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Chapter 10: Visitor's book

Visitor's book

"Gentlemen", said Blackburne, "consider me at your disposal. The doctors were right: the long sea voyage has done wonders for my chest. My only stipulation for the blindfold exhibitions" - and he smiled at Andrew Burns, whose Scottish accent had never quite disappeared - "is that the treasurer should provide a mild stimulant from Auld Reekie". The master's habit of taking a glass of Scotch whisky en passant during simultaneous display was well known, but the committee men who had gone down to welcome Blackburne when his ship berthed in Melbourne were not sure if it was serious. "Doctors orders," the visitor continued. "Both the voyage and the stimulant". Phillips, the president rose to the occasion, "Stimulants you shall have, Sir", he replied. "The club has taken the liberty of arranging a banquet in your honour at the Oriental hotel. And Mr Justice Williams has agreed to preside at your first exhibition".

So it was that a few nights later - 8 January 1885, to be precise - Blackburne arrived at the Equitable Co-operative Society's hall in Collins St, where Sir Hartley Williams welcomed him. The evening had been arranged by a specially formed committee, drawn from the Melbourne chess club, the Victorian chess club and the chess class at the Turn Verein, the German association. The audience of two hundred, each of whom had paid 5 shillings for a ticket, watched as 8 strong players took their places. As the night went on, 5 yielded to Blackburne and three drew. Lush, a former president of Melbourne, tried the Centre Counter. He resigned after Blackburne's 23rd move, and even then his resignation was overdue.

[Event "Simul"]
[Site "Melbourne"]
[Date "1885.1.8"]
[Round "-"]
[White "Blackburne"]
[Black "Lush"]
[Result "1-0"]
1. e4 d5 2. exd5 Qxd5 3. Nc3 Qa5 4. d4 c6 5. Nf3 Bg4 6. Bd3 e6 7. O-O Bd6 8. h3 h5 9. Ne4 Qc7 10. Nxd6+ Qxd6 11. Be3 Bxf3 12. Qxf3 Nf6 13. Rfe1 Nbd7 14. c4 Rc8 15. Rad1 h4 16. Bf4 Qe7 17. d5 cxd5 18. cxd5 Nxd5 19. Bb5 Nf6 20. Bd6 Qd8 21. Qf5 Qe7 22. Qd3 Qd8 23. Rxe6+ 1-0

The Argus described the exhibition as the first successful blindfold chess performance in Melbourne, but this was an exaggeration. Both Brocklebank and F.H.Wilson had given blindfold displays and the former English champion, the Hon. John Wisker, who shared Blackburne's fondness for drink, had given a blindfold simul at the club on October 14 1881. But while Wisker could play on 6 boards against second or third class opponents, Blackburne could manage 16 boards and during his Australian tour asked always for the strongest players. In Warnambool he played without sight on 10 boards , 2 of his 12 opponents not having appeared; then on to Hamilton and Portland and further blindfold simuls. A dispute arose in one of the Warnambool games after 7 hours of play. Blackburne resolved it by rattling off all the moves. His the Melbourne Chess club was marked in 1911, when the committee responded to an invitation from the City of London chess club to subscribe to the Blackburne testimonial. His photograph still hangs in the clubroom.

The year 1924 brought the flamboyant Grandmaster Boris Kostich on a visit to Australia and New Zealand during the world tour. This cheerful, voluble and entrepreneurial chess professional delighted the audience. Kostich, who had in 1916 established a world record of blindfold play on 20 boards, gave a number of simuls at the Athenaeum, including 2 blindfold simuls on 6 boards. He was a great linguist and his knowledge of local dialect was improved during one simul when his offer of a draw on board 2 brought the response "Good-oh!" Kostich preferred to avoid defeat if at all possible and once during a simultaneous display, needing to lose a move with a knight in an endgame, he executed an unusual knight's tour by picking the piece up, brandishing it thoughtfully for several seconds and then replacing it on the same square with the air of making a decisive move; in this ruse he was detected. In Melbourne he won an exhibition match against Watson 3-1.

In 1932 and 1933 the club joined with others in trying to arrange a visit by the world champion, Alekhine, to Australia and New Zealand, but without success, and in 1933 members learned with disappointment that he would only get as far as Java. The following year the Australian championship was to be held in Melbourne as part of the city's centenary celebrations and the club, in charge of arrangements, invited Alekhine to compete. Exhibition were of course to be given to help the expenses fund and negotiations with the world champion dragged on for months. In June, in reply to the club's invitation, Alekhine cabled that he would play in the congress if his own and his wife's expenses were paid. The club sent a second cable: What would those expenses be? But there was no reply. A week before the annual general meeting Alekhine cabled the club, in English less accurate than his play. "Agreeing principle. Expediting definite conditions airmail". This raised the hopes of the meeting, but not those of Crowl, who could be relied upon to reject any generally held view. He wrote to the committee opposing the visit. But he need not have worried, for the proposed airmail letter never came, and neither did Alekhine. To compensate for the non-appearance the committee at the last minute arranged 4 other tournaments as well as the central event, one being a ladies tournament, "a novelty in Victorian chess".

In 1936 the committee had tried to arrange a visit by Dr.Euwe, who had defeated Alekhine the year before. The club had to wait under 36 years for Euwe, then aged 70, to give a simul on April 6 1972 (15 wins, 6 draws, 4 losses). Euwe was given a civic reception by the Lord Mayor on arriving in Melbourne. In 1936 the committee did manage to persuade Lajos Steiner, the great Hungarian master, who was visiting Australia, to come to Melbourne for a fortnight. He was welcomed at a lunch presided over by Watson, won the Pietzcker tourney and gave several simuls, including 2 at the Athenaeum Art Gallery. Steiner had a guarantee from the club and the secretary reported that only the co-operation of the suburban clubs had saved the undertaking from disaster. Steiner returned to Australia to settle in Sydney in 1939.

Two Russian grandmasters, Averbach and Bagirov, played as guest competitor's in the Australian championship in 1960. Both signed the club's visitors' book in the course of the tour, Bagirov staying to give a clock simul. The amiable Alexander Kotov signed the book in 1963 and played at the clubroom in an invitation tournament conducted by the VCA. Most of the 8 players were members of the club. Browning held Kotov to a draw and Kotov lost to Ozols, who won the tournament. Browning seemed to do well against visiting Russians. When Averbach returned to Melbourne in 1967 for a one-day tournament with 64 players, he suffered a 4th round loss to Browning. Averbach's handicap was only 1.5 losing points, but he went on to win the tournament. Browning was won the four to win against Euwe in the 25 board simul in 1972. Euwe has white.

[Event "Simul"]
[Site "Melbourne"]
[Date "1972.05.30"]
[Round "-"]
[White "Euwe"]
[Black "Browning"]
[Result "0-1"]
1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. Qc2 c5 5. dxc5 O-O 6. Bd2 Nc6 7. Nf3 Bxc5 8. e3 b6 9. a3 Bb7 10. Be2 Rc8 11. O-O Qc7 12. Rfd1 Rfd8 13. b4 Bf8 14. e4 Ne5 15. Nb5 Nxf3+ 16. gxf3 Qb8 17. Bg5 a6 18. Bxf6 gxf6 19. Nd4 Qe5 20. Bf1 Bd6 21. Bg2 Qxh2+ 22. Kf1 Kh8 23. Ne2 Rg8 24. Ng3 Bxg3 25. fxg3 Rxg3 26. Rd2 Rcg8 27. Qc3 e5 0-1

In 1971 the club's Edwin Malitis went to Adelaide as manger of the Karlis Lidums International tournament. This brought to Australia Lajos Portisch of Hungary, Lothar Schimd of West Germany, Florin Gheorgui of Romania, Alexander Matanovic of Yugoslavia and Lodewijk Prins of Holland, Portisch gave a simul in Melbourne.

Grandmaster Raymond Keene, who had given a simul at the club in 1977, returned in 1983, when the club gave a reception to mark the Commonwealth chess championship. On his second visit he was accompanied by most of the other competitors, including 5 international masters.