The Kentucky Lion

The Kentucky Lion

| 39 | Chess Players

Jackson Showalter, born on February 5, 1860 in Minerva, Kentucky, was the first officially-crowned Chess Champion of the United States! According to some sources he won the title five times! After being defeated in a match against Frank Marshall (1909) he never again played the US championship contest.

In match play Showalter was a tough guy! He won U.S. Championship matches versus Max Judd (1891/92, +7-4=3), Albert Hodges (1894, +7-6=4), S. Lipchitz (1895, +7-4=3), Emil Kemény (1896, +7-4=4) and John Barry (1896, +7-2=4). In informal matches he won versus William H.K. Pollock (1891, +3-2=3), Jacob Halpern (1893, +5-3=1), Adolf Albin (1894, +10-7-8), David Janowski twice (1899, +4-2=0 and +4-2=1), and Norman T. Whitaker (1916, +6-1=0).

Showalter played and lost a hard-fought matches against the future world champion Emanuel Lasker (1892-93, +2-6=2), and Harry Nelson Pillsbury, the “Hero of Hasting” twice (1897 +8-10=3) and (1898, +3-7=2) the first one being regarded as possibly the greatest chess match in United States Chess Championship history!

It is worthy of note what Lasker said after the match: “No man in all my experience ever stood up with such a formidable front as the talented Kentuckian. He is the greatest player I ever met.”

Showalter was a habitual competitor in top international events from 1893 to 1904, scoring wins over almost all top players, world champions included!

Showalter's playing strength was impressive and his opponents included almost everyone in the American chess panorama in the 1890s! Showalter was a well-liked guy among chess amateurs, due to the number of his games which featured dazzling combinative play and sacrifices; also, above all, due to his good social skills.

Showalter was known as "The Kentucky Lion". The Oxford Companion to Chess wrote that Showalter was "known as the Kentucky Lion after his birthplace and his mane of hair, but also perhaps on account of his playing strength."

I would like to add as a historical curiosity that the well-known "Capablanca Simplifying Maneuver" in the Orthodox Variation of the Queen's Gambit Declined had been used by Showalter in the 1890s, many years before Capablanca played it! He scored wins amongst others against Pillsbury and Marshall, drawing with Schlechter!

Jackson Showalter passed away on his birthday on February 5th, 1935 at the age of 76, in his native Kentucky.














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