Interesting Interview with Chess Master
Interview with Von Bardeleben in 1895. The source is "The Sketch" newspaper of Wednesday 14th August 1895:
"A CHESS CHAMPION. The chess-player is not particularly familiar to the public except on such rare occasions as the tournament which is now being played at Hastings, in which Herr Bardeleben is taking part.
"When did you begin to play chess?" asked a Sketch representative. Mein Herr thought awhile, and then answered, “At about my tenth year. I soon grew very fond of the game, and nearly all the time I could spare from my lessons was given to chess. Yes, as you say, I, like others, have some wasted hours to look back upon. But school-boys will waste their time, whatever you may do, and, even regarded as a mode of squandering precious moments, chess has its compensations."
Well, and after these profligate school-days of yours?”
“ Then I went to the University of Leipsic, to study law. I am afraid, however, that I gave more time to gambits than to the quodlibets of the law. At the University I met a great many strong players, and, of course, my game improved immensely. At last chess obtained so strong a hold over me that I abandoned the law altogether.
“To become a chess-player?”
“Well, yes, I think so. I followed my bent, perhaps the wisest thing to do, on the whole. When at Leipzig I often played with Zukertort, but they were hardly serious games."
“When did you first come to London?”
“I think it was in 1883, if I remember rightly. I was then twenty- two years of age, and was bold enough to measure myself against some of the leading men in the chess world of the day. I played with McDonnell, Gunsberg, and Fisher, and gained the first prize in the Vizianagram Tournament, which was held at the Criterion. Young man as I was, it was sheer impudence on my part to win the first prize over the heads, of so many older players," laughed Mein Herr; "but, you see, I hadn't been a devotee of the game for nothing. In the same year I played in the Nuremberg Tournament against Blackburne, Winawer, and some other masters, and was lucky enough to win the fifth prize. In 1887 I won the first prize at the Frankfort Tournament, and in the following year, at the Bradford Tournament, I managed to divide the third and fourth prizes. But you don't want me, I hope, to run through the whole of my career. Let us talk of chess, the great game, and not of the mere men who play it."
“Willingly. First of all, let me ask you a question relative to the respective styles of English and German chess."
“Are there such styles?” asked Herr Bardeleben innocently. “Chess is pretty much the same game all the world over."
“Well, your great opponent, Blackburne, said, the other day, that there was a marked difference betwixt the English and the German styles of chess that, in short, the German style was laborious, pedantic, and tenacious of small advantages, to the exclusion of great combination while the English style was that of brilliancy, dash, and smart combination."
Herr Bardeleben smiled softly, and pensively stroked his silken beard. I have the greatest respect for Mr. Blackburne's opinion, but I do not think with him in this," he said. “Chess is very much a matter of idiosyncrasy. A patient, cautious man will play a slow, cautious game, while an impulsive, eager man will play impulsively and eagerly. We have both kinds of players in Germany, just as you have them here. The brilliant player, whose game is replete with strategy and far-sighted combination, is sought for and admired in Germany quite as much as anywhere else. But, after all, a wise caution is the very essential of chess that is, if you are playing scientific chess, and not merely a skittle game. If you are incautious, you certainly lose if you are cautious, and, at the same time, can play, you stand a chance of winning. I do not see how you can divorce the quality of caution from an intellectual struggle such as the game of chess really is."
"You regard chess as an intellectual contest that is, when the players are well-matched?"
“Oh, certainly a keenly intellectual struggle."
“Well, now, what is your attitude towards chess as an intellectual discipline I know many people who hold that it would prove a useful substitute for mathematics in schools. Conceive the joy of the present generation of school-boys if they were allowed to play chess daily instead of grinding away at Euclid?”
“Yes, yes, I can imagine that they would be willing enough to make the exchange," returned Herr Bardeleben, with a twinkle in his eye but I do not think it would prove to their advantage. In the first place, there is a very great danger involved in learning chess. The game has an almost fatal fascination for those who give themselves up to it, and, if acquired before the habit of self-control is developed, may have the most disastrous consequences and, as an intellectual discipline, chess falls immeasurably short of mathematics if, indeed, there be any comparison between the two in that mathematics deal with fixed and definite propositions, while chess is the most plastic of games, and contains very little that can be regarded as fixed or definite. In chess you not only calculate the moves, but you base a large part of your reckoning upon the character of your opponent. A chess-player who meets another for the first time waits till he discovers what manner of man it is who is sitting opposite him, whether he be patient, or impulsive, or bad-tempered, or nervous, and so on. This human element is not to be found in mathematics. No, the matter is not worth discussing. Let the school-boy keep to his Euclid, and leave chess severely alone. But," continued Herr Bardeleben, after a pause, you must not think that I attach no importance whatever to the mental exercise involved in playing chess. It is a great and noble game, and develops the mental powers to some degree. But that degree of improvement is hardly appreciable by any known test."
“Whom do you regard as the greatest of living chess-players?”
“Ah now you want to get at my inner consciousness? I shall not say I have no opinion on the matter that I care to give expression to. But in five years' time, or less, one of two names will be preeminent. There are two men in the running for the world's championship, Lasker and Tarrasch, both wonderful players, of infinite resource and undoubted genius. You must be content with that declaration. The championship lies with one or other of those players."
“And how do English chess-players stand?”
“Oh, very well indeed. You have some really great players, and, for the past few years, English players have scored many successes, but the successes were not of the brilliant order, if I may so express myself. There was no manifestation of genius, no lightning-like revelation of capacity. Perhaps, after all, the day of genius at chess has gone by."