The Best Ever Sports Talk Blog has an excellent history of the Ohio Chess Championship, but gives scant information prior to 1945. Recently on Google books I discovered a small digitized publication titled Ohio Chess Association which includes the first meeting, constitution and details of the first state championship held back in 1887.
In the fall of 1886 three clubs appointed committees to take steps to form a State Chess Association. The committee held several meetings and sent a circular to every known chess club and player in the state in which they stated their desire to promote the game, organize a state championship and other tournaments, etc. Ohio players were invited to a convention in Cincinnati on February 22, 1887 to form the association.
There was enthusiastic response and at the appointed time a group met at the Queen City Chess and Checker Club and the committee had already planned for a championship tournament to be held during the meeting. They recommended that future championship tournaments be round robins, but for convenience this first was a knockout event.
Lots were drawn with number 1 playing number 2, etc. with the odd numbers having white. When games were finished the result and the opening had to be reported. The loser was “excluded from further participation in the tournament.” In the case of draws both players were allowed to play the next round as though they had won. As soon as a game was finished lots were drawn again and play continued as before until there was one winner or until the convention was over.
There were several rules of play specified, but one was particularly amusing. It was stated that because of the large number of participants and the time for the tournament relatively short, players were reminded not to deliberate too long over their moves and when a drawn or lost position seemed reasonably certain they were expected to recognize the fact and allow the game to be scored accordingly without protracting the game to a finish. Somehow I don't think such a rule would work today.
Round 1 had 30 players and Round 2 had 15, so one player received a bye. Round 3 had 8 players and because one game was drawn (both players advancing), that meant that by Round 4, six players were left and the results were (bold indicates the winner):
E.D. Payne (Dayton) - Thomas Norton (Mt. Auburn)
Victor Abraham (Walnut Hills) – George W. Smith (Mt. Auburn)
Edgar Bettmann (Dayton) – Charles Miller (Cincinnati)
Payne – Bettmann (draw)
Smith – bye
Bettmann – Smith
Payne - bye
Smith - Payne
Thus George W. Smith with a score of +5 -0 =1 won the first championship with Edgar Bettmann and E.D. Payne tied for second and third. Interestingly, of the 32 games played, only three were drawn.
As the tournament officials made no provisions for collecting the game scores only seven games of a few of the more prominent players survived. They were not of a particularly high quality and the deciding last round game between Smith and Payne was disappointing because in a position where Smith held only a small advantage, Payne hung a R and resigned. One of the better games was the following sixth round game between Bettmann and Smith.
The September, 1890 edition of Oberlin College's Oberlin Review carried a short article on the Ohio Chess Association which sheds some light on George W. Smith. The OCA was scheduled to hold its fifth annual meeting in Cleveland on February 24, 1891 and there would be two tournaments, one open to all (called a free-for-all) and one to representatives of clubs or communities having at least ten OCA members or any player who had previously won an OCA tournament. Annual OCA dues were one dollar. The article stated that if ten persons from Oberlin College joined the OCA they could have a representative in the championship section. The only stipulation for OCA membership was that besides having a dollar, you had to be of good character.
The article stated that many would ask of what use chess was and that even though the tournament was near home, they might consider that there was little value in participating. It complained that “materialists” were trying to “batter down the walls” of colleges to “turn boys from the study of the classics and higher mathematics” and instead make “farmers, stockmen, miners, manufactures and peddlers of all kinds.”
But, it pointed out that, “Experience teaches that a college boy, who gives attention to chess, is superior to the average student.” It was claimed that many college professors were so convinced of the value of chess that is was likely to be added to the elective courses in regular college curriculums. Professor George W. Smith, formerly of Cincinnati and the first Ohio Champion, made it a practice for many years to select a few of the best students in his math classes and devote an hour or two each week to teaching them chess. One of Smith's students, William Strunk, Jr., finished second in the first tournament he played in as a Sophomore. And, James F. Burns, a student at Ohio State University, won the open tournament in 1889.