Having been thinking about getting an Amazon Kindle for my many stressful and lonely hours in the parents room I made a first exploratory step by downloading the free Kindle App for Windows 8 and then checkout out Amazon for what was on offer. It turned out that one of the free books on offer was Harold Bird’s Chess History and Reminiscences, which David Bronstein put me on to as a book that had to be read.
What is so special about this book? It gives a unique perspective on the history and development of chess by one of the foremost authorities. And there are some really great anecdotes such as the following:
The temperaments of chess players vary, some get easily disconcerted, disturbed and even distracted; others seem little affected by passing events, a few, apparently not at all: some even like a gallery and don’t object to reasonable conversation; by conversations or little interruptions which would pass unheeded by a McDonnell or a Bird, or perhaps a Zukertortian would sadly disconcert a Buckle or a Morphy, make Staunton angry, and drive a Gossip to despair.
The attitude as well as the deportment and demeanour of chess players at the board shows many varieties: Anderssen and Captain Mackenzie were statuesque; Staunton, not quite so tall as the Rev. J. Owen, seeming to be soaring up aloft. Harrwitz not quite so small as Gunsberg, seemed sinking to the ground, but the story that he once disappeared overawed by Staunton’s style and manner of moving, and was, after a search, found under the table, is a mere canard of Staunton’s which need not be too confidently accepted. Harrwitz disliked being called a small German by Staunton because it savoured too strongly of the sausage element, saying if he makes sausage meat of me I will make mincemeat of him.
Staunton pretended sometimes not to see Harrwitz, and would look round the room and even under the chairs for him when he was sitting at his elbow, which greatly annoyed Harrwitz, who, however, sometimes got a turn, and was not slow to retaliate. In a game one day, Staunton materially damaged his own prospects by playing very tamely and feebly, and testily complained—”I have lost a move.” Harrwitz told the waiter to stop his work, and search the room until he had found Staunton’s lost move, and his manner of saying it caused a degree of merriment by no means pleasing to the English Champion.
Staunton was considered full-blooded, and his amiable French opponent, who used to play for 5 pounds a game no doubt thought he expressed himself favorably and forcibly when he said he is one very nice, charmant man, but he is a “—— fool.”
Staunton’s celebrated stories about Lowenthal and Williams, though very amusing to chess ears, I omit for obvious reasons, though extremely funny as Staunton originally told them, and as MacDonnell repeats them, they are probably not strictly founded on fact, and are lacking of the respect to which the memories of two such amiable and chivalrous chess players as Williams and Lowenthal are entitled.