An American Problemist I
American Chess Magazine, 1897.
G. N. CHENEY.
George Nelson Cheney was born in the city of Syracuse, N. Y., on Sunday, April 2, 1837. His family, unlike most American fiamilies, does not appear to be of a wandering disposition ; as it now resides next door to the house in which this important event took place. The young Cheney was sent to school at a very early age, and was found by his teachers to possess unusual talent. Mathematics was, from the first, his favorite study. When only thirteen years of age he mastered one of the most difficult elementary algebras in as many weeks. At eighteen, he entered the academy connected with the New York Central College, in Cortlandt County, where there were two classes in mathematics, one for beginners and one for advanced students. He joined both, and was excelled by one scholar only in the higher class. He was styled by the president of the institution "a natural mathematician." Cheney's acquaintance with chess began a year previous to this time. In 1854, Mr. L. H. Cheney, an elder brother, learned the moves from Chambers' Information for the People, and taught them to the subject of our notice. Another brother, still older, Mr. A. B. Cheney, and a sister, Miss Nellie M. Cheney, also joined in the play.
Either from having greater natural aptitude for the game, or from taking greater interest in it, Cheney speedily conquered all except his tutor, and, in the course of the year, rose above him also. While at college, he defeated one of the faculty, who was there considered an extraordinarily strong player, and to whom probably Mr. Morphy could not have given more than the Queen. In the latter part of 1855, he discovered the chess columns in one or two newspapers, and was stimulated thereby to the composition of his first chess problem. It was speedily followed by others which appeared under one or another of his various nommes de plume. In 1856, Cheney became acquainted, through his sister, with Mr. D. W. Fiske, while the latter was on a visit to his family in Syracuse. Mr. Fiske was then a second-rate player, but much stronger than any Cheney had yet encountered—winning about 18 in 20 of the games contested.
Through his new antagonist Cheney made the acquaintance of several Rook players ; and after the former's departure, he played, and solved and composed problems with renewed ardor. By this practice, his strength was so much increased that on Mr. Fiske's next visit in August, 1857, now become a first-class player, he succeeded in making even games with him. During this visit, Mr. Fiske's influence brought about the organization of a chess club in Syracuse. The members were mostly wealthy, and nothing was wanting to make the club successful but an interest in the game. From lack of this, the club-room was deserted as soon as Mr. Fiske returned to New York, and the dust upon the tables was scarcely disturbed until the date of his next visit in 1858. Mr. Fiske also induced the proprietors of the Syracuse Standard to insert a chess column, the chess type being furnished by the club. This department was conducted by Cheney for the first twelve numbers, when, his engagements being such that he could no longer attend to it, Mr. W. O. Fiske took his place and retained it until July, 1859, when Cheney again assumed the post until the discontinuance of the column, a few weeks later. In August, 1858, Syracuse received another visit from Mr. Fiske. On this occasion Cheney succeeded in winning a majority of games from him. About this time many telegraphic matches were played between Syracuse and neighboring cities, and the uniform success of the former was due solely to Mr. Cheney's skill. A year later, when in ill health, Cheney made a short visit to New York City, and made even games with its best player, Mr. Theodore Lichtenbein. Some twenty games were contested between them, the later ones, if we remember correctly, being all won by Cheney. Afterwards, when in better health, the latter was very much dissatisfied with these games, and greatly desired to have another encounter with the same player.
Problem No. 1
During the half year that Paul Morphy spent in new York after he returned from his triumphant European encounter in 1859, he played two games with George Nelson Cheney at Knight odds with Morphy winning one, Cheney winning the other.
Of the two games played, only Morphy's loss has been preserved.
Late in 1859, Morphy would return to New Orleans, but July of 1861 would find Morphy and Cheney in the same place - Manassas, Virginia - where, on July 21, Cheney's chess career would come to a permanent halt during the first battle at Bull Run.