Mr. H. N. PILLSBURY'S CHESS CAREER.
By Rhoda A. Bowles.
R. Pillsbury was born in December, 1872, at Somerville, Mass., where his father owned a school for the training of young Americans. At the age of sixteen, Mr. Pillsbury learnt the moves of chess, and quickly developed a great love for the game. It was just at this time, however, that his commercial training was about to commence, therefore he could not devote as much attention as he wished to the numberless variations of the royal game. However, in 1891, the late William Steinitz visited the Boston Chess Club, and it was there that the real genius of the coming Pillsbury was discovered, for he played a match of three games at the odds of P and move, winning two and losing one against the then champion of the world.
Shortly afterwards Walbrodt and Schottlander visited Boston, during their tours of the U.S.A., and in a series of games Mr. Pillsbury won 2½ out ot 3 from each of the masters In the meantime he had been acquiring proficiency in blindfold play, and had given several small exhibitions in Boston.
Early in 1893, the Franklin Chess Club hearing of these facts through one of their former members then residing in Boston, invited Mr. Pillsbury to become their guest for a week, and having arranged his business matters to allow of his acceptance, he gave his first professional engagement at the club, of which after many years he now considers himself an active member. After this Mr. Pillsbury took up chess as a profession, playing in various tournaments, and giving exhibitions, and becoming prominently identified with the Brooklyn Chess Club.
In September, 1893, a tournament was held in New York, with Lasker and other strong players taking part. Lasker was first, of course, but it was encouraging to Pillsbury to find himself sixth—he was not yet 21. This was followed by a tournament in the City Chess Club, at New York, and was won by Mr. Pillsbury; Hodges being second, Showalter third, and Albin fourth. Early in 1894 the Brooklyn Chess Club appointed Mr. Pillsbury to coach the team for the Metropolitan league matches, placing him at board No. 1, and here he won the trophy.
He undoubtedly received an invaluable amount of chess education during the great match between Steinitz and Lasker for the championship of the world; he did the whole of the reporting and much of the annotating of all the games played during that memorable match of 1894. In 1895 the Brooklyn Chess Club showed the great confidence they placed in Pillsbury by sending him over to Hastings, where he so fully realized expectations by winning the first prize. It was here that Mr. Pillsbury, by his good nature and modest manners, so thoroughly wormed himself into our affections that he has ever since been looked upon by English people generally, and by Hastings in particular, as quite "one of ourselves," for his manner is so charming and free from "side" that wherever he goes he leaves kindly recollections behind him.
A great reception awaited him on his return to U.S.A., and at a banquet given in his honour a beautiful gold albert, together with a handsome gold repeater watch, bearing the inscription: "For winning highest international chess honours for America at Hastings, England, September 2nd, 1895. This watch is presented to Henry Nelson Pillsbury by Americans, Brooklyn, October 15th, 1895," was presented to him.
The next great chess event in Mr. Pillsbury's history was played in St. Petersburg during December, 1895, January, February, and March, 1896. between Dr. Lasker, Messrs. Steinitz, Tchigorin, and himself. A match of six games against each other; in this Lasker was first, Steinitz second, Pillsbury third, Tchigorin fourth. Mr. Pillsbury's individual score against the three players being as follows :—versus Lasker, 2 wins, 1 loss, 3 draws; versus Steinitz, 2 draws and 4 losses; versus Tchigorin, 3 wins, 2 losses, 1 draw. Mr. Pillsbury's health suffered considerably about this time, and whilst playing in the Tournament at Nuremberg, 1896, he was under medical treatment the whole time, the result being that he tied with Dr. Tarrasch for third and fourth. Still, I might just mention en passaut, that he performed the "hat trick "—as it is termed in cricket language—by winning on three successive days from Lasker, Tarrasch, and Tchigorin, and the game against Lasker also won him the brilliancy prize.
At Buda Pesth there was a very close fight, for when the last round came Pillsbury, Charousek, and Tchigorin tied. Pillsbury having Tarrasch to play, to whom a draw meant quite as much as a win, and to get out of a draw—which he held easily, but which was useless on account of the other two having won games—he made a bold dash with an unsound variation, which naturally Dr. Tarrasch ";saw through"; and won the game. Pillsbury's position was that of third, Charousek and Tchigorin tying for first and second. In 1897 a match was arranged between Jackson Showalter, the then champion of America, and Pillsbury, this contest Mr. Pillsbury won by 10 to 8. After the match he was engaged as coach to the House of Representatives for the ensuing cable match with our House of Commons, also giving a blindfold exhibition at the Metropolitan Club in Washington. Early in 1898 a return match with Showalter ended in a much easier win for Pillsbury, who won 7 to 3 with 2 drawn games. In the Vienna Tournament of that year, Pillsbury and Tarrasch tied for first prize, and in playing off the latter won by the odd game.
Upon his return to America in the fall of 1898, Mr. Pillsbury started the first of his annual tours through the States, giving simultaneous and blindfold exhibitions, which he had ceased doing since June, 1894. During; the intervening years, he had made a great study of method for blindfold play, his great idea being to shorten the time usually occupied in such exhibitions; in speaking of his studies he says that his hardest task was to find how to ward off insomnia, for he found in the early years—as blindfold players find to-day—that after giving a seance his mind was so occupied with variations which had or might have been played, that sleep was an impossibility. He therefore studied hard as how best to throw his mind off the subject; now his method is so complete, that after the games are finished he simply switches his thoughts on to something quite different, such as having a good meal, playing a game of cards, or other recreation, and entirely eliminates from his mind for the rest of the night—or day—all thoughts of chess, and so thoroughly has he schooled his brain in this matter, that although he banishes chess, yet he can with just as great ease recall any or all of the games played at that particular sitting, hours or days after the event—a proof of which I gave in Womanhood for May—and will play through with accuracy, move for move, any particular game required.
The most remarkable feature of his blindfold play is the shortness of time he occupies as compared with previous records. Before Mr. Pillsbury entered the field the record was 16 games, these were played by Zukertort and Paulsen, and one of 15 by Blackburne, in each case two days were occupied in play, i.e. afternoon and evening of each day, or approximately something over 12 hours. Whereas in 1900 Mr. Pillsbury completed,— without adjudication—at Chicago, 16 games in 4 hours and 55 minutes, winning 12, drawing 3, and losing 1 only.
This created record time he then created the record performance by playing 20 games blindfold against twenty picked strong players at Philadelphia, occupying only 7 hours and 35 minutes to perform this marvellous feat. There he won 14, drew 5, and again lost 1 only, all games played to the finish. The following was played against Newman (of Cable Match fame) on board No. 1. It is full of beautiful ideas.
On the Monday following the Saturday upon which this exhibition took place, Mr. Pillsbury gave a still more remarkable performance by playing to the finish 12 games blindfold in 3 hours and 10 minutes! winning 8, drawing 2, and losing 2. Again I give one of the games played at that sitting. This is one of the cleverest and prettiest of blindfold games, and was played at board No. 2, against Mr. C. Howell (also of Cable Match fame).
Mr. Pillsbury continued these annual tours, and as an instance of his remarkable endurance I quote the fact that during his tour, 1900-01, extending over seven months, he gave 150 exhibitions—chiefly blindfold, interspersed with simultaneous, memory, card feats, Knights' tour, &c, chess and draughts, and whist—and that during the 175 days and nights he travelled over 40 000 miles.
His play at Monte Carlo, and the exhibitions given by him in this country are matters of recent knowledge, yet it will be interesting to readers to know that whilst Mr. Pillsbury was supplying me the particulars of his career a registered letter was handed to him containing £20, the prize given by Mr. John L. McCutcheon, of Pittsburg, for the best game played on White's side against what is known as the McCutcheon variation in the French defence in the Monte Carlo Tournament; the game was that between Pillsbury and Marshall.
Having brought Mr. Pillsbury's career up to date, I will now give an article which I gave in the Pall Mall Gazette on May 27th, showing his method for blindfold play, &c. :—
I asked Mr. H. N. Pillsbury to give me some particulars concerning his wonderful blindfold chess play, and he kindly acceded to my request.
"First I will tell you one of my methods of arranging a seance of twelve boards blindfold," said the great American chess champion. "I mentally group them in fours. The first group will include boards Nos. 1, 4, 7, and 10; second, 2, 5, 8, and n ; and the third, 3, 6, 9, and 12, leaving a space of three between each number in the groups. Take the first group. I start all with P—K 4, and if the usual—and, I may add, what is generally considered to be the best—reply is made, namely, P—K 4, my second move would be Kt—K B 3. Should they continue in the usual line of this opening with Kt—Q B 3, my third move on boards Nos. r, 4, and 10 would be B—Q Kt 5, whereas on No. 7 I should play B—B 4."
"Why this diversion?"
"Because I have now to begin to individualize the games."
"And do you treat all the groups like that?"
"Oh, no! For instance, in group 2 I should probably try for two Queen's Gambits."
"Ah! A favourite gambit of yours, is it not?"
"Yes! I guess I've studied it quite a little," and with a laugh he applies the end of his smoke to a fresh cigar—for he could give points to the heaviest smoker and beat him—saying that he does not believe in wasting matches; besides which, by lighting each cigar from the last it enables him to lose count of how many he smokes a day, "which,'' he adds, "is most convenient when curiosity has to be satisfied, for I can truthfully say 'one long cigar.'"
"Intending, as I said, to get two Queen's Gambits, I play on boards Nos. 5 and 11 P—Q 4, and subdivide this group by playing P—K 4 on 2 and 8, and turn these two into the ' Vienna Opening.' The third group I should open with P—K 4 right along, and try to offer the King's Gambit on all."
"What would you do if, say, three elect to play the French Defence?"
"That wouldn't bother me any. I mentally eliminate them from their respective groups and form them into a fresh group by themselves."
"I suppose you find a difficulty in distinguishing one game from another as soon as complications arise, do you not?"
"Why, no! That is just when they become easier as they branch out into a distinct individuality of their own, and may be likened to a business transaction which becomes easier to the business man when it has some marked characteristic of its own; for a man knows by instinct or experience —at any rate by the customer he is dealing with—whether he can be trusted to act squarely, cannot be trusted at all, or is a shifty, tricky customer who needs watching in case of bluff. Just so in chess. There are book students, people with 'defences,' and tricky players who live for traps."
"Do you use the system you have explained when playing sixteen or twenty?"
"Yes! The same, with, of course, added numbers in each group; but I have various systems which will also apply themselves to twelve, sixteen, or twenty games blindfold. I also vary my exhibitions by playing checkers as well as chess blindfold, with the addition of whist (always preferring duplicate, though I also play ordinary) at a side table."
"Then you give memory feats as well?"
"Yes! I am ready at any part of the play to cease entirely, and if any portion of a pack of cards is called off to me I am prepared to name immediately the remaining cards. There is also the Knight's tour on the chessboard. I start this on whatever square is named, and, blindfold, can readily run over the sixty-four squares. Of course I grant you must have a good memory, for in the beginning you must also remember your ending, and be careful not to touch one square a second time; this I always ensure by asking one of my onlookers to place a piece on every square I name, and I guess I can keep them running until every one is covered. Have I a system for this? Oh, yes! More than one, for, instead of inviting the onlookers to start, I vary it by asking them to name the square on which I shall finish the Knight's tour on the board."
"I understand that you propose retiring from chess as a profession. What do you propose doing, then?"
"My intention is to continue my law studies when I return to the States, and eventually enter that profession. Before that, however, I remain in Europe about a year giving exhibitions in this country and on the Continent. I may take part in the German tournament in Hanover in July. On my way back home I purpose visiting South Africa and Australia, reckoning to get back to the States in 1903."
I have great pleasure in presenting a photograph of Mr. Pillsbury, which was specially taken for this article by Messrs. Elliott & Fry, of Baker Street, London, a firm so renowned for the production of 'speaking likeness,' that the strikingly-natural attitude (when playing blindfold) and exact expression of their subject is, as is usual with them, perfect.
Mr. Pillsbury will return after the Hanover Tourney to London, to fulfill numerous engagements arranged for the opening of the autumn season, and in the provinces, as well as Scotland and Wales, and possibly Ireland. He also means to take part in the great tournament arranged to take place in St. Louis during 1904.
The Pillsbury Correspondence Chess Association was named after him and started in 1896. Already six large tournaments between different States and including over 700 players have been in progress. Cups and medals of bronze, silver, and gold, are given to the varying grades of winners. Matches between the Canadian Chess Club and the Association, and Canadian Association and Pillsbury Association have been played, the latter won by 60 to 40. Mr. Lee W. Parke, who came to London for the Coronation festivities, is the president.