Zukertort Zigzagged


 Zukertort – Potter

London, 1876

Black to play


Black has been gradually outplayed and is hanging on by his fingertips. He’s a pawn down, his queen is attacked, and the threat of a4-a5 seems terminal. After 36…Qe4 37 Qxe4 fxe4 38 a4 the pawn will queen eventually. Nor does 36…Qc8 37 Nb5 Qa8 38 Qb3 cross White’s plan.

What is Black to do?

     36… Qh8!

Not so difficult to find: the queen takes the long diagonal and aims to infiltrate with 37…Qb2+. Yet the manoeuvre that follows is truly remarkable.

     37 Qb3 Qa1!


     38 Qc2

Threatening 39 Qxf5+ and 39 a4.




The queen slides to a third corner to complete the snaking safety shot. White has nothing better than perpetual check.

     39  Qxf5+

39 Kg3?? Qe1+ 40 Qf2 Nh5+ 41 Kf3 g4 mate.

     39…Bg6 40 Qd7+ Kh8


     Draw agreed


 ‘Put all the pieces into a hat and shake them out on to the board, and you have Potter’’s style exactly.’’

Look at Potter’s position around move 20 and you begin to see what Steinitz was driving at, although it’s also exactly the kind of mess Steinitz himself was prone to defend.

Here’s Steinitz on Potter again, only this time complimentary:

‘a very fine player of the modern school, as well as unquestionably the ablest analyst in England next to Zukertort.’

William Norwood Potter (1840-1895) is one of the most neglected of the Victorian masters. A very strong player and one of the  best chess journalists of his day, he merits only a couple of hundred words in The Oxford Companion to Chess. Several years ago Richard Forster wrote a fine essay about him for the ChessCafe (‘Late Knight No.25: Five Reasons for Remembering William Norwood Potter’), quoting from his obituary in the British Chess Magazine (April 1895):

‘… Compared with some of his contemporaries, his record of first-class play is not a long one; he more than once withdrew from the arena, and finally retired some years ago at no advanced age; but the quality of his best play entitles him, we think, to rank as the equal of any British-born master of his time, with the single exception of Blackburne.’

He deserves a biographical games collection.

 William Norwood Potter

William Norwood Potter
(courtesy of Pamela Fontana © Little Company of Mary Archive)


Here are two of his most spectacular finishes.


Potter – Matthews

London, 1868

White to play


     9 Nxe5! Bxd1 10 Bb5+ Ke7 11 Bg5+ f6 12 Ng6+ Kf7 13 Nxh8 mate


An unusual mate.



Potter – Mason

London, 1879

White to play


   14 Bxh6! Bxf3 15 Nxf3 gxh6 16 Qg6+ Kh8 17 Qxh6+ Kg8 18 Rae1!


     18…Nb6 19 Bd3 Nbd5 20 Ng5 Bf4


      21 Re3!! Bxe3 22 fxe3 Qa5

zuk8     23 Bh7+ Kh8 24 Rxf6  1-0 


Only spite checks can delay the end.


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