The Campbell Report
Correspondence Chess
"On the Square" Article

Neil Brennen

After a discussion with Stephen Ham of Minnesota, the chess historian Neil Brennen researched the chess activities of James Jellett, an interesting chess player from Minnesota history. The resulting article gives us a fascinating glimpse into chess history, of the passions and ettiquette of the time, and of the interesting characters dotting the landscape in chess of that era. Many thanks once again to Neil Brennen for providing a well-written and deeply researched article into our past.
--- J. Franklin Campbell

The Champion of the North:
James Jellett's Adventures in American Chess

by Neil Brennen
(posted 22 April 2004)


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It may be a cliché to call the United States the "great melting pot", but like many clichés this one holds an element of truth. American culture has been enriched by the many and varied ethnic groups that have immigrated to the United States. And American chess, as a mirror of the larger culture, has reflected this and absorbed influences from immigrant players, from the Scottish master George Mackenzie in the nineteenth century to the latest ex-Soviet grandmaster seeking a livelihood from the Royal Game..

But it's not only at the top level that the newcomer has an impact. Often, chess at the local level is enriched by the presence of a foreign-born player. One example is the following American success story of an Irish immigrant and his chess adventures thousands of miles from his home, a series of adventures encompassing over-the-board championships in major American cities and postal play as well.

James I. Jellett was born in Dublin, Ireland, on November 5, 1842. Jellett's history in his native land remains a mystery. We don't know when he came to the United States, if he came as an adult, or as a child with his parents, nor do we know the reason why he crossed the ocean from the land of his birth. The conventional and convenient approach would be to place him in the flood of Irish immigrants to the US in the 1840's and 1850's caused by English repression of the Irish population, combined with the failure of the potato crops of the late 1840's. It seems a safe assumption that Jellett was one of the multitude of immigrants arriving in the United States from Ireland at this time, but he, or his family, was probably considerably better off than the peasants who made up the bulk of the influx. And it's Jellett's connections to chess that support this conclusion.

A contemporary chess club, in most cases, has no restriction on membership. Indeed, today all chessplayers are one people, regardless of race, ethnicity, or class. Not so in the nineteenth century, when chess club membership marked a person as both a participant in a hobby and as a gentleman. A poor immigrant laborer, regardless of his skill in chess, would hardly be able to take time from his hardscrabble existence for the Royal Game, let alone possess the accouterments to pass in society on a regular basis.

As has been previously stated, we know little of Jellett's life before his arrival in the United States. But what we do know of Jellett is that he was in Philadelphia, the second-largest city in the United States and one of the main arrival points for the influx of Irish immigrants, in the early 1860's. He was an active member of the Philadelphia Chess Club, the Quaker City's most important and prominent chess center. The membership roles of the Club featured a number of names that would have graced the city's Social Register, such as Philadelphia attorney Hardman Philips Montgomery, champion of the Club and Philadelphia's representative in the First American Chess Congress in 1857, and Emerson Bennett, while but an amateur at the Royal Game, one of America's best known novelists.

Bennett, in particular, has done more for our understanding of chess in the nineteenth century than simply appearing at Philadelphia's most prominent club. Bennett has left us what appears to be a glamorized description of a typical gentleman's club in his 1856 novel The Artist's Bride, or, The Pawnbroker's Heir.

"At a later hour of the same evening which opens our story, two young men sat vis-à-vis at a table, playing a popular game of cards. Both were richly and fashionably dressed; and from their manner-a certain air of languid, indolent assumption-it was plainly evident that both laid claim to the distinction of belonging to the aristocracy of the Quaker City....

"The room was spacious, lofty, gorgeously furnished, and brilliantly lighted by two magnificent chandeliers. The ceiling was frescoed, the walls richly papered with crimson and gold, and the feet sunk into a Turkey carpet of birds and flowers. The furniture was either carved rosewood or marble, and the sofas, ottomans, and chairs were covered with the richest damask. A row of fluted columns divided the apartment; statues stood in niches; costly paintings hung round the walls; lace and damask curtains shaded the windows; and four full length mirrors, in heavily carved gilt frames, and placed at the four points of compass, reflected every object. There were many marble tables, and many seats, and more than a dozen young men, in groups or pairs, engaged in games of chess, backgammon, and cards; and there were waiters in livery, ready for orders; for it was the grand saloon of a private club of aristocratic young men."

While it's a bit of a stretch to imagine chessplayers furnishing rooms with full length mirrors and damask curtains to host their miniature battles, the sense that a gentleman's club should be exclusive rises above Bennett's catalogue of luxury in the excerpt above. Wealth and privilege find satisfaction in its own reflection, mirrors or not, and it is not a great leap to find leading chess clubs in major American cities following the general trend of genteel club life. That Jellett was accepted at all at the Philadelphia Chess Club-whether grudgingly or with open arms matters little-suggests he had at least some means, decidedly above those available to the impoverished masses of Irishmen flooding the ports of the United States and Canada.

The earliest Jellett game recovered is from the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, one of the most prestigious chess columns in the United States, and since 1860 the voice of the Philadelphia Chess Club. The nineteen-year-old Jellett lost a miniature to the young player and problemist James Warner. Considered to be one of the rising lights at the Philadelphia Chess Club, Warner's chess career would be cut short by his departure to the Darien Ithmus in the late 1860's and his subsequent death in Panama City in 1869. In his brief career Warner played many attractive games, and perhaps none more attractive than this Morphyesque game with Jellett. The game makes a fitting and lesser-known companion to Morphy's famous "Opera House" game.

James Warner- James Jellett
Odds Game, 1862
Notes by Gustavus Reichhelm
Remove Nb1. 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Bc5 6.d4 Bb6 [He should have played 6...exd4 ] 7.0-0 Na5 8.Bxf7+ Kxf7 9.Nxe5+ Kf8 10.f4 d6 11.Qh5 Qe8 Taking the Knight at this juncture would have subjected him to a severe attack. 12.Qh4 Nf6 13.Rf3 dxe5 14.Ba3+ Kg8 15.fxe5 Qxe5 When Black captured the Knight, he relied on this move to free him from difficulty, but his calculation was unsound. 16.Kh1 Qe6 17.e5 Nc4 [17...Qg4 would have availed him nought.] 18.exf6 Nd6 19.f7+ Nxf7

20.Qd8+ Nxd8 21.Rf8 1-0#
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, May 17, 1862

One of Jellett's early sparring partners at the Philadelphia Chess Club was Gustavus Charles Reichhelm, the columnist for the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, and as a result of meeting and playing Reichhelm Jellett begins to show up in the Evening Bulletin's chess column. Aside from his position as a chess columnist with what was arguably the best American chess column of the period, Reichhelm was also the strongest player in Philadelphia at the time when Philadelphia was one of the two strongest chess centers in the United States. Reichhelm would a few years later play two matches with George Mackenzie for the Championship of the United States, although he hardly covered himself with glory in these one-sided losses.

As befitting his greater playing strength, Reichhelm adopted the period solution to such problems and gave Jellett the odds of a Knight for the following game. The disadvantage of the piece handicap was not as great as it may seem to a present-day reader, as Reichhelm was an experienced odds-giver, and the slash-and-burn style of odds play suited Reichhelm's tactical playing style. Also, chess clocks were not in general use at this time, and aside from blindfold or simultaneous play of the game on Reichhelm's part there was no other way to level the playing strength differences between the two players. Although Reichhelm, perhaps out of courtesy, did not name Jellett as the loser in this game, but instead listed a "Mr. J_____t", savvy readers of the Bulletin column and habitual visitors to the Mercantile Library chess rooms could no doubt fill in the blank spaces.

Gustavus Reichhelm - Mr. J_____t
Odds game, 02.1864
Notes by Gustavus Reichhelm
Remove Nb1. 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.h4 g4 5.Ne5 h5 6.Bc4 Rh7 7.d4 Bh6 8.0-0 Qxh4 9.Bxf4 Apparently a very hazardous move; it was, however, the most efficient way by which the attack could be kept up. 9...g3 10.Bxg3 Qxg3 11.Bxf7+ Kd8 12.Rf3 Qg7 13.Bg6 Qe7 14.Bxh7 Qxh7 15.Rf7 Qxe4 16.Qxh5 c6 17.Raf1 Qe3+ 18.Kh1 Qg5

19.Rf8+ Apparently unperceived by Black. 19...Kc7 20.Qxg5 Bxg5 21.Rxg8 Be3 22.Rff8 Na6 23.c3 b5 24.Ng4 Bc1 25.Nf6 Bh6 26.Ne8+ Kb6 27.Rf6 Bc1 28.Nd6 Bb7 29.Rxa8 Bxa8 30.b4 A most important move. 30...Nc7 31.Rf8 Bd2 32.Ne4 Be3 White announced mate in three moves. 1-0
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, February 13, 1864

On March 5, 1864, the Bulletin chess column reported that the Philadelphia Chess Club had organized their Sixth Tournament, open to all club members, This was a knockout event, and at the survivors of the tournament were none other than Reichhelm and Jellett. However, the conflict wasn't entirely confined to the chessboard, as Reichhelm explained in the April 23rd Bulletin column: "... the tournament at the Philadelphia Chess Club was brought to an unexpected termination this week, by the refusal of Mr. Jellett to accept the odds of pawn and two moves from Mr. Reichhelm. These gentlemen have recently played quite a number of offhand games at these odds, a decided majority of which were won by Mr. Reichhelm." Continuing to discuss himself in the third person, Reichhelm expressed "regret that the tournament had been brought to an untoward end" by Jellett's refusal to accept odds.

While this dispute over odds may seem a chessic tempest-in-a-teapot to present day readers, it should be remembered that for Reichhelm to play Jellett on even terms would be to admit Jellett was his equal as a chessplayer, which would be an insufferable affront to the established pecking order in Philadelphia chess. It may have been one such affront to his dignity as a chessplayer that prompted Reichhelm to include as an answer to a correspondent in the December 15, 1865 Evening Bulletin column the following barb: "No player possessing common sense will refuse to accept odds from a superior player. To receive odds is no humiliation, but to make a fool of oneself is."

Reichhelm, perhaps to make the point that he could successfully give odds of "pawn and two" to the young Irishman, published in the Evening Bulletin a long, drawn game he played with Jellett prior to the dispute about the Championship match.

James Jellett - Gustavus Reichhelm
Odds Game, 1864
Notes by Gustavus Reichhelm
Remove pawn f7. White moves twice to begin. 1.e4 pass 2.d4 Nc6 3.Bb5 A move at once original and forcible. Black is forced to submit to the doubling of his pawns, or lose valuable time. 3...e6 4.Bxc6 bxc6 [To have captured 4...dxc6 would evidently left the e pawn isolated and weak.] 5.Qh5+ g6 6.Qe5 Nf6 7.Bg5 Bg7 [This is preferable to 7...Be7 as in that case White might play 8.Bh6] 8.Qa5 h6 Evidently a necessary move. 9.Bxf6 Bxf6 10.e5 Be7 11.Nh3 The Knight was played here for the purpose of leaving the f pawn free, preparatory to an attack on the Kingside. 11...0-0 12.Qd2

12...Kg7 [If 12...Bg5 13.f4 Bh4+ 14.g3 Be7 15.Nc3 etc.] 13.0-0 d5 14.f4 c5 15.c3 cxd4 16.cxd4 c5 17.Rf3 cxd4 18.Qxd4 Qb6 [Black might have played 18...Qa5 here, but he thought it more advisable to force an exchange of Queens.] 19.Qxb6 axb6 20.Nd2 Bc5+ 21.Kh1 Bd4 22.Rb3 Compulsory. 22...Ba6 23.a3 Rac8 24.Nf3 Bc5 25.Rc1 d4 26.Ne1 Be7 27.Rd1 [Suppose 27.Rxc8 Rxc8 28.Rxb6 Rc1 29.Rxa6 Rxe1+ 30.Ng1 d3 and wins.] 27...Bc5 28.Rg3 Rfd8 29.b4 Be7 30.Rb3 Bc4 31.Rb2 Ra8 32.Nf2 [Very well played; by either 32.Rdd2 ; or 32.Ra1 Black would have obtained an advantage.] 32...Rxa3 33.Nc2

33...Ra2 [33...Rb3 would have lost a move, e. g. 34.Rxb3 Bxb3 35.Nxd4 and Bishop has to move away, for is he takes Rook, another pawn is lost.] 34.Rxa2 Bxa2 35.Nxd4 Kf7 36.Nc6 Rxd1+ 37.Nxd1 Bd5 38.Nxe7 Kxe7 39.Kg1 Kd7 40.Kf2 Kc6 41.Nc3 Bb3 42.h4 Kd7 43.Kg3 Ke7 44.Kg4 Kf7 45.h5 Bc2 46.hxg6+ Kxg6 47.Kf3 h5 48.g3 Kf5 49.Nb5 Be4+

50.Kf2 [50.Ke3 would have been answered with 50...Bd5] 50...Kg4 51.Nc3 Bc2 52.Ne2 Bb1 53.Kg2 h4 54.gxh4 Be4+ 55.Kf2 Kxh4 56.Ke3 Bd5 57.Nd4 Kg4 58.Nb5 Kf5 59.Nc7 Bc6 60.b5 Bd7 61.Kf3 Bc8 62.Ne8 Bb7+ 63.Ke3 Bd5 64.Nd6+ Kg4 65.Ne8 Bc4 66.Nc7 Kf5 67.Na8 Bxb5 68.Nxb6 Ba6 69.Na4 Bc4 70.Nb2 Bb5 71.Nd1 Ba6 72.Kf3 Be2+ 73.Kxe2 Kxf4 ½-½
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, May 28, 1864

His refusal to accept odds from Reichhelm was not the only chessboard ego-conflict that Jellett would involve himself in during 1864. As Reichhelm and Walter Penn Shipley note in their 1898 history Chess In Philadelphia, Jellett played a match with Hudson C. Montgomery, a player from nearby Camden, New Jersey. What makes this match interesting is that Jellett offered odds that strike a modern chessplayer as unbelievable: a match to seven wins, with Montgomery starting with four wins to his credit! Unfortunately, Jellett's hubris was rewarded with a loss, with Montgomery winning three games to take the match. The final score stood as seven wins for Montgomery, including the four wins he started with, six wins for Jellett, and one draw. This triumph was a short-lived one for Jellett's opponent, who died on March 17, 1865, a few months after the match. His match win over Jellett, according to the Bulletin's March 25th obituary notice, was the last serious chess Montgomery played.

Not all of Jellett's chess activities in 1864 were as contentious as his canceled match with Reichhelm or as embarrassing as his loss to Montgomery. In September 1864 the Philadelphia Chess Club began a handicap tournament, an event in which the strongest players were required to give odds to their less accomplished opponents. Jellett managed to swallow his considerable pride, set aside his objections to odds, and entered the lists of combatants. As recounted in Chess In Philadelphia, when the tournament was concluded Jellett found himself in first place. Even Reichhelm was impressed, and published one of Jellett's wins in the Evening Bulletin column.

James Jellett - James Whitman
Philadelphia Handicap Tournament, September.1864
Notes by Gustavus Reichhelm
Remove pawn f7. 1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Bd3 [3.Nc3 is preferable, as then Black could not advance 3...e5 advantageously.] 3...e5 4.d5 Be7 5.Ne2 0-0 6.0-0 c6 7.c4 Bg4 8.f3 Bh5 9.Nbc3 h6 10.Ng3 Bg6 11.Be3 Nh5 12.Nxh5 Bxh5 13.Qd2 Nd7 14.Rae1 Nf6 15.f4 White conducts the game throughout, skillfully and correctly. 15...Qd7 16.f5 Ng4 17.h3 Nxe3 18.Qxe3 Bh4 19.g3 Bg5 20.Qf2 a6 Lost time. Black is evidently embarrassed. 21.g4 Bf7 22.h4 Bf4 This looks certainly injudicious. 23.Ne2 g5 24.Nxf4 exf4 25.Qh2 Kg7 26.hxg5 hxg5

27.f6+ Finely conceived. A worthy conclusion to a well-played game. 27...Kxf6 28.e5+ dxe5 29.Qh6+ Ke7 30.Rxe5+ Kd8 31.Qxg5+ 1-0
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, October 23, 1864

Despite his previous dispute with Reichhelm over their final match in the Philadelphia Chess Club tournament of 1864, Jellett continued to play chess with the Bulletin columnist, and accepted whatever odds were proposed. And Reichhelm continued to grant odds to Jellett. However, these games were not played at the Philadelphia Chess Club, but at the less prestigious Mercantile Library chess room. Since the Mercantile Library was open to the general public, albeit on a fee basis, it was a decided step down from the elite Philadelphia Chess Club. The headstrong Irishman Jellett may have found his reception at the Philadelphia Chess Club less than cordial after some of his behavior in 1864. Or perhaps he simply decided to seek out the somewhat weaker competition that crowded around the chess tables at the Library. Regardless, no further mention of Jellett at the Philadelphia Chess Club occurs after his match with Montgomery.

There was no question that Jellett was improving as a chessplayer from playing with his chessic betters. The question was, how much better had he become? Against the stronger players his results had improved, as his winning the Philadelphia Handicap Tournament showed. The elite of Philadelphia chess began to offer lesser odds to Jellett - as the following game against James Warner shows. Warner had given Knight odds to Jellett three years before, and now was unsuccessful giving the less burdensome odds of pawn and move. There was no Morphy-like brilliancy this time.

James Jellett - James Warner
Odds game, 1865
Notes by Gustavus Reichhelm
Remove pawn f7. 1.e4 e6 2.d4 c5 3.Qh5+ g6 4.Qe5 Qf6 5.Qxf6 Nxf6 6.e5 Nd5 7.c3 Nc6 8.Nf3 a6 9.Bc4 Nc7 10.0-0 b5 11.Bd3 Bb7 12.Be3 Nd5 13.Re1 Nxe3 14.Rxe3 cxd4 15.cxd4 Bh6 16.Re2 Nb4 17.Ne1 Mr. Jellett has not played the opening with his usual accuracy. 17...Rc8 18.Nc3 0-0 19.Be4 Nc6 20.Bxc6 dxc6 The Bishop should have retaken. 21.Ne4 Rc7 22.Nd3 Bc8 23.Ndc5 Rf4 24.g3 Rf3 25.Kg2 Rf8

26.f4 [26.Nd6 would have gained a pawn.] 26...a5 27.Rc1 Rd8 28.Nd6 Bf8 29.Nce4 Be7 30.Rec2 Bb7 31.Kh3 Kf8 32.Nc5 Bc8 33.Nce4 Bb7 34.Rc5 Rdd7 35.Kg4 a4 36.Kf3 Ba8 37.Ke3 Ra7 38.Nc8 Bxc5 39.Nxc5 Re7 40.Nxa7 Rxa7 41.Nxe6+ Ke7 42.Nc5 1-0
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, March 30, 1866

Even though Jellett was no longer carping publicly about receiving odds, there was apparently some tension among Philadelphia chessplayers regarding the issue. The columnist of the Evening Bulletin was never shy about using his weekly space as a bully-pulpit; Reichhelm published the following Knight odds game against Jellett in his February 2, 1866 column, perhaps in part because of a "funny classification of Philadelphia players", published in a rival chess column in the magazine Saturday Night, that listed Jellett as fourth-strongest in the city.

Gustavus Reichhelm - James Jellett
Odds game, 1866
Notes by Gustavus Reichhelm
Remove Nb1. 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Bc4 g4 5.0-0 gxf3 6.Qxf3 Qf6 7.e5 Qxe5

8.Bxf7+ This always give a very lively attack. It is not analyzed in the books. 8...Kxf7 9.d4 Qg7 10.Bxf4 Nf6 11.Rae1 Qg4 12.Qb3+ d5 13.Be5 Nbd7 14.Qxd5+ Kg7 15.Re4 Qxe4 16.Qxe4 Nxe5 17.Qxe5 Kf7 Mate in four1-0
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Feb 2, 1866

Shortly after this game was played Jellett undertook an odds match against Reichhelm at the Mercantile Library chess rooms. In their encounters Reichhelm gave odds of pawn and two moves, playing as Black without his f7 pawn and allowing Jellett to play two moves to begin the game. An additional condition was that if either player won seven games to four, the winner was entitled to a reduction or increase of the odds. This was considered a slight reduction in the odds Jellett had been receiving from Reichhelm. Since Reichhelm would be unlikely to voluntarily reduce the odds he had been giving Jellett, most probably the match was contested to finally decide whether or not the Irishman was right regarding his ability vis-à-vis Reichhelm..

Despite the lessened handicap he gave, Reichhelm won the match. The victor published three of the games in his Evening Bulletin chess column.

James Jellett - Gustavus Reichhelm
Odds match (2), 02.1866
Notes by Gustavus Reichhelm
Remove pawn f7. White moves twice to begin. 1.e4 pass 2.d4 Nc6 3.Bb5 e6 4.Bxc6 bxc6 4...dxc6 would have rendered the e pawn weak. 5.f4 d5 6.Qh5+ g6 7.Qe5 Nf6 8.exd5 cxd5 9.Nh3 Bd6 10.Qe2 0-0 11.0-0 c5 12.Be3 Qb6 13.dxc5 Bxc5 14.Bxc5 Qxc5+ 15.Nf2

15...Ne4 The deciding move. 16.g3 e5 17.Nc3 Nxc3 18.bxc3 exf4 0-1
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, March 9, 1866

James Jellett - Gustavus Reichhelm
Odds match (6), 02.1866
Notes by Gustavus Reichhelm
Remove pawn f7. White moves twice to begin. 1.e4 pass 2.d4 e6 3.f4 d5 4.e5 c5 5.c3 Nc6 6.Nf3 Nh6 7.Bd3 7.Qb3 was perhaps more to the purpose. 7...cxd4 8.cxd4 By 8.Ng5 g6 9.Nxh7 etc, Black might have gained two pawns for the exchange. 8...Bb4+ 9.Nc3 0-0 10.0-0 Be7 11.Ne2 Bd7 12.Bd2 Rc8 13.Qb1 Nf5 14.g4

14...Nfxd4 A daring sacrifice. 15.Bxh7+ Kh8 16.Nexd4 Nxd4 17.Nxd4 Bc5 18.Bc3 Qh4 19.Bd3 Qxg4+ 20.Kh1 Bxd4 21.Bxd4 Rxf4 22.Be3 Rxf1+ 23.Qxf1 d4 0-1
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Feb 24, 1866

James Jellett - Gustavus Reichhelm
Odds match (7), 03.1866
Notes by Gustavus Reichhelm
Remove pawn f7. White moves twice to begin. 1.e4 pass 2.d4 e6 3.Bd3 Qe7 4.Nf3 d6 5.0-0 Nc6 6.Bg5 Qf7 7.e5 d5 8.Nc3 Be7 9.Bd2 Nb4 10.Nb5 Nxd3 11.cxd3 The more adventuresome move of 11.Nxc7+ was perhaps wisely avoided by Mr. Jellett. 11...Bd8 12.Rc1 a6 13.Ng5 Qd7 14.Nc3 Bxg5 15.Qh5+ Qf7 16.Qxg5 Nh6 17.Ne2 0-0 18.Bb4 Re8 19.Ng3 a5 20.Bd2 Kh8 21.Qh5 Qxh5

22.Nxh5 Re7 Black's position is very confined, and not to be redeemed. Black's error in this game consisted in his too freely exchanging pieces. 23.Bg5 Rf7 24.Bxh6 gxh6 25.Nf6 b6 26.Rc6 Re7 27.Rfc1 Ra7 28.f4 Ba6 29.f5 and won the game. 1-0
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, March 9, 1866

To stress his opinion of Jellett's chess strength, a month later Reichhelm published a game lost by the Irishman to a player of his own class. As mentioned previously, novelist Emerson Bennett was a member of the Philadelphia Chess Club, and this game was played at the Club two years before it was published. Bennett's chessplaying was less glamorous and exotic than his novels, and it helped in this instance that Jellett was not booked up, so to speak, on the opening.

Emerson Bennett - James Jellett [C51]
Offhand game, 1864
Notes by Gustavus Reichhelm
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Bc5 6.0-0 d6 7.d4 exd4 8.cxd4 Bb6 9.Nc3 Bg4 This defense, formerly considered irreproachable, has fallen into disrepute of late years.

10.Bb5 [We consider 10.Qa4 rather more forcible.] 10...Bxf3 11.gxf3 Ba5 12.Bxc6+ bxc6 13.Qa4 Bxc3 14.Qxc6+ Ke7 Black's play is too reckless, as is shown by this and some of the after moves. 15.Qxc3 Nf6 16.Rb1 g5 17.Rb7 Ne8 18.Bxg5+ f6 19.Bh4 h5 20.d5 Qc8 21.Bxf6+ Kf7 22.Bxh8 [22.Rxc7+ might have been played.] 22...Qxb7 23.f4 Qc8 24.f5 Qd8 25.f4 Rb8 26.Qf3 Nf6 27.Bxf6 Qxf6 28.Qxh5+ 1-0
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, April 13, 1866

Jellett continued to play chess at the Mercantile Library, and a few years later undertook a series of odds games with another local master, problem composer Jacob Elson. In these encounters, Elson and Jellett played at odds of the Exchange, in which Elson played without his Queenside Rook and Jellett without his Queenside Knight. Again Jellett was overmatched, but did manage to score the occasional win. As this was not a formal match, there is no record of the score Jellett finally achieved against Elson. However, there are records of a few of the games, thanks to Reichhelm's Evening Bulletin column.

Jacob Elson - James Jellett
Odds Game, 1869
Notes by Gustavus Reichhelm
Remove Ra1 and Nb8. 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 f5 3.exf5 Bc5 4.g4 d5 5.Nge2 Nf6 6.Ng3 0-0 7.Bg2 Qd6 8.g5 Ne4 9.Ncxe4 dxe4 10.Bxe4

10...Bxf2+ A very interesting move. 11.Kxf2 Qd4+ 12.Ke1 Bxf5 13.Bxf5 Rxf5 14.Qe2 White could not take the Rook with advantage. 14...Rxg5 15.d3 Rg6 16.Qe4 Qc5 17.c3 Rd8 18.Rf1 Qb5 19.Nf5 Qd7 20.h4 Kh8 21.Bg5 Rf8 22.Rf2 c6 23.Ne7 Rgf6 24.Bxf6 gxf6 25.Nf5 Rg8 26.Kf1 Qe6 27.b3 Qe8 28.Rg2 Qh5 29.Rxg8+ Kxg8 30.Qg2+ and wins. 1-0
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, November 5, 1869

Jacob Elson - James Jellett
Odds Game, 1869
Notes by Gustavus Reichhelm
Remove Ra1 and Nb8. 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 Be7 4.Bc4 Bh4+ 5.g3 fxg3 6.0-0 gxh2+ 7.Kh1 Nh6 7...d5 is better. 8.d4 0-0 9.Bxh6 gxh6 10.Ne5 Qg5? 11.Nxf7 Rxf7 12.Rxf7

12...Qg1+ 13.Qxg1+ hxg1Q+ 14.Kxg1 Kh8 15.e5 h5 16.Nd2 c6 17.Nf3 d5 18.exd6 and wins. 1-0
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, November 5, 1869

Jacob Elson - James Jellett
Odds game, 1869
Notes by Gustavus Reichhelm
Remove Ra1 and Nb8. 1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Bc5 3.Nf3 d6 4.Bc4 Nf6 5.0-0 c6 6.d3 b5 7.Bb3 Qb6 8.Bg5 h6 9.Bh4 g5 10.Bg3 h5 Black plays here with much spirit. 11.h3 h4 12.Bh2 g4 13.Ng5

13...g3! 14.Bxf7+ Ke7 15.Bb3 gxh2+ 16.Kxh2 Nh5 17.Qd2 Ng3! 18.fxg3 hxg3+ 19.Kh1 Be3 20.Rf7+ Ke8 21.Qd1 Bxg5 22.Rg7 Bf4 23.Ne2 Bxh3 , and wins. 0-1
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, November 5, 1869

All this odds playing with such strong tacticians as Elson and Reichhelm was bound to have an effect on his playing style. According to a later annotator, Jellett's chess was described as "hammer and tongs". No doubt Jellett learned a lot about chessic combat in the City of Brotherly Love. While in Philadelphia he was most often the hammered, shortly hereafter, in another locale, he was to become the hammer.

Sometime during 1869, or perhaps the early to mid-1870's, Jellett moved from Philadelphia to Minnesota. Making his home in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, he became involved in real estate, and eventually married. And he brought chess with him on his westward travel.

While discussions of the American Midwest in the 19th century bring clichéd images of corn, cattle, and settlers in sod huts to mind, it's worth remembering that cities were developing in the territories and states that were being added to the map. And many of the settlers of these territories brought with them their urban pleasures, including chess. As an example, two years before it achieved statehood in 1859, Minnesota would have a representative, William Allison of Hastings, at the First American Chess Congress in New York. And by the time Jellett arrived in Minnesota, the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul were thriving Midwestern metropolises, with rapid population growth and economic opportunity spurred on by the railroads, agriculture, and lumbering. And chess took hold as well, with the first Minnesota chess column appearing in the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1886, and others following through the years. The St. Paul Chess, Checker, and Whist Club was founded shortly afterwards, in 1887.

Jellett, like many immigrants before him and many after him, probably found Minnesota to be far different from his native land. However, he made his new domicile his own, as all immigrants do. Much of his time was probably spent developing his real estate business and tending to his family while leading a quiet life in St. Paul. Jellett, however, couldn't forget the Royal game, and threw himself into local chess. As an example of his chessic appetite, the American Chess Monthly of May 1892 reports that Jellett won the championship of the St. Paul Chess, Checker, and Whist Club, suffering "but one defeat and that from Dr. A. T. Bigalow, his most formidable opponent and next to him in score". In 1899 there would be a similar report in the American Chess Magazine's August issue, noting that Jellett "wears the club's gold medal. Mr. Jellett lost one each to Tierney and Hillman, and won all the rest." Jellett finished with a score of 8-2, with a lead of 2 1/2 points over the second-place finisher. Jellett also served on the board of the Minnesota State Chess Association during this time. These social activities probably helped his real estate business as well. As Jellett discovered in Philadelphia, where better to go than the local chess club to find men of breeding and money?

Although his business and personal life may have been sedate, Jellett's chess wasn't. For an example of his play during his chess career in Minnesota, turn to the May 1899 American Chess Magazine, which carries a brief item about the "Jellett Gambit" which its inventor had used in his over-the-board chess games for "a dozen" years against Minnesota players. Modern players, such as Tim Harding, who wrote of it in a Chess Café article, call this the "Vampire Gambit," and consider it a dubious line of play. But to a nineteenth century player, schooled in gambits and odds play years ago by Reichhelm and others, White's sacrifice of the pawn was just part of the game. The complete variation printed in the American Chess Magazine is given below; the magazine commented the "possibilities" following White's eighth move "are interesting".

1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.f4 c5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.Bd3 Nf6 6.0-0 Be7 7.Nbd2 0-0


In addition to competition with the local players, the railroads would sometimes bring visiting masters for Jellett to cross swords with. And on one of these occasions he managed to nick for a half-point one of the strongest blindfold chessplayers the world has known. Although he had lost to Harry Nelson Pillsbury during the US Champion's previous visits to Minnesota, the Irish have always been considered lucky in the popular mind. Some of that luck may have come into play here.

Harry Nelson Pillsbury - James Jellett [C62]
Blindfold simul, Minneapolis, January 30, 1900
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 d6 4.d4 Bd7 5.Nc3 exd4 6.Nxd4 Nxd4 7.Bxd7+ Qxd7 8.Qxd4 c6 9.Bf4 b6 10.0-0-0 Rd8 11.Rhe1 f6 12.Qc4 b5 13.Qe2 Kf7 14.Qf3 h5 15.e5 fxe5 16.Bxe5+ Nf6 17.Bxf6 gxf6 18.Ne4 Rh6 19.Ng5+ Kg8 20.Ne6 Rc8 21.Qf4 Rg6 22.Nxf8 Rxf8 23.Rxd6 Qg4 24.Qxg4 Rxg4 25.g3 c5 26.Re7 Ra4 27.Rdd7 Ra8 28.Rg7+ Kf8 29.Rdf7+ Ke8

30.Rxf6 Rxa2 31.Rc6 Ra1+ 32.Kd2 Rd8+ 33.Ke2 Kf8 34.Rh7 Re8+ 35.Kf3 Kg8 36.Rxh5 Ra2 37.Rcxc5 Rxb2 38.Rxb5 Rxc2 39.Rbg5+ Kf7 40.Rh7+ Kf6 41.Rg4 Ree2 42.Rgh4 Rxf2+ 43.Kg4 Rc4+ 44.Kh3 Rcc2 45.R4h6+ Kg5 46.Rh5+ Kg6 47.R7h6+ Kg7 ½-½
Minnesota Chess Journal 1970, P 522

Not content to rest his laurels on the title of St. Paul Champion, Jellett desired additional competition. Nineteenth century Minnesota, despite the best efforts of the local players to develop local chess and import masters for simultaneous displays, was not a thriving chess center like New York or Philadelphia, so Jellett, like many players in isolated communities, sought new competition in correspondence play. When in 1893 the Continental Correspondence Chess Tournament was organized, Jellett sent in his $2.00 to enter. Playing in the 5th preliminary section, he finished in 7th place with 55 per cent of his games ending as wins, according to the result chart published in Chess In Philadelphia. Although he did not advance to the finals, Jellett did have the satisfaction of a couple of nice wins appearing in the tournament bulletin, both of which are below. Sadly, his win against William Ewart Napier, who would in the next decade become one of the world's strongest amateur players, was not published in the Bulletin, and is probably lost forever. The Helms in the game below is Charles, brother of Hermann Helms, who at the time the game was played was starting his chess column in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Charles Helms - James Jellett [D00]
Continental, Prelims Sec. 5, 1894
Notes by John Welsh Young
1.d4 d5 2.e4 The Blackmar Gambit, named after its inventor, Mr. A. B. Blackmar. It is not considered to be sound, but leads to many brilliant combinations. 2...dxe4 3.f3 e5 The invention of Mr. Charles A. Maurian, the idea being that Black cannot safely accept the second pawn. 4.c3 c6 4...exd4 at once might be tried with advantage. 5.Be3 exd4 6.cxd4 c5 7.d5 exf3 8.Nxf3 Be7 9.Bd3 Nf6 10.Nc3 Ng4 11.Qe2 Nxe3 12.Qxe3 0-0 13.0-0 f5 14.Rae1 Bd6 15.Ng5 An extraordinary blunder to occur in a correspondence game. 15...f4 Winning a piece and the game. The finish is very interesting. 16.Bxh7+

16...Kh8 17.Qd3 Qxg5 18.Ne4 Qh6 19.Nxd6 Qxd6 20.Qe4 Na6 21.Bg6 Bd7 22.Rf3 Rf6 23.Rg3 Bf5 24.Bxf5 fxg3 25.Qg4 Raf8 0-1
Continental Bulletin No. 1

James Jellett - E. Lewis [C22]
Continental, Prelims Sec. 5, 1894
Notes by John Welsh Young
1.e4 e5 2.d4 exd4 3.Qxd4 Nc6 4.Qe3 Bb4+ The old line of attack which wastes valuable time in development. 4...g6 followed by ...Bg7 is better. 5.c3 Ba5 6.Na3 A novelty. 6.Qg3 is generally adopted here. 6...Bb6 7.Qg3 Qf6 8.Be3 d6 8...Bxe3 9.Qxe3 a6 was Black's best defense. 9.Bxb6 axb6

10.Nb5 Kd8 11.f4 Nge7 12.Bd3 Ng6 13.Ne2 Bd7 14.0-0 h5 15.a4 h4 16.Qf2 Na7 17.Nbd4 c5 18.Nc2 Kc7 19.Ne3 Mr. Jellett takes admirable advantage of his opponent's error on the 8th move and secures a winning attack. 19...Qd8 20.b4 Rc8 21.b5 Kb8 22.c4 Ne7 23.f5 g5 24.Nc3 f6 25.Ra3 Be8 26.Rfa1 Rc7 27.a5 Nac8 28.axb6 Nxb6 29.Qa2 Rc8 30.Ra7 Kc7

31.Rxb7+ Well played. Black has no escape. 1-0
Continental Bulletin No. 1

Jellett's loss to the second place finisher, many-time Canadian champion James Narraway, was also published in the Continental Bulletin. It was a long, drawn out defense, one which Jellett expected to draw.

James Narraway - James Jellett [C44]
Continental, Prelims Sec. 5, 1895
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.c3 d5 4.Qa4 Qd6? 5.exd5 Qxd5 6.Bb5 Bd7 7.0-0 0-0-0 This loses a pawn but gets almost an equivalent in cramping White's game. - Narraway 8.Bc4 Qe4 9.Ng5 Na5 10.Nxe4 Bxa4 11.Bxf7 h6 12.b3 Bd7 13.Bb2 Nf6 14.Bg6 Nc6 15.Ng3 Nd5 16.d4 exd4 17.cxd4 Be7 18.Nd2 Bf6 19.Nf3 Nde7 20.Be4 h5 21.Ne5 h4 22.Ne2 Be8 23.Rfd1 g5 24.f3 Nd5 25.Rac1 Nce7 26.h3 c6 27.Kf2 Bg7 28.a3 Kc7 29.b4 a6 30.Nc3 Nxc3 31.Bxc3 Nd5 32.Bd2 Bf6

33.a4 The only way to make a breach in Black's defense. -Narraway 33...Nb6 34.b5 axb5 35.axb5 Rxd4? 36.Ng4 Be7 37.bxc6 bxc6 Wisely preferring to lose the exchange instead of the b pawn. -Narraway 38.Bf4+ gxf4 39.Rxd4 Rh5 Black makes a fine defense after losing the exchange and it is difficult for his opponent to force a win. - John Welsh Young 40.Bd3 Nd5 41.Re4 Ba3 42.Rcc4 Bd7 43.Re2 Bd6 44.Bg6 Rg5 45.Be8 Rf5 46.Bxd7 Kxd7 47.Rec2 Nb4 48.Rd2 c5 49.Re4 Kc6 50.Re6 Nd5

51.Rde2 Better than 51.Rh6 at once. -Narraway 51...Nc3 52.Rc2 Nb5 53.Rh6 Nd4 54.Rc1 Rf8 55.Ne5+ Kd5 56.Nd7 Rd8 A blunder. Up to this point Black expected to draw. -Jellett 57.Rh5+ Nf5 58.Rxf5+ Ke6 59.Rfxc5 Kxd7 60.Rh5 Ke6 61.Rxh4 Be5 62.Rh6+ Kf7 63.Rb1 Rd7 64.Rh7+ Bg7 65.Rb4 Rd2+ 66.Kf1 Kg6 67.Rxg7+ and wins. 1-0
Continental Bulletin No. 2

Despite his failure to advance to the finals of the Continental Tournament, Jellett did not forsake postal chess. When the Pillsbury National Correspondence Chess Association was formed in 1896, Jellett joined, and began playing in the first tournament for the correspondence championship of the United States. By 1900 he had won the championship of the Northern Division of the PNCCA, acquiring a bronze medal and a place in the finals for his efforts. He also had one of his wins published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle chess column of Hermann Helms. This column also served as the official organ of the PNCCA, which explains why a Minnesota correspondence player's game is appearing in a Brooklyn newspaper.

James Jellett - F. Hill [C45]
PNCCA Northern Division semi-finals
Notes by A. E. Swaffield
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.Bd3 d5 7.Qe2 dxe4 8.Nd2 Somewhat out of the ordinary, but White evidently desired to get out of the books, with the prospect of a livelier game. 8...Bb4 9.0-0 Bxd2 10.Bxd2 0-0 11.Bc4 Of course, if 11.Bxe4 Black replies 11...Re8 , eventually winning a pawn. As it is, the extra pawn is a hard one for Black to maintain. 11...Re8 12.Bc3 Bg4 13.Qe3 Nd5 14.Bxd5 cxd5 15.Bd4 A very good move, removing all danger from ...d4. 15...Qh4 Of course, if 15...a6 16.Qg3 16.Qf4 16.Bxa7 would be decidedly risky, Black replying 16...Re6 , etc. 16...Qh5 17.h3

17...Be2 Taking into consideration the subsequent play, it is doubtful this is as good as 17...Be6 18.Rfe1 Re6 19.Kh2 Rg6 It is only reasonable to suppose that Mr. Hill had no desire to draw the game, otherwise 19...c6 was sufficient. 20.Qxc7 a6 21.a3 Clever play, confining the opposing Bishop to the Kingside. White now turns the attack completely. 21...Qg5 22.Rg1 Re6 23.Rae1 Bh5 24.g4 Bg6 25.f4 Re7 26.Qd6 Re6 27.fxg5 Rxd6 28.Re3 Rc6 29.c3 Rb8 30.b4 Rc4 31.Rd1 Rb7 32.h4 h5 33.gxh6 gxh6 34.Bf6 Rd7 35.h5 Bh7 36.g5 Bf5 37.Rf1 Bg4 38.Rg3 Bxh5 If 38...Be2 (or ...Bf3) 39.gxh6+ Kh7 40.Rg7+ Kxh6 41.Rg8 Kxh5 42.Rfg1 winning. 39.Rh3 Bg6 40.Rxh6 Bh7

41.Kg2 In contrast to his usual hammer and tongs style White finishes off with an artistic coups de repos, a fitting termination to so well-played a game. 1-0
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, February 10, 1901

Jellett, as Champion of the Northern Division, played in the finals of the first PNCCA Championship, but did not win the crown. However, his adventures in American chess continued for a number of years after his PNCCA title, with active participation in both correspondence and over-the-board events. For instance, Jellett, age 63, played in a preliminary section of the 1905 Western Championship, the forerunner of the modern US Open, although he did not advance to the final section. Time was dulling Jellett's hammer and tongs.

This tale of an Irishman's adventures in America came to an end with Jellett's death on April 12, 1914, in his adopted home of St. Paul. He sleeps eternally in Minnesota soil, half a world away from his native land, but his name, like that of many another naturalized American, lives on as a small part of the history of the grand adventure of American chess.


© 2004 Neil R. Brennen. All rights reserved.
The author thanks Stephen Ham and John Hilbert for assistance with this essay.

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