200 Years Ago

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This week saw my own Chessable blog posts pass the 200 mark. It does not feel very long ago since I reached 100 posts, but the deception of time set me thinking about what sort of chess was played 200 years ago.

Away from the chess board, the world witnessed the start of the Greek War of Independence, the death of Napoleon Bonaparte and the coronation of King George IV.

The First International Chess Tournament was still thirty years away. Howard Staunton, lead organiser of the famous 1851 London tournament, was just 11 years old.

The death of François-André Danican Philidor in 1795 had left his fellow Frenchman Alexandre Deschapelles as, perhaps, the strongest player in the world. However, in 1821 he was in the process of being overtaken by his pupil, Louis-Charles Mahé de La Bourdonnais.

1821: Chess Tactics

We don’t have many games from 1821 but that is not to say they aren’t any interesting and instructive positions at all.  The first example makes excellent use of a chess tactic.

200 Years Ago John Cochrane - William Lewis

John Cochrane – William Lewis
White to Play

34.Qxf5+!

Forking the king and the rook – in addition to forcing checkmate.

34…Rxf5

34…Kb8 only delays the inevitable; 35.Qxf8+ Qc8 36.Qxc8+ Kxc8 37.Re8 checkmate.

35.Re8 checkmate.

1821: Checkmating Attacks

Alexandre Deschapelles had a sharp eye for tactics and checkmates. Here, Cochrane’s king has been forced into an extremely dangerous position and it is now checkmate in two moves.

John Cochrane - Alexandre Deschapelles Checkmate in Two Moves

John Cochrane – Alexandre Deschapelles
Black to Play

28…Nec4+

29.bxc4 Qa4 checkmate.

John Cochrane - Alexandre Deschapelles

The next example features the same two players. Incidentally, in this game and the previous one, Alexandre Deschapelles gave odds of a pawn and a move. This means he removed his f7-pawn before starting play and allowed White to make his first two moves before making his own first move.

John Cochrane - Alexandre Deschapelles Black AttackingJohn Cochrane – Alexandre Deschapelles
Black to Play

24…Rxh3+!

A fabulous and instructive sacrifce.

25.Kxh3 Qh4 checkmate.

Checkmate in 1821

I like the contrast between these two examples, in which the white king is checkmated first on the queenside and then on the kingside.

The Revenge of John Cochrane

It would not do at all to present John Cochrane as a player who always lost to the bigger-name players. Cochrane, a Scottish player of master strength, followed time served in the Royal Navy with a career in law plus, of course, plenty of chess. The Cochrane Gambit of the Petroff Defense bears his name (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nxf7, which is still perfectly valid, 200 years later).

Here, he makes excellent use of his passed c-pawn, just at the very moment it appears to be doomed.

200 Years Ago Chess TacticJohn Cochrane – Alexandre Deschapelles
White to Play

29.Rd8+! Rxd8

30.Rf8+

A wonderful tactical shot, ensuring the c-pawn will earn promotion for itself.

1821 Chess Tactic

30…Kxf8

31.cxd8=Q+ and Black resigned; 1-0.

It is interesting to note no odds were given in this game. The players battled on fully equal terms.

Indecisive

Chess players excelled at attacking rather than defending 200 years ago. Despite this, it was still possible for a game to end as a draw, especially when the attacker missed a key point and a reduction of material followed.

200 Years Ago William Lewis -Alexandre Deschapelles

William Lewis – Alexandre Deschapelles
White to Play

36.Qg6?

It is unclear what worried White after the alternative move 36.Bxh7, which strips the black king of his final defensive pawn, virtually ensuring White of victory. Perhaps Lewis wanted to protect his bishop against the threat of 36…Qxd3+ instead of pressing his won attack as hard as possible,  but he ends up falling between two stools.

36…Qxg6

It will be much harder for White to continue the attack without the queens on the board.

37.Bxg6 Rg7

38.Bxh7 Rxh7

39.Rxh7+ Kxh7

40.Kxc3

William Lewis -Alexandre Deschapelles

It is hard to make progress here, despite White’s extra pawn. The players agreed to a draw after four more moves.

We are very fortunate to be able to relive moments from chess history. It will be interesting to see what lies on store for us when I reach 300 Chessable blog posts, although this is clearly not going to be a very long-running series!

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