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Thursday, November 8, 2018

William Napier – A Secret Revealed

     William Ewart Napier (January 17, 1881 - September 6, 1952) was an American chess master of English birth. His parents emigrated to the United States when he was five years old and from 1895 he lived in Brooklyn and came into contact with some of the best chess players of the country. 
     He had his first successes with simultaneous games, winning in December 1894 against Jackson W. Showalter. Napier played correspondence chess, participating in one of the Continental Correspondence Chess Association’s preliminary sections in 1894. 
     When his family moved to Brooklyn, Napier, then only thirteen, looked up the twenty-four-year-old Hermann Helms and the two began their long association with the Brooklyn Chess Club. At first many club members believed Napier, at the age of 14 in early 1895, was too young to join a men’s club.
     Although Napier visited the Brooklyn Chess Club to play against the likes of Showalter in simultaneous exhibitions, Helms first took him to the Brooklyn Young Men’s Christian Association’s Chess and Checker Club to play regularly.
     Helms was one of the club's co-founders. The club's major distinction was that it used blackboards and lectures by stong players to give lessons, something not offered by most clubs. Helms was club Secretary and his brother Charles played there as well. It was there that both Helms and Napier honed their skills. But it was at the Brooklyn CC where Napier came to be known as “Brooklyn’s Boy Wonder." 
     In 1896, at the age of 15, he crushed 19-year old Frank Marshall with the impressive score of +7 -1 =3. Later that year he won the club championship. 1897 saw him win a tournament game against ex-world champion Wilhelm Steinitz. 
     In early 1899 he went to Europe to study music and while there visited the chess clubs of London, Paris and Berlin. In 1900 he returned to the US and established himself in Pittsburgh. There he wrote the chess column for the Pittsburgh Dispatch
     In 1901, he he tied for second place with Eugene Delmar in a double-round tournament in Buffalo, New York. Pillsbury was first; the other players were Clarence Howell, Frank Marshall (who scored a miserable 2-1/2 points) and Louis Karpinski. This success encouraged him to participate in the following years in Monte Carlo and Hanover in 1902 and Cambridge Springs in 1904. In both tournaments he received brilliancy prizes: Mikhail Chigorin and Curt von Bardeleben at Hanover and against John Barry at Cambridge Springs. 
    In July 1904, he visited Great Britain and won a tournament in London ahead of such players asTeichmann, Gunsberg, Blackburne and Leonhardt. Because of his English birth he was able to participate in the British championship at Hastings in 1904. He tied for first with Henry Atkins whom he defeated in the playoff +1 -0 =3. Blackburne finished thrid a full point back. 
     In 1905 Napier drew a match against Jacques Mieses (=4 -4 =2) and lost to Teichmann (=1 -5 =4). After his loss to Teichmann, Napier withdrew from the international tournament arena. 
     He became an American citizen in 1908 and began a career at an insurance company, becoming vice president of the Scranton Insurance Company. He married Florence Gillespie (Pillsbury's niece), with whom he later had two daughters. Although he still participated in chess, he played no more important tournaments. 
     When he died at the age of 71, his chess career was nearly forgotten. Chessmetrics assigned him a high rating of 2662 in 1906 which placed him 11th in the world. His rating put him a group with players like Ossip Bernstein, Heinrich Wolf, Oldrich Duras and Amos Burn. 
     The secret? I always thought he was an English player. 

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