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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Nellie Showalter


            The American Chess Bulletin, Volume 1, proclaimed, “Mrs. Jackson W. Showalter, the beautiful wife of ex-United Staes Chess Champion Showalter, who is without a doubt the strongest player of her sex in America.  In the early ninties she started a match with Mrs. Harriet Worral, of Brooklyn, and, when the contest was abandoned, the score stood 3 to 1 in Mrs. Showalter’s favor, with one game drawn. (The match had to be abandoned because the illness of Mrs. Showalter)…Mrs Showalter comes from a proment Kentucky family, but was born in the state of Missouri in 1872;  although hre maiden name was Nellie Love Marchall, she claims no family realtionship with the new champion bearing the same surname.  This fair devotee is a natural player, never having studied books.  Instead she picked up the rudiments of the game easily and rapidly and improved by imitating the methods of leading experts, especially those of her husband, playing purely by common sense and intuition.”


       The newspaper, The Mansfiled Daily Shield (Mansfield, Ohio) in a December 21, 1894 article carried a story on the Showalter vs. Worrall match.  By the way, Mrs. Worrall once defeated Steinitz and Mrs. Showalter, Lasker, in a knight-odds game. Nellie commented on her defeat of Emmanuel Lasker in an 1894 interview:
"When I first came to New York I played with Mr. Lasker a match of five games up. He gave the odds of a knight and I beat him five to two. Lasker had beaten everybody in Germany and England, then he came and beat my husband, and his astonishment, he said, was great that I could whip him with the odds he gave me."

Lasker offered another perspective on Nellie’s strategy in their games: At the critical juncture in the games, Mrs. Showalter would smile coyly, and then flash a bit of ankle. I was extremely flustered by such antics. When I complained to Mr. Showalter, he just guffawed and said, ‘My Nellie is such a card! Have a cigar!’

“The chess match is now in progress between Mrs. Nellie Love Showalter, of New York City, and Mrs. Harriet Worrall, of Brooklyn, for the woman's championship of the world. It is strictly conducted, no one being admitted to the room in which the games are in progress, save the principals, umpires, referee and scorer.
      Mrs. Showalter, the charming wife of J. W. Showalter, the champion chess player of America, is only twenty-three years old, and was challenged by Mrs. Worrall to play a match of seven games up, draws not counting.
      Mrs. Worrall ranks high among chess players and reckons her victories as far back as the days of the great Paul Morphy. She and her husband spent years in Mexico and there, for lack of other entertainment, the evenings were generally spent in playing match games of chess. Mrs. Worrall won the sobriquet of the "Mexican Champion," and in 1859 played several games with Paul Morphy, receiving from the champion a rook and scoring an occasional draw.
       Capt. Mackenzie allowed her a pawn and two moves and she was more successful. In 1885, at the Manhattan Chess club, she played a game with Herr Steinitz and beat him, he giving the odds of a knight.
       Mrs. Worrall's record in games played with men ranks her equal to any of the second class, while among women she has found few opponents worthy of her skill.
       Mrs. Gilbert, of Hartford, Conn., considered one of the finest correspondence players in the world, was vanquished by Mrs. Worrall without difficulty. Mrs. Worrall is a quiet, gentle, womanly woman, with calm eyes and low voice. When playing she leans back in her chair, often with one arm thrown over the back, and the other resting in her lap, while her eyes fix themselves steadily on the board. She is a widow and lives in Brooklyn.
       Mrs. Showalter is a Kentuckian and possessed of all the Kentucky woman's charms.
"Don't say that my husband won me at a game of chess," said she, when interviewed, and her big blue eyes opened wider in her excitement. "Let me see. I was married at sixteen and now am twenty-three, that makes seven years' playing with the champion chess player of the United States. It would be funny if I did not know a little, would it not? I never played with a woman before and would not have thought of challenging Mrs. Worrall. I always think I see ahead about eight moves; sometimes I don't carry right, but more often I do. When I make a blunder it makes me ill."
       Mrs. Showalter is petite with golden brown, curly hair. She wears when at play a simple black blouse and greenish gray skirt, plain and of light weight, clearing the floor. Her curls are pusked back and caught up with a jeweled comb. She takes off al her rings but two, a plain circle of gold and a gem setting.
       At half-past two o'clock the ladies enter the parlor of 438 West Twenty-third street, when playing in New York, each taking her place at the board. Mrs. Showalter sets her feet firmly, and resting her elbows on the table, runs her fingers up through her wealth of hair. If the game is long and exciting, before its close the comb falls to the floor and the mass of curls rests on her shoulders in wild confusion, each ringlet seemingly aiming to reach the chess board and assist its mistress to win the game.
     
Mrs. Showalter has a dimpled face rather round and exceedingly sweet in expression. Her eyes are large and limpid and violet blue in color. Her complexion is fresh and ruddy, and she speaks in contralto tones, with a slow, measured thoughtfulness for which no one is ever prepared. It is naturally supposed that a quick impulsiveness goes with the makeup of such a vivacious little body.
       She has defeated some of the most celebrated chess players in the world and even played with some champions. Her husband, who won first prize in the United States Chess Association four consecutive times, began playing match games with her by giving her odds of a queen. Now she receives only odds on pawn and two moves.
       "My first great victory," she says, "was in a match game I played with Arthur Peters, who won the "free for all" tournament in the United States association at Lexington, Ky., in 1891. I go with my husband when he plays, and when he went to Kokomo, Ind., to take part in the Lasker-Showalter match for the championship of the world. I met Mr. C. A. Jackson, champion of Indiana, and answered his challenge to play a match - I drew the first game and won the next three. When I first came to New York, I played with Mr. Lasker a match of five games up. He gave me odds of a knight and I beat him five to two,"
       The fact that Mrs. Showalter has beaten Champion Lasker with the same odds with which Mrs. Worrall has beaten Herr Steinitz points to a very interesting match between the two women. A priviledge of a return match will be givin to the one beaten, then the victor will be prepared to defend the title of lady champion of the chess world against all contestants.
       "Lasker had beaten everybody in Germany and England," said Mrs. Showalter; "then he came and beat my husband, and his astonishment, he said, was great that I could whip him with the odds he gave me."
      When asked "Is it hard work to play?" she relied, "Indeed it is. There is a severe mental strain, and at the close of the game, I am thoroughly exhausted. I have regular stage fright, too, while Mrs. Worrall seems perfectly calm and collected."
       Mrs. Showalter is fond of horseback riding, driving and walking. As a rifle shot she is energetic and charming. She fished, hunts and is an expert in all outdoor exercises.  Mrs. Worrall spends her winters in Brooklyn and her summers at College Point.”

      The Brooklyn Eagle article of January 3, 1895, gives more information on why the match was abandoned. "In an interview with the Eagle reporter on Tuesday last, Mrs. Showalter, who until recently competing with Mrs. Harriet Worrall of this city for the woman's championship of the United States, stated that she discontinued the match at the urgent request of her husband, she being also ordered to do so by her doctor. The severe strain consequent upon a contest of this nature had begun to tell upon her and she was force to seek a change of scene and action. Although convalescent she is not yet prepared to resume play but hope to be able to do so shortly. Mrs. Showalter spoke highly of her opponent, Mrs. Worrall, in consenting to wait when properly the latter was entitled to claim the match by forfeit.”
       A further article in the Brooklyn Eagle, dated May 14, 1896, read: “Showalter was accompanied by his charming wife, Mrs. Nellie Marshall Showalter, whose prowess at chess is second only to her husband's. Mrs. Showalter has recently recovered from a most serious illness and is still obliged to be careful of her newly regained strength, for which she expects the sea air of the East will be beneficial.”
       Of interest is the fact that Edo Historical Ratings gives her a solid master rating of 2290. After playing through the following game, I see no reason to dispute that rating!

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