Chess, Checkers and Whist Part I

Aug 25, 2009, 6:23 PM |

Paul Morphy was the president of the New Orleans Chess Club.  After he faded into the shadows, the chess club languished and finally failed.  There was still a powerful interest in chess within the New Orleans society and four years before Morphy's death, a new, stronger and more unique chess club was formed.  Below you will find some of the early history of the New Orleans Chess, Checkers and Whist Club.  Many of the names, of players and venues, will likely be familiar to you, but many you will probably see here, and in Part II, for the first time.  



New Orleans has a unique club in which the intellectual pastimes of Chess, checkers and whist dwell together in unity. The organization, which now can boast
of a membership of 300, grew out of a meeting of a few Chess players a little over a year ago, the object being to establish a Chess club in that city. After a month's diligent search a small room was engaged over a saloon on Gravier Street, and at a meeting held 21st July 1881, twenty-seven members were present in person or answered by proxy. It had been suggested that the club be opened jointly to checker and whist players, and this was agreed to. Another meeting was held soon, and it was found that the membership had doubled.  In October last the club moved its quarters to No. 168 Common Street, the membership being 110.  In December the club moved again, securing rooms next door. In January last the roll reached 150, and the initiation fee was placed at two dollars. Early in February the club secured a lease, with privilege of renewal, of its handsome quarters at 166 Common Street. The rooms are ornamented with pictures and hangings, and contain ten Chess tables and eight whist tables. Two billiard tables are open to members at a charge of thirty cents an hour, which is the only extra expense connected with the club. The leading chess weeklies and magazines, with the dailies of New Orleans and New York, are kept on file ; also a dozen of the leading monthlies and illustrated weeklies. The club has already held chess and whist tournament, and a checkers tourney is talked of. The dues are seventy-five cents a month, payable in advance. By an article in the Constitution members may introduce in the club rooms non-residents of the city. No games for money stakes are allowed. The rooms are open until midnight. No person under twenty-one years of age is admitted to membership. For a club only one year old, the "New Orleans Chess, Checkers and Whist Club"  is remarkably successful, and it seems to point the way for lovers of these three games in other cities where they almost universally fail as separate clubs. The New Orleans club has issued its Constitution, bylaws and rules in a neat little pamphlet, and no doubt copies can be obtained by those wishing to form similar organizations by addressing the Secretary, Mr Geo.
D. Pritchett, at the rooms of the club as given above.
                                                                 — Cincinnati Commercial.

[From the New Orleans Times-Democrat, July 22, 1884.]

     During the latter part of June, 1880, a number of gentlemen, who had formerly belonged to chess clubs in New Orleans, and who had witnessed, with no little regret, the untimely dissolution of each and all of them, at several informal meetings discussed the project of re-establishing such a Club in New Orleans, to be kept up for recreation in the idle days of summer and abandoned as the busier period of the fall should approach. Naturally these discussions were confined to a very limited circle, but they eventually resulted in a search (and a prolonged one it was) for rooms suitable for the intended organization and within the very slender means anticipated for it. This difficult task was undertaken by a self appointed committee, consisting of Messrs. Charles F. Buck, Charles A. Maurian, and James D. Seguin, and notwithstanding energetic effort, it was nearly the middle of the succeeding month before anything definite was accomplished. However, on Thursday, July 21, 1880, or just four years ago yesterday, the intended Club held its first informal meeting over Eugene Krost's saloon, 128 Gravier street. The meeting was called to order by Mr. A. E. Blackmar.  Mr. Charles A. Maurian was elected President and Mr. James D. Seguin, Secretary, each pro tem, and a committee was appointed to draft a constitution.  The gentlemen present or represented on that occasion, and forming the nucleus of the organization that has since grown to such immense proportions, were William Armstrong, D. J. Baldwin, A. E. Blackmar, Charles F. Buck, Isidore Danziger, William H. Dwyer, Charles N. Edwards, Lewis L. Ellis, Edgar H. Farrar, Fred. G. Freret, Louis Gallot, James A. Gresham, R. A. Harrison, W. S. Keplinger, Leon L. Labatt, Alexander Labry, Lucien A. Ledoux, Charles A. Maurian, John Rochi, Andre W. Seguin, James D. Seguin, Bernard C. Shields, Jules Targos, Jr., T. Toca, Edward F. Vix, Edward Vorster, and James Wibray, twenty-seven altogether, of whom all but half a dozen or so are still members of the Club.
     It had already been suggested that, to insure greater attraction and a more enlarged interest, the games of checkers and whist should be added to that of chess, and the Committee on Constitution were instructed to report accordingly.
     The second meeting of the Club occurred July 24, 1880, with thirty-five members present out of a membership that had already reached fifty-two. The constitution reported by the committee was adopted, and the officers thereunder elected. President, Charles A. Maurian ; First Vice-President, Charles F. Buck ; Second Vice-President, E. F. Vix ; Secretary, James D. Seguin.
     Governing Committee—E. H. Farrar, A E. Blackmar, James D. Seguin, A. E. Harrison, W. S. Keplinger, Isidore Danziger.
     The project of the originators meeting with an encouraging and speedy success, it soon became necessary to seek more commodious quarters, and a comfortable suite of rooms were found over the saloon of Frank Berkes, 168 Common street. On October 21, 1880, the Club moved into its new location. It now numbered 110 members, with a prosperous future before it. On December 31 the Club made its second move, going into rooms over Mrs. Droste's saloon, 166 Common street. At the meeting of January 6, 1881, 140 members were present, and a small assessment, the first and only one in the history of the Club, was levied for the purpose of providing a fund with which to furnish the rooms. In accordance with an amendment to the constitution, adopted at this meeting, on January 24, 1881, the Club having reached a membership of 150, an initiation fee of $2 was inaugurated.
     The first Whist Tournament was played in the latter part of October and early part of November, 1880, and lasted about three weeks.
     On February 10, 1881, the Club moved for the third time, having engaged the spacious rooms at 184 Common street, corner of Varieties alley. At this time there were 175 names on the roll, and the rooms over Hawkins' saloon were large, commodious, and e!egantly furnished.
     On August 21, 1880, the first Chess Tournament was inaugurated, and continued somewhat desultorily until February 20, 1881, James D. Seguin obtaining the first prize and James Wibray the second.
     During February, 1881, the Club entertained as a guest Captain George H. Mackenzie, the celebrated chess player, and champion of America, and subsequently, during the months of December, 1881, and January, 1882, Captain Mackenzie was again its guest. In January, 1883, Herr Willhelm Steinitz, the famous Austrian master, was similarly entertained by the Club, and during the past April, Dr. Zukertort, the great Prussian player and winner of the London International Tournament of 1883, was likewise its guest. The details of these two highly interesting visits are still doubtless fresh in the minds of the public.
     The Club, with careful management, prospered wonderfully in its Common street quarters. During its stay in this location, up to November, 1883, a number of very interesting and successful tournaments of chess, draughts, billiards, and whist were carried out, a large and copiously supplied reading-room was established, and many other improvements introduced. The membership rose with astonishing rapidity, reaching at one time over 600, though it subsequently fell somewhat when the dues were raised from seventy-five cents per month (the original rate) to $1, the present charge.
     About the middle of 1883, the Club, having now a net strength of about 500 members, and being in fine financial standing, it was decided to be both necessary and wise to secure more elegant and commodious quarters.
     The Governing Committee were, therefore, authorized to secure the Perry House, at the corner of Canal and Baronne streets, and fit it up for permanent club-rooms.
     On the 1st day of December, 1883, the Club took possession of their present magnificent quarters.
     On the first floor to the right is the chess-room, containing thirteen heavy black walnut chess tables, with elegant inlaid boards; the walls are hung with fine pictures, and the mantels hold the photographs of the world's great chess players. Besides, the room is fitted up with all the other appliances and comforts necessary to a first-class chess-room. Eighteen sets of club-size Staunton men have been ordered from England, and are expected shortly.
     The library and reading-room is off the chess-room and fronts on the Baronne street side. On the opposite side, fronting Canal street, is the parlor, luxuriously furnished. The annex parlor, in which there is a splendid piano, is used as the music room. Adjoining the annex is the bar-room, elegantly fitted up, and where the best of drinkables are kept.
     To the left on the wing is the reception-room; back of this are the domino, checkers, and writing-rooms. On the rear galleries are the washrooms, store-room, and closets.
     On the second floor, on Baronne, is the billiard-room, containing two new tables, brought from New York. At the corner of Canal and Baronne is the whist-room. Across the hall is the general card-room, where, however, playing is only allowed for amusement, as no money-play is permitted in the Club building. Next is the euchre, backgammon, and cribbage-room. Opposite the billiard-room is the pool-room, with one new table for the amusement of the lovers of that game.
     The renovation of the upper floor is not yet completed, but is rapidly being put into good order. The hall has already been cut through to conform with those below, and Baronne street side has been thrown into one large room, to be used exclusively as a library, as it is the intention of the Club to establish a circulating library for the benefit of the members.
     The increase of membership has been prodigious since the occupancy of the new location. The young men of the city have flocked in, finding there easy recreations, a place to feel at home during the evenings, to enjoy themselves at the many innocent games that are played, and to sit in the cool breeze that almost always blows along the wide veranda surrounding the entire building.
     The officers of the Club are : Hon. Charles F. Buck, President ; Judge Charles G. Ogden, First Vice-President ; Dr. S. M. Bernias, Second Vice-President ; A. T. Mather, Treasurer. 
     Governing Committee: I. K. Small, C. B. Penrose, H. P. Warner, Lucien Lyons, Charles Janvier.
     Library Committee: Jas. D. Seguin, Fred. G. Freret, and Jas. L. McLean.
     The growth of the Club has been phenomenal, and it now numbers about 1,050 members. Nothing reasonable within the resources of the Club has been left unsupplied, and all the rooms bear evidences of comfort and refined attractiveness.


New Orleans Chess, Checker and Chess Club
New Orleans Chess, Checker and Chess Club


Standard history of New Orleans, Louisiana
by Henry Rightor  1900

     The Chess, Checkers and Whist Club is one of the youngest, yet strongest, institutions of the city. The foundation of the club is ascribed to Charles A. Maurian, Charles F. Buck and James D. Seguin, who, in 1880, founded a small club for the study and cultivation of the game of chess. Their first domicile was a single room in the building at No. 128 Gravier street. At the first meeting, held July 21, 1880, Mr. Maurian was elected president and Mr. Seguin secretary. The club records show the attendance at this meeting to have been twenty-seven, some of whom were represented by proxy. In the twenty years of its existence the membership has increased to 800, the present limitation.
     The early history of this club clearly demonstrates the invincible power of a movement based on sound principles and popular demand. It is essentially a young men's club, but its membership lists include a large number of older men—men who have become prominent in business life, in the practice of the law and in the various other professions. Nearly every chess-player of skill residing in the city is a member, and the games of whist, checkers, etc., are indulged in. But the club has other objects than the encouragement of scientific games and the occasional entertainment of its friends; for, not infrequently, the informal discussions of the members turn on deep subjects and a wide range of topics of general interest and importance are taken up by men whose knowledge specially fits them for an intelligent expression of opinion. The chronicle of the club's rise from an humble origin to the powerful institution of to-day is interesting. Less than ten days after the first meeting a second was held, at which it was found the membership had about doubled. In October of the same year the membership had grown to 110, and larger quarters being required the club moved to No. 168 Common street, and two months later to larger rooms next door. The membership had reached the number of 150 January 24, 1881, and, the belief then existing that the club had reached its climax, so far as membership was concerned, the initiation fee was placed at $2, and an entire floor at the corner of Common street and Varieties alley was leased for club rooms.
     Captain George H. Mackenzie, the renowned chess-player of St. Louis, visited New Orleans in the year 1881 and was the guest of the club from February 28 to March 10. He gave several exhibitions, displaying wonderful perception and great facility for rapid combination. President Maurian and Mr. James McConnell made even games on even terms with the visitor, but the others were easily defeated. The visit of Mr. Mackenzie was the beginning of the visits of a great number of distinguished chess-players who have come to this city since then. The list of great players who have been guests of the club includes such names as Zukertort, Lee, Steinitz, Pillsbury and others. The series of tournaments, which to-day are a leading feature of the club, was inaugurated during the first year of the club's existence.
     For two years the club enjoyed a substantial and healthy growth, and in 1883 the present quarters at the corner of Canal and Baronne streets were secured. Fire destroyed the building in 1890 and nearly all of the club's records were lost. In place of the old building a modern club-house was constructed, and this is the domicile to-day.  Paul Morphy, whose fame as a chess-player is second to none in the history of the game, was a constant attendant at the club until his death, and in memory of him there is a bust of fine workmanship in the club-rooms. One of the most highly prized possessions of the club is a unique set of chessmen of Swiss workmanship, presented by E. Block on February 21, 1881. Block was a contemporary of Morphy's in the early days of chess-playing in New Orleans. Mr. Maurian was succeeded as president by Charles F. Buck. The other presidents have been: Hon. Ben C. Elliott, Samuel Stafford, Thomas R. Roach, Hon. George H. Vennard and Charles J. Theard, who has been president since April, 1893. The popularity of the club is best attested by the list of applicants, which contains almost as many names as does the membership list.   Applicants must wait for resignations before their applications are acted on.

A game by the New Orleans Chess, Checkers & Whist Club's first president

Part II