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Chapter 3: Better late than never

Better Late Than Never

The master had, as always, played quickly and finished the round early, despite his age. Now, as was his habit, he remained at the board (it was the Frankfurt congress of 1878), ready for an off-hand game. "Herr Doktor Anderssen, may I present Herr Esling, who seeks the honour of a game with you? The young man is a student of engineering. His homeland is Australia". Frederick Karl Esling bowed. Adolf Anderssen replied with a smile, "I have met players from four continents. Herr Esling will be my first opponent from the fifth". Anderssen took the black pieces and his 18 year old opponent played the Evans gambit.

[Event "Friendly game"]
[Site "Frankfurt"]
[Date "1878"]
[Round "-"]
[White "F.Esling"]
[Black "A.Anderssen"]
[Result "1-0"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bc4 Bc5 4. b4 Bxb4 5. c3 Ba5 6. d4 exd4 7. O-O dxc3 8. Qb3 Qf6 9. Bg5 Qg6 10. Nxc3 d6 11. Nd5 Bd7 12. Rad1 {Better than 12.Nf4 Qxe4 13.Re1} h6 13. Nf4 Qh7 14. Bxf7+ Kf8 15. e5 hxg5 16. Bg6 Be8 17. Ne6+ Ke7 18. exd6+ cxd6 19. Bxh7 Rxh7 20. Nfxg5 1-0

The winner of the game was in 1891 to become the first champion of Victoria. For most of the 1890s he would hold that title undefeated, while serving the club in different capacities. He would be runner-up to Henry Charlick in the first Australian championship tourney, the Adelaide congress of 1887. In 1895 playing his most memorable chess, he would yet narrowly lose a challenge match against the Australian titleholder A.E.N.Wallace, in a contest arousing more public interest in Victoria than any match until Fischer played Spassky. And he live to see the Australian chess federation in 1950 recognise him as this country's first champion on the strength of a match played 65 years before. In the meantime as a railway engineer he would have presided over the massive reconstruction of Flinders St station that produced the buildings still in use. But let us go back to 1885, when the Hon.George Hatfield Dingley Gossip, the unlikeable and vainglorious Englishman who had come to Melbourne not long before, boldly challenged anyone to play him for a stake of £30 and the title of champion of Australia. Esling was induced to take up the challenge and the match began at the club on 29 June 1885, Esling playing black. Gossip chose the Vienna. He played indifferently and soon had cause to regret his challenge.


[Event "AUS ch m"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1885.06.27"]
[Round "1"]
[White "Gossip, G."]
[Black "Esling, F."]
[Result "0-1"]
[ECO "C25"]
[PlyCount "72"]
[EventDate "1885.06.??"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Bc5 3. Nf3 d6 4. d4 exd4 5. Nxd4 Nf6 6. Bg5 h6 7. Bh4 Qe7 8. Qd3 Nc6 9. Nd5 Nb4 10. Nxb4 Bxb4+ 11. c3 Bc5 12. Bxf6 Qxf6 13. Nf3 O-O 14. Be2 Re8 15. O-O Bd7 16. Nd4 Qg6 17. Bf3 d5 18. Rfe1 Rad8 19. Nf5 dxe4 20. Bxe4 Bxf5 21. Bxf5 Rxe1+ 22. Rxe1 Rxd3 23. Bxg6 fxg6 24. Kf1 Rd2 25. Re2 Rd1+ 26. Re1 Rxe1+ 27. Kxe1 Kf7 28. Ke2 Ke6 29. b4 Bb6 30. a4 Kd5 31. a5 Bxf2 32. Kxf2 Kc4 33. Ke3 Kxc3 34. b5 Kb4 35. a6 b6 36. Kd4 Kxb5 0-1
[Event "AUS ch m"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "1885.06.27"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Esling, F."]
[Black "Gossip, G."]
[Result "*"]
[ECO "C84"]
[PlyCount "32"]
[EventDate "1885.06.??"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Be7 6. Nc3 b5 7. Bb3 b4 8. Nd5 d6 9. Ba4 Bd7 10. Bxc6 Bxc6 11. d4 exd4 12. Nxd4 Bxd5 13. exd5 O-O 14. Nc6 Qd7 15. Re1 Rfe8 16. Qf3 16... a5 {Sealed. Resumption abandoned.} *

The 2nd game was adjourned with Esling in much the better position. That was enough for Gossip. He failed to appear at the next sitting, and showed no signs of ever appearing again. Unfortunately the influential Andrew Burns, who had not been prepared to accept the challenge himself and who was ever jealous of his own reputation, persuaded the Melbourne Chess club committee to announce that the match was cancelled. It had not been cancelled, and in any event the committee had no jurisdiction. Gossip's legacy to us is the curiosity of perhaps the only championship match where but a single game was completed.

An entry appears in the minute book for 1 September 1937, "New member F.K.Esling". The new member - he must have been 77 - is next found enclosing a donation with a letter, unhappily long since lost, dealing with the club's early history. In 1946 aged 86, he comes in from Box Hill to watch the great wireless match against France. Four years later he becomes, retrospectively, the first Australian champion, just before his 90th birthday. He has waited a long time.

If Esling was unlucky to wait 65 years for his Australian title, he was lucky to become first champion to Victoria. He won that title in 1891 when the club inaugurated the Victorian championship tourney. The year before he had come second to R.L.Hodgson in a tournament conducted by the Victorian chess and draughts club, which had been conceived as for the championship of the colony but conducted as the championship of Melbourne because the country clubs were absent. Hodgson had to wait until just before his death in 1901 to become Victorian champion. Esling held the title until 1897, after which he retired from tournament chess, aged only 37, although still playing in the telegraph match for many years.