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Monday, January 23, 2017

Two Different Players?

     Frank Norton is known as a problem composer who gained attention in the 1870s and he was proclaimed to have been a child prodigy, but that claim was probably an exaggeration. I could find only one problem that he composed and it did not seem to be particularly good. His games are scarce and I only found a couple of odds games mostly against very weak opponents. 
     Chess historian Jeremy Gaige wrote that Norton was born on November 1, 1866, possibly in England, with his date of death unknown. Other than that, not much is known. 
     The January 1878 Scientific American Supplement noted that Norton was 11 years old and had moved with his family, mother and father plus four brothers and two sisters, from Des Moines, Iowa to Council Grove, Kansas. 
     In a letter to Edward Winter who mentioned Norton in a couple of his books, Olimpiu G. Urcan wrote that his research indicated Norton was born in 1869 in Iowa. He served in the artillery in the Spanish-American War which took place in 1898. He was married to Lillian in November, 1904 in Des Moines where he worked for the city as an auditor. Later he worked as an insurance agent. Urcan reports that according to Iowa Deaths and Burials, Frank Norton died in Burlington, Iowa on October 19, 1930. 
     The problem with the birth date given by Urcan is that the November, 1902 issue of Checkmate, A Monthly Chess Chronicle and the November, 1882 issue of the British Chess Magazine both give his birth date as 1866, the same a Gaige. 
     I discovered some newspaper clippings on Ancestry about a Frank Norton who was born on November 1, 1866 in Braidwood, Illinois and died at his home in Marsing, Idaho the morning of September 27, 1938. This Frank Norton had been in poor health for the past five years and confined to his bed for nine months following a stroke. According to the obituary, he moved with his parents to Missouri for a short time and later to Council Grove, Kansas where he was married to Elizabeth. In 1918 they moved to Marsing, Idaho and bought a farm on which they grew sweet potatoes. 
     I am not sure what to make of this. One undated newspaper clipping on Ancestry (apparently from some time in the late 1930s) read, "Although Frank Norton could not play in the chess tournament in Boise this spring on account of his health nor go to Caldwell to play with the chess masters, his son Jack who took third place last year in the Boise tournament, played with both Mr. Taber and Mr. Stewart at Caldwell, winning his game in the simultaneous playing with Mr. Taber and also a game from Mr. Stewart. Both of these players have held the Nevada-Idaho state championship in recent years." 
     None of the newspaper clippings mentioned the fact that Frank Norton of Idaho had ever lived in Iowa. Were they two different people? 
     I only found one of Norton's problems which was a mate in two. I am not a problem solver, but from my understanding, because the problem started with a check, by today's standards it was not a very good one. In an 1876 American Chess Journal article a correspondent stated he had a lad of 10 from Des Moines, Iowa visiting him for two weeks and, for his age, was a "wonderful chess player" and who had also managed to solve most chess problems given him directly from the diagram without setting up the board. Norton's play was described as very deliberate and "His hand never wanders over the board, but when he is ready he seizes the piece firmly, moves at once, and takes his hand away." Norton's opponent in an attached game was obviously very weak and the game was scarcely worth a second look. 
     There was also a brief article in an 1875 issue of The Chess Journal which claimed that, "Near Des Moines, Iowa is a frail boy of eight years old that bids fair to become a wonderful chess player, if his mind is not destroyed by over exertion at this tender age. Master Frank Norton commenced chess a few months ago and is allowed to play but one game a day." It should be pointed out that "Master" here was a title in use in those days for boys were were too young to be referred to as "Mister." It was not a chess title! 
     The following game, which appeared in the January 1878 edition of the Scientific American Supplement, in which his father gave him odds of the a1-Rook is of much higher quality.

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