Capt. Mackenzie

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G.A. MacDonnell

The Knights and Kings of Chess
by George Alcock MacDonnell

Captain George Henry Mackenzie
Born March 24, 1837;  Died 1891.

Captain Mackenzie won the first prize in the International Tournament held at Frankfort in 1887, and thereby became the chess champion of the world. No grander tournament has there ever been than that of Frankfort, and no nobler victory than that achieved by G. H. Mackenzie. Twenty-one competitors entered the lists and fought, the weakest of them, with a skill and strength above the average. So much so that Herr Harmonist, who emerged from the fray last in the list, was yet so strong that he prevailed over some of the most redoubtable champions, such as Blackburne, Gunsberg, and Zukertort. Captain Mackenzie is a native of Ross-shire, and first became known as a skilful amateur in the year 1860, when he was a first lieutenant in the 6oth Rifles, and used to frequent the leading chess clubs. In 1862 he proved himself one of the strongest amateurs in England by defeating, or rather demolishing, with ease the great Anderssen in the handicap held that year in London, receiving from the Prussian master the odds of pawn and move. A few months afterwards he played a series of matches with G. A. Macdonnell, of which each won ten games and drew four. In 1863 Mackenzie accepted the post of captain in the North American army, and took an active part in the great war then raging between North and South. The war being over, Mackenzie settled in New York, and began to devote his talents to practical chess and the literature of the game. For fifteen years he continued to reside in America, engaging in matches and tourneys throughout that period, vanquishing all opponents, and winning the first prize every time he took part in any important contest. In 1878 he re-visited Europe, and entered the lists against the foremost champions of the world. At Paris, in that year, he won the fourth prize, and since then he has taken part in most of the international tournaments, and has never failed to win a prize. Mackenzie's weak point in former times was his unevenness in play, occasioned, no doubt, by the constant habit of giving large odds to his opponent in ordinary encounters. An illustration of this defect is to be seen in the London Tournament of 1883, when, with a very inferior score in the first round, he over-topped all competitors in the second. Mackenzie's style is neat, concise, elegant, and ever potent. His game, as a rule, exhibits all the best features of the old school combined with such of the modern one as are not incongruous with it. Boden used to say of Paul Morphy's play that there was no style in it; whereby he really meant that all the best qualities of the chess player were so rife, and yet so beautifully harmonised, that not one of them stood out in bold relief, Morphy being to other masters what Addison the classical is to Macaulay and other like masters of rhetorical English. Boden's criticism is equally applicable to Mackenzie. Indeed, he more nearly than any other champion resembles Morphy in what is technically termed style. " If I were to describe myself at all,'' said the very modest Captain to me one day, "I should call myself a small Morphy; " and so he was—a big small Morphy. Mackenzie is one of the brightest ornaments of the chess world. Always ready and willing to meet an opponent worthy of his steel, he never fails to delight all about him, no less by the beauty of his combinations than by the chivalrousness of his bearing. Thus, when in 1878 he was playing in Paris, and was drawn against Blackburne, one of the most formidable of his antagonists, and the latter could not leave his bed on account of illness, much less attend the tournament, Mackenzie, instead of scoring the game, and thereby ensuring a higher prize for himself, nobly proposed to wait upon Blackburne and play him in his own room. Of a truth he is the modern Bayard of chess.
     Mackenzie is a shrewd observer of men, and no mean sayer of humorous things ; well versed in English literature, and possessed of considerable lingual accomplishments. Mackenzie's age is a question that excites much curiosity, and puzzles the sharpest guessers. Ladies take him to be forty and gentlemen write him down (or rather up) fifty.
     The above sketch was written in 1887, just after Mackenzie had won the Chess Championship of the World. Since then this most genial and chivalrous of players has been taken away from us. He died in New York, rather unexpectedly, on the I4th April, 1891. True, for more than two years he had been in bad health, and seldom took part in his favourite pastime, but the year before his death he had so far recovered his strength that, to the astonishment and delight of all his friends, he entered the International Tournament at Manchester, and, playing with all his pristine strength and beauty, divided third and fourth prizes with H. E. Bird.
     Socially, Mackenzie's qualities were of a high order. He did not shine before strangers, or strive to ingratiate himself with mere acquaintances ; amongst such he was invariably taciturn and reserved. But amongst his intimate friends he was free of speech and affectionate in manner.
     Honest to the backbone, sincere to the heart's core, he liked all good fellows, and all good fellows liked him. A peculiar trait in his character was his love of old inns and classic haunts. To lunch at "Stone's," or dine at " Ye Old Cheshire," with two or three chums, was to him an infinite delight. The parlour with the sanded floor and the mark of Dr. Johnson's head near the chimney corner, was to him a brighter and dearer sight than a drawing-room with satin- papered wall, ablaze here and there with Turner landscapes.
     The last time I dined with him at the "Cheshire" he was quite excited (not irate, that he never was, save when insolence or injustice roused him) because the waiter had some difficulty in procuring a mug instead of a tankard for his ale. Even to the very last year of his life Mackenzie was a very handsome man. But thirty years ago, as I remember him, he was the very embodiment of manly beauty. He is now gone from us, but he will be remembered as the greatest gentleman master amongst the chess players of this generation.