(1933 - 2014)

John Blackburn (photo 2009)

John was born in Southampton, England in early 1933. His mother's maiden name was Trevail, an unusual surname of Cornish origins, so his birth is easy to find in the index. In 1946, after the Second World War, the Blackburn family immigrated to South Africa. John matriculated from Durban High School and went on to study chemistry. He worked as an industrial chemist at Lever Brothers for many years. John joined the Durban Chess Club in 1952 and was a member of the Club for over 60 years. He played 29 times in the A section of the club championships and became Durban champion for the first time in 1956, after narrowly missing out in 1955 (John lost a playoff match to Moss Kolnik for the title). In all, he won the title on seven occasions, with his last win being in 1980.

John was also well known as a bridge player and music afficionado. He was a regular tournament player until the mid-1980's, after which he only played occasionally. Nevertheless, he remained a formidable opponent. When the club was in difficulties around the turn of the millenium, John returned to tournaments for a few years and was one of a small group of players that succeeded in reviving the club.

Club chairman Peter Dankelmann wrote: "I did not know him when he was at the peak of his strength, but he must have been a fearsome opponent. Even decades after his greatest successes, there was nobody in the club who could expect a safe victory from a game with John Blackburn. He was also a man of great integrity. I remember him speaking up when he felt that he should be placed in the A-section of the Club Championships, and a few years later speaking up again when he felt he shouldn't. John was the kind of person whom you could trust with your life, uncompromisingly honest and reliable. Just over a decade ago, when the club was in grave danger of going under, John was one of the members who gave it their unconditional support to help bring it back to life".

John had a classical style of play, invariably defending with the classic symmetrical lines such as the Slav Defence to the Queens Gambit or the Black side of the Ruy Lopez. With White he opened with d4 in his later years, after being an e4 player in his earlier career. Having played through his games, it is clear that John preferred defending to attacking. He liked to grab any pawn not nailed down, then defend. In many ways he was a follower of Steinitz, leaving his King in the centre and looking for long-term positional gains. He favoured closed games and lots of slow manouevring, rather than seeking a quick victory in the opening. John was a very strong defender, and won many games from horrible looking positions.


John's sister kindly donated a small suitcase labelled "chess games chronological" by John. It contained hundreds of games recorded in old-fashioned (often ambiguous) descriptive notation. Transcribing these has taken me many hours, partly because the games up to 1970 were written on a variety of scraps of paper, rather than in a proper score book - John didn't waste any paper! The following games file contains Blackburn games from 1953 to 2009 (994 games/results). A number of games from the 1950's and also some games from 1991 to 1995 were unable to be found. Scores of any missing games would be much appreciated. If you played against John, please check that I have the game score captured correctly!

The following is in many ways a typical Blackburn game from the 1960's. Isaacson was extremely successful during his short stay in Durban, losing just one game in the 1963 championship - this one. John retreats his pieces, Isaacson attacks, and it all goes wrong for him by move 25. Click to replay game below
Isaacson,David - Blackburn,John
Durban Championship (6), 18.06.1963

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 Na5 9.Bc2 c5 10.h3 0-0 11.d4 Qc7 12.Nbd2 Bd7 13.Nf1 cxd4 14.cxd4 Rfc8 15.Ne3 Bf8 16.b3 Nc6 17.Bb2 Re8 18.Rc1 Rac8 19.Nd5 Qb7 20.Qd2 Kh8 21.g4 Ng8 22.Kh2 f6 23.Rg1 Nce7 24.dxe5 dxe5 25.Rcd1 Bc6 26.g5 Nxd5 27.exd5 Bxd5 28.Nh4 e4 29.Qxd5 Qxd5 30.Rxd5 Rxc2 31.Bd4 e3 32.Rf5 e2 33.gxf6 Bd6+ 34.Kh1 gxf6 35.Nf3 Rf8 36.Ng5 Bb4 37.Ne6 Rf7 38.Ng5 Rg7 39.Rxf6 Nxf6 40.Bxf6 e1Q 41.Nf7+ Kg8 42.Nh6+ Kf8 43.Bxg7+ Ke8 44.Rxe1+ Bxe1 45.a4 b4 46.f4 Bc3 47.Nf5 Kf7 48.Bh6 Kg6 49.Ne3 Rc1+ 50.Kg2 Kxh6 51.Nc4 Bd4 52.Nd6 Kg6 53.Ne4 Rc3 0-1

Another noteworthy game was his defeat of GM Karl Robatsch in a 1988 simultaneous display (see below), which I found in Mervyn Millar's newspaper column of 5 February 1988. The GM was furious, perhaps thinking his opponent should have resigned around move 26, but he still went on to score +33=4-1 against the club! Click to replay game below
Robatsch,Karl (2425) - Blackburn,John C (1950)
Robatsch simul Durban, January 1988

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.c4 e6 4.Nc3 Nbd7 5.Bg5 Be7 6.e3 0-0 7.Rc1 c6 8.Qc2 h6 9.Bh4 Re8 10.a3 dxc4 11.Bxc4 Nd5 12.Bg3 Bf6 13.0-0 N5b6 14.Ba2 Nf8 15.e4 (Black is very cramped) 15...Be7 16.Rfd1 Bg5 17.Nxg5 Qxg5 18.b4 Ng6 19.a4 a5 20.b5 Bd7 21.Bc7 e5? (a nebulous attack; 21...Nc8 was forced) 22.Bxb6 Bh3 23.g3 Nh4 24.Rd3 exd4 25.Bxd4 Rad8 26.f4 Qg6 27.Rf1?? (an odd move, simply 27.Bb6 Rxd3 28.Qxd3 wins) 27...Ng2? (better was 27...Bxf1 28.Kxf1 Rxe4! 29.Nxe4 Qxe4 etc) 28.Rf2?? (an astonishing oversight) 28...Ne1 29.Qd2? (29.f5! was still good for White) 29...Nxd3 30.Qxd3 c5 31.Bd5 cxd4 32.Qxd4 b6 33.f5 Qd6 34.Rf4 Qa3 35.Nd1 Qc1 36.Rf2 Rxe4! 0-1

John's early record against 10-times champion Moss Kolnik was not very good, but he caught up a bit in their later games. For example, click to replay game below
Kolnik,Moss - Blackburn,John
Championship Durban, 1974

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.d3 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 Na5 9.Bc2 c5 10.Re1 Nc6 11.Nbd2 0-0 12.Nf1 Re8 13.h3 Bf8 14.Bg5 Ne7 15.N3h2 Ng6 16.Ng4 Be7 17.g3? (17.Qd2 then 18.Bd1 was better) 17...Nxg4 18.Bxe7 Qxe7 19.hxg4 Qg5 20.Ne3 h5! 21.gxh5 Nf4! 22.Ng2 Nh3+ 23.Kf1 Bg4 24.Qc1 Qxh5 25.f4 (if 25.Bd1 Nf4! threatens Qh1 mate) 25...exf4 26.Nxf4 Nxf4 27.Qxf4 Re6! (stronger than 27...Qh1+ 28.Kf2 Qh2+ 29.Ke3) 28.Kg1 Rh6 0-1

One last example, showing it was a risky ploy to gambit a pawn against Blackburn. Notice how the white King stays safely in the centre for the entire game! Click to replay game below
Blackburn,John - Byala, Brian
First Swiss Durban, 1988

1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c5 4.cxd5 cxd4!? (The Von-Hennig Schara gambit; MCO labels it "speculative but unsound") 5.Qxd4 Nc6 6.Qd1 exd5 7.Qxd5 Bd7 8.Bg5!? (another way is 8.Nf3 Nf6 9.Qd1 Bc5 10.e3 Qe7 11.Be2 g5 12.Nd4 0-0-0 13.0-0 g4 14.b4! Bxb4 15.Ncb5 Nxd4 16.Nxd4 h5 17.Qb3 Be6! with equal chances as in Rust-Byala, Durban chp 1986.) 8...Nf6 9.Bxf6 (theory suggests this be delayed until ...h6 is played, but then look at Pirc-Alekhine, Bled 1931 which went 9.Qd2 h6 10.Bxf6 Qxf6 11.e3 0-0-0 12.0-0-0? Bg4 13.Nd5 Rxd5! 14.Qxd5 Ba3! 15.Qb3 Bxd1 16.Qxa3 Qxf2 17.Qd3 Bg4 18.Nf3 Bxf3 19.Qf5+ Kb8 20.Qxf3 Qe1+ 21.Kc2 Rc8 22.Qg3+ Ne5+! 23.Kb3 Qd1+ 24.Ka3 Rc5 0-1) 9...Qxf6 10.a3 (stops ...Bb4, also look at the trap 10.e3 0-0-0 11.0-0-0 Bf5 12.Qf3?? Qxc3+! 13.bxc3 Ba3#) 10...0-0-0 11.Nf3 Bf5 12.Qc4 Kb8 13.e3 g5 14.h4! (to block the attack, then play Qf4) 14...g4 15.Ng5 Ne5? (this allows pins on Ne5/Bf5; better was 15...Rd7 with good chances) 16.Qf4 Bd6 17.Nge4! (exploiting the pins to win a piece, but not 17.e4?? Nd3+) 17...Qe6 18.Nxd6 Rxd6 19.Nb5! Rd7 20.Nd4 Be4?? 21.Nxe6 1-0

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