Games: Chess:

Our weather page yesterday featured an account of the theories of the Victorian polymath and historian Henry Thomas Buckle concerning the effect of climate on world history. For chessplayers, however, Buckle will always be remembered as the one man who might have been a match for Howard Staunton in the second quarter of the 19th century, and then for Adolf Anderssen after Staunton's star had faded.

With a History of Civilization to write, Buckle sadly decided that he had not sufficient time for "frivolous triumphs" at chess, though before giving the game up he did win first prize in a tournament at Simpson's Divan in the Strand in 1849, and he defeated Staunton in a match. (In deference to Staunton's pomposity, Buckle accepted odds of pawns and move when playing him, but the results - and the relative quality of the two men's play - showed that such odds were quite unnecessary between them.)

Buckle had intended to participate at the London tournament of 1851, but arrived too late for the start. He did, however, beat the tournament winner, Adolf Anderssen, in a casual match when it was over.

The man who really caused Buckle to hang up his pawns was Elijah Williams, whom he defeated at the 1849 tournament. Williams was such a slow player that Buckle is said to have written an entire chapter of his History of Civilization while waiting for him to make one move. It was that match that provoked Buckle's most enduring comment: "The slowness of genius is hard to bear, but the slowness of mediocrity is intolerable."

Few games of Buckle survive, but the following one - an offhand game played around 1850 - does show a good deal of swash as well. Black's play in the middlegame leaves a lot to be desired, and after 20.Ng6 White was clearly on top. But the elegance with which Buckle conducted the final attack was most impressive.

25.Qg4! was easy enough - Black cannot capture the queen because of 26.Rf8 mate, but White's 27.Rxe5! is a fine piece of imagination. Black should have settled for 27...Nxg4 28.Rxe6+ Kf7 29.Re7+ Kxg6 30.Rxc7, when White is better, but fell into a beautiful trap with 27...Qxe5. His idea was that 28.Nxe5 (or Bxe5) Nxg4 would be good for Black, but he missed the clever 28.Qh3!! when 28...Qg5 loses to 29.Qe6+ Kd8 30.Nf8! when Black has no defence to the threat of 31.Bxf6+.

White: Mr Henry Buckle

Black: Mr Schulder

1 e4 e5 17 f4 exf4

2 Nf3 Nc6 18 Rxf4 Qd7

3 Bc4 Bc5 19 Nh5 Neg8

4 Nc3 Nf6 20 Ng6 Rh7

5 d3 d6 21 a5 Bc7

6 0-0 h6 22 c3 bxc3

7 Ne2 Na5 23 Bxc3 e5

8 Bb3 b5 24 Rf5 Rb8

9 Ng3 Bb6 25 Qg4 Qe6

10 Kh1 c5 26 Nxf6+ Nxf6

11 Bd2 Nc6 27 Rxe5 Qxe5

12 a4 b4 28 Qh3 Nxe4

13 Bc4 Ne7 29 dxe4 Qxe4

14 Nh4 Bg4 30 Re1 Qxe1+

15 f3 Be6 31 Bxe1 resigns

16 Bxe6 fxe6

Two other things remain to be said to complete the picture of Henry Thomas Buckle: he would eat toast only on Mondays (when the bread was guaranteed to be more than a day old) and he would let no woman make him a cup of tea unless he had first shown her how. Heat the cup and spoon beforehand, dear girl, and let the tea stand longer if it is made from a full caddy, in order to give the leaves time to unroll.

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