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Pillsbury, Harry Nelson

Harry Nelson Pillsbury (1872-1906) was one of the top four chess players in the world from 1895 to 1903.  He was born in Somerville, Massachusetts and learned chess in 1888, at the age of 15.  In 1895 he played in his first major tournament in Hastings and won it (winning 150 pounds or about $1,200).  Up to that time, no other player had ever won his first major tournament that he participated in.  After his win in Hastings, several newspapers in Boston and New York added chess columns on page one.  He never won another tournament outright.  Pillsbury (now known as “hero of Hastings”) would give simultaneous exhibitions playing 10 chess players and 10 checker players, while playing whist.  His feat of 22 simultaneous blindfolded games was, in his time, judged to be unbeatable.  He was given a list to memorize: Antiphlogistine, periosteum, takadiastase, plasmon, ambrosia, Threlkeld, strepococcus, straphylococcus, micrococcus, plasmodium, Mississippi, Freiheit, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, athletics, no war, Etchenberg, American, Russian, philosophy, Piet Potgelter's Rost, Salamagundi, Oomisellecootsi, Bangmanvate, Schlechter's Nek, Manzinyama, theosophy, catechism, and Madjesoomalops.  After a few minutes he was able to recite the list forward and backward.  He was able to recall the list the following day.  In 1897, he won the U.S. Chess Championship, defeating Jackson Showalter.  When Pillsbury won, he refused the title of American Champion, so Showalter remained U.S. Champion.  Pillsbury did not want the title.  In 1898, he defeated Showalter again and accepted the title of U.S. Champion.  In 1900 he went on a seven month nation-wide tour in which he gave over 150 exhibitions and traveled 40,000 miles.  From 1890 to 1900 Pillsbury worked the automaton Ajeeb in New York.  In 1905, he tried to commit suicide in a hospital in Philadelphia.  Pillsbury died of syphilis in 1906 at the age of 33, probably caught in Russia.  He was considered one of the top 10 checker players in the country. 

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