Yorkshire Chess History
Leopold Hoffer was born in Budapest (more specifically Pest), in 1842. His name in Hungarian was Lipót Hofer. The forename is the Hungarian version of the name “Leopold”, which form he adopted after leaving Hungary, and the surname “Hoffer” is an adaption to English spelling principles, so that Lipót Hofer got anglicised to “Leopold Hoffer”.
He has been presented as a Jew in a number of sources. If that were so, then it was more from the point of view of ethnicity or broad cultural origins rather than religion, as he married in the Church of England.
There is a record in Hungarian Catholic Church records of the baptism of “Leopoldus Hofer” on 12/09/1842, at Felsőkismartonhegy, Sopron, Hungary. The Catholic church liked to Latinise names in this way – the column headings in the baptism register were in Latin - so in principal this could have referred to the future chess-player, but Sopron is in the extreme west of the present Hungary, some eighty miles from Budapest, and Lipót Hofer may have been a common name, so this may well have been a different person of the same name. Of course, if he was Jewish, you would not expect a Catholic baptism. For what it may be worth, the parents of the Lipót Hofer baptised as above were Melchior Hofer and Anna née Fuchsz (essentially the Hungarian rendering of the German “Fuchs”).
From Hungary Hoffer moved reportedly first to Switzerland, and thence in 1867 to Paris. Then in 1870 he moved to London.
The 1871 census found unmarried 29-year-old Hungary-born Leopold Hoffer as one of a number of mainly unrelated people living at 84 Whitfield Street, St Pancras, London, each presumably with their own room. He was described as a merchant, but he was to give that up in time for chess journalism.
Hoffer’s marriage is a scantily documented and possibly tragic part of his life. In 1873, 30-year-old Leopold Hoffer married Emma McNaught at St John the Evangelist, Smith Square, London. Emma was recorded as 24 years old at the time. An Emma Hoffer died in 1876 in the St Saviour district of London. This looks like Hoffer’s wife, dying perhaps in childbirth. There is a slight problem in that the age at death is stated to have been 33, which would have been Hoffer’s age at the time, whereas Emma would be about 27 if she were 24 when married. In the censuses of 1891, and 1911, Hoffer was recorded as being a widower, though that of 1901 described him as single.
He is elusive in the 1881 census.
When in 1888, Zukertort was taken ill and admitted to hospital where he died, Hoffer was the one who formally identified the deceased.
The 1891 census found 48-year-old Pest-born widower Leopold Hoffer living as one of two lodgers, each with their own two rooms in the household of solicitor’s clerk James Swift, at 404 Fulham Road, Fulham, London. The other lodger was fellow chess-player Anthony Guest. Both were described as journalists.
The 1901 census found 58-year-old Hungary-born Leopold Hoffer, with marital status inaccurately recorded as “single” rather than “widowed”, living at 9 Glynn Mansions, Fulham, London, with unmarried 21-year-old Hungary-born niece, Frén Reusz, which suggests Hoffer had a sister who married a Mr. Reusz. As before, Hoffer was recorded as a journalist by occupation.
The 1911 census found 69-year-old Hungary-born journalist Leopold Hoffer living as a boarder at 14 Alexander Square, S.W. London. His place of work was given as the Field office.
Immediately prior to his death in 1913 he had been resident at Carlton House, Kew Green, Surrey.
He was reportedly on personal terms with most leading chess-players of his day, often being able to converse with them fluently in their own tongue.
It has Hoffer from whom an article on chess was commissioned for the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
Chess Amateur of October 1913, page 12, carried an appreciation of Hoffer by Arthur William Foster which extended to the equivalent of a little over a full page of small print devoted primarily to Hoffer’s personal qualities.
Hoffer was clearly unwell while faithfully attending to his journalistic duties at the 1913 BCF congress at Cheltenham, held 11-23/08/1913, and during the second week, on medical advice, he returned to London, where he was admitted to hospital and underwent a major operation, then being admitted to a nursing home (at 39 Royal Avenue, Chelsea) where he died on 28/08/1913.
Administration of his will was granted to Irene Rabke, wife of Henry Arthur Rabke. (Henry Arthur Rabke had married Irene J Reuss, and Reuss is an Anglicisation of Reusz, so this Irene was probably another niece.)
He is said to have learnt chess at the age of 17, i.e. around 1857.
In Paris he defeated Ignatz von Kolisch, Samuel Rosenthal and Jules Arnous de Riviere.
Early on in London he reportedly scored 2 out of 5 in a match with Blackburne.
Hoffer lost a match with American George Gossip in 1873, and beat James Minchin in a match in 1876. He was to make his name, however, more as a journalist and organiser, though was ever a competent player.
His significant contribution to chess journalism started when he and Zukertort, as joint editors, founded the magazine Chess Monthly, which was produced from September 1879 through to August 1896.
In 1882, he took over from Wilhelm Steinitz as chess columnist of The Field.
In the 1887 Handicap Tournament of the British Chess Club in London, the players in Class 1 were J. H. Zukertort, I. Gunsberg and L. Hoffer (who thus played each other on equal terms – no odds). Finishing 1st was Hoffer’s fellow Chess Monthly editor, Zukertort, with 13½ out of 15, and 2nd was Hoffer on 11. However, Hoffer beat Zukertort in the game between the two. 3rd-4th placed were Gunsberg and D. Y. Mills on 10½.
Around 1893, he added editorship of the Westminster Gazette to his journalistic portfolio.
Hoffer played on the 4th of 10 boards in the 1895 radio match between the British Chess Club and the Manhattan Chess Club played on 09/03/1895. (Insufficient time had been allowed in the arrangements; one game was drawn, then the other 9 had to be adjudicated or agreed as drawn, since the London team had to vacate the premises.)
In 1897 he was made an honorary member of the City of London Chess Club, which he had joined in 1882.
Hoffer was instrumental with Sir George Newnes in the formation in 1904 of the British Chess Federation.
He had travelled abroad to cover international chess events, the last one he so attended being that in Scheveningen from 28/07/1913 to 08/08/1913.
Copyright © 2020 Stephen John Mann
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