America's 1st Notable Black Chess Player
by Theophilus A. Thompson
Either to play and mate, or compel self-mate in four moves
- above depicts the frontpiece to the book
CHESS PROBLEMS. By Theophilus A. Thompson. Dubuque, Iowa: Printed by John J. Brownson, 1874. 63 p. ill., mounted photo. NOTES: Published by the Dubuque Chess Journal.
Theophilus A. Thompson
Theophilus Augustus Thompson, a freed black slave, had no formal education and first learned chess in April 1873 from observation only. 14 months later he will have composed enough chess problems of such outstanding quality to have his book published. His talent was recognized by John K. Hanshew when Thompson traveled to Philadelphia to show him his artistic endeavors. Hanshew first had Thompson's work published in the Dubuque Chess Journal, a periodical owned by John J. Brownson and edited by Orestes A. Brown, also a composer.
Below is the book's preface:
After the publication of his book, Thompson more or less disappeared from the chess scene and most public records. He is known to have still been living in 1920.
This short article exists only to raise the awareness of lesser-known players of the past and in this particular case, a black player during a time when luxuries such as chess were generally denied any human of that race. I would encourage everone to read a more detailed, finely-researched account of Theophilus Thompson's life and chess at the Chess Drum in an article entitled The Caged Bird: The Story of T. A. Thompson by Neil Brennen, a wonderful chess historian for the Pennsylvania State Chess Federation.
Solution to Frontispiece:
I - White (W) or Black (B) to mate:
(W) 1. NxQ B-N5ch; 2. K-K2 RxN; 3. R-B7 and mate next move cannot be prevented.
If 2. ... R-B7ch; 3 NxR and 4 Q-N8 mate. If 1. … R-B8ch; 2. KxR P-K7ch; 3. KxP any 4. Q-N8 mate. (b) 1. R-B8ch KxR; 2. Q-B6ch K-K1; 3. Q-B7ch and 4. Q-Q7 mate.
2 - White (Q) or Black (B) to compel self-mate
(W) 1. Q-N8ch QxQ; 2. O-O-O R-Q5; 3. R-B8ch RxRch; 4. N-B6ch RxN mate. (b) 1. B-N5ch R-B3
see: . “Theophilus Thompson: Recognized Chess Player,” by Robert R. Radcliff,