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John Saunders


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Tournament: 5th Varsity Match • Venue: St. George's Chess Club, 20 King Street, London • Date: Thursday 22 March 1877
Download PGNList of Varsity Matches • Back to 1876 • Forward to 1878 • last edited: Sunday September 3, 2023 6:51 PM

The 5th Varsity Chess Match between Oxford University and Cambridge University was held at St. George's Chess Club, 20 King Street, St. James's, London, on Thursday 22 March 1877 with Wilhelm Steinitz adjudicating unfinished games.

1876«     1877 Varsity Chess Match     »1878
Bd Oxford University Game 1 Game 2 Cambridge University
1b Hon. Horace Curzon Plunkett (University) ½-½ 1-0 John Neville Keynes (Pembroke)
2w William Grundy (Worcester) 1-0 0-1 * Walter William Rouse Ball (Trinity)
3b Campbell Tracey (Lincoln) 1-0 0-1 William Hewison Gunston (St John's)
4w Charles Lewis Brook (Trinity) 1-0 - James Thomas Chipperfield Chatto (Trinity)
5b Walter Montague Gattie (Christ Church) 1-0 ½-½ George Bertram Stocker (King's)
6w Francis Michael Wright (Queen's) 1-0 - Joseph Shield Nicholson (Trinity)
7b Raymond Mortimer Latham (Exeter) 1-0 1-0 Efric Leofwin Kearney (St Catharine's)

Sources: Oxford-Cambridge Chess Matches (1873-1987), (compiled by Jeremy Gaige, Philadelphia 1987); 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; The Oxford Review, 4 November 1885 (game annotation by J M Walker). 3 of the 12 games played are available in the download.

The Field, 24 March 1877: "This match, which has now firmly taken root amongst the annual rivalries of the two Universities, came off on Thursday at the rooms, and under the auspices of the St. George's Chess Club, 20 King St, St. James's, in a quiet manner, and without the ostentation of an exhibition before the general public. The members of the two teams assembled between one and two o'clock, and were paired according to strength as follows: [team lists - note that the top two boards of each side were listed as fellows of their colleges]

"Previous to the commencement of the match, a modification as regards the adjudication of the unfinished games was agreed upon by the two captains, the Hon. H. C. Plunkett and Mr Keynes, and the umpire, Mr Steinitz. It will be remembered that on former occasions the decision upon the games submitted for adjudication was based on the assumption that both sides would make the best moves, and an analysis from that point of view appeared in our columns. This system cannot be regarded in the least unjust in the abstract, as the chances of a deviation from the correct line of play may be considered equal on both sides; nor had any case arisen in former matches which did not admit of a clear demonstration. Nevertheless, and in order to remove all theoretical objections, it was agreed that the umpire should be be bound by strict scientific grounds only on the first two boards, and that he should then award the game if in his opinion an analysis of six moves deep could establish a superiority for either party in all variations. In all other cases the widest discretion was to be left in the hands of the umpire as regards declaring a game drawn, if in his judgment, including the calculation of chances of actual play, the difficulty of the position or the strength of the players were in the way of accomplishing another result for either side.

"The match commenced at ten minutes past two, the Cambridge captain having won the toss for the first move, which was taken in turn on the other boards. The first players commenced with e4 on all the boards, excepting at No. 6 where Mr Wright opened with d4, which his opponent answered with the Q fianchetto, 1...b6; and at board No. 7, where Mr Kearney opened irregularly with 1 f4. On board No. 1 1...e5 was replied by Plunkett, whereupon Keynes proceeded with the KB Opening.

"On board No. 2 Ball answered with the French début 1...e6. On No. 3 Gunston played the Ruy Lopez. On No. 4 Chatto replied with the close opening, 1...e6. No. 5 developed itself into a two knights' defence.

"The Oxonians had the advantage of the latest training in an all-round tournament, and also of having only one entirely new competitor, Mr Latham, as against two on the other side, namely, Messrs Stocker and Kearney. Nevetheless, the play seemed to be quite even up to half past three o'clock; and notably was the play at the rear of the team surprisingly good compared to previous years. About that time the prospects of Cambridge seemed to brighten, for on board No. 5 Gattie had made an unsound sacrifice of a piece for two pawns. Gunston had the best of the opening, having given a doubled pawn to the opponent on each wing of the board, and also shut up the latter's bishops. The other games presented no marked difference; but on board No. 7 some connoisseurs were attracted by an interesting complication, which was fought by both the combatants with a skill quite beyond the expectations which the two last players on the list, who were also entirely new comers, could otherwise have excited.

"At a quarter past four the game on board No. 1 was given up as a draw, and a second was soon commenced. But hardly had some of the spectators (who on hearing that a game had been finished had crowded round the table to see the end position) left the players on board No. 1 to open ther second encounter and settled again to watch other games already further developed, when a rumour ran through the room that the second game on board No. 1 was finished. And thus it was; for Mr Keynes, who, as second player, had adopted in the opening the Indian combination of ...g6 and ....d6, noticed in our columns in some of the games between Cochrane and Moheschunder, had by an ill-considered move left himself open to the loss of a clear piece, and, on Mr Plunkett making the right reply, resigned the second game on the eighth move. It is only fair to state that Mr Keynes in 1875 won two games, and last year made even games against the same opponent. [JS note - I should very much like to find this eight-move game Plunkett-Keynes but have so far drawn a blank. Surprising that such a short game should not have been published - any ideas?]

"Shortly after this sudden collapse Oxford scored another victory on board No. 7, which had been fairly gained by Mr Latham. The second game was then commenced on board No. 7, and in answer to Latham's 1.e4 Kearney evaded the open game by the Sicilian opening, 1...c5. Nothing of importance occurred for some time, excepting that Tracey had by a slip of his adversary relieved himself from his depressed position, and was now turning the tables by commencing a strong and well-conducted attack with his doubled rooks against the hostile K side, whereby he ultimately won the game in good style.

"No other game was finished up to 5.20, when again Cambridge had to strike the flag on board No. 2. Ball had commenced an attack, allowing his c-pawn to be captured at c5, and thus leaving the d-pawn isolated. His opponent cleverly held this weakness in sight, and after carefully resisting the pressure of attack, made it contribute to his own advantage, which finally increased to a winning one.

"At a quarter to six Latham added another victory for Oxford on board No. 7. Again no other opportunity arose for a second round on any of the other boards until 6.30, when, on board No. 5, Gattie, for Oxford, obtained a narrow victory. His opponent, with a piece ahead, had directed his attention to exchanging without brining out new pieces; and having thus weakened his prospect of victory, he would up by a mistake which entailed defeat at a time when, after all, he might have won without much exertion.

"Thus far the Cantabs had not scored a single game, but there did not seem to be great danger of Oxford scoring a love match, as the former team had much the best of the struggles on boards No. 4 and 6. On the latter Nicholson missed several opportunities of winning a hard-fought game, but ultimately came out with the exchange ahead. His opponent, however, wriggled out of his difficulties patiently in the ending game, and at last managed to come out with two passed pawns and the B against the R. From this point Wright played remarkably well to queen one of his pawns, and finally gained the R for a P, which left him with an easily winning passed P and a B, after which his opponent resigned at about seven o'clock—the longest game of the match, in point of number of moves, which had, in nearly five hours' play risen up to 79, thus making the score 7 love in favour of Oxford.

"Board No. 4 was destined to the longest in point of time, though only comprising 39 moves, both parties playing slowly. Brook had pushed his pawns on the Q side too far; and Chatto, after breaking through, had forced the gain of the exchange, keeping up his advantage for a long time. However, just at the last, about twelve minutes past seven, he, by an incautious movementallowed his opponent to win a piece with one of his advanced pawns, and Mr Chatto, the president of the Cantabs, chivalrously resigned without waiting for the decision of the umpire, whose turn to decide the pending games had already been announced. However, this consideration was requited almost simultaneously by the president of the Oxonians. Mr Tracey resigned a well-fought game, in which Mr Gunston—who, as second player in the second round, had adopted the French opening—had managed to obtain a winning attack, thus scoring the first game for Cambridge just before the conclusion of the actual play.

"The umpire, Mr Steinitz, then proceeded to adjudicate the two remaining games on boards No. 2 and 5; the former he awarded in favour of Mr Ball, of Cambridge. The game, with the umpire's grounds of decision, will be found below. On board No. 5 the game had not advanced beyond the opening, and the forces and position being equal, the umpire declared the game drawn. Thus ended the fifth annual Inter-University Chess Match decisively in favour of Oxford, by eight games to two and two draws, which gives the Oxonians the supremacy with three victories against two, Cambridge having won in 1874 and 1875.

"The contest was watched with the greatest attention by a select number of spectators, chiefly members of the St. George's and of the West end Chess Club, the members of the latter having been specially invited. Amongst the gentlemen present were the Rev. Professor Wayte, the Rev. F. Puller, the Rev. C. E. Ranken, Col Stirling, Capt. Hall, Capt. Kennedy, Capt. Ross, Dr Ballard, Messrs Barrington, Cubison, Eccles, Hoffer, Godfrey, Gumpel, Mackern, Minchin, Reid, Rosenbaum, Shaw, Strode, Rimington, Wilson, Wyvill and Zukertort.

"At the conclusion of the match the two teams were entertained by the members of the St. George's with a dinner at the Criterion in a company of about seventy* [* corrected to 'about forty' in the next issue of The Field] gentlemen, the hon. sec. of the St. George's (Mr Minchin) presiding in the unavoidable absence of the president (the Earl of Dartrey). After the meal the chairman, in giving the loyal toasts, coupled "The Health of the Royal Family" with the name of His Royal Highness Prince Leopold, to whose exertions for the promotion of the game amongst the University men at Oxford he paid a high tribute. In proposing the next toast—the health of the University Chess Clubs, coupled with the names of Messrs Tracey and Chatto, in responding, expressed their warmest appreciation of the hospitality shown by the St. George's Chess Club. Professor Wayte, in a humorous and laudatory address, proposed the health of the Chess Masters, coupled with the name of Mr Steinitz whose labours in chess literature and qualities as a player as a player he highly complimented. Mr Steinitz, in returning his warmest thanks for the honour done to him, remarked that the inter-university match was sure to rise in popularity, as it had the advantage over other sports, that the actual contest can be brought before outsiders who are not eye-witnesses, by means of the games being published. Mr Eccles the president of the Western [sic - should probably be West End] Chess Club, next proposed the Chess Press, coupled with the names of the Rev. C. E. Ranken, the editor of the Chess Player's Chronicle, who, in his reply, said that he felt highly gratified in responding for one portion of the periodical chess literature, and regretted the hostile personalities which found expression in another portion, and were totally opposed to the spirit of the game. Other toasts followed, and speeches by Mr. W. W. R. Ball, the Rev. F. Puller, Mr Gumpel, the president of the West-end Chess Club, and Mr Zukertort, brought a most enjoyable evening to a close."

Huddersfield College Magazine, April 1877: "The annual match between Oxford and Cambridge came off on Thursday, March 22nd, at the rooms of the St. George's Chess Club, London. The following score gives the result of the match, the combatants being paired according to their relative strength of play. " [score] "Oxford have now won three out of the five contests played."

Times, Saturday, 24 March 1877: "A marked contrast to many competitions between the rival Universities was afforded by the chess match played on Thursday at the rooms of the St George's Chess Club, King Street, St James's. As usual, six [sic] players represented each University, the gentlemen on this occasion being:- Oxford - Hon. H.C. Plunkett, University; W. Grundy, Worcester; C. Tracey, Lincoln; C.L. Brook, Trinity; W.M. Gattie, Christ Church; F.M. Wright, Queen's; and R.M. Latham, Exeter. Cambridge - J.N. Keynes, Pembroke; W.W. Ball, Trinity; W.H. Gunston, St John's; J.T.C. Chatto, Trinity; G.B. Stocker, King's; J.S. Nicholson, Trinity; and E.L. Kearney, St. Catharine's. Latham was the only new man in the Oxford team this year, while there were three fresh hands for Cambridge - Stocker, Kearney and Nicholson; the last named, however, played two years ago.

"The six [sic] couples were to play two games if possible, the result, of course, being decided by the majority of victories. The Hon. H.C. Plunkett, Oxford, and J.N. Keynes, Cambridge, had a hard struggle for the first game; Keynes commenced with the King's Bishop's opening, and early in the game appeared to have the better of the play; but it afterwards became more even, and Keynes proposed a draw - a perfectly fair proposition, as neither had sufficient advantage to win. The second game collapsed suddenly, Plunkett beating Keynes in eight moves. This is the third year that these gentlemen had been pitted against each other.

"The second table was occupied by W. Grundy (Oxford) and Ball (Cambridge). The first game, a French opening, lasted three hours and twenty minutes, at the end of which Ball had to yield to the superior tactics of his opponent. The second game between these players (a Ruy Lopez) was not completed, and was decided by the umpire in favour of Ball.

"C.Tracey, Oxford, and W.H. Gunston, Cambridge won a game each. Gunston adopted the Ruy Lopez opening and at first had the better of it, but let his advantage slip, and Tracey won in nice style; the second game, a French opening, resulted in a victory for Gunston.

"C.L. Brook (Oxford) and J.T.C. Chatto (Cambridge) took a little over five hours to decide their only game, in which were 39 moves. Chatto, who went in the for the French opening, had the exchange ahead up to the last few moves, but then lost his advantage, and Brook won the game.

"W.M. Gattie (Oxford) and G.B. Stocker (Cambridge) were three hours and a quarter deciding their first game. Gattie played the two knights defence and made an unsound sacrifice of a piece; Stocker kept exchanging without bringing new pieces to the front, and eventually making a mistake enabled his opponent to win. The second game between these gentlemen did not get much beyond the opening, and as the forces were even the umpires gave it as a draw.

"F.M. Wright (Oxford) and J.S. Nicholson (Cambridge) occupied 4 hours 50 minutes with their only game. Nicholson, who played a Queen's fianchetto, had the advantage for some time, but then made a weak move, and, after a long-ending game, Wright won on the 79th move - the greatest number of any in the match.

"R.M. Latham, Oxford, won two games against E.L. Kearney, Cambridge. The first, an irregular opening, which lasted a little more than three hours and a half, was a good game, but the second proved rather indifferent.

"From the foregoing it will be gathered that Oxford won the match by eight games to two, while two games were left drawn. The play showed, on the whole, an improvement on that of last year, and although there were no gambits, some of the games were interesting. Herr Steinitz was again requested by both Universities to adjudicate on the unfinished games. The teams were afterwards the guests of the St. George's Club at a dinner at the Criterion."

Westminster Papers, 2 Apr 1877: "There has been no lack of either incident or gossip in London Chess circles during the past month. It opened with the annual festival of the City Club, always the event of the Chess season ; that was followed by the publication of the long-deferred award of the prizes in the problem tourney of the late City Magazine, and dire rumours of impending battle between Mr. Blackburne and Herr Zukertort. To these succeeded much mental speculation in reference to the University match, anil finally, as a pleasant surprise, that interesting joust itself, while the Chess community was lost in wonder as to when and where it would be played this year. The uncertainty that existed, on that point, one so vital to the popularity and therefore the usefulness of the match, is much to be regretted. The interest of the public in the sports and pastimes of the Universities is widespread and genuine, and that feeling should be considered in the arrangements for the Chess match as it is in the case of the other games in which the undergraduates engage at this season. No doubt there were this year causes which in their operation made the provision for a suitable place of meeting in London troublesome ; although, with two important Chess clubs in the metropolis, there ought to be no difficulty in getting one or other of them to grant a favour that should involve no responsibility to the members beyond the use of their rooms and the necessary Chess-boards and pieces. These, we hope, would satisfy all the requirements of the University players; and that there should have been any obstacles in the way of providing them is perplexing, to say the least of it. The match, which was the fifth of the series, was played at the St. George's Chess Club on the 22nd ult., and, as on former occasions, fourteen players, seven on each side, paired according to their reputed skill, took part in it. Each pair was required by the conditions to play two games, but in any case the play was to be ended and the score to be taken at half-past seven in the evening. As might be expected in the circumstances, there were very few spectators, although the club was for that day thrown open to any person desirous of witnessing the play. That, we may observe, was remarkably slow, only three of the pairs succeeding in completing two games within the period fixed for the duration of the match ; and when, at half-past seven," time " was called, it was found that Oxford had achieved a hollow victory, with a score of eight to one and one game drawn."

File updated

Date Notes
21 July 2020 Original upload.
3 September 2023 Added the game Gunston 0-1 Tracey, kindly supplied by Tim Harding.
All material © 2020 John Saunders