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The 1861 Leeds Tournament



On June 1st 1861 a chess event was held at Leeds Town Hall that was to be the strongest standard play tournament to ever be staged in our city. Yet, for some strange reason this highly notable event has almost disappeared into the chess ether having so little written or reported about it. Indeed, Ken Whyld in his book ‘English Tournaments 1857-66’ points out that:


“History books are silent about this tournament, played entirely on June 1st and finishing at 10pm”

Only a small article in the Leeds Mercury newspaper on 4 June 1861 and a brief column in the Manchester Weekly Express and Guardian offered any details of this great tournament taking place at all! But this was more than just a mere tournament it was part of something of a chess festival.


Special Guests

As a prelude to the actual tournament there was a rather grand annual meeting of the West Yorkshire Chess Association. This meeting attracted all the main players in the Riding area and was presided over by John Rhodes Esq, President of the Leeds Chess Club and R. Cadman Esq, the Vice-President.  However, the main attraction at the meeting was the guest appearance of a certain Baron Ignatz von Kolisch. Here was one of the finest chess players of his generation and as the Leeds Mercury points out:

“...the chief attraction was the presence of Herr Kolisch, who having beaten most of the best Chess players in the Old World, has challenged Mr. Morphy, the American, with the view of crowning his laurels”

kolischKolisch was a serious candidate to become world champion. Between 1859 - 1867 he was one of the top five or six players in the World and proved this in match play. Indeed, he defeated such chess powerhouses as Bernhard Horwitz (+3, =0, -1) and Thomas Barnes (+10, =0, -1) and drew with Adolf Anderssen (+5, =1, -5) in matches in 1860. The following year he played Anderssen again, narrowly losing (+3, =2, -4) and then Louis Paulsen in a match with the winner being the first player to reach 10 wins. Kolisch trailed (+1, =9, -6) at first but then got into his work and fought back to (+6, =18, -7). The match was then abandoned as drawn at that stage. Kolisch was known for his brilliant and aggressive style, but he was not a frequent participant in tournaments.  Kolisch’s attempts at taking the world title from Paul Morphy proved fruitless. No match was arranged and when in 1863, Kolisch put forth another challenge to Morphy, it was declined by the great American who, now retired, never returned to the game, and died in 1884 from a stroke at the age of forty-seven. Kolisch still played actively and strongly, winning the great Paris tournament in 1867 at the Paris tournament defeating both Szymon Winawer and Wilhelm Steinitz along the way.

The chess festival at Leeds Town Hall continued with Kolisch playing a consultation game against Mr Walker and Mr Rhodes of the WYCA, which the Austrian won. This was followed by a simultaneous exhibition against some of Yorkshire’s finest players:

“ Herr Kolisch afterwards played ten separate games simultaneously, with Messrs Rhodes, Shepherd, Watkinson, Myers, Newman, Elliott, Walker, Hunter Young, and the Rev E.P. Pierpoint, and was victorious in all, with the exception of three, one of which Mr Rhodes won, the second Mr. Newman drew, and the third, contested by Mr Hunter, was not finished on account of the lateness of the hour..”

The Players

The exhibition continued apace with the main tournament being played out with a “set of chessmen” being the main prize.  Now, the tournament could rightly be viewed as a first class event. When one examines the participants in detail it becomes apparent just how strong the event was. It was planned as an 8-player knockout event, although only seven took part with the first player to lose having the pleasure of playing a second opponent. This distinction fell upon  R Cadman. The results were as follows:

Round 1:  
C H Stanley beat   R Cadman
E Thorold  beat   E P Pierpoint
J V Wilson beat   J Watkinson
W Parratt  beat   R Cadman
Round 2:  
C H Stanley beat   J V Wilson 
W Parratt beat   E Thorold
C H Stanley beat   W Parratt


In the end, the final was something of an anti-climax and actually a walk-over as according to the Leeds Mercury

“Mr Parratt being obliged to leave, could not play the concluding game with Mr Stanley, and in consequence resigned, leaving Mr Stanley the victor.”

:So, just how strong were these players? Well, let us start by taking a look at the winner Stanley.

StanleyCharles Stanley was effectively another guest of honour coming all the way from America to contest the tournament. A strong American player, Stanley had already won the first US championship in 1845. When  he moved to  New York, Stanley visited its famous Chess Club, and defeated just about every opponent he came up against. His victories included wins  over Schulten, Rousseau (of New Orleans), Turner (Kentucky), and Hammond (Boston), all four players amongst the finest  in the United States. In 1850 Stanley drew a match with Löwenthal (+3 -3)  and in 1852 he drew a match with Saint-Amant (+4 -4), two world class chess  masters.  Unfortunately for Stanley by 1857, the year of the First American Chess Congress,  a certain Paul Morphy had arrived on the chess scene and dethroned Stanley  winning the tournament effortlessly. As if to prove the point, Morphy then beat Stanley +4-1 in an arranged match.

ParrattThe runner-up in the Leeds tournament was William Parratt  was also a distinguished English  chess player.  A fine organist as well as chess player, it was alleged that Parratt was able to simultaneously play chess and a complex organ piece (at first sight). Undoubtedly, Parratt was one of the finest exponents of blindfold chess. He served for a few months as president of the Oxford University Chess Club and for two years was captain of the eight chosen to play against Cambridge.  In later years Parratt managed a draw with the great Steinitz during an 1875 simultaneous.


Of the other contestants Edmund Thorold was a powerful English player, Thorold played in several Counties Chess Association events, as well as against many strong masters, with some success against the likes of Schallopp, Gunsberg, Weiss and indeed, Blackburne.

John Watkinson was more renowned for his work in an editorial capacity. He edited the Huddersfield College Magazine, which was the British Chess Magazine's forerunner. From the beginning, the magazine was devoted to the coverage of chess worldwide, and not just in Great Britain


Has there been a stronger standard play tournament played in Leeds since? Frankly, it does not appear to be so. Although there have been numerous very strong British Rapid play tournaments held in Leeds, there has been a lack of top quality events outside of this. As a matter of fact the ominous conclusion to the WYCA meeting held during this 1861 chess festival is reflected in the Leeds Mercury when:

“it is hoped the meeting will have its influence in awakening the apathy which so many persons professing to play Chess evince towards the game, and stir them up to a little more enthusiasm. Some of the Chess clubs forming the Association are in a most unsatisfactory condition. Leeds once possessed the strongest provincial Chess club; now it number but few members...There are many Chess players in Leeds through whose means its Chess club ought to regain its former position.”

A clear signal from a century and a half ago of the dangers of not pushing the game of chess in Leeds. Today, with the aid of the many publicity utensils at our disposal we owe it to ourselves to establish a strong chess foothold in our city and strive to one day eclipse the great, but little known, tournament of 1861.


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