History of the MI Chess Room


Before the Fire 1854-1906

Part Three - Early Club Champions

The best record of early club championships is Guthrie McClain's account in the July 1981 issue of Chess Life which we reprint here. McClain credits a manuscript by Dr. H.J. Ralston, co-founder of the California Chess Reporter, as his primary source. The first mention of a local championship is in The Argonaut column The Chess Player, a tournament at the Mechanics' Institute in 1885 won by J. Waldstein, with N.J. Manson 2nd and Fritz Peipers 3rd. A second tournament in 1885 was won by H. Heinemann, who won eight straight games and ended it right there.

Local tournaments continued, but records are practically non-existant since the closing of The Chess Player in 1888 - until 1920, when a San Francisco Chronicle column began. At that time the strongest players, and frequent club champions, were Elmer W. Gruer of Oakland and Adolph J. Fink, both of them also California champions on several occasions.

Local Champions
By the 1890s, there were regular club championships at the Mechanics' Institute. Gold medals were awarded to the winners. A list of club champions appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle of November 1905.

1894-5               Walter R. Lovegrove
1895                  George Thompson
1896 May           Walter S. Franklin
1896 Oct.           Oscar Samuels
1897                  Oscar Samuels
1898                  Walter R. Lovegrove
1898                  J.J. Dolan
1901                  Valentine Huber
1902                  Hobart K. Eels
1903                  Nathaniel J. Manson
1904                  Wallace E. Nevill
1905                  Arthur B. Stamer

The following article which appeared in the San Francisco Call of April 28, 1896, can be added to the original work by Ralston and McClain and was uncovered by Sibylle Zemitis.


Walter S. Franklin Carries Off the First Prize Gold Medal - Close of the Big Tourney - G. Thompson Succeeds in Securing Second Place After an Exciting Contest

The handicap tournament which has been in progress for some time at the Mechanics' Institute was concluded yesterday. There were thirty-two contestants divided into four classes as follows:

First class scratch - H.O. Chase, Thomas D. Condon, F.H. Curtis, J.M. Durkin, S. Epstein, W.S. Franklin, J. Hirsch, Thomas Martin, E.L. McClure, E. Nevill, Richard Ott, Oscar Samuels, Rudolf Stein, G.R. Thompson.

Second class, at odds of pawn and move - Fred Burnett, JR. Chicton, E.A. Cutting, H. Epstein, R.J. Harding, A. Schuman, C.W. Spalding, George Walker.

Third class, at odds of pawn and two moves - J. Boxall, R.F. McLeod, John Newman, Charles Muller, C. Thomas, J.M. Torres.

Fourth class, at odds of knight - George Burnett, I. Denton, C.L. Miel, A.D. Reynolds.

Dr. Benjamin Marshall, the nestor and patron of chess on the Pacific Coast, and Messrs. H. Hyneman, D. L. Lyons, Joseph Sullivan and Joseph Waldstein acted as judges, and Richard Ott as secretary. The tournament has been conducted under the rules as given in Steinitz's Modern Chess Instructor.

Time limit: Twenty moves per hour. Winners of first two games in each round to remain, losers to drop out entirely. Draws not to count. Following were

the results:

Winners of first round - Messrs. Boxall, Chase, Chilton, Condon, Cutting, Denton. H. Epstein, Franklin, McCluire, McLeod, Ott, Samuels, Stein and Thompson.

Winners of second round - Messrs. Boxall, Condon, Denton, Franklin, McClure, McLeod, Ott and Thompson.

Winners of third round - Messrs. Denton, Franklin and Thompson.

Winners of fourth round - Messrs. Franklin and Thompson.

Winner of fifth and final round - Walter S. Franklin, who consequently obtained first prize, a gold medal, and G.R. Thompson, second prize, a silver medal.

The contest has been an exciting one throughout, and when it finally settled down to between Franklin and Thompson the incidents occurring in the chessroom during the past week will long be remembered. C.R. Thompson has an international reputation, while Walter Franklin is not yet 18 years of age, and two years ago knew nothing about the game.

Walter Franklin is the son of Joseph Franklin, the well-known merchant on Battery Street. He was born in this City, attended the public schools, and is now a student of Cooper's Medical College. The moves were taught him by his father and by Oscar Samuels, another of the youthful champions of the Mechanics' Institute.

Franklin-Thompson [C11]
San Francisco (MI Championship) 1896

1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e5 Nfd7 5.f4 c5 6.dxc5 Nxc5 7.b4 Ncd7 8.a3 Qh4+ 9.g3 Qd8 10.Bg2 f6 11.exf6 Nxf6 12.Nf3 Qb6 13.Qe2 Nc6 14.Bb2 Be7 15.Na4 Qc7 16.c4 0–0 17.Ng5 Kh8 18.0–0 Re8 19.Bxf6 Bxf6 20.Rac1 Bxg5 21.cxd5 Nd4 22.Qe4 Qd7 23.Nc5 Qxd5 24.Qd3 Nf3+ 25.Rxf3 Bf6 26.Qxd5 exd5 27.Rd3 b6 28.Bxd5 Bf5 29.Bxa8 Bxd3 30.Nxd3 Rxa8 31.Ne5 Kg8 32.Kf2 Re8 33.Re1 Bxe5 34.fxe5 Kf7 35.Kf3 Ke6 36.Ke4 Rc8 37.Rd1 Rc4+ 38.Rd4 Rc2 39.Rd6+ Ke7 40.Kd5 Rxh2 41.Kc6 g5 42.Rd7+ Ke6 43.Rxa7 Kxe5 44.Kxb6 Kf5 45.Rc7 Kg4 46.Rc3 h5 47.a4 Rg2 48.a5 Rxg3 49.Rxg3+ Kxg3 50.a6 h4 51.a7 g4 52.a8Q h3 53.Kc5 Kh2 54.Qa2+ Kh1 55.Qb1+ Kg2 56.Qc2+ Kf3 57.Qd1+ Kg3 58.Qe1+ Kf3 59.Qf1+ Kg3 60.Qg1+ Kf3 61.b5 g3 62.b6 h2 63.Qh1+ Kg4 64.Qg2 1–0

Mechanics’ Institute Club Championship 1898

The Mechanics' Institute, San Francisco,  chess tournament was finished in November. Dr. Lovegrove and Mr. Chilton tied for first and second places , and will play a deciding game. The scores in full read:

1-2. Chilton          11 ½ -½

1-2. Lovegrove 11 ½ -½

3. Samuels           8-4

4. Ott          7 ½ -4 ½

5-6. Neville     6 ½ -5 ½

5-6. Eppinger 6 ½ -5 ½

7. Durkin     5-7

8. Torres     4 ½ -7 ½

9. Denton    4-8

10-11.Spaulding 3-9

10-11.Mitchell 3-9

12. Cutting          2-10

13. Fairweather …-12  *

* Fairweather’s score is given as shown with nothing in the win column, but player’s scores for numbers 1-12 come out even.

American Chess Magazine  December 1898

Seattle vs. San Francisco May 1899

The following article was discovered by Chess Director Donaldson during a visit to the J.G. White Collection in Cleveland. It  features several prominent names including Dr. Lovegrove, one of the top San Francisco players for several decades, and W.A. Dickey. The latter is the subject of a monograph by MI member Robert Moore entitled W.A. Dickey: Alaska's First Champion. Dickey is perhaps best known for rediscovering, naming and estimating within 300 feet the height of Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in North America.

"A match by telegraph was played in May between the leaders of chess of San Francisco and Seattle, which proved a most interesting contest.

Seven games were played, with the result that San Francisco won three games, drew three and lost one.  J. M. Babson was the fortunate Seattleite to have a victory fall on his shoulders.  He played a very brilliant game.  The result of the match was not as disappointing to Seattle as figures would indicate.  San Francisco is supposed to be much stronger in chess.

Table No. 1 - J. M. Babson, Seattle, defeated W. J. Manson.  San Francisco, in a King's Gambit Declined . Manson resigned on the fifty-first move.  Babson's attack was very brilliant and sustained throughout the entire play.

Table No. 2 - C. B. Bagley, Seattle, played a draw with Rodney Kendrick of  San Francisco, who is well known on Puget Sound.  The game was a Queen's Gambit Declined.

Table No. 3 - A. M. Cadien, Seattle, was defeated by Oscar Samuels, San Francisco in a Ruy Lopez opening.  Mr. Cadien resigned on the fifty-eighth move.

Table No. 4 - W. A. Dickey, Seattle, was defeated by W. R. Lovegrove, San Francisco, in a Ruy Lopez game.

Table No. 5 - Frank Steele, Seattle, and A.  J. Kuh, San Francisco, played a draw in a Sicilian Defense.  Steele had much the better of the ending.

Table No. 6 - J. W. Fitts, George Linder and Dr. C. W. Baldwin in consultation against Marshall, Cowdrey and Dolan of San Francisco, in consultation.  The Seattle contingent resigned.  The game was called a French Defense.

Table No. 7 - R. W. Barto, A. C. King and E. Lerch, Seattle, played a draw with Yerworth, Lyons and Mitchell, San Francisco.  The game was a Queen's Gambit Declined."

American Chess Magazine, July 1899