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Tuesday, December 15, 2015

US Championship Confusion

     After George MacKenzie died in 1891 there was no player in the US that was clearly recognized as number one. There were a number of talented players that could claim the title though. Depending on who you asked there was likely to be a couple of different champions and there always seemed to be matches and rematches and retirements so nobody was sure who the “real” champion was. 
     Shortly before MacKenzie departed this world in 1887, Max Judd, a judge from St. Louis, Missouri, defeated Albert Hodges, a New York master, in a lop-sided match by the score of 5-2. Judd then claimed title of US Chess Champion. This was open to dispute though because Mackenzie was still alive. Then in 1888 a major tournament was held in Cincinnati, Ohio, and because of his forfeitures and just plain bad play Judd finished in sixth (last) place. So much for his claim of being US Champion! 
     The winner of the Cincinnati tournament was Jackson W. Showalter of Lexington, Kentucky. The tournament was an attempt at reorganizing US chess. Showalter, the Kentucky State Champion, beat out Major James M. Hanham, New York Champion, Charles Mohle, the Minnesota champ, M. Tomlinson, Champion of Indiana and James F. Burns, the Ohio champ as well as Judd. The result was Showalter was recognized as an up-and-coming talent. It was said he had proved his ability to play on even terms with anyone in the US, except Steinitz and Mackenzie. 
     Showalter was not the only new player with a reputation though. In 1889 there was a movement afoot to bring major international chess to the United States. Players in New York had raised money and gotten commitments from several European masters to play in the "Sixth American Chess Congress," or as it was better known, the New York International of 1889. Mackenzie, was not available and basically retired. The American player who placed highest in this 20-player, double-round-robin event, would be left to claim the title of US Champion.
     Contenders were expected to be Showalter, Eugene Delmar, James Mason or Major Hanham , but after two months of play an obscure fellow named Solomon Lipschutz was in sixth place with a score of +22 -9 =7 and was the leading American player.

     Lipschutz, a Hungarian-born printer, had beaten three foreigners (Chigorin, Blackburne and Gunsberg). Lipschutz' supporters were claiming this conferred the title upon him, but Showalter was building his reputation. In February, 1890 he won the Third Congress of the US Chess Association at St. Louis, Missouri as well as a strong tournament in Chicago. The result was a short match with Lipschutz which Showalter won. About the only good thing which could be said of this match was that for the first time since Morphy two Americans could produce a decent game! 

     As a result of this match Showalter went on to be an established figure in championship play for the next eighteen years. As a wealthy farmer, Showalter was able to devote considerable time to chess, which he only became serious about when he was in his mid-twenties. Showalter had a short stint running the family cattle ranch in Texas border town but gave it up and returned to farming in Lexington, Kentucky. During this time he was also involved in baseball and was later given credit for having developed the curve ball. But Lipschutz wasn't out of the picture yet. In late 1890 Showalter lost a match to Judd, 7-3, but for some reason Judd did not claim the title and Showalter was still the US Champion.
     In 1892 Lipschutz got his revenge. He had managed to get enough financial support for a rematch with Showalter and this time he completely routed Showalter seven wins, one loss and seven draws. 

     Unfortunately by this time in his life Lipschutz, afflicted with tuberculosis, had become a frail 28 year old and was forced to gave up his New York business as well as chess. Beginning in 1893, he lived briefly in Santa Fe, New Mexico before moving on to Los Angeles, California. Then in 1904 he moved again; this time to Florida for a brief stay before he traveled to Hamburg for treatment. In Hamburg he had a series of operations but did not survive. He passed away on November 30, 1905 at the age of 42.

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