Friday, December 22, 2017

Jerome Gambit: Balderdash

Not everything that I have discovered in my recent forays into historical research has been of enduring value.

For example, the "CHESS" column ("Conducted by A. G. Johnson") of The Oregon Daily Journal  of Portland, Oregon, for  October 25, 1914 (page 29) has the following
Of the many chess openings in vogue, two are particularly interesting because they are of American origin. The "Jerome Gambit" was first developed in Cincinnati about 40 years ago. S. A. Charles of that city made a thorough analysis of the opening and met with great success in playing the "Jerome" against prominent players. Even Steinitz, then in the zenith of his career as world's champion succumbed in his first attempt to defend the gambit. Although the opening is theoretically unsound, and involves the sacrifice of two pieces for two pawns, the adversary's king is displaced and drawn into the center of the board where all kinds of complications may arise. The following variation of the Jerome, which is rather favorable to white, reveals some of the possibilties of the gambit: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.Bxf7+ Kxf7 5.Nxe5+ Nxe5 6.Qh5+ Ke6 7.Qf5+ Kd6 8.d4 Bxd4 9.Na3 Ne7 10.Qh3 Qf8 11.Nb5+ Kc5 12.Nxd4 Kxd4 13.Qe3+ Kc4 14.a4 with slight advantage to white.
Where to begin??

Of course, the Jerome Gambit was "first developed" 40 years before the ODJ column was written, by Alonzo Wheeler Jerome of Paxton, Illinois, having published his first analysis of the "New Chess Opening" in the April 1874 issue of the Dubuque Chess Journal.

S. A. Charles, of the Cincinnati, Ohio, Chess Club, wrote opening analyses, first for the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette, then later for the Pittsburgh Telegraph. It is in the latter newspaper that in 1881 he presented his examination of the Jerome Gambit, which later found itself in different chess magazines (e.g. the October 1881 issue of Brentano's Chess Monthly) and opening books (e.g. Cook's Synopsis of Chess Openings, 3rd edition, 1882).
In 16 years of researching and analyzing the gambit, I have not uncovered any game examples (or references) of Charles meeting "with great success" while playing the Jerome Gambit "against prominent players"- or any games of his with the gambit at all. I have found a half-dozen correspondence games where Charles defended against the Jerome Gambit - played by Alonzo Wheeler Jerome. Of course, it is possible that there is much more to be discovered, and I have missed it all, but, still...
By the way, it can be fairly said that Charles regularly acknowledged his games and exchanges of ideas with Jerome; it was only the passage of time that seems to have stripped the inventor's name from certain analyses of his invention.

I was absolutely gobsmacked by columnist conductor A. G. Johnson's contention that Steinitz, "in the zenith of his career as world's champion" actually "succumbed in his first attempt to defend the gambit." With all due respect to Blackburne, whose Queen sacrifice leading to checkmate is probably the best known repudiation of the Jerome Gambit, and to Emanuel Lasker, who - I recently discovered - summarily dispatched the Jerome Gambit in a simultaneous display, a loss by a reigning world champion (not to mention a defensive genius) to the Jerome would be one of the most amazing (and horrible) master games played to date. (There was a note in the Oregon Daily Journal that Johnson, after two years of work, was going to be stepping down after 100 columns, so there is always the possibility that his Steinitz story was a parting little joke; although it did not read that way.)

The analysis that Johnson presents in his column goes back to Freeborough and Ranken's Chess Openings, Ancient and Modern, 1st edition, (1889), although he is more likely to have had the 3rd edition (1903, reprinted 1905) lying around. The move 11.Nb5+ is an improvement over Jerome's 11.0-0 in his analysis in the January 1875 issue of the Dubuque Chess Journal. The concluding evaluation, "slight advantage to white" is too modest - White has a forced checkmate in 6 moves. (It was Black's faulty 10th move that reversed his fortunes.)

No comments: