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Harry Nelson Pillsbury was born on December 5, 1872 in Somerville, Massachusetts.
He learned chess around Thanksgiving in 1888 at the age of 15.
In 1889 he was a member of the Somerville Chess and Checker Club. His first chess teacher was Addison Smith, a member of the Boston Chess Club who lived in Somerville.
In 1890 he was a member of the Deschapelles Chess Club in Boston. That club later folded and he joined another Boston chess club. He beat H. Stone, a veteran Baltimore expert, in a match with a score of 5-2.
In April, 1890, (age 17) Pillsbury competed in his first chess tournament, in the 4th annual Massachuesetts Chess Association tournament.
As a youth he went to Boston and spent much of his time playing chess. By 1892 he was the best player in Boston. He won matches against H. Stone, C. Burill, and J. Burry.
In April, 1892, he played a match against world champion Wilhelm (William) Steinitz in Boston. Steinitz gave Pillsbury pawn and move. Pillsbury won the match with 2 wins and 1 loss.
In April 1893, he defeated the German master Carl Walbrodt with 2 wins and a draw. He also defeated the visiting German master Schottlaender.
In May 1893, he was in Philadelphia playing chess as a professional. He acted as the hidden player in Ajeeb (he did this from 1893 to 1900). In Philadelphia, he was a member of the Franklin Chess Club.
In September, 1893, he played in an "impromptu" tournament. He took 7th place with 7 wins and 6 losses. One of his wins was against U.S. Champion Jackson Showalter.
In December, 1893, he came in clear first at the "Masters' Manhattan Cafe Chess Tournament" in Manhattan, New York, at the City Chess Club.
In 1894 he was playing chess in New York city and Buffalo. He won the Manhattan Chess Club championship. He participated in the Staats-Zeitung Tournament, playing for the Brooklyn Chess Club. He then played in an international chess tournament in New York at the City Chess Club. He tied for 5th-6th place. After that, chess clubs sponsored him to play in Hastings.
In June, 1895, the Brooklyn Chess Club selected him as its representative to the Hastings Chess Congress. He sailed to England in July, 1895.
In August,1895, he played in Hastings and won it (9 wins in a row), at the age of 22. He won 15 games, drew 3 and lost 3. At the time, no player had ever won their first major tournament the first time playing it.
In 1895-6 he took 3rd place at St. Petersburg in a four-master match tournament (Lasker, Chigorin, Steinitz, Pillsbury). They played 6 games against each other.
During this time in Russia, he caught syphilis.
In the summer of 1896 he shared 3rd place with Tarrasch at Nuremberg. First and second place went to Lasker and Maroczy.
At 1896 he took 3rd place at Budapest, behind Chigorin and Charousek.
In 1896 at an exhibition in London, Pillsbury was given a list of 30 bizarre words to memorize in 20 seconds while he was playing 20 chess games at once.. He reeled off the words forwards and backwards, and on the following day, he did it again. The words were "Antiphlogistine, periosteum, takadiastase, plasmon, ambrosia, Threlkeld, streptococcus, staphylococcus, micrococcus, plasmodium, Mississippi, Freiheit, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, athletics, no war, Etchenberg, American, Russian, philosophy, Piet Potgelter's Rost, Salamagundi, Oomisillecootsi, Bangmamvate, Schlechter's Nek, Manzinyama, theosophy, catechism, Madjesoomalops...."
He won the U.S. Championship in 1897, defeating Jackson Showalter. They played at the Hamiltion Club in Brooklyn from February 10 to April 4. The stakes were $1,000 a side. Pillsbury won the match 10 to 8 with 3 games drawn. When Pillsbury won, he refused the title of American Champion, so Showalter remained US Champion. Pillsbury did not want the title.
In 1898 he defeated Showalter again, with a score of 7-3. This time it was an official US Championship match.
In May-June, 1898, he tied for 1st place with Tarrasch at Vienna (the Kaiser Jubilee). This tournament was in honor of Emperor Francis Joseph.
In 1899 he tied for 2nd place at London. Lasker won the event.
After his return from London, he organized a tour of North America. From September 1899 to April 1900, he toured the US, Canada, and Cuba. He gave over 150 exhibitions and travelled over 40,000 miles. His specialty was to play 12 chess games without sight, 6 checker games without sight, and play a hand in a game of duplicate whist all at the same time.
On April 28, 1900 he set a world record blindfold play of 20 opponents when he was in Philadelphia.
In 1900 he took 2nd at Paris (behind Lasker) and tied for 1st at Munich with Schlechter.
In 1901 he married Mary Bush of Brooklyn in Philadelphia.
In 1901, he tried to negotiate a match with Lasker for the world championship, but nothing ever came of it.
In August, 1901, he took 1st at the American Masters tournament in Buffalo (New York State Chess Association).
In 1901/1902 he agained toured the US.
In March-May, 1902, he toured Great Britain, giving exhibitions.
In 1902 he took 2nd at Monte Carlo and 2nd at Hanover.
On August 2, 1902 in Hanover, he played 21 chess players blindfolded simultaneously. He won 3, drew 11, and lost 7. All players were expert or master strength. In Moscow he played 22 players blindfolded simultaneously. One of the Moscow players was Alexei Alekhine, the older brother of Alexander Alekhine. Alexei drew with Pillsbury.
In February-March, 1903, he took 3rd at Monte Carlo, behind Tarrasch and Maroczy. He then went to Vienna to take part in a Gambit tournament. He took 4th place.
In late 1903 he went on his final American chess tour.
He last tournament was Cambridge Springs, in April-May, 1904. He took 9th place. During the tournament he suffered from imsomnia and restlessness.
After Cambridge Springs, he played only 2 more serious games in the annual matches between the Franklin and Manhattan Chess Clubs.
During the summer months of 1904, he vacationed in Atlantic City to regain his physical strength back. He returned to Philadelphia to recuperate and rest.
On March 7, 1905, he suffered a stroke. On March 28 he was operated on at the Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia. Around March 30, he had a high fever and tried to jump from a fourth story window. He had broken the window with his fists and a chair. He was about to jump, but was stopped by several nurses and physicians. It took four men to stop him before he was forced down upon a bed in another room and given sedatives. He was released from the hospital in April.
In May, 1905, he gave a simultaneous exhibition in Boston. He played his final serious game on May 31, 1905 during the annual Franklin and Manhattan chess club match.
On November 8, 1905 he went to Bermuda, hoping for a cure to syphilis. While in Bermuda, he suffered his 2nd stroke. He returned home in January, 1906.
On 24 January, 1906 he had gone to Pasadena for special medical treatment
In May 1906, he had a stroke which caused partial paralysis. He died of general paresis (syphilis) on June 17, 1906 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the age of 33. He is buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Reading, Massachusetts.
In addition to chess, he was one of the top twenty players in the U.S. in checkers.
In 1986 he was inducted in the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame.
wow i can put some in the endless quiz :)
Died young. We forget how penicillin and its derivatives have saved millions of lives.
He accomplished a lot in a small time period, and started chess for a person of his ability later in life (rather than age 7 like Fischer mentions). Nicely written, excellent article.
Some interesting links about Harry Nelson Pillsbury:
I don't mean to be bumping up such an old entry, but I came across Pillsbury looking at the origins of the Cambridge Springs Defense to the Queen's Gambit. In a number of books, they mention him as having played it. If he did, the games would be among the earlier examples of it; but I've not found any. I don't think he did play it. I think tournaments he played in have sort of confused the matter, attributing the line to him. But if anyone knows of any games of his where he played it, I'd love to know about it.
Lasker seems to be the one to have played it first, but without the ideas in it that developed in the 1920s, at Cambridge Springs against an amateur during a simul, if I remember correctly.