Most people even remotely interested in 19th century chess know about Mrs. John W. Gilbert and her extremely long announced mates. What seems to be less appreciated today is the sheer strength of this lady chess player. Part of the problem lies in the fact that so few of her games are available. So, I scoured old newpapers and magazines for her games and transposed them from descriptive to digital. I've managed to assemble 24 of Mrs. Ellen Gilbert's games which, mixed in with a little history, I want to offer in a series of presentations.
This is a present day photo of the house on 21 Capitol St., Hartford, Conn. (directly to the right of the streetlight) where Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert lived.
The highpoint of Mrs. Gilbert's chess career arrived between 1877 and 1881 during what was termed the International Postal Card Chess Tourney. This was a correspondence match between England and the US. The American team included several of the people we've already met, such as I.E. Orchard, John C. Romeyn, William. J. Berry and even C. G. Lincoln who was on the losing side of the telephone game. It also included better-known names such as Eugene Delmar and Max Judd.
Mrs. Gilbert, who was relatively unknown internationally, was selected to enter and was matched against George Hatfeild Dingley Gossip who was about four years her junior but who had tournament experience in England and had won a strong correspondence tourney arranged by Chess Player's Chronicle in 1873 (his prize was £1, 10s, 0d.).
Pairing Mrs. Gilbert with Mr. Gossip gained Mr. Belden some criticism, but Mrs. Gilbert vindicated his choice by not only winning all four of her games, but by announcing in one of the games mate in a record-setting and attention-getting 35 moves and mate-in-21 in another.
It's said (in the OCC) that Mr. Gossip dedicated his 1891 book, Theory of Chess Openings, to Mrs. Gilbert, but in looking at a 2nd edition, also published in 1891, Mrs. Gilbert's name appears in the subsciption list and nowhere else.
Concerning the British-American Postal Match, the Brooklyn Eagle wrote on May 22, 1877 -
Mr. Belden has been selected to pair the players, and he requests all who desire to enter the lists. . .
The rules of play wil be as follows:
First - Play to be conducted according to "Chess Praxis," by Staunton.
Second - Intending players allowed one month from date of publication of the announcement to enter. Envelopes to be marked "Chess, " and addressed to the editor of the Times, Hartford, Conn.
Third - The editors of the News of the Week, and the Hartford Times wish each applicant to state their experience in such contests so that the pairing may be as even as possible on that basis.
Fouth - The time to elapse between receiving and getting replies to be two lawful days ; in all cases the moves and date on which the moves are recieved to be alluded to in the peplies and the dates to be given in a record of the game at the close.
Fifth - If six weeks elapse and no reply be received, the player not receiving such reply may make a claim for the unfinished games by appeal to the editor under whom he entered l but the illness of a player or his departure for another country will be deemed a sufficient reason for cancelling such unfinished games.
Sixth - The players of each country to have the frst move in two games, and they will arrange to number them 1, 2, 3, 4. The players representing "the old country" will have the first move in Nos. 1 and 2, and it is suggested, in order to save about six month's time, that ten or a dozen of the opening moves on both sides be made up to a point where neither side has the advantage and the party who selects the opening moves permits his opponent to take choice in positions.
Seventh - If at the end of two years any unfinished games remain the players shall furnish copies to the editors under whom they entered and give a diagram of the positions, onthe editors will which they shall give an analysis, showing draws or wins; the editors will communicate with each other, and should they not agree, such games will be canceled.
Referring to Rule Sixth - Intending players when they enter are expected to send the opening moves of their two games. These, with the full addresses of each, will be posted to Europe.
Here are the four games between Ellen Gilbert and George Gossip:
After the International Postal Card Chess Tourney, references to Mrs. Gilbert dry up. Her failing eyesight might have convinced her to give up the game. Ellen Strong Gilbert, a true turn-of-the-century lady, died on February 12, 1900.
This concludes Part IV.
Mate in 35
The Indominatable Ellen Gilbert