Herr ‘Stemitz’ and the Librarian

Although Steinitz was celebrated for his play without sight of the board, barely two dozen of his blindfold games survive.

In February 1875 he visited Oxford to give a blindfold exhibition over seven boards. He won four, lost one, with two games left unfinished.

It was thought that the scores of only two of these games had been preserved. Kingpin can exclusively reveal the existence of a third, hitherto unpublished.

Sin of elision: Oxford University notice, 30 January 1875.

The Club managed to spell his name correctly when awarding him honorary membership a few years later.

Falconer Madan, listed among the ‘Life Members in Residence’, was one of Steinitz’s seven opponents.

An archivist and bibliographer, the young Brasenose College scholar would eventually became the Bodleian’s Librarian.

Luckily Madan had the foresight to deposit his scoresheet in the archive of the Oxford University Chess Club, after helpfully scrawling ‘Not a good game’ at the top of it.

Actually he acquitted himself well until blundering on move 27. Recording the moves accurately proved a stiffer challenge, and his attention begins to drift around move 23.

 Could do better: the future Bodleian librarian earns a delta minus for record keeping.

With some assistance I have reconstructed the game.


   Wilhelm Steinitz – Falconer Madan

Simultaneous, Oxford 1875

   1 e4 e5 2 Bc4 Bc5 3 b4 Bxb4 4 f4 Nc6 5 Nf3 d6 6 O-O Nf6 7 d3 Be6 8 Bb3 Bc5+ 9 Kh1 O-O 10 f5 Bxb3 11 axb3 d5 12 Qe2 d4 13 Bg5 Be7 14 Nbd2 h6 15 Bh4 Nh7

   16 Bg3 Bf6 17 Nc4 Qe7 18 Na5 Nxa5 19 Rxa5 b6 20 Ra6 c5 21 Nd2

   21…g6 22 fxg6 fxg6 23 Rfa1 Qe6 24 Rxa7 Rxa7 25 Rxa7 Rb8 26 Nf3 g5 27 Qf1 Nf8?

   28 Nxe5! Bxe5 29 Bxe5 Qxe5 30 Qf7+ Kh8 31 Re7 Ra8 32 g3 Qxe7 33 Qxe7 Kg8 34 Qb7 1-0


Falconer Madan (1851-1935) by Percy Bigland, 1920 (Bodleian Libraries)

Wilhelm Steinitz in 1873

With thanks to Chris Lear and Matt Fletcher for their forensic help.


‘Miscellaneous papers relating to the Oxford University Chess Club, c.1870- ’, Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Sid Pickard (ed.), The Games of Wilhelm Steinitz, First World Chess Champion (Dallas: Pickard & Son, 1995).

The City of London Chess Magazine (February 1875).


We are indebted to Tim Harding (Dublin) for pointing out that according to Madan’s scoresheet the venue was the club rooms rather than the Town Hall. This would suggest that the game was played not in the blindfold exhibition but in the over-the-board simultaneous display which took place the following day over 13 boards. He adds that the game v Parratt was agreed drawn also on that day, as Steinitz reported in his column in The Field.

The quest for the third Oxford blindfold game continues. . .

(added 1 July 2018)

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