George Mackenzie - U.S. Champion

billwall
Aug 12, 2007, 12:00 AM |
4 | Chess Players

George Henry Mackenzie was born on March 24, 1837 in North Kessock, Scotland.  In 1856, at the age of 19, he purchased a commission in the 60th Rifles (the King’s Royal Rifle Corps).  He served as a Lieutenant in the British army in Ireland, then went to India in 1857 during the Sepoy Rebellion. He resigned his army commission in 1861 to become a professional chess player.  In 1862, he entered his first chess tournament and won it.  It was a handicap tournament in London and he defeated Adolf Anderssen in it.   He then defeated one of the strongest players in England in a match.  He defeated the Reverend G.A. MacDonnell with 6 wins, 2 losses, and 2 draws.  In 1863 he emigrated to the United States and enlisted in the Union Army.  After 15 weeks as a private, he earned the rank of Captain in charge of a Black regiment.  Mackenzie later deserted and was discharged from the Union Army.  In 1864 he rejoined the Army and fought with distinction in three battles.  He received numerous wounds and had a heart condition.  Later, Mackenzie was arrested again on the previous desertion charges and imprisoned.  He was released in May, 1865 where he moved to New York and started playing chess professionally.  In 1866, he won a tournament in New York.   In 1867, Mackenzie defeated Reichhelm in Philadelphia (+7-0=2) for the title of U.S. Chess Champion.  He was America's first official U.S. Champion. He remained U.S. champion and the strongest chess player in America for the next 20 years.   In 1869 at New York he won 82 games and lost 8 in the longest master tournament ever held (48 players and double round robin), winning the event.  

In December 1871, he won the 2nd American Chess Congress, held at the Kennard Hotel in Cleveland, Ohio, scoring 14 points (drawn games, which did not count, were replayed - he won 14, lost 2, drew 3) and earned $100 for 1st prize (equivalent to over $1,700 in today's money).  It was a double round robin.  The players in the 2nd American Chess Congress are not well known.  They included Henry Hosmer of Chicago, Fred Elder of Detroit, Max Judd of Cleveland, Preston Ware Jr of Boston, Harsen Darwin Smith of Cassopolis, Henry Harding of East Saginaw, A. Johnston of Cincinnati, and William Houghton of Chicago. Time limit was 12 moves an hour.  The total prize fund was $290 (less than $5,000 in today's money).

In 1874, Mackenzie won the 3rd American Chess Congress, held in Chicago (+8-1=1).  He did not participate in the 4th American Chess Congress in 1876 (won by James Mason, an Irishman who was not an American citizen).  In August 1876, he won the Café International Tournament in New York (+23-5=2).   In 1880, he took 1st place at the 5th American Chess Congress in New York (+11-2=5).  He had now easily won the 2md, 3rd, and 5th American Chess Congress, and did not play in the 4th American Chess Congress.  In 1881, he defeated Max Judd in a match in Saint Louis (+7-5=1).   At Vienna, he drew with Steinitz, breaking Steinitz’s 25 game winning streak.  In 1882, he lost a match against James Mason in London (+0-1=2), then won a match against Joseph Blackburne (+2-1=0).  In 1883, he took 3rd in the 5th Manhattan Chess Club Championship, won by Gustave Simonson.    In 1883, he lost a match to Steinitz in New York (+1-3=2).  In 1885, he took 4th in the 20th British Counties Chess Association Congress in Hereford, England.   In 1885, he took 4th in the 7th Manhattan Chess Club Championship.  In 1886, he defeated Samuel Lipschuetz in a match in New York (+5-3=5).  In 1886, he tied for 2nd-3rd in the 9th Manhattan Chess Club Championship.  In 1886, he drew a match with Burn (+4-4=2).  In 1887 he won the 5th German Chess Championship in Frankfurt (+13-3=4).  He, thus, became the first American chess player to win an international event.   In 1888 he won the 5th Scottish Chess Championship in Glasgow (+4-0=2).  In 1888, he took 2nd in the 4th British Chess Federation Championship, held in Bradford, England.  The event was won by Isidor Gunsberg.  In 1888, he defeated Celso Golmayo Zupide in a match in Havana.  In 1890, he took 3rd-4th in the 6th British Chess Federation Congress, held in Manchester England.  He died of tuberculosis in a New York hotel on April 14, 1891 at the age of 54.   Steinitz reported that his death was from an intentional overdose of morphine.  This rumor was started by a doctor who refused to sign a certificate for an insurance policy because he had not been paid a fee.  Mackenzie won the 1st place prize of every American tournament he entered (13 tournaments and 7 matches).  Mackenzie was able to make a living in chess for over 25 years. He was a bachelor all his life.  He was inducted in the U.S. Hall of Fame in 1992.

Here is one of Mackenzie's games from the 2nd American Chess Congress.  It featured a nice mate, but both players missed better moves during the game.  It was an Evans Gambit.

 

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