming nationally known through his blindfold exploits in Manchester and at the London 1862 Congress. On 3rd December, 1862, the Norfolk amateurs gave the blindfold player a stern test for he achieved only a minus score of +2 =5-3. Blackburne was to visit Norwich on numerous subsequent occasions and before almost every display he remarked how pleased he was to return to the city that had given him his first professional engagement.

In May, 1866, Rainger made his last great contribution to Norwich chess when he organised a successful double event. On the first day Blackburne entertained with one of his celebrated blindfold exhibitions (+8 =2 -0) and on the next day the distinguished veteran Lowenthal gave a conventional simultaneous display.

Unquestionably, the club’s most influential member was the previously mentioned local solicitor, John Odin Howard Taylor (1836-1890). He was an originator of the concept of awarding a ‘best game prize’ in tournaments. His book Chess Brilliants (1869) contained the best games of great players many of whom he was to entertain at his house ‘Pinebanks’ at Thorpe, near Norwich. His later Chess Skirmishes (1889), also published in Norwich, contains invaluable information about early Norfolk chess. (continue …)

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