James Mason (born Patrick Dwyer?) was born in Kilkenny, Ireland on November 19, 1849. The family moved to New Orleans in 1861, then to New York. At the age of 11, his name was changed to avoid prevalent anti-Irish prejudice in America.
In New York, he became a newsboy and learnedthe game of chess at age 18. He soon started frequenting the chess cafes in the area. In 1870, he became champion of the New York Chess Club, and represented New York in matches against Philadelphia.
In 1874, he defeated Eugene Delmar in several matches in New York (7-1 and 7-3), and Aristides Martinez in Philadelphia. In 1875, he played Henry Bird in a match in New York. Mason won with 11 wins, 4 losses, and 4 draws. In early 1876, efforts were made to have Mason play American champion George Mackenzie, but without success.
In August 1876, he won the 4th American Chess Congress (the Grand International Centennial Chess Congress) in Philadelphia (+8-1=5), winning $300. He then took 4th in the Café International Tournament in New York, won by George Mackenzie. In 1876, Mason defeated M. Alberoni in a match by a 7-0 score. In October 1876, he won the New York Clipper Centennial Tournament. In 1877, he edited the American Chess Journal.
In 1878, a subscription was raised by American chess players to send Mason to compete in the Paris 1878 International Masters' Tournament. He failed to reach the prize list and was embarrassed to return to the United States. He then settled in London. In 1879, he defeated William Potter and Joseph Blackburne (2-1) in matches in London.
In 1880, he played in the Masters' Tournament at Wiesbaden, and finished 5th. In the 1880s, he was one of the top 10 players in the world. In 1882, he took 3rd, behind Steinitz and Winawer, in Vienna. Mason was the first person to lose a game of chess on time (Vienna, 1882, against Bird). Mr. Bird did not claim the game, but another competitor insisted on the strict enforcement of a game lost if a number of moves had not been made within the time limit. This loss on time cost him first place.
In 1883, he took 6th at the London Tournament. In 1883, he took 3rd, behind Winawer and Blackburne, in the 3rd German Chess Federation tournament in Nuremberg. In 1885, he tied for 2nd-6th at the 4th German Chess Federation tournament at Hamburg. That event was won by Isidor Gunsberg.
In 1886, he took 5th at the British Chess Association Congress. In 1888, he tied for 3rd-4th in the 4th British Chess Federation championship in Bradford, England, behind Gunsberg and Mackenzie. In 1889, he took 7th in the 6th American Chess Congress in New York.
In 1889, he tied for 3rd-5th in the 5th British Chess Federation championship, held in London. In 1889, he took 3rd in the 3rd Irish Chess Association tournament in Dublin. In early 1892, he took 2nd, behind Emanuel Lasker, in the 7th British Chess Association Congress.
In 1892, he tied for 1st with Blackburne in the North of Ireland Congress in Belfast. In 1895, he took 12th-14th at Hastings. In 1900, he took 2nd-3rd in the London City Club Invitation tourney, behind Teichmann. His last appearance in internatinal tournaments was Monte Carlo 1903.
He was the author of The Principles of Chess (1893), The Art of Chess (1895), Chess Openings (1897), and Social Chess (1900). He was also the chief annotator of the British Chess Magazine.
He died in Essex on January 15, 1905 at the age of 55. He was interned in the churchyard of Thundersley, Esses on January 17, 1905. His obituary appeared in the February, 1905 issue of British Chess Magazine.