California Chess, 1858 - 1859

by John S. Hilbert

    Interest in chess spread rapidly across the United States following Paul Morphy's sensational victory at New York 1857, followed by his triumphant European tour. New chessplayers and new clubs sprang up across the land, and the clubs already in existence gained greatly by the Morphy boom. California was no different. In its May 1858 issue The Chess Monthly, edited by Morphy and Daniel W. Fiske, reported that the chess bug had indeed hit the West Coast, and that a California Chess Congress inspired by Morphy and New York 1857 was being planned. Curiously enough, while The Chess Monthly detailed the course of the event, it did not provide any games from the tournaments. That detail was left to the pages of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, which published five games from the top tournament. Coverage of the Congress on the East Coast was of course delayed by the lengthy distances such news had to travel.

    Three San Francisco chess clubs joined together to host the Congress: the Mechanic's Institute, the German Chess Club of San Francisco, and the Pioneer Chess Club. A committee of management was formed to take charge of the event, its members being Selim Franklin (President of the Congress), W. Schleiden, D.S. Roberts, Wm. R. Wheaton, Geo. Pen Johnston, Willard B. Farwell, Thomas Bryne, B.F. Voorhies, Edward Jones, Charles Mayne, M. Eilas, and H.R. Bacon. Entrance was fixed at five dollars, and players were to be divided into classes according to ability. A problem tourney was to be held as well, although that event does not appear to have materialized.

    The California Chess Congress began on Monday evening, March 22, 1858, at the Hall in Hunt's Building, San Francisco. Congress President Franklin opened the proceedings with a short address, and play began with eight players in the First Class, twenty-six in the First Division of the Second Class (who would have received knight odds from First Class Players) and twelve in the Second Division of Second Class (who would have received rook odds from First Class Players). Players were paired within classes. The First Class Tournament saw the following pairings for play:

Selim Franklin vs. Charles Sutro
Edward Jones vs. E. Justh
Daniel S. Roberts vs. Wilhelm Schleiden
John Shaw vs. Philip Kalkman

    Play at the Congress began on Tuesday, March 23, and continued each day until midnight. The twenty-three games simultaneously in progress drew large crowds of spectators, including members of the bar, judges, clergymen, physicians, merchants and literary men, although "men of all ages and conditions" were present to witness the historic event as well.

    The event was modeled after New York 1857, with the eight players engaging in a knockout tournament, the player winning three games eliminating his opponent from play. In the first round Edward Jones defeated E. Justh 3-1, while Selim Franklin, one of the tournament's favorites, handled Charles Sutro easily, 3-0. The Chess Monthly for June 1858 added that "Mr. President Franklin's second encounter with Mr. Sutro, which took place on Thursday the 25th, is spoken of as resulting in one of the finest games ever played in California," although neither then nor later was the game published in the journal. John Shaw also ran the table on his opponent, finishing 3-0. Among the games between these two gentlemen was the following:

Kalkman - Shaw [C52]
California Chess Congress
First Class Tournament, Rd. 1
March 1858

    1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5 6.0-0 Nf6 7.d4 0-0 8.Ba3 d6 9.dxe5 Nxe4 10.exd6 Nxd6 11.Bb3 Qf6 12.Bb2 Bg4 13.Qd3 Bxf3 14.gxf3 Ne5 15.Qe2 Nxf3+ 16.Kh1 Rae8 17.c4 Qf4 0-1 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, July 10, 1858

    Daniel S. Roberts, who prior to moving to California had been elected President of the Brooklyn Chess Club, in 1856, was considered another of the favorites in the event. He had been required to move to California just before play began at New York 1857, and his presence on the west coast and his chess connections back East were largely responsible for coverage of the California Chess Congress making its way to The Chess Monthly and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper. Indeed, as reported, Roberts was at the time of the California Congress still president of the Brooklyn organization. Roberts defeated his first round opponent, Wilhelm Schleiden, of San Francisco, by a score of 3-1. Two of the games from this match have survived.

Schleiden - Roberts [C44]
California Chess Congress
First Class Tournament, Rd. 1
March 1858

    1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 exd4 4.Bc4 Bc5 5.0-0 d6 6.Ng5 Ne5 7.Bb3 h6 8.f4 hxg5 9.fxe5 Be6 10.Bxe6 fxe6 11.Qg4 Qd7 12.Bxg5 dxe5 13.Nd2 Nh6 14.Qh4 Be7 15.Qh5+ Kd8 16.Bxh6 Rxh6 17.Qxe5 Bf6 18.Qc5 Qd6 19.Qxd6+ cxd6 20.Nc4 Kd7 21.Rad1 Rc8 22.b3 b5 23.Na3 a6 24.Rf3 Rc5 25.h3 d5 26.exd5 Rxd5 27.g4 a5 28.Re1 e5 29.Rd3 Bh4 30.Re2 Kd6 31.c4 dxc3 32.Rxc3 Re6 33.Nc2 Rc5 34.Rd3+ Ke7 35.Ne3 Bf6 36.Nf5+ Kf8 37.Re4 Rc1+ 38.Kf2 Rc2+ 39.Re2 Rec6 40.Rde3 a4 41.h4 g6 42.g5 gxf5 43.gxf6 e4 44.Kg3 Kf7 45.Kf4 Kxf6 46.h5 Rxe2 47.Rxe2 Rc3 48.Rf2 Rh3 49.Rf1 Rxh5 50.Rc1 Rh4+ 51.Kg3 Rg4+ 52.Kf2 Rg7 53.Rc5 Rb7 and Black won after several more moves. 0-1 Frank Leslie's Illustrated News, June 26, 1858

Schleiden - Roberts [D30]
California Chess Congress
First Class Tournament, Rd. 1
March 1858

    1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.a3 Nf6 4.e3 c5 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.f4 b6 7.Nf3 Bb7 8.Be2 cxd4 9.exd4 Bd6 10.0-0 0-0 11.b4 Rc8 12.c5 Bb8 13.Ne5 bxc5 14.bxc5 Nxe5 15.fxe5 Ne4 16.Bb2 f5 17.Rf3 g5 18.Rh3 g4 19.Bxg4 fxg4 20.Qxg4+ Kh8 21.Nxe4 dxe4 22.Qxe6 Rc6 23.Qg4 Rc7 24.d5 Rg8 25.e6+ Rcg7 26.Qxe4 1-0 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, July 10, 1858

    According to The Chess Monthly for June 1858, "Rain and unpleasant weather occasionally reduced the number of persons in attendance, but on the fair days sometimes nearly two hundred people were to be seen in the Hall at once."

    Pairings for the second round of the First Class Tournament were as follows:

Selim Franklin vs. Daniel S. Roberts
John Shaw vs. Edward Jones

    This round, which began on Saturday, March 27, 1858, brought together the tournament's two favorites, Franklin and Roberts. The former was "some years ago, a well-known frequenter" of chess circles in California, and his meeting with Roberts was hard fought. The first game ended in a draw, and although Franklin took the second and third games, the fourth was drawn and the fifth went to Roberts. The second week of play had seen the tournament move from Hunt's Hall to the rooms of San Francisco's Pioneer Club, with public play ceasing on the evening of Saturday, April 3, 1858. Interested readers of The Chess Monthly following the progress of the Congress had to wait until the July number to learn the conclusion of the event, which in fact did not conclude until May Day of that year.

    Although the only two games from the Second Round of the First Class Tournament that have survived were won by Roberts, who no doubt sent the games back East for publication, Franklin emerged the winner of their second round match. The final score is unknown, although clearly, given the games that follow, it was 3-2, with at least 2 draws.

Franklin - Roberts [A34]
California Chess Congress
First Class Tournament, Rd. 2
March 1858

    1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 e6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nf3 Be7 5.b3 b6 6.Bb2 Bb7 7.Rc1 Bxf3 8.Qxf3 Nc6 9.Qe2 0-0 10.g3 d5 11.Bg2 Rc8 12.cxd5 exd5 13.d3 d4 14.Ne4 Nxe4 15.Bxe4 Bf6 16.0-0 g6 17.Kg2 Bg7 18.Bxc6 Rxc6 19.e4 f5 20.f3 Re6 21.b4 cxb4 22.Rc4 a5 23.Rfc1 Qd6 24.Qc2 Rd8 25.Rc6 Qxc6 26.Qxc6 Rxc6 27.Rxc6 fxe4 28.fxe4 Rb8 29.Kf3 Rf8+ 30.Ke2 Rf6 31.Rc8+ Rf8 32.Rc6 Rf6 33.Rc7 Rd6 34.Kf3 Rf6+ 35.Kg4 Rf2 36.Rxg7+ Kxg7 37.Bxd4+ Rf6 38.Bxf6+ Kxf6 39.Kf4 a4 40.d4 b3 41.e5+ Ke7 42.axb3 a3 43.d5 a2 44.d6+ Ke6 0-1 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, August 21, 1858

Roberts - Franklin [D30]
California Chess Congress
First Class Tournament, Rd. 2
March 1858

    1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nf3 a6 5.a3 Nc6 6.Nc3 Be7 7.cxd5 exd5 8.h3 Be6 9.Bd3 h6 10.b4 b5 11.Bb2 Bd6 12.Rc1 Ne7 13.Qc2 c6 14.Ne5 Rc8 15.f4 g6 16.Qf2 Nh5 17.g4 Ng7 18.Ne2 f5 19.Qh4 Bxe5 20.dxe5 g5 21.fxg5 Ng6 22.Qf2 hxg5 23.Bxf5 0-0 24.Ng3 Qc7 25.Bxe6+ Nxe6 26.Qc2 Nxe5 27.Bxe5 Qxe5 28.Nf5 Ng7 29.Qc3 Qxc3+ 30.Rxc3 Nxf5 31.gxf5 Rxf5 32.Rf1 Rxf1+ 33.Kxf1 Rf8+ 34.Kg2 Rf6 35.Kg3 Kf7 36.Kg4 Kg6 37.Rc5 Re6 38.Rc3 Re4+ 39.Kf3 Rc4 40.Rd3 Kf5 41.Rb3 Ke5 42.Rd3 Re4 43.Rc3 Kd6 44.Rd3 c5 45.bxc5+ Kxc5 46.Rd1 Kc4 47.Rc1+ Kb3 48.Rc6 Ra4 49.Rg6 Kxa3 50.Rxg5 b4 51.Rxd5 b3 52.e4 b2 53.Rd1 Ka2 54.Kf4 Rb4 55.Re1 b1Q 56.Rxb1 Kxb1 1-0 Frank Leslie's Illustrated News, December 25, 1858

    Unfortunately, with Roberts's elimination from the tournament, his interest in supplying games to Frank Leslie's Illustrated News appears to have ended. What is known, though, from The Chess Monthly for July 1858 is that Edward Jones defeated John Shaw, and that Franklin eliminated Jones in the final round, to win the first prize "of a costly gold watch." Second prize, earned by Jones, was "an inlaid rosewood chess-table." The final night of the Congress, after prizes were awarded in all three sections, "the evening was concluded by a social festival." All in all, the California Chess Congress of 1858 was considered a wonderful success.

    As it turned out, The Chess Monthly added a little more regarding happenings in the far distant west. Franklin, "the winner of the first or grand prize, is a gentleman well-known for his powers as a player and for the warm interest he has so long taken in the game. He has been challenged by Mr. John Shaw to a match of twenty-one games, and as the present champion of Pacific chess we presume he will accept the challenge. The games, proceedings, etc., are to be published in a pamphlet, whose appearance we shall gladly hail as the first production of the chess-press west of the Rocky Mountains. One of the consequences of the Tournament had been the formation of a new and enlarged club, in the capital of California, under the name of 'Cosmopolitan.' Its influence will of course be felt in many other directions. We congratulate the chess lovers of the Golden State upon the entire success of their first general assemblage."

    Unfortunately, the remaining pages of The Chess Monthly, not only for 1858, but for 1859 and 1860, too, are silent as to California chess. Whether such a match between Franklin and Shaw ever took place, or whether a pamphlet about the California Chess Congress ever appeared, is unknown. For the record, though, Daniel S. Roberts continued to send some of his games later in 1858 and into 1859, which were published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated News. None of the following games were identified as taking place at the California Chess Congress, but are given here for those interested to peruse:

Roberts - Franklin [C31]
California, 1859

    1.e4 e5 2.f4 d5 3.exd5 e4 4.Nc3 Nf6 5.d3 Bb4 6.Bd2 e3 7.Bxe3 0-0 8.Bd2 Re8+ 9.Be2 Bc5 10.Na4 Bxg1 11.Rxg1 Nxd5 12.Nc3 Bg4 13.Ne4 Bxe2 14.Qxe2 f5 15.0-0-0 fxe4 16.dxe4 Nb6 17.Bc3 Qe7 18.e5 Nc6 19.g4 Kh8 20.b3 Qa3+ 21.Kb1 Nb4 22.Bxb4 Qxb4 23.f5 Na4 24.Rg3 Nc3+ 25.Rxc3 Qxc3 26.e6 Rad8 27.Rxd8 Rxd8 28.e7 Re8 29.g5 Qc5 1-0 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 30, 1859

Franklin - Roberts [C01]
California, 1859

    1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Be3 Nf6 5.Bd3 Be6 6.h3 c6 7.Nf3 h6 8.a3 Bd6 9.Nbd2 Nbd7 10.b4 b5 11.c3 Nb6 12.Rc1 Qc7 13.Qe2 0-0-0 14.Nb3 Rde8 15.Nc5 g5 16.a4 Bxc5 17.bxc5 Nxa4 18.Ne5 Nxc5 19.Bxb5 cxb5 20.dxc5 Qxe5 21.Qxb5 Qc7 22.c6 Bf5 23.0-0 Rxe3 and resigns, the last move being a blunder. 1-0 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 30, 1859

Roberts - Franklin [B40]
California, 1859

    1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.c3 d5 4.exd5 exd5 5.Bb5+ Nc6 6.d4 a6 7.Bxc6+ bxc6 8.Be3 c4 9.0-0 Nf6 10.Ne5 Qc7 11.Nd2 Bd6 12.f4 0-0 13.h3 Ne4 14.Nxe4 dxe4 15.Nxc4 f5 16.Nxd6 Qxd6 17.c4 Be6 18.b3 Rad8 19.Qd2 Qa3 20.Qc3 a5 21.c5 Rb8 22.Bd2 Rb5 23.Qc1 Qxc1 24.Rfxc1 Rd8 25.Bc3 h6 26.Rc2 Kf7 27.Rb1 Rdb8 28.Kf2 g5 29.Ke3 Kg6 30.Rcb2 Bd5 31.b4 a4 32.a3 Rf8 33.Rh1 Rb7 34.Bd2 Re7 35.Rf1 Bc4 36.Rc1 Bd5 37.Kf2 Rfe8 38.Rc3 Declared a drawn game. This was done to prevent Black taking all the next day to consider on his move. ½-½ Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 30, 1859

Roberts - Franklin [C01]
California, 1859

    1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.c4 Be7 6.Be2 0-0 7.0-0 Nc6 8.Nc3 Be6 9.c5 a6 10.a3 Ne4 11.Ne1 f5 12.f3 Nxc3 13.bxc3 f4 14.Nd3 g5 15.Nb4 Rf6 16.Bd3 Qe8 17.Nxc6 bxc6 18.Qc2 Qh5 19.h3 Raf8 20.Ra2 Rh6 21.Qe2 g4 22.fxg4 Qg5 23.Qe5 Qxe5 24.dxe5 Bxc5+ 25.Kh2 Be3 26.Bxe3 fxe3 27.Rxf8+ Kxf8 28.Kg3 d4 29.Rc2 c5 30.cxd4 cxd4 31.Rxc7 Ke8 32.g5 Rg6 33.Bxg6+ hxg6 34.Kf3 Bd5+ 35.Ke2 Bxg2 36.Rc4 Ke7 37.Rxd4 Ke6 38.h4 Kxe5 39.Kxe3 Bc6 40.Rc4 Bd7 41.Rc5+ Kd6 42.Kd4 Bh3 43.Rc3 Bg4 44.Rb3 Kc6 45.Ke5 Kc5 46.Kf6 Bh5 47.Rb8 a5 48.Rh8 a4 49.Rxh5 gxh5 1-0 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May 14, 1859

Franklin - Roberts [B01]
California, 1859

    1.e4 d5 2.exd5 Nf6 3.c4 c6 4.dxc6 Nxc6 5.Nf3 e5 6.a3 Bd6 7.Be2 e4 8.Ng5 h6 9.Nh3 Bxh3 10.gxh3 Qc7 11.d4 exd3 12.Bxd3 0-0-0 13.Nc3 a6 14.Be3 Bxh2 15.Qc2 Bf4 16.0-0-0 Bxe3+ 17.fxe3 Ne5 18.Nd5 Nxd3+ 19.Rxd3 Nxd5 20.cxd5 Qxc2+ 21.Kxc2 Rhe8 22.Rg1 g5 23.Rf1 Re5 24.e4 Rd7 25.Rd4 h5 26.Kd3 g4 27.Rf5 Rxf5 28.exf5 gxh3 29.Ke4 Re7+ 30.Kf3 Re5 31.Kf4 h2 32.Rd1 Rxd5 33.Rh1 Rd2 34.Kg5 Kd8 35.Kf6 Ke8 36.Re1+ Kf8 37.b4 Rd6+ 38.Kg5 Rd3 39.Rh1 Rh3 40.Kf6 Kg8 41.a4 b6 42.b5 a5 43.Ke7 Rf3 44.f6 Rf2 45.Rc1 Re2+ 46.Kd7 Kh7 47.Rh1 Kg6 48.Kc7 Re6 49.Rxh2 Rxf6 50.Rg2+ Kh6 51.Rc2 h4 52.Rc6 Kg5 53.Kxb6 h3 54.Kxa5 Rxc6 55.bxc6 h2 56.c7 h1Q 57.c8Q Qe1+ 58.Kb5 Qb1+ 59.Ka5 f5 60.Qg8+ Kf4 ½-½ Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May 14, 1859

Franklin - Roberts [D40]
California, 1859

    1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 e6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.a3 d5 6.d4 b6 7.cxd5 exd5 8.Bb5 Bb7 9.0-0 a6 10.Ba4 b5 11.Bc2 c4 12.e4 dxe4 13.Nxe4 Nxe4 14.Bxe4 Be7 15.Bd2 0-0 16.d5 Nb8 17.d6 Bxe4 18.dxe7 Qxe7 19.Bb4 Qd7 20.Bxf8 Kxf8 21.Ne5 Qxd1 22.Raxd1 f6 23.f3 Bf5 24.Rd8+ Ke7 25.Nc6+ Nxc6 26.Rxa8 a5 27.g4 Bd3 28.Re1+ Kd6 29.Kf2 b4 30.axb4 axb4 31.Ke3 Ne5 32.Ra7 Bc2 33.Re2 Bd3 34.Rd2 g5 35.b3 Kc5 36.bxc4 Bxc4 37.Ra5+ Kb6 38.Rxe5 fxe5 39.Ke4 b3 40.Kxe5 Kb5 41.Kd4 Bf7 42.Kc3 Ka4 43.Kb2 h5 44.Rd7 Be8 45.Rd4+ Kb5 46.Rd5+ Kc6 47.Rxg5 hxg4 48.fxg4 Kd6 49.h4 Bf7 50.h5 Ke6 51.Kxb3 Kf6+ And thus drew the game through an extraordinary oversight of the usually extra cautious Mr. Franklin. ½-½ Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May 14, 1859

Roberts - Franklin [C60]
California, 1859

    1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Bd6 4.c3 a6 5.Ba4 b5 6.Bb3 Na5 7.Bc2 Ne7 8.0-0 0-0 9.d4 exd4 10.e5 Bxe5 11.Nxe5 d6 12.Nf3 dxc3 13.Nxc3 Bb7 14.Nd4 Qd7 15.Re1 Ng6 16.Bf5 Qd8 17.Qh5 c5 18.Bg5 Qb6 19.Nf3 Rfe8 20.Be4 Nc4 21.b3 Nce5 22.Nxe5 Rxe5 23.Bxb7 Qxb7 24.Rxe5 Nxe5 25.Qe2 f6 26.Bh4 Rd8 27.Bg3 c4 28.Bxe5 fxe5 29.bxc4 Qc6 30.Nd5 Re8 31.Rc1 a5 32.Ne3 b4 33.Qd3 Kh8 34.Qd5 Qc7 35.c5 dxc5 36.Rxc5 Qe7 37.Rxa5 h6 38.h3 Qf6 39.Ng4 Qf4 40.Qf3 Qc1+ 41.Kh2 Qc7 42.Qd5 e4+ 43.g3 Rf8 44.Ra8 Qe7 45.Rxf8+ Qxf8 46.Qxe4 h5 47.Qf4 Qxf4 48.gxf4 hxg4 1-0 Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, May 28, 1859

    As a kind of footnote to the above collection of games, attached here is one game by a Californian that was found in the pages of The Chess Monthly, and that game, as the explanation offered with it suggests, was in fact played in Boston: "We owe this game," Fiske wrote, "to the kindness of the President of the Boston Club. We publish it with great pleasure, as a specimen of the chess-play of the distinguished explorer and savan. It is one of a match played three or four months since and will amply repay the attention of the reader."

Boston Amateur - Colonel John Charles Fremont [C53]
Boston 1859

    1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Qe7 5.0-0 d6 6.h3 Nf6 7.d3 0-0 8.Be3 Bxe3 9.fxe3 Be6 10.Bb3 Na5 11.Nbd2 c6 12.Qe2 d5 13.Nxe5 Bxh3 14.Nxc6 bxc6 15.gxh3 dxe4 16.d4 Kh8 17.Bc2 Nb7 18.Rf4 Nd6 19.Qg2 Rae8 20.Raf1 Nd5 21.Qf2 Nxf4 22.Qxf4 f5 23.Rf2 Rf6 24.Rg2 Rg6 25.Rxg6 hxg6 26.Bb3 Rf8 27.h4 Qf6 28.c4 Nf7 29.c5 g5 30.hxg5 Nxg5 31.Qh4+ Nh7 32.Qh3 Qg5+ 33.Kf1 Rf6 34.Ke2 Rh6 35.Qf1 Nf6 36.Nc4 Ng4 37.Qf4 Rh2+ 38.Kd1 Nf2+ 39.Kc1 Nd3+ 0-1 The Chess Monthly, May 1858, pp.150-51

    John Charles Fremont (1813-1890), as general reference sources commonly note, had in 1838 helped map the upper Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Fremont would later lead government survey expeditions to map much of the area between the Mississippi River valley and the Pacific Ocean. A major in the Mexican War, he helped conquer California and was appointed military governor. The gold rush brought him great fortune, and he was elected one of California's first United States senators, serving in 1850 and 1851. In 1856, Fremont was the Republican Party's first presidential candidate, losing the election that year to James Buchanan. Long after the game above was played, Fremont lost his fortune in railroad ventures, and served as governor of the Arizona Territory from 1878-1883.

    The Morphy chess boom, though, didn't last. Chess in the United States lost many of its gains in the years following Morphy's earliest and grandest successes. By March 13, 1861, a correspondent in California could write The Chess Monthly as follows:

    "During the latter part of 1858 and the beginning of 1859, while Mr. Morphy was pursing his unparalleled successes, the chess fever reached its height in San Francisco. Several chess clubs were formed, a grand Tournament was held, and all classes of the community were seized with a rage for playing chess. Since then the interest in our game has somewhat declined, and there is now no regular club in the city. The Mercantile Library Association, however, has a large and beautiful chess room for the accommodation of its members, furnished with sixteen tables, where daily and nightly may be found a collection of players of all grades of force, from the tyro, whose chess acquirements extend only to a knowledge of the moves, to such veterans as Mr. Roberts, formerly President of the Brooklyn Chess Club, or Judge Jones, formerly of New Orleans. The first named gentleman is, perhaps, the strongest player here, although there are some five or six others, to whom he can yield no odds, and who sometimes give him a close contest for the superiority."

    "A few months since, Mr. Salem [sic] Franklin, the winner of the first prize in the Tournament of 1858, and who is now residing in Victoria, V.I., paid us a visit. During his stay here he was daily at the Chess Room, and contested a number of games with our strongest players, the result giving him a slight advantage over all excepting Mr. Roberts, with whom the score was about even. Mr. Franklin's style is cautious and defensive. His motto seems to be 'slow and sure.' Indeed, his somewhat excessive slowness at times, furnishes his vanquished antagonists with an excuse, which certain great match-players have not hesitated to make use of when smarting under defeat."

    "A player like Morphy would be a godsend to our chess circle. There are men here, I am persuaded, who, could they have practice with a real first rate player, would eventually occupy no mean place in the chess world. We live in hopes that some stray chess knight of established fame will one day drop in upon us, astonishing our best men with his brilliant combinations, and exciting a generous rivalry which may result in developing the latent chess talent now awaiting the hand of the master to call it forth."

    The writer of this epistle signed himself only "J.S.L.," in the fashion so irritating to chess historians of another day. A "J. Levinson" had played in the First Division of the Second Class at the California Chess Congress of 1858, but there is no way to tell if Levinson and J.S.L. were one in the same. In any event, the writer had no way of knowing that his own letter detailing the decline of chess in the Golden State would find its parallel thousands of miles away. The letter appears in the last issue of The Chess Monthly, which was released in May 1861, a few short weeks after the fall of Fort Sumter called the nation to a larger cause. Not long thereafter, in September 1861, the chess column in Frank Leslie's Illustrated News ceased as well, no doubt also a victim to declining interest in chess and the conflagration tearing the country apart. It would only be following the conclusion of the Civil War that most men's interest in chess would return to the regional and national stage, and the progress of chess in California, as elsewhere, would eventually continue with renewed vigor.

    © 2003 John S. Hilbert All Rights Reserved

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