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John Saunders


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Tournament: 4th Varsity Match • Venue: West End Chess Club, London • Date: Wednesday 5 April 1876
Download PGNList of Varsity Matches • Back to 1875 • Forward to 1877 • last edited: Wednesday January 18, 2023 10:04 AM

The 4th Varsity Chess Match between Oxford University and Cambridge University was held at West End Chess Club, Great Hall, Freemasons' Tavern, London, on Wednesday 5 April 1876 at 1pm with Wilhelm Steinitz adjudicating unfinished games. Oxford won toss, took white on odds in first round of matches.

1875«     1876 Varsity Chess Match     »1877
Bd Oxford University Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Cambridge University
1w Hon. Horace Curzon Plunkett (University) 1-0 0-1 - John Neville Keynes (Pembroke)
2b William Grundy (Worcester) 0-1 1-0 - * Walter William Rouse Ball (Trinity)
3w Samuel Redhead Meredith (Brasenose) 1-0 1-0 1-0 Thomas Hughes Delabere May (Trinity)
4b Campbell Tracey (Lincoln) 1-0 1-0 1-0 James Thomas Chipperfield Chatto (Trinity)
5w Charles Lewis Brook (Trinity) 1-0 1-0 - Reginald Colebrooke Reade (King's)
6b John Oswald (Brasenose) 1-0 0-1 - William Hewison Gunston (St John's)
7w Walter Montague Gattie (Christ Church) 0-1 0-1 1-0 John William Lord (Trinity)

Sources: Oxford-Cambridge Chess Matches (1873-1987), (compiled by Jeremy Gaige, Philadelphia 1987); Huddersfield College Magazine, April 1876, p182; BCM; The Sunday Times (London, England), Sunday, April 09, 1876; pg. 6; Sergeant, Philip W, A Century of Chess (London 1934), p295-296 & 344 (ref'd as PWS); FreeBMD & other statutory records; Ancestry.com; FindMyPast.com; Who Was Who 1897-2007; Wikipedia. 8 of the 17 games played are available in the download.

[Huddersfield College Magazine, April 1876, p182 - which has V.Oswald for the Oxford board 6.]

"THE fourth Inter-University Chess match was played at the Freemasons' Tavern, in London, on Wednesday, April 5th [1876]. We think that all lovers of Chess will feel it a matter for congratulation that this contest seems now firmly established as an annual event, for although the standard of Chess attained by the Universities is by no means a high one, yet we believe that these matches tend very much to an increased cultivation of the game both in the Universities and amongst Chess-players in general.

"It will be seen from the score that the result of the match this year was decidedly in favour of Oxford, owing, perhaps, partly to the fact that they had only lost two members of last year's team, while Cambridge had been obliged to supply the places of four; but more, doubtless, to their having been roused to a greater sense of their need of practice by means of their crushing defeats in the two previous years. The result of the matches, so far as they have now been played, has been to give each University two victories, so that the contest next year may be expected to be unusually keen and exciting, since each side will no doubt do its utmost to turn the scale.

"On the three previous occasions the Universities have played under the auspices of the City of London Chess Club, but this year an invitation was sent to and accepted by them from the West End Chess Club, which we believe has only been in existence a few months, but which already numbers amongst its members some of the most eminent players in London. The manner in which the University clubs were received could not possibly have been more hospitable, and the arrangements were as complete as the utmost care could make them. Play commenced at one o'clock in the large hall of the Freemasons' Tavern, which was very tastefully decorated. The combatants were screened off in such a manner that they were not in the least incommoded by the spectators, while the latter had ample facilities for watching any game they pleased. The first game was scored by Cambridge, Mr. Lord's opponent having been complaisant enough, by taking a proffered piece, to render himself liable to an immediate mate. Fortune, however, soon turned, for Messrs. Meredith, Brook, and Tracey each won a game in quick succession, and shortly before the time fixed for adjournment, the Oxford Captain, Mr. Plunkett, succeeded in winning a hard fought game from Mr. Keynes on board No. 1, though on the other hand Mr. Ball won a game for Cambridge against Mr. Grundy.

"After the adjournment, which lasted for an hour, the success of Oxford was still more marked, Mr. Meredith and Mr. Tracey each winning two more games, and Mr. Brook one. Mr. Oswald, also, who was playing in the match for the first time, won, after some careful play, what turned out to be the longest game in the match. Mr. Gattie, who had lost a second game to Mr. Lord, managed at last to show somewhat more of his proper strength, and won a victory for Oxford at the eleventh hour. Mr. Grundy also retrieved his former defeat. Two games were left to be adjudged, and both were given in favour of Cambridge, one of these being between Mr. Plunkett and Mr. Keynes, in which the latter had cleverly contrived to take advantage of two or three weak moves on the part of his opponent. The umpire, as on all previous occasions, was Herr Steinitz, and the greatest confidence was placed not only in his well known ability, but also in his perfect impartiality. The final result of the play was as follows...

"Decidedly the best played game in the match was the first one between Mr. Plunkett and Mr. Keynes, but we believe several of the others were not without interesting points, and the opinion was expressed at the time that the games on the whole were more carefully played than in former years. The victory was certainly as unexpected on the part of the Oxford team as it was decisive, for they have been for two years deprived of their strongest player, Mr. Parratt, who has not felt himself able to give the amount of practice to the game necessary to do himself justice. For ourselves we think his decision in this matter is to be regretted, and though it would be too much to say that his absence was the cause of Oxford's defeat last year, yet undoubtedly their work was made much harder, since each player had to contend against a stronger opponent than would otherwise have been the ease. It is curious that had Mr. Parratt played, three of this year's Oxford team would have been present or late inhabitants of Huddersfield or its immediate neighbourhood.

"After the match the two teams were invited to dinner by the West End Chess Club. Not less than fifty sat down to dinner, which was excellently served in the dining-room of the Freemasons' Tavern. We suppose the two London Clubs which have hitherto invited the Universities on these occasions, must have a well grounded conviction of the importance of such contests to Chess in general, for they have certainly displayed their hospitality on a scale which would be ruinous to clubs less enthusiastically supported. The after-dinner speeches this year were better than on previous occasions, Mr. Macdonnell especially exceeding the ordinary measure of even an Irishman's eloquence.

"On the whole we think the match may claim to be as great a success as any of its predecessors. Although the number of spectators was less numerous than on other occasions, this was amply accounted for by the fact that the match was chiefly played in the afternoon instead of, as before, at night, and the fact of a smaller attendance was a relief rather than otherwise to the players. In short, the West End Club and the University Clubs have only to offer each other mutual congratulations till the time for next year's match comes round. S. R. M. [presumably SR Meredith]

Westminster Papers, 1 May 1876: "The Fourth Annual Match between the Chess players of Oxford and Cambridge Universities was played at the Freemasons' Tavern, on the 5th ultimo, under the auspices of the West End Chess Club. Each University was represented by seven players, and the conditions of the match were that each competitor should play two games with a time limit of one hour for every twenty moves. Of the Oxford seven, five had taken part in last year's tilt, whilst four new champions appeared to do battle for Cambridge, and the match resulted in a decisive victory for the more experienced team, Oxford winning with a score of eleven to four. Two unfinished games were decided upon theory by Herr Steinitz, who on this, as if we recollect rightly, upon every other occasion when he has had that duty to perform, divided the honours equally between the two Universities. If these decisions of Herr Steinitz's affected the victory one way or the other, there would be very grave objections to the principle involved in them, for practical play is not always conducted in accordance with correct theory, even by the best players. As they do not, and never have affected the victory, the question suggests itself, why should such a ridiculous proceeding be permitted? The players were paired by their respective captains, according to their reputed skill, and the following table shows the pairing and the score.

"After the match the competitors were entertained at a dinner provided by the members of the West End Chess Club, Mr. Eccles, the president of the club, in the chair. The toast of the evening, "Our Guests," proposed in fitting terms by the president, was responded to by the Honourable H. Plunkett on behalf of Oxford, and by Mr. Lord on behalf of Cambridge."

The Sunday Times (London, England), Sunday, April 09, 1876; pg. 6; "The fourth annual match between the Oxford and Cambridge Chess Clubs took place at the Freemasons' Tavern, under the auspices of the West-end Chess Club, on Wednesday. The following Is the pairing and final score of the teams, commencing at one o’clock, terminating at half-past seven, Stelnltz offlciatlng as umpire.

"During the progress of the match Mr Zukertort exhibited his wonderful skill in blindfold chess by playing six games simultaneously without seeing the board, and winning them all out of hand. This was a mere pleasant skirmish for Mr Zukertort, who has played as many as fourteen blindfold games at once without incurring any extraordinary fatigue."

Cambridge Independent Press, 8 Apr 1876: "Oxford won toss, white on board 1... Plunkett opened with a Steinitz Gambit (Vienna)... Ball played Ruy Lopez and won ... Meredith's opponent played a French... Chatoo-Tracey Giuoco Piano, won by Black ... one-hour adjournment at 4pm... Mr. Eccles in chair for dinner..."

Bury and Norwich Post, 11 Apr 1876, quotes The Field: "While on the subject of University competitions, we record our objection to the principle of the Universities making any parade of competition in any pursuit in which they cannot rank in the first flight. The fact that there should be any inducement for them to do so shows still more the foolish adulation which attends every University contest. If there were a University hopping or smoking match, we believe the people would crowd to see it, and would crown the winner with bays. In rowing, cricket, rackets, and athletics, the University representatives stand in the first flight, and can always contend against the world without disgrace, even though not always without defeat. But when they parade their billiards, their chess, and such like minor attainments in public, we ask, cui bono? They surely do not think to read a lesson by them, or to set up a standard of amateur merit therein. Half the counter-skippers who look on at their billiards can give them points; scores of those who watch their chess can give them pawn and two, and often a clear piece. Maybe they are promising aspirants for their class in these pursuits; but for public display there should be positive, not merely relative, merit to admire. With these deprecations we qualify the approval which in other respects we do not refuse to concede to the modern furore for University contests."

Cambridge Independent Press, 8 April 1876, p5: "OXFORD AND CAMBRIDGE CHESS MATCH. CHESS has within a few years improved so rapidly in popularity that tournaments, national, international, and provincial, and matches between individuals, clubs, and Universities have grown too frequent to excite any extraordinary interest. Nevertheless, the institution of an annual chess contest between the great Universities, whose more generally known combats are rather of an athletic than an intellectual nature, is in the present era of muscle worthy of peculiar attention.

"Correspondence games had frequently been played between the Oxford and Cambridge Chess Clubs, but it was not till the year 1873 that the idea was conceived of "putting them together over the board" at the time of year when people are keenly interested in the inter-University billiard and racquet matches, and, above all, in the great struggle on the Thames. The City of London Chess Club took the matter in hand, and the excitement occasioned in the chess world completely proved the happiness of the conception. A team of seven was chosen from either University, the ties being selected by the captains according to strength and not drawn by lot, and the number of games concluded within a fixed time decided the match.

"At the first meeting Dark Blue achieved a hollow victory—winning nine games to two—but in the lollowing year sustained a terrible reverse, losing thirteen games to three. In the latter match Mr. Plunkett—now captain of the Oxford team—lost two games to Mr. T. H. D. May, of Trinity, and much surprise was exhibited at tbe rapid improvement in Cambridge Chess. In 1875 Cambridge maintained its superiority, winning ten games to five, the quality of the games, however, being hardly up to the level of 1874.

"The match of Wednesday—the fourth of its kind—was arranged under the auspices of the West End Chess Club, who, lacking space to accommodate a large audience at their own rooms, engaged the Great Hall at Freemasons’ Tavern. Many of the great masters of metropolitan chess were present during the match, including the veteran Lowenthal, Messrs Steinitz and Blackburne, the victor and vanquisher in the late great single-handed contest; Mr. Manning, the president, and Mr. F. S. Walker, the hon. secretary of the City of London Chess Club; Mr. J. Eccles, president of the West End Chess Club; Rev. G. A. MacDonnell, Rev. C. E. Ranken, Mr. Leopold Hoffer, secretary pro tem, West End Chess Club: and Lord Dunsany, together with a considerable number of ladies. Play commenced shortly after one o’clock, tbe combatants being completely fenced in from the pressure of the numerous spectators.

"The pairing of the team was as follows : Oxford —1, Hon. H. C. Plunkett, University; 2, W. Grundy, Worcester; 3. S. R. Meredith, Brasenose; 4, C. Tracy, Lincoln; 5, C. L. Brook, Trinity; 6, J. Oswald, Brasenose; 7, W. Gattie, Christchurch. Cambridge—1, J. N. Keynes, Pembroke; 2, W. W. R. Ball, Trinity ; 3, T. H. T. May, Trinity; 4, J. T. C. Chatto, Trinity; 5, R. C. Reade, King’s; 6, W. H. Gunston, St. John’s; 7, J. W. Lord, Trinity.

"As Oxford won the toss for the first move on board No. 1. they—as in these cases the moves are taken at alternate boards—enjoyed the slight advantage of four first moves to three. Mr. Plunkett opened his game with a Steinitz gambit (a variation of the Vienna opening), and, after outliving a sharp and novel counter-attack from Mr. Keynes, won his game in good style. Mr. Ball adopted the Ruy Lopez game, and won, after a good game. Mr. Meredith did not succeed in getting an open game—his opponent preferring the French defence—but he won nevertheless.

"The game between Messrs. Chatto and Tracy took the shape of the Giuoco Piano, and was won by the second player. At four o’clock, when an adjournment for an hour took place, the Dark Blues had won four games to their opponents’ two. On play being resumed the champions of the Cam failed to improve their position, as at a quarter to seven the Dark Blues had scored seven games, to four won by Cambridge.

"At the conclusion of the match the score stood as follows;
1. Plunkett 1-1 Keynes
2. Grundy 1-1 Ball
3. Meredith 3-0 May
4. Tracy 3-0 Chatto
5. Brook 2-0 Reade
6. Oswald 1-1 Gunston
7. Gattie 1-2 Lord
12 5

During the progress of the University match, Mr. Zukertort exhibited his wonderful skill in blindfold chess by playing six games simultaneously without seeing the board, and winning them all out of hand. This was a mere pleasant skirmish for Mr. Zukertort, who has played as many as fourteen blindfold games at once without incurring any extraordinary fatigue. In another room Mr. Blackburne played simultaneously against all comers, but did not on this occasion display his remarkable powers in blindfold chess. Play being over, the University teams dined with the members of the West End Chess Club, the president, Mr. Eccles, occupying the chair."

File updated

Date Notes
21 July 2020 Original upload.
21 December 2020 The results table has been corrected. (I had the Oxford boards 2-4 in the wrong order. The game file was correct and unaffected.) My thanks to Jason Radley for drawing my attention to the error.
18 January 2023 Correction made to board 7 scores. My thanks to Gino Di Felice.
All material © 2020-2023 John Saunders