The Mandarins of the Yellow Button

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he Order of the Mandarins of the Yellow Button

In the second half of the 19th century, a group of chess players in the Boston area formed a somewhat informal, yet exclusive coterie along the lines of the famous German Pleiades called the Order of the Mandarins of the Yellow Button. What made this group exclusive was that in order to join, a prospective member must have been an amateur chess player and must have beaten a recognized master, i.e. a professional international champion, in an even game of chess.   
     Indeed, it wasn't an easy group to join. 
     It was their custom to meet every Saturday afternoon for chess and spend Saturday evenings dining together, discussing chess.  Supposedly, "Mandarin" points toward China where the "Yellow Button" was an insignia denoting rank in the Chinese civil service.     The core members of this group (as written by F.K. Young) included: Franklin Knowles Young, Constant Ferdinand Burille, F. H. Harlow,  Dr. E.M. Harris,  C. F. Howard,  Major Otho.E. Michaelis,  Gen. W. C. Paine,  Dr. Horace Richardson,  Charles B. Snow,  Henry Nathan Stone and  G. Preston Ware, Jr.     Members of this group would later form the Deschapelles Club of Boston (of which H.N. Pillsbury had been a member when he was 18.  He first beat John Barry in match play, 5-4 and later beat the strongest member, H.N. Stone, in a match 5-2, playing a series of Evans Gambits at the Stone-Ware Defense.). "The Deschapelles Chess Club was organized on Jan. 7, 1889:  President, George W. Pettes; Vice-President, P. Ware, Jr.; Secretary, F. K. Young; Treasurer, Stephen B. Wood. The club was for the play of Chess and Whist."

      Here is a game played at the Royal Pagoda Ostuh Tserte, in the fifth moon of the first cycle of the reign of Awer, Senior Mandarin of the Order of the Yellow Button.
                  Mandarin Nswo is C. B. Snow;  Mandarin Otnug is F. K. Young"

"The following very interesting and brilliant consultation game was sent by a correspondent in the East to the New Orleans 'Times Democrat,' with the statement that it was played recently at the royal pagoda of Ostuh Tserte, in Tsonbo. The players are declared to be Mandarins of the Yellow Button, and the original notes by one of them are said to be inscribed on the brazen tablets of the pagoda."-"BCM" April 1889

 A few more games played by members of this group:





 A liitle about the members of the Yellow Button:

    The most well-known of the group, Preston Ware, Jr. or sometimes called G. Preston Ware,  was born on Aug 12, 1821 in Wrentham, MA and died on Jan. 29, 1890 in Boston.

     Ware was well know in Morphy's time and, in fact lost 2 games to Morphy in N.Y., 1859. One was at Queen's Knight odds and the other was a consultation game. Ware became president of the American Chess Foundation and played in the US Championship tournament (the 5th American Chess Congress of 1880).
     He was idiosyncric in his approach to chess. According to the tournament book of the 5th American Chess Congress, Ware opened every game, as white, with 1 P-QR4 and "and consistently answered 1 P-K4 with 1 P-QR4." His claim to fame was, indeed, the Ware Gambit: 1.a4 e5 2.a5 d5 3.e3 f5 4.a6
     His claim to infamy, however, was also at the 5th American Chess Congress. Ware, by his own admittance, accepted a $20 bribe offered by James Glover Grundy (1855-1919) to draw a game. According to Ware,  "As I was walking down the Bowery with Mr. Grundy, on Sunday 25 January, he remarked that he was poor and really needed the second prize." The prize was $1,000. But, much to Ware's shock, Grundy didn't follow the planned scenario and "'Grundy was making desperate efforts to win, and finally did so, perpetrating an infamous fraud on me." Rather than winning second place, as a draw would have accomplished, Grundy was now tied with George Henry Mackenzie for first place when Ware blew the whistle. I've read two opposing accounts on what happened next.  One states that the tournament committee was unable to do anything about the allegations of cheating and Grundy played Mackenzie in the required 2 game play-off, losing both games. The other more reliable (and satisfying) account states that the committee decided to award Mackenzie first place but that Mackenzie, a most honorable and courageous man, knowing about the scheme, insisted that the play-off take place and went on to beat Ware decisively.

     Henry Nathan Stone was born on April 20, 1823 in Boston and died on Dec.10, 1909 in Ashmount,  MA.
     Stone was a Harvard graduate, class on 1843, and a member of the New England Labor Reform League. Along with Ware, he helped develop and analyze the Stone-Ware Defense - 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Bd6 (first played by Kieseritzky, it went generally unplayed anywhere other than Boston).     Henry Nathan's younger bother was James Winchell Stone (J.W. Stone), also a chess player (He lost two casual games to Paul Morphy at Kt odds in 1859). Born on Oct. 26, 1824, J.W. was also a Harvard man, earning his M.D. in 1847. He died at a the relatively young age of 38 on Aug. 21, 1863.

     Franklin Knowles Young was born on Dec. 21, 1857 in Boston and died on Dec. 19 1931 at Winthrop, MA.
     Young, a lawyer, developed a theory dubbed the Synthetic Method of Chess-play which espoused the belief that chess was the exact equivalent of war and developed a detailed and intricate system of adapting the movements of armies to the chess board. Referred to as "His Generalship", Chess Review commented that one would first need a degree from a military school before learning chess.

     John Finan Barry was born on Dec. 12, 1873 in Boston and died on April 9, 1933 in  West Roxbury, MA. He was New England champion/Massachusetts champion, a  problemist and president of the Boston Chess Club. Below is his obituary from "Chess Review" 1940:
      On April 9, Boston's most notable chess player, John F. Barry, died at his home in West Roxbury, after several months' illness.
      Mr. Barry was born in Dorchester, December 12, 1873.  He served as Clerk of Municipal Court for 28 years and in the meantime studied law, being admitted to the bar in 1905.  In 1917 he resigned to take up the practice of law.
      His record as one of America's outstanding chess players is best attested by the long string of brilliant victories he achieved in the series of Anglo-American cable matches in the '90s and in the first decade of the present century.
      He regarded chess simply as a recreation, always declining to make it a profession.  He did, however, play a match with J. W. Showalter for the U. S. Championship, but the latter retained the title.  He also played and lost a match with Pillsbury, but won  the distinction  of being the only man in the world who was ever four games up, at one time, in a match with that distinguished opponent.
      Barry's weekly chess column was a feature of the Boston "Transcript"  for a quarted of a century, having its inception in 1915.

     Constant Ferdinand Burille was born on Aug. 30, 1866 some say in Boston while others say at Ile de France in Paris. He died in October 1914 in Boston.
     "The Illustrated American" 3-28-1896 tells us:"Constant Ferdinand Burille, born in Boston, August 30, 1866, learned to play chess in 1884. He played admirable chess against many of the great masters of the Sixth American Congress and for a number of years was considered to be the strongest player in New England, giving Pillsbury pawn and move as late as 1891." As the director of chess-checker-playing Ajeeb, Burille only lost 3 out of abot 900 chess games and never lost a single game of checkers [Pillsbury also spent some time operating Ajeeb].

     Burille had been the director of Ajeeb.  Isodor Gunsberg had been the director of Mephisto.  Although neither of them are playing behind puppets in the following game, it still might be construed as a battle of automatons:

     Horace Richardson was born on January 7, 1830 in Boston and  died on June 18, 1891.  He was the first president of the Boston Chess Club, organized on Dec. 11, 1857. Later we was elected president of the Massachusetts Chess Association.  An odd tidbit: Horace Richardson enlisted as a corporal in the Massachusetts Infantry on May 26, 1862 as a physician but his tour of duty only lasted a little over a month and he was mustered out on July 2, 1862.
   Below is a casual but hard-fought Kt.-odds game played against Paul Morphy in 1859:

     Dr. E.M. Harris lived in Providence R.I.  The "New York Times" on March 15, 1899 calls him the "millionaire collector and connoisseur of Providence."  He was an intense art collector who specialized in the French, Dutch and Flemish masters. He was president of the Providence Chess Association, the Providence Whist Club and the Providence Medical Association.
"Brooklyn Chess Chronicle" of April 15, 1887: "Dr. Harris, the winner [of the R.I. championship], is President of the Providence Association, and has met during the past two years in friendly contest the champion of the Boston Club, and leads him a handsome majority of games."

     Harlow is a hard man to trace. In The Grand Tactics of Chess,"  Franklin Knowles Young  calls him F. H. Harlow, but the "Boston Chess Club: Constitution and By-laws: With Lists of Past and Present Members of the Club" calls hm F. P. Harris.  If he is, indeed, F. P.Harlow, and this seems most likely, then he is probably  Franklin P. Harlow who as a mechanic from South Abington, Mass., enlisted in the Seventh Massachusetts Volunteers and, attaining the rank of Colonel, became a war hero during the Civil War    C. F. Howard is Charles F. Howard, a player and problemist from 21 Pinkney St., Boston. His brother, George H. Howard was also a player and problemist. Both men has their problems in "The Clipper Chess Problem Tournament" and "American Chess-Nuts."

     Gen. W. C. Paine is what Franklin K. Young called him, but he was actually Capt. William Cushing Paine.  His brother, Charles Jackson Paine, however, was a general during the Civil War and his grand-father, Robert Treat Paine was a signer of the Declaration of Independence. Paine was born on August 26, 1834 in Boston and died on September 14, 1889. Considered one of the more brilliant West Point graduates, this career army engineer died at age 55 reportedly of alcoholism. He had been president of the Boston Chess Clubs for many years.

     Charles B. Snow is also rather elusive.  Charles Baxter Snow was born on May 3, 1833 in Orleans, Massachusetts and died in 1903 in Provincetown. A successful merchant, he  worked in the stove and hardware business, and later owned  a carpet and crockery store.

     Otho E. Michaelis was Maj. Otho (Otto) Ernest (Ernst) Michaelis. He was born in Germany on August 3, 1843 and died in Augusta, Georgia on May 1, 1890. As a career soldier, Michaelis had an eventful, though brief (he died at age 48)  life.  "The Chronicle" of  May 8, 1890 informs us:   "Major Otho E. Michaelis died on May 1st, in Augusta, Ga., of spinal meningitis, aged forty-eight years. He was once an assistant in the actuarial department of the Mutual Life of New York, which position he left to enter the signal service corps during the war. He was afterwards in the regular army, and was with Gen. Sherman on his march to the sea. He held high rank as a chess player, playing, at the age of fifteen years, against Paul Morphy, in the fullness of his strength. Young Otho won the game, having the odds of a rook."[Michaelis played Morphy in 4 games at Rook odds, Morphy won 3 and lost one]
     In 1876, as part of Gen. Alfred Terry's column, he rode with Col. Custer during his ill-fated expedition into the Black Hills, arriving at Little Big Horn two days after Custer's army was slaughtered and assisted in identifying the bodies. Michaelis' win against Morphy:

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