Frank Marshall was the best American player of his day. The thing about Marshall was he thoroughly enjoyed his status as Champion. Players of that era were not like players of today; today’s players see chess as a way to make a living and chess is all about the money. To Frank Marshall the title was part of his personality; he used to sign his name, Frank Marshall, United States Chess Champion.Born in New York City on August 10, 1877, his family moved to Montreal when Marshall was eight years old. After learning the moves from his father, it took him "quite a long time" before he won a game. Marshall said that from the very first he was an attacking player and that he always liked a wide open game with the goal of mating his opponent.
Eventually Marshal faced stiffer competition at the Montreal coffeehouses and eventually joined the Montreal Chess Club where he had the opportunity to develop his style. Marshall claimed that from the age of ten until long after he had retired that he played at least one game a day and took a pocket set to bed with him in case he got any inspirations.
After establishing himself as a force in international competition and the strongest native-born player then active in America, he went to Kentucky in 1909 and defeated Jackson W. Showalter. There had been some confusion over who the actual champion was after Pillsbury’s death in 1906, but the Marshall vs. Showalter match failed to settle the question. The confusion was a result of a dispute among players as to whether or not the title of U.S. Champion belonged to Jose Capablanca. Many argued, “How could the Cuba-born Capablanca be considered Pillsbury's successor?”
Marshall was 22 when he gained a tie for third at the Paris international in 1900 when he finished behind world champion Emanuel Lasker and Pillsbury and where he defeated both of them in the event. Marshall scored his greatest success by winning the Cambridge Springs ahead of Lasker, Pillsbury and several strong European and American masters.
But by the time Pillsbury's death Capablanca had come to New York to attend college and quickly established himself as a very strong player. The two best players in the US were clearly Marshall and Capablanca.
As a result a match was arranged. Capablanca later recalled: "Marshall was disposed to play in this case where he naturally discounted his victory. How far he was wrong, the result proved." In the match held in 1909, Capablanca routed Marshall, winning eight games, losing only one and drawing seven.
The match had been for stakes only but the New York State Association had complicated matters by sanctioning the event as being for the U.S. championship. Their reasoning was that since Marshall was the champion, then the match must be for the championship.
But after the match Marshall argued that the Capablanca could not hold the U.S. title because he was not a United States citizen. Capablanca had been living in New York for more than three years and he gave every indication that he was going to remain in the US, stating that he planned to apply for US citizenship.
In the American Chess Bulletin Capablanca stated, "I am the undisputed champion of Cuba, and last spring I beat Marshall by the score of 8 to1. Mr. Marshall has the greatest reputation and the best score in tournaments of any living chess player in the U.S.A., and is therefore considered everywhere as the strongest representative of the United States .... Therefore, I consider myself the champion of America, and stand ready to defend my tide within a year against any American of the U.S.A. or anywhere else, for a side bet of at least $1,000, United States currency. Under these circumstances the question whether I am a citizen of the U.S.A. or not has nothing to do with the matter under consideration." Actually, Capablanca was never champion of Cuba.
It took a lawyer to sort out the facts and they chose the well-know Walter Penn Shipley. Shipley reasoned the real U.S. champion was…Jackson W. Showalter!
He wrote: "If there is any chess champion of the United States, Jackson W Showalter of Kentucky is the holder of the tide. Since he won it he has never declined any challenge and until he does so, neither Marshall, Capablanca nor any other player has a valid claim…to be the American champion one must be an American, either native or naturalized." Shipley concluded, ''And the man he must challenge is Showalter."
After Shipley’s ruling the New York Chess Association withdrew their support of Capablanca and Marshall quickly took a train to Lexington, Kentucky and challenged Showalter. Capablanca decided not to become American citizen after all and instead accepted a post in the Cuban diplomatic service and a career player representing Cuba.
As a result of all this legal maneuvering a match for the US championship took place in the Phoenix Hotel in Lexington,during late 1909.
The hotel was demolished in 1981 with the intention of building a World Coal Center, but it was never constructed and the Park Plaza which was opened in 1987 was eventually built on the site.
Strangely, after all the brouhaha involved in deciding who the champion really was, after his victory, Marshal almost quit chess!
He told the British newspaper, the Daily Sketch, in December 1909 that he was retiring. "The game is too absorbing. To play it one must devote to it all of his time. No game in the world calls for such deep study and devotion as chess, and while I love it, there are other things which must occupy my attention. I have private business responsibilities which suffer from the game, so I have quit playing for good." Fortunately, Marshall did not quit; he played until he died on November 10, 1944.