Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Best Jerome Gambit Game of the Year (Part 1)

Although the year is only about half-over, the following game has lept to the top of the heap for Jerome Gambit (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.Bxf7+) games. It has history, analysis, tactics, strategy, surprises and come-backs - not bad, for a 10-minute game!

Readers are encouraged to dispute my assessment by sending in other great Jerome Gambit games, but at this point I can think of only one game (hint: see "The Jerome Gambit is Going to Drive Me..." Part 1 and Part 2) likely to challenge (and that was only mentioned, not played, in 2014).

Wall, Bill - Guest871838, 2014

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.Bxf7+

The Jerome Gambit.

4...Kxf7 5.Nxe5+ Nxe5 6.Qh5+ g6 7.Qxe5 d6

This defense is attributed to Joseph Henry Blackburne, whose miniature game brought the Jerome Gambit to the attention of chess players all around the world.

That game appeared in the August 15, 1885 issue of the Brooklyn Chess Chronicle, which noted that it was "played some months ago in London between Mr. Blackburne and an Amateur." It is likely that the game appeared elsewhere, most likely in a British chess magazine or newspaper chess column, but to date I have not found such an appearance. (Any help, Readers?)

The game received greatest exposure when included in Mr. Blackburne's Games at Chess (1899), although it was given there as played "at Simpson's Divan about 1880." Dr. Tim Harding, currently completing a biography of J.H. Blackburne, notes "It has been estimated that Blackburne may have played as many as 100,000 chess games"; so a small error in recall on behalf of the chess master is not unexpected. Six years ago on this blog, in "Flaws" Part I and Part II, I speculated about this possible "mis-remembering".

In my early years exploring the Jerome Gambit, I collected games from everywhere, including electronic game databases, some of which might best be referred to as "junk bases" because their inclusiveness (i.e. as many games as possible) often accentuated their inexclusiveness (i.e. including errors and bogus games). Two games complicate the story of Blackburne's Defense.

The first game is "Halpern, Jacob C. - Von Scheve, Theodor, England, 1880" which is given as having the exact same moves as Amateur - Blackburne, London, 1885. However, "Halpern - Von Scheve" has not shown up in any of the print resources (i.e. 19th and early 20th century newspaper chess columns, chess magazines, chess opening tomes) that I have encountered to date (over a decade of research) - and as such has to be considered spurious.

Equally curious is "Amateur - Neuman, Guestav, London, 1880" which follows the Blackburne game exactly, except that it substitutes 10.b3 for 10.c3, robbing the sacrificial ending of some of its logic (i.e. White's Queen can escape and defend). A note to myself from 10 years ago suggested, as well, "I have doubts about the reality of this game, based on a Google translation of a Wikipedia article from German (no English available) which suggests Neumann quit chess before 1880." Without further support from contemporary sources, the game must also be considered bogus.

Finally, it must be noted that it has occasionally been suggested that Blackburne's opponent in his fateful game was a player named "Millner" - although, again, my research has not confirmed this (or even identified the player). Occasionally the date of the game is given as other than 1885 or 1880, and the "amateur" involved has been mistakenly identified by one author as Alonzo Wheeler Jerome, himself. 

[to be continued]

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