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Monday, June 4, 2018

An Unheralded Master, Herman Voigt

    The other day I ran across an interesting digital copy of a book titled Chess in Philadelphia: a brief history of the game in Philadelphia on Google that was published in 1898. While browsing through book I discovered a player from Philadelphia who defeated Pillsbury and Steinitz in simuls and held Lasher to draw before blundering it away on move 81 and losing. He also defeated J.H. Blackburne in a game played at the Franklin Chess Club in 1889. 
     Looking him up on Chessmetrics I discovered that he had been assigned a rating of 2656 on the January 1899 list which placed him at number 15 in the world, a position he held 8 different months between the June 1898 rating list and the August 1900 rating list. 
    Herman G. Voigt of Philadelphia was one of the country's best players for over 40 years, but his many responsibilities prevented him from entering any of the international tournaments held in the US during his playing days. 
    According to player/chess journalist Walter Penn Shipley, it was widely known among friends that as a rapid and skittles player Voigt had few equals.  He possessed an uncanny positional judgment and played with imagination and ingenuity.
    Described as a large man with a vigorous physique until later years when he suffered from serious heart problems, he was known for his pleasing personality and happy disposition which made him extremely popular among local players. Whenever he entered the Franklin Chess Club it was always accompanied by the greeting, “Here comes the boss player; he can beat anybody in the room.”
     Voigt won the Philadelphia city championship five times: 1891, 1892, 1897, 1898 and 1909. Between the years 1898 and 1911 he played for the US in various cable matches against Great Britain, scoring +3 -2 =5. In these matches he defeated T.F. Lawrence who for many years held the the city of London championship and drew with British champions J.H. Blackburne and H.E. Atkins.
     Voigt's father was born in Germany, but came to the US and became a citizen, but later returned to Germany where Voigt was born in Grimmitschau on July 16, 1857. When Voigt was around 14 years old his father brought the family back to the US. So, although Voigt was born in Germany, his parents were naturalized citizens and he was thus considered a US citizen. They located in Philadelphia in February, 1871.
     As an adult Voigt was a successful building contractor. If you remember, when World War One began the US economy was in a recession, but beginning in 1914, a 44 month economic boom ensued when Europeans began purchasing US goods and when the US entered the war in 1917 massive spending was unleashed.  Not everybody benefitted from the economic boom.  Like many other contractors Voigt was caught with a lot of unfinished contracts and rapidly rising material and labor costs.  As a result he was forced to voluntarily declare bankruptcy. 
     Around that time he began developing heart problems. Shipley noted that for several years after the failure of his business and with his heart problems, friends realized that the end was near for Voigt. He died at the age of 64 on February 12, 1922.  He was survived by his wife, two daughters, two brothers and three sisters.


  1. OT from wikipedia. An interesting future topic

    The earliest known use of the term "Indian Defence" was in 1884, and the name was attributed to the openings used by the Indian player Moheschunder Bannerjee against John Cochrane.[2] Philip W. Sergeant describes Moheschunder as having been as of 1848 "a Brahman in the Mofussil—up country, as we might say—who had never been beaten at chess!"[3] Sergeant wrote in 1934 (substituting algebraic notation for his descriptive notation):[4]

  2. http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessplayer?pid=85637