| John S. Hilbert, 44, a federal attorney and previously an
English Instructor at Louisiana State University, was born in Moorestown, NJ.
His degrees include a BA, MA, and Ph.D. in English, and a J.D. with practice
experience in environmental and Social Security law. He has in the past served
on the editorial board of The Henry James Review as well as The
Buffalo Law Review. He currently lives with his wife, Linda, and young
daughter, Robin, near Buffalo, New York, where he finds himself sinking ever
deeper under piles of chess books, xeroxes of old chess columns, and photos of
chess players. He is the author of Buffalo Chess Tournaments, 1901 and
1894 (Caissa Editions 1996) and Napier: The Forgotten Chessmaster
(Caissa Editions 1997). He also edits a revived journal of chess history,
Lasker & His Contemporaries (Issue 5 is now available through its
publisher, Chessco), and is ever seeking new material for future issues. A
third book, New York 1940, a detailed story of the first United States
Chess Championship under the auspices of the then-fledgling USCF, has been
completed and with luck should be out within the year. Currently John is
working with co-author and fellow chess historian Dale Brandreth on a detailed
biography and game collection about the notorious Norman T. Whitaker, chess
master and criminal. Readers who have recollections of Whitaker and would care
to share them are invited to contact John at
Through his writings John demonstrates the joys of chess historical research and brings to life our rich chess past. His careful attention to detail in his thorough research is evident in the following entertaining article (John has previously written a number of articles for this web site). Perhaps a few readers will be inspired to attempt to document the chess history of their own home area or of a particularly field of chess they find interesting. A good starting point would be a reading of John's article on chess research published in Lasker & His Contemporaries, Issue 5.
American Correspondence Chess at the Conclusion of the Great War
By John S. Hilbert
Chess players and their families are as patriotic as anyone else. Just because we prefer to fight our battles within the confines of sixty-four squares doesn't mean we forget the larger playing board of world history. The brilliant tactician, Albert Whiting Fox, who played so well against the foreign contingent assembled at Cambridge Springs 1904, defeating Janowski, Schlechter, Chigorin, Teichmann and Lawrence in the process, learned of the death of his younger brother, Franklin Fox, a soldier during the Great War. At the time Albert Fox was a special correspondent with the Washington Post, as he had been since 1916 (personal communication to the author by Isabel Fox, daughter of Albert Fox). Sergeant Benjamin H. Marshall, a younger brother of Frank James Marshall, United States chess champion, was with the Quartermaster's Corps in Bordeaux in September 1918, two months before Armistice (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 26, 1918). Even Newell W. Banks, of Detroit, American checker champion and noted chess player, was reported to have "left recently for the front with the 310th Ammunition Train, Company C."
Though America avoided entry in the conflict until April 1917, when President Wilson, in asking Congress to declare war on Germany, declared that "the world must be made safe for democracy," the response then was certain and swift. American soldiers landed in France on June 24, 1917 under General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Force. By July 4, 1917 Colonel Charles E. Stanton, speaking at the tomb of Lafayette, French hero of the American Revolutionary War, could announce with feeling, "Lafayette, we are here." Into the next year American's both at home and abroad would become familiar, all too familiar, with sites of fearsome carnage: Cantigny, Bouresche, Belleau Wood, and St. Mihiel, to name but a few.
And obviously it wasn't just well-known chess players and their family members who responded to the call to duty during World War I. Judge Isaac Franklin Russell of Brooklyn may have held a record for his family's interconnectedness of chess and the war effort. His oldest son, William M., had been drafted "in the fifth class," as it was called, and was sitting on the Local Advisory Board of District No. 62. William was known in the city as a player and organizer. Franklin F., another son, who also happened to be a Rhodes scholar, and was known too to be an avid fan of chess, was in London serving with the Railway Transportation Corps. George, the judge's third son, arrived in Europe at the start of August as a soldier serving in the 315th Infantry. And his youngest boy, Austin A., was in training school for electrical engineers. Helms wrote in his August 15, 1918 column that the family clearly was "doing their bit in this crisis of the world's history."
Members of the Ocean Hill Chess Club of Brooklyn, New York, would also be written up in Hermann Helms's Brooklyn Daily Eagle column for August 29, 1918, under the heading "To Checkmate the Kasier." In addition to writing of the club officers being elected, Helms noted that "four of the members are at the front, including George Sims, who has been with the Canadian forces for a year, and H. Blanchard, J.J. Curtin and E. Taylor Jr., who left six months ago with the American Expeditionary Forces as part of the 77th Division from Yaphank."
Yet here, across the water from the fighting, chess continued, though in somewhat limited fashion. The Eagle for September 19, 1918 informed its readers that Frank Marshall had faced seventeen opponents at the opening exhibition of Marshall's Chess Divan. Though the champion won fourteen, he lost two, including one to forty-three-year-old Harold M. Phillips, who thirty-three years later, and at the robust age of seventy-seven, would be elected president of the United States Chess Federation. But perhaps even more tantalizing for chess history readers of today is the remark by Helms that "a draw game was also scored by Abe Landis of Memphis, the originator of 'Trench,' the new war game." Apparently even the tragedy of war was not immune from appropriation by gamesters of imaginative turn of mind.
For indeed, America's position far from the center of conflict allowed her the luxury of continuing the small pleasures of a free and peaceful nation in addition to assuming her role in the war. Chess clubs did not close. And even postal chess continued to flourish.
William P. Hickok of Mount Vernon, New York, was looking to retire from the duties of secretary of the Correspondence Chess League of America. He had been secretary of the older Greater New York League, and it was he who Helms reported "was largely instrumental in amalgamating that organization with the National Association, the Correspondence Chess Bureau and the Canadian Branch of the Amateur League." And J. Howard Longacre, a Philadelphia resident and also the new tournament director of the CCLA, proudly announced early in September 1918 that Pennsylvania had defeated New York 34 to 16 in a twenty-five board, two round interstate postal match. The result was impressive, though the match itself was but a pale reflection of the gargantuan, 254 board (!) match won by Pennsylvania against the same neighbor to the north fourteen years earlier. Helms's Column for September 5, 1918 included this postal effort by the new CCLA tournament director. In its own small way the game was as hard fought as any fighting taking place.
J. H. Longacre - P. Stevens
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 f5 5.Bxc6 dxc6 6.Nxe5 Bd6 7.Qh5+ g6 8.Nxg6 Nf6 9.Qh4 Rg8 10.e5 Rxg6 11.exf6 Be6 12.d4 Qd7 13.Bg5 0-0-0 14.Nd2 h6 15.Be3 f4 16.Bxf4 Rg4 17.Qxh6 Bxf4 18.Qh5 Bxd2+ 19.Kxd2 Rxd4+
White's position is destroyed, with his King about to be mated. How does he survive ... and even win this game?
20.Ke3 Rd2 21.f3 Qd3+?
21. ... Re2+ leads to mate.
22. ... Qc4+ also leads to mate.
23.Rae1 Qd2+ 24.Re3 Re2 25.Qe5 Re8 26.Qd4 Qxd4+ 27.cxd4 Rxb2 28.h4 Kd7 29.Rg1 Rf8 30.Rg6 Rh2 31.Rh6 Kd6 32.Kg3 Rh3+ 33.Kf2 Bc8 34.f7+ Kd7
How depressing ... Black used his last two moves to place his Bishop on c8 and King on d7 throwing away his advantage. Longacre does not allow this opportunity to escape him! He quickly picks up a Rook and then the game.
35.Kg2 Kd8 36.Rg6 Rxf3 37.Rxf3 Ke7 38.Rg8 Be6 39.Rxf8 Kxf8 40.Kg3 Bxf7 41.a3 Kg7 42.Kf4 b5 43.Kg5 Bd5 44.Re3 Kf8 45.h5 a5 46.h6 1-0
The CCLA was not just handling its main business of correspondence chess tournaments. On September 19, 1918 Helms announced that "Jose R. Capablanca is scheduled to make his second public appearance since his return from Havana, next Saturday afternoon at 2 o'clock, under the auspices of the Correspondence Chess League of America. The Cuban champion on that occasion will be pitted against forty opponents in the rooms of the National Tuberculosis Association, 381 Fourth Ave., Manhattan, with which William P. Hickok, secretary of the league, is associated. Z. Leslie Hoover, president of the league, will make the preliminary remarks and introduce the young master to the audience, which, it is expected, will include quite a number of women players." Among the other members of the reception committee would be Stanley H. Chadwick, a prominent Brooklyn chess player long associated with the Brooklyn Chess Club, which only a generation before had been the home of the likes of Napier, Marshall, and Pillsbury.
Of course, the CCLA continued to sponsor a host of correspondence events. Here is a game won by a Richmond, Virginia resident over a player from Tampa, Florida.
James McClure - Nestor Hernandez
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Nxe4 6.d4 b5 7.Bb3 d5 8.dxe5 Be6 9.c3 Bc5 10.Qd3 Bb6 11.Be3 Nc5 12.Bxc5 Bxc5 13.Nbd2 Ne7 14.Nd4 Qd7 15.N2f3 c6 16.Bc2 Ng6 17.Nxe6 Qxe6 18.Nd4 Bxd4 19.Qxd4 Ne7 20.f4 g6 21.Rf3 0-0 22.Raf1 f6 23.exf6 Rxf6 24.Re3 Qd6 25.Re5 Raf8 26.b4 Qc7 27.g3 Nc8 28.Kg2 Qd7 29.f5 Qg7 30.g4 Nd6 31.Kh1 gxf5 32.gxf5 Rg6 33.Rf4 Rg2
With his next, White starts a nice little combination.
34.f6 Rxf6 35.Bxh7+ Kxh7 36.Rxf6 Ne4
36. ... Qxf6 37. Rh5+ wins immediately.
37.Rxe4 dxe4 38.Qxe4+ Kh8 39.Qh4+ Kg8 40.Rf1 c5 41.Rd1 Rg4
Now White follows the age-old custom of simplifying to an easy endgame win.
42.Qxg4 Qxg4 43.Rg1 Qxg1+ 44.Kxg1 1-0 (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 5, 1918).
Though Nestor Hernandez lost the game above, he clearly played some very interesting chess at other times. Two weeks later Helms would write the following: "When the fourth annual championship of the National Correspondence Chess Association, now a part of the Correspondence Chess League of America, was started, in 1917, the Muskogee Chess Club of Muskogee, Oklahoma, represented by some players, made a unique offer of twenty-five dollars, to be divided as special brilliancy prizes. Nestor Hernandez of Tampa, Florida, who is one of a quartet, with Edward Lasker, playing in the final round, has submitted the following game, won from D. R. Wyeth of Philadelphia, for consideration in the distribution of those prizes." The win over Wyeth certainly places the melodiously named Nestor Hernandez in a finer light:
Nestor Hernandez - D.R. Wyeth
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nxc6 bxc6 6.Nc3 Bb4 7.Qd4 Qe7 8.f3 d5 9.Bg5 c5 10.Bb5+ Kf8 11.Qd3 dxe4 12.fxe4 Bxc3+ 13.bxc3 Bb7 14.0-0 Qxe4 15.Qh3 Qg4 16.Qxg4 Nxg4 17.Rae1 Nf6 18.Rxf6
18. ... h6 If 18...gxf6 19.Bh6+ Kg8 20.Re3, forcing checkmate 19.Rc6 hxg5 20.Rxc7 Bd5 21.Rxa7 g6 22.Rxa8+ Bxa8 23.Re5 Kg7 24.Rxc5 Rd8 25.Bd3 Rd5 26.Rxd5 Bxd5 27.a4 f5 28.a5 Kf6 29.Be2 Ke5 30.a6 Kd6 31.c4 Bc6 32.Bf3 g4 33.Bxc6 Kxc6 34.c5 1-0
And so from Brooklyn, New York, to Muskogee, Oklahoma, Americans continued their passion for correspondence chess. At only a penny a postcard, even family members on the home front could enjoy a break from the terrible mayhem and tragedy of war. And tragedy there was enough. In the brief time America was actively fighting during World War I, from June 1917 through November 1918, over 130,000 Americans would die and another 200,000 would be wounded. Yet such terrible figures are but a small portion of the crushing loss of life suffered in Europe as a whole during that time. What a horrible pity that conflict cannot be confined to the chessboard.
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