Few players could boast as interesting a life off the chessboard, at least in his younger years, than MacKenzie. Mackenzie (24 March 1837, Scotland – 14 April 1891, New York City) was educated at the Marischal College, University of Aberdeen; he also studied in Rouen, France, and Stettin, Prussia, from 1853 to 1855. He was commissioned into the 60th Foot as an ensign in 1856 when he was nineteen years old. Soon after, his regiment was sent to the Cape of Good Hope, and from there to India. He traveled to England in 1858, having been promoted to the rank of Lieutenant. In 1861 he sold his commission and retired from the army. Mackenzie began playing chess in 1853, and in 1862 he won a handicap tournament in London in which he defeated Adolf Anderssen.
In 1863, during the middle of the American Civil War, he moved to the United States and fought on the Union side. After fifteen weeks as a private he became a captain in a Black infantry regiment, from which he was discharged a few months later, allegedly for desertion and impressment. He was a captain in the 10th United States Colored Troops Regiment. The United States Colored Troops were regiments of the Army during the Civil War composed of African-American soldiers under the command of white officers. African Americans in the United States Army in the decades after the war became known in the West as the Buffalo Soldiers. They fought in the Indian Wars later in the nineteenth century and received their nickname from Native Americans who compared their hair to the fur of bison.
He was reported a deserter on June 16, 1864. He rejoined the army in 1864 to fight with distinction in three battles, after which he was arrested for his earlier desertion and imprisoned. After his release in May 1865 he settled in New York and devoted most of his time to chess. In 1865, Mackenzie came to New York, where he wrote on chess matters for Turf, Field, and Farm. He won the first prizes at the annual contests of the New York Chess Club in 1865, 1866, 1867, and 1868.
Mackenzie died at the Cooper Union Hotel on April 14, 1891, but the cause of death is a matter of speculation. The New York Times reported on April 27, 1890 that Mackenzie was suffering from tuberculosis, and on April 15, 1891, a day after his death, mentioned that the immediate cause of death was pneumonia, noting that his condition had worsened from a fever caught while visiting Havana. However, on April 29, 1891, The Sun carried a report by Dr. S. B. Minden, who had visited Mackenzie before his death, claiming that the captain had committed suicide by an overdose of morphine, which he had requested earlier to ease the pain from his tuberculosis, but Dr. Minden had refused. The coroner who had presided over Mackenzie's death dismissed this assertion as ridiculous, insisting that tuberculosis was the cause of death. Mackenzie dominated American chess from the time he immigrated in 1863 until shortly before his death in 1891. During a 15-year period, from 1865 through 1880, Mackenzie amassed a record of thirteen straight first place finishes in tournaments, while winning six of seven matches, with only one drawn. His successes in the U.S. included first place at Cleveland 1871, Chicago 1874, and New York 1880 (the second, third, and fifth American Chess Congresses, respectively).
In 1878 Mackenzie began to receive invitations to play in the top international tournaments in Europe. Subsequently he played in many tournaments both at home and abroad. In 1878, he tied for fourth–fifth in Paris. In 1882, he tied for fourth in Vienna (Wilhelm Steinitz and Szymon Winawer won). In 1883, he tied for fifth–seventh in London (Johannes Zukertort won). In 1885, he took fourth place in Hereford (Joseph Henry Blackburne won), and took seventh in Hamburg 1885 (Isidor Gunsberg won). In 1886, he tied for seventh–eighth in London.
Mackenzie capped the climax of his chess achievements by winning the first prize, ahead of Joseph Blackburne, Johannes Zukertort, Berthold Englisch, Max Weiss, Curt von Bardeleben, Siegbert Tarrasch, and Louis Paulsen in the fifth German Championship at Frankfurt-on-the-Main 1887. He won the fifth Scottish Championship at Glasgow 1888 with a score of +4 −0 =2. Samuel Lipschuetz replaced him as the United States Chess Champion in 1890.
In match play, in 1886 he defeated the other top American master of the era, Samuel Lipschutz, by a score of +5 −3 =5. The same year, Mackenzie drew a match in London with top European master Amos Burn with the final tally +4 −4 =2. Despite this, Mackenzie was not considered a serious contender for the world title held by Steinitz. His tournament results were below those of Steinitz, Zukertort, Blackburne, and Tarrasch in the 1880s, and his personal record against Steinitz was +1 −6 =3. Mackenzie’s estimated Elo rating is placed at 2560.
The following game against Henry Bird is a real slugfest.