Chess Archaeology HomeChess is a scientific game and its literature ought to be placed on the basis of the strictest truthfulness, which is the foundation of all scientific research.W. Steinitz

The Queen City: George Thornton 
and Early Buffalo Chess
      by John S. Hilbert

    Every story begins in the middle.  The history of a town begs the history of those who came to build it.  The history of a club begs the history of those who chose to found it.  And the history of chess in any metropolis of the United States, certainly through the course of the nineteenth century, is also the story of those who helped foster love of the game, both before and after city clubs were officially organized and tournaments begun.
    Indeed, chess in Buffalo, New York, the Queen City as it is known, took a dramatic turn for the better through the efforts of a man born some miles away, in Watertown, New York, on April 28, 1851.  Watertown, just to the east of Lake Ontario and due north of Syracuse, sits closer to that city than it does to Buffalo.  But when George Howard Thornton was ready for college, he headed southwest, past Syracuse and on to the University of Rochester, where he graduated in 1872.  Thornton had decided while at university to earn his living as a stenographer.  As his obituary in the January 31, 1920 issue of the Buffalo Express would state, “he earned nearly $2,000 during his senior year in this manner, and on his graduation decided to follow stenography as a vocation.”  No wonder.  Many college students today would be content to earn $2,000 during their senior year in school, much less earn such money in 1872.  At that time, a mere seven years after the end of the Civil War and decades before Henry Ford would offer his autoworkers the princely sum of five dollars a day for their labor, such pay would have been difficult to reject.  Even more so would it have been difficult to reject such a promising career.
    Following graduation from college in Rochester, Thornton moved to Buffalo, New York, where he quickly became the junior named partner in a stenography firm, Slocum Thornton, a concern that Who’s Who in New York, Third Edition (1907), informs us continued at least for eight years, until 1880, when Thornton was twenty-nine.  Thornton also immediately secured a position as assistant stenographer to the supreme court in the city, a decision that was to have significant consequences for his later career.  Thornton, it was said, “was pre-eminently successful in his chosen field, and as time went on and improved systems of shorthand were developed, he made it a practice to change his methods to maintain the highest standards.”  It was said of him that “his notes are so perfect any stenographer who uses the same system could read them.”  And of course, of paramount interest to us, George H. Thornton also loved chess.
    While working as a stenographer in Buffalo with his own firm, the twenty-four year old Thornton played the following game.  And he did so, as the Dubuque Chess Journal for June 1875 (at pages 266-267) informs us, blindfolded.  His opponent was a Rochester player.  Black’s king is chased around the board’s center in merry fashion, with repeated pins along the e-file until, driven to distraction (and to the edge of the board), he succumbs to a piece sacrifice and mate by rook and knight.
Thornton,GH(bf) — Kimball
Giuoco Piano: Greco
USA Rochester, NY
Annotations by O. A. Brownson Jr.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Nxe4 8.Bxb4 Nxb4 9.Bxf7+ Kxf7 10.Qb3+ d5 11.Qxb4 Re8 12.0-0 c6 13.Ne5+ Ke6
** So far Black has played irreproachably, but now plays unaccountably. 
14.Nc3 Nf6 15.Rae1 Qc7 16.Nxc6+ Kd7 17.Ne5+ Kd8 18.Qb3 Qb6 19.Qxb6+
** 19.Nf7+ wins off hand, but White was blindfolded, and could not be expected to see everything.
19...axb6 20.Nf7+ Kd7 21.Rxe8 Nxe8 22.Ne5+ Ke6 23.a3 Ra5 24.Re1 Kf6 25.b4
** The termination is admirably played by White. 
25...Rxa3 26.Nxd5+ Kg5 27.f4+ Kh6 28.g4 b5 29.Nf7+ Kg6 30.Nh8+ Kh6
31.Re5 Bxg4 32.Rg5 Be6 33.Ne7 Re3
** Black seems to be in the dark here, 33...g6 was safe; 33...Ra1+ draws easily and might have won.
34.Nf5+ Bxf5 35.Nf7#  1-0.
Dubuque Chess Journal, 1875.06, p266-267
    Thornton, of course, also played chess in his new home city, Buffalo, and was successful there as well. The following game, also from the pages of the Dubuque Chess Journal, though slightly later (December 1875, page 548) shows the young stenographer at work in his own city.
Thornton,GH — Ensor,AW
Evans Gambit: Anderssen
USA Buffalo, NY
Annotations by O. A. Brownson Jr.
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Bc5 6.0-0 d6 7.d4 exd4 8.cxd4 Bb6 9.d5 Na5 10.Bb2 Nxc4 11.Qa4+
** 11.Bxg7 wins rook and pawn for bishop, giving White an easy victory. 
** As this shuts in the bishop, the move 11...Bd7 seems preferable.
12.Qxc4 Ne7 13.Nc3 
** 13.Bxg7 at this juncture would be hazardous. Black would answer 13...Rg8 and if White plays the bishop at the fourteenth move, 14...Rxg2+. If 15.Kxg2 checkmate follows in a few moves, while if 14.Qc3, protecting the bishop at g7, Black plays 14...Qg4 winning the bishop. 
13...0-0 14.Na4 f5
** Not so good as 14...f6 holding Whites e-pawn in check, and neutralizing the contemplated attack [by way of] c3.
15.e5 f4 
** Apparently to make room for the knight. 
** First rate; effectively shutting up bishop and rook, which are useless as though off the board. 
16...Qe8 17.Nxb6 cxb6
** If 17...axb6, then 18.Qxc7. 
18.Qc3 Nf5 19.Nh4 Qe7 20.Nxf5 Rxf5 21.Rac1 f3 
** Compelled to move somewhere.
22.g4 Qg5 23.Kh1 Rxd5 
** 23...Rf8 is better, but the game is desperate.
** 24.Qxc8+ Qd8 25.Qxb7 Rg5 26.Rc7 Qf8 27.Rf7 [and resignation might be his best move—Author].
24...h5 25.Rg1 Qe5
** Demoralized. 25...Rc5 would now equalize the game.
26.Qxc8+ (...), 1-0.
Dubuque Chess Journal, 1875.12, p548
    The Buffalo player also played correspondence chess to keep himself active.  Here is an encounter with a Niagara Falls player in which Thornton misses his best chances.  The game made the pages of the May 1881 issue of Brentano’s Chess Monthly.
Lamont,WL — Thornton,GH
Vienna: Steinitz
USA; Buffalo, NY & Niagra Falls, NY
Annotations by Alfred P. Barnes
1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.f4 exf4 4.d4 Qh4+ 5.Ke2 Qh5+ 6.Nf3 g5
** Staunton seems to be in favor of this line of play as he remarks that Black will have a dangerous power of attack in few more moves. 
7.Nd5 Kd8 8.Ke1 
** We have not found any reply to White’s last move that has given us entire satisfaction, and hence arrive at the conclusion that the variation is not favorable to the second player; at this point however, we think White should play 8.Kf2.
8...Bg7 9.c3 Nge7 
** We prefer the other knight to this square because, if White should neither exchange nor retreat, the knight can be dislodged by the c-pawn.
** White makes an error here of which, however, Black does not avail himself.  The text move is an ingenious one, although faulty.  The proper move seems to be 10.Be2. 
10...Nxd5 11.exd5 Re8+ 12.Kf2 fxg3+
** Very badly played; there was nothing for it but 12...g4, which ought to result favorably to Black.  We see no better move than 13.dxc6 for White, and give a few variations: 12...g4:  A) 13.Bxf4 Qxd5 14.Ng5 Qxh1 15.Nxf7+ Ke7 16.Qxg4 and Black can save himself by 16...Kf8.  B) 13.Ng5 Qxg5 14.dxc6 fxg3+ 15.hxg3 (15.Kxg3 Re3+ 16.Bxe3 Qxe3+ 17.Kg2 Qe4+ 18.Kg1 Bh6 and wins) 15...Qf5+.  C) 13.dxc6 fxg3+ 14.Kg2 (14.Kg1 is clearly ruinous) 14...gxf3+ 15.Qxf3 Qxf3+ 16.Kxf3 dxc6 17.hxg3 Bf5 and Black retains the pawn.
13.Kg2 g4 
** Too late now.
14.Ng5 h6 15.Bd3
** Well played; if the knight be taken the queen is lost.
15...f5 16.Bxf5 Rf8
** He might as well risked 16.hxg5.
17.hxg3 Qe8 18.Re1 Ne7 19.Bxg4 Qg6
** If now 19...hxg5 20.Bxg5 Bf6 21.Bh5 etc.
20.Qe2 Bf6 21.Ne4 Rh8 22.Nxf6 Qxf6 23.Rf1 Qg7 24.Bh5 Rf8 25.Qe5
** White terminates the game in good style.  Of course neither queen nor rook can be taken. 
25...Qh8 26.Rf7 Nxd5 27.Qxd5 1-0.
Brentano’s Chess Monthly, 1881.05, p23
    But as for most of us, chess was not Thornton’s main occupation.  In 1882 his work as assistant stenographer for the court paid off handsomely when he was named official stenographer of the Supreme Court, Eighth Judicial District, a position he held for the next thirty-eight years.  And 1882 was not merely the date of his career advancement: “In order to fulfill his duties more efficiently, he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1882.  In that year, he was elected president of the New York State Stenographers’ Association.”  Yet in that same year, 1882, Thornton won the New York State Championship, as listed in Chess in New York State, December 1971 (then the name of the official publication for the New York State Chess Association).  But his work was paramount.  By the next year Thornton was editor of the Modern Stenographic Journal, a Buffalo publication.  And he was already the author of one book, Modern Stenography.  He would also author another work, entitled Phonographic Copy Books, in 1884.
    Thornton’s successful career as a stenographer did not prevent him from being an active member of many clubs, and indeed, no doubt with his growing social position in the city, his membership in various clubs became all the more important for the contacts they helped him maintain.  As was told much later, he became a member of the “Buffalo, University, Acacia, Yacht, Whist and Chess clubs.”  Yet his active club life and career in stenography did not entirely prevent him from playing some very interesting chess, and against some very interesting opponents.
    In 1884 Thornton traveled to New York City, then and now the heart of chess in the state as well as the country. Some of his travels were reported by Charles Tutton in his fledgling chess column in the Buffalo Sunday Times.  Tutton, in the course of slightly over two years (1884 through 1886), for example, would publish no fewer than twenty-nine of Thornton’s chess games.  The column itself was indicative of the growth of interest in chess in Buffalo.  And the extent of coverage offered Thornton was an even clearer indication of his dominance over the local chess scene.
    Now thirty-four years old, and well established in his field (he would shortly become president of the International Stenographers’ Association), Thornton could indulge his interest in chess when on trips, at least to the extent of playing a series of offhand games at the Manhattan Chess Club.  One of his games appeared in the Buffalo Sunday Times for July 27, 1884, and featured his play against a rather well-known opponent.  The game was said to have been “played recently at the Manhattan Chess Club.”
Thornton,GH — Steinitz,W
KGA: Kieseritzky (Paulsen)
USA New York, NY (Manhattan CC)
Annotations by Charles Tutton
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.h4 g4 5.Ne5 Bg7 6.d4 Nf6 7.Bc4 d5 8.exd5 0-0 9.Bxf4
** Not considered as good as 9.0-0.
9...Nxd5 10.Bg3? Ne3 11.Qe2 Qxd4 12.c3 Qb6 13.Bb3 Be6 14.Nd2 Nc6 15.Nxc6 Bxb3 16.Ne7+ Kh8 17.axb3 Rfe8 18.Nc4 Nxc4 19.bxc4 Bf6 20.0-0-0 Rxe7 21.Qxg4 Bg7 22.Rhf1 Qb3 23.Rf2 Rf8 24.Rd3 Re6 25.Rxf7 Rxf7 26.Qxe6 Rf1+ 27.Be1 Qb6 28.Qxb6 axb6 29.Kd2 Kg8 30.Rd8+ Bf8
** But for this move White would have stood a good show to win. 
31...Bd6 32.Ke2 Rg1 33.Kf2 Rh1 34.Ke2 Rg1 ½-½.
Buffalo Sunday Times, 1884.07.27
    Clearly Thornton could play a decent game of chess.  In 1884 Wilhelm Steinitz, world chess champion,  was only forty-eight years old, and not past his prime.  Steinitz had left England the year before to come to America, where he would eventually take United States citizenship.  He had won Vienna 1882, placed second at the great London 1883 event, and two years after the game above was played would crush Zukertort by a score of ten wins to five, with five games drawn.  Other successful defenses of his title were still further ahead, against Gunsberg and Chigorin, before he would lose his title to Emanuel Lasker in 1894.
    Thornton did not play only Steinitz at the Manhattan Chess Club on this trip.  Tutton published another game of his on August 10, 1884, against another New York player of some stature,  John S. Ryan.  The brief notes are again by Tutton.  His note after Thornton’s thirty-seventh move reveals the world champion was watching the game as play unfolded.
Thornton,GH — Ryan,JS
USA New York, NY (Manhattan CC)
Annotations by Charles Tutton
1.e4 g6
** No author known to us looks favorably upon this opening, preferring the queens fianchetto, 1...b6.
2.d4 Bg7
** Mr. Potter prefers 2...d6, while others contend that 2...f5 is Blacks best reply.
3.Be3 c5 4.Nf3 Nc6 5.c3 cxd4 6.cxd4 Nf6 7.Bd3 Ng4 8.Nc3 Nb4 9.Bc4 0-0 10.h3 Nf6 11.Nh2 d6 12.f4 e6 13.a3 Nc6 14.Nf3 Nd7 15.Qd2 a6 16.0-0 b5 17.Ba2 b4 18.axb4 Nxb4 19.Bb3 Bb7 20.d5 exd5 21.Nxd5 Nxd5 22.Bxd5 Bxd5 23.exd5 Nf6 24.Rab1 Ne4 25.Qd3 Re8 26.b4 Qe7 27.Rfe1 Bc3 28.Bd2 Qa7+ 29.Kh2 Nxd2 30.Nxd2
** 30.Rxe8+ would have saved the pawn.
30...Rxe1 31.Rxe1 Bxb4 32.Re2 a5 33.Ne4 f5 34.Ng5 Rc8 35.Ne6 Rc1 36.Nd4 Rc3
** Mr. Ryan thought that had he made some other reply to the one actually made to this move he might have escaped the force of the attack, but Mr. Steinitz, who was watching the game, pointed out that White had a forced won game after this move, and that Blacks game could hardly be saved after his thirty-second move.
37...Kg7 38.Ne6+ Kf6 39.Qe8 g5 40.fxg5# 1-0.
Buffalo Sunday Times, 1884.08.10
    John S. Ryan was not an easy man to beat.  Thirty-five at the time he faced Thornton, Ryan would be chosen eight years later, in the fall of 1892, as one of the eight strongest New York City players to face a young Emanuel Lasker for one of a series of three game exhibition matches arranged on Lasker’s first trip to the United States.  The New York Tribune for October 18, 1892, for instance, would refer to Ryan as “the brilliant and popular amateur.”  Although Ryan could not put a dent in Lasker’s chess armor when they battled, the very fact that he was selected at all as one of the eight players to face the German phenomenon is itself a testimony to his strength in the city.
    At least one additional game has survived from the Buffalo player’s time at the Manhattan Chess Club.  Here he faces a young man, then only twenty-one years of age, who would later face, and defeat, Jackson Whipps Showalter for the chess championship of the United States.  The game, and notes, appeared in the pages of the Buffalo Sunday Times, this time on August 17, 1884.
Lipschütz,S — Thornton,GH
KGA: Classical Knight (Hanstein)
USA New York, NY (Manhattan CC)
Annotations by Charles Tutton
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.Bc4 Bg7 5.d4 d6 6.0-0 h6 7.c3 Ne7
** The Handbuch gives 7...Qe7 as best here.
8.g3 g4 9.Bxf4 
** 9.Nh4 we think preferable here, although the Handbuch prefers the text move.
9...gxf3 10.Qxf3 Be6 11.d5 Bh3 12.Rf2 Qd7 13.Be3
** We would suggest 13.Bxd6 as a substitute for the text move. 
13...Ng6 14.Bd4 Be5 15.Na3 a6 16.b4 Bg4 17.Qe3 b5 18.Bb3 Qe7 19.Raf1 Rh7 20.c4 bxc4 21.Nxc4 Bxd4 22.Qxd4 Nd7 23.Ba4 Kd8 24.Bc6 Rb8 25.Na5 Rb6 26.a3 Bh3 27.Rc1 Qe5 28.Qc4 Nb8 29.Ba4 f6 30.b5 axb5 31.Bxb5 h5 32.Qe2 Bg4 33.Qf1
** Beautifully conceived and White falls into the trap.
34.Nc4 Qd4 35.Nxb6 hxg3 36.hxg3 Bf3
** And now wishes he had not done it.
Buffalo Sunday Times, 1884.08.17
    Later in the year Thornton traveled north of Buffalo into Canada, stopping in November in Toronto.  While at a club there, he played an offhand game that Steinitz found commendable enough to include in his inaugural number, January 1885, of his International Chess Magazine, at pages 22-23.  Steinitz’s notes are included below. Interestingly enough, Thornton’s opponent, C. W. Phillips, may well have been the same C. W. Phillips who near the end of the century would win the Continental Correspondence Chess Tournament, organized by a group of Philadelphia players, including one of that city’s finest, Walter Penn Shipley. 
Thornton,GH — Phillips,CW
KGA: Kieseritzky (Stockwhip)
CAN Toronton, ON (Athenaeum Club)
Annotations by Wilhelm Steinitz
1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.h4 g4 5.Ne5 h5 
** Paulsens defense 5...Bg7 at this point is now generally acknowledged the strongest.  It was first adopted by its author against Dubois in 1862, and its merit has been tested since in various important match games as well as in analytical treatises.  The answer 6.Nxg4 subjects White to a strong attack, e.g. 5...Bg7 6.Nxg4 d5 7.exd5 Qe7+ 8.Kf2 best, for if he interposes bishop or queen, Black captures the knight. 8...Bd4+ 9.Kf3 h5 10.Nf2 Bg4+ 11.Nxg4 hxg4+ 12.Kxg4 Nf6+ 13.Kh3 Rxh4+ 14.Kxh4 Ne4+ and wins.
6.Bc4 Rh7 7.d4 d6 8.Nd3 f3 9.gxf3 Be7 10.Be3 Bxh4+ 11.Kd2 gxf3 12.Qxf3 Bg4 13.Qf1
** Here Steinitz gave as superior for White 13.Qf4, offering as a likely continuation 13.Qf4 Nc6 14.Nc3 Nxd4 15.Bxd4 Bg5, but then continuing with 16.Bxh8, apparently in formulating his analysis having placed Black’s rook on its original square, rather than the square it actually occupied, h7.  His note continued 16.Bxf4+ 17.Nxf4, claiming White would then have three pieces for the queen and a fine game.  The continuation no doubt is the product of the world champion incorrectly setting up the board.—Author
13...Bg5 14.Nf4 Qe7
** A weak move; the queen is badly posted here.  He ought to have first developed 14...Nc6 and then brought out the queen to d7.
15.Nc3 Nf6 16.Re1
** Excellent for offensive and defensive purposes.
** He obviously could not play 16...Nxe4+, for White after retaking would have withdrawn the bishop to g1, and if then Black answered ...Bxf4+, White would simply play Qxf4, since Blacks queen remained pinned.
** We give a diagram of this interesting position.
** White conducts the attack vigorously.
** Ruinous.  The proper play was 17...Nxd5, and if then 18.exd5, he could remove the king to d8 with a fairly defensible game and a pawn ahead. 
18.Rxe3 cxd5 19.exd5 Be6 20.dxe6 Kf8 21.exf7 Qd8 22.Rxh5 
** Pretty and leading to an attractive termination.  He could also have won by 22.Qxf6 followed by Re8+, Rg8+, and queening the f-pawn. 
** 22...Nxh5 would have prolonged the struggle, but only for a little while, for White after winning the queen by Re8+, would ultimately play Qf5, attacking the rook and also threatening Qc8+. 
23.Re8+ Nxe8 24.fxe8Q+ 1-0.
International Chess Magazine, 1885.01, p22-23
    Thornton traveled the following year to Hamburg, participating that July in the Fourth German Chess Federation Congress, held in that city.  There he played in the fourth preliminary section in hopes of qualifying for the final of the hauptturnier, the winner of which would be recognized as having achieved the title of master.  His hopes, however, were not to be satisfied.  And his play, no doubt, was highly disappointing, both to him and his friends.  Thornton finished last in his section, managing only a third round win against the seventh place finisher in his preliminary group.  Here is his loss to his section’s winner, the player who finished second in the finals of that year’s competition.  The brief comments are my own translation from Der Vierte Kongress des Deutschen Schachbundes, Hamburg, 1885, published in Leipzig the following year.
Bauer,W — Thornton,GH
Evans Gambit: Declined
GER Hamburg (Hauptturnier, Section 4)
Annotations by Curt von Bardeleben 
(Translated by John Hilbert)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bb6 5.a4 a6 6.0-0
** Preferable is first 6.c3.
6...d6 7.c3 Be6
** Far stronger was 7...Bg4.  Blacks play lacks energy.
8.Na3 Nf6 9.Qe2 0-0 10.d3 Nd7? 11.Bg5 Ne7? 12.Bxe6 fxe6 13.Qa2 Kf7 14.Be3 h6 15.a5 Ba7 16.Bxa7 Rxa7 17.Nh4 g5 18.Nf5 Nxf5 19.exf5 d5 
** Better is 19...Qf6.
20.d4 c6
** Wrong would be 20...e4 because of 21.fxe6+ Kxe6 22.Rae1 Nf6 23.f3.
21.fxe6+ Kxe6 22.Rae1 Kd6 23.dxe5+ Nxe5 24.Qe2 Qf6 25.Qe3 Raa8 26.Qc5+ Kd7 27.Rd1 Qd6 28.Qb6 Qc7 29.Qe3 Rf6 30.c4 Ke6 31.Qc5 Qd6 32.Qb6 Rb8 33.Rfe1 Rf5 34.Nc2 Rf4 35.cxd5+ cxd5 36.Rxd5
** A pretty offer of the rook.
36...Qxb6 37.Rdxe5+ Kf6 38.axb6 Rc4 39.Ne3  1-0.
Der Vierte Kongress des Deutschen Schachbundes, Leipzig 1886, p222
    Returning to Buffalo he continued to expand his contacts and responsibilities.  “He reported the proceedings of many notable cases and gatherings.  In 1889, he was official stenographer of the assembly and the following year was elected to the same position in the state senate.”
    By 1891 Thornton, as reported many years later in the Buffalo Courier Express for January 16, 1938, had also become involved in chess organization in Buffalo.  “Prior to 1891 Buffalo chess enthusiasts played the game in small informal groups.  In the fall of that year 80 players, under the leadership of Harry Richmond and George Thornton, formed the local chess center which a year later became the Buffalo Chess Club.  The first clubrooms were located in the Hermitage Building at Court and Franklin Streets.”  The next year Thornton was official stenographer for the New York State Constitutional Convention. And other Herculean efforts filled his time:  “Among his monumental works was the reporting of the proceedings of the Fassett Committee of the legislature which filled 4,600 printed pages.  For several years he also reported the meetings of the Chautauqua assemblies, under contract to provide at least twenty-six newspaper columns of matter daily.”
    And yet chess could still draw him from his labors, though not as readily, nor as consistently.  The midsummer meeting of the New York State Chess Association in 1894 was held in Buffalo, under the auspices of the very club Thornton had helped create.  Showalter won a small, double round robin event over Pillsbury, Albin, and George Farnsworth, the latter Buffalo’s own representative.  Walter Penn Shipley, the well-known Philadelphia player, finished first in that meeting’s first class tournament, but no mention of Thornton was made.  No doubt his professional obligations prevented his participation.
    During the fall of 1895, and in all likelihood into the early weeks of 1896, Thornton conducted a correspondence game against Lieutenant F. L. Palmer, then of the 21st Infantry, United States Army, located in Plattsburg, New York.  The Albany Evening Journal for February 8, 1896, from which the game and notes are taken, announced the game as taking place between Palmer and  Thornton, “the well-known Buffalo player.”  However well known to readers Thornton might have been, he found himself up against stiff competition when he faced the Lieutenant.
Palmer,FL — Thornton,GH
Evans Gambit
USA; Buffalo, NY & Plattsburg, NY
Annotations by W. H. K. Pollock
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5 6.d4 exd4 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Ba3 d6 9.e5
** A comparison of the opening of this game with that in the famous recent encounters between Chigorin and Steinitz will go far to help the student how to discover the very best moves in this branch of the Evans Gambit.  The games referred to diverge as follows: 6.0-0 d6 7.d4 exd4 8.cxd4 Nf6 9.e5 dxe5 10.Ba3 (we believe 10.Qb3 to be stronger) 10...Be6 11.Bb5 Qd5 12.Qa4, where Black has a choice of three moves, 12...0-0, 12...Nd7, and 12...Bd7, of which the latter is probably the best. 
** 9...dxe5 would have given White a terrible attack by 10.Qb3. 
10.Bb5 Ne4 11.cxd4
** Much stronger seems 11.Qa4 Bxc3 (11...Bb6 12.Bxc6+ bxc6 13.Qxc6+ Bd7 14.Qxd5 Nxc3 15.Nxc3 dxc3 16.Ng5 Be6 17.Qc6+ Bd7 18.Qf3 Be6 19.Rad1 and White wins) 12.Bxc6+ bxc6 13.Nxc3 Nxc3 14.Qxc6+ Bd7 15.Qc5 Nb5 16.Bb4 and if  16...a5 17.a4 axb4 18.axb5 with a strong attack.
** The bishop should generally be left at a5 as long as safe, as it prevents the development of Whites b1-knight. We agree with Lieut. Palmer that here 11...Bd7 is much better. 
12.Bxc6+ bxc6 13.Qc2
** This evinces care and is well played. 
13...Bb7 14.Nbd2 Nxd2
** Mr. Palmer says “14...Ng5 was much better. If then 14...Ng5 15.Nxg5 Qxg5 16.Nf3 Qg6 and then castles with a pawn ahead. Or if 14...Ng5 15.Rac1 Ne6 16.Nb3 and Black still has a good game.  After 14...Nxd2 it would seem as if White must win.”
15.Qxd2 h6
** Fearing 16.Qg5, if 15...Qd7.  But as White breaks in another way, it proves but lost time. 15...h5 might be suggested but there is really no good move. 
16.Rac1 Qd7 17.e6 fxe6 18.Ne5 Qd8 19.Rxc6 Qf6 
** White presses his attack skillfully; if 19...Bxc6, 20.Qc2 wins instantly. 
20.Qc2 Kd8 21.Qa4 Kc8
** White announces mate in 14 moves.  The longest variation is as follows: 21...Kc8 22.Rxc7+ Bxc7 23.Qd7+ Kb8 24.Rb1! Qxe5 25.dxe5 Rd8 26.Qc6 Bb6 27.Bd6+ Rxd6 28.Qxd6+ Kc8 29.Rc1+ Bc6 30.Qxc6+ Kd8 31.Qxa8+ Kd7 32.Qb7+ Ke8 33.Rc8+ Bd8 34.Qc7 and mates next move.
Albany Evening Journal, 1896.02.08
    Appearances in the chess press became rarer for the Buffalo stenographer as his professional obligations became more pronounced.  Five years later, early in 1901, however, there is record of Thornton participating as team captain for his city against rival Rochester in an eight board team match played by telegraph, thus obviating the need for either team to travel the sixty-some miles between cities through Western New York’s Snow Belt in January.  The Chicago Tribune on February 10, 1901 published the short draw played at board one between team captains Luce and Thornton, concluding the game represented “a species of Vienna draws.  Lasker or Pillsbury would now begin to try to find a win.  There’s lots of fight left.”  Why Thornton offered a draw at this point is unclear, though the match did finally concluded in a draw, 4-4.  The game is given here, for the record.  Why the columnist for The Chicago Tribune decided to include it, if only a “Vienna draw,” is left to the conjecture of the readers.
Luce,ND — Thornton,GH
 Bd 1
Queens Gambit Declined
USA; Rochester, NY & Chicago, IL (telegraph)
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.e3 Nc6 5.a3 Be7 6.Nf3 0-0 7.Bd3 dxc4 8.Bxc4 a6 9.h4 Nd5 10.Ne4 f5 11.Nc5 b5 12.Ba2 Bxc5 13.dxc5 h6 14.Nd4 Nxd4 15.Qxd4 Qf6 16.Bd2 Qxd4 17.exd4 Bd7 18.0-0-0 c6 ½-½.
The Chicago Tribune, 1901.02.10
    A fifty year old Thornton also played in the 1901 midsummer meeting of the same association, once again held in Buffalo.  Buffalo that summer was once more a natural choice, as the cool Lake Erie breezes and the presence of the Pan American Exposition of 1901 gave both players and their spouses added incentive to travel by train to the western reaches of New York.  Thornton did not disappoint this time, winning the first class tournament with a score of 7½-1½.  Indeed, the Buffalo Morning Express for August 13, 1901, wrote with obvious hometown pride that Thornton was probably “the strongest player above the Bronx,” and one who could “always be distinguished by the characteristic right hand twirl of a luxuriant mustache.”
    Two Thornton games from the nine round, 1901 first class tournament held in Buffalo have survived, one of which is given below.  The Buffalo Express for August 14, 1901, from which the score is taken, mentioned as well that “Thornton was forced to surrender the exchange, but obtained for it a strong combination of pawns well up on the kingside which he forced into a beautiful win, in spite of all his opponent could do.  The game merits consideration by chessplayers.”
Thornton,GH — Dixon
Italian: Four Knights (Pianissimo)
USA Buffalo, NY (First Class)
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.d3 Bc5 5.Nc3 0-0 6.Bg5 d6 7.Nd5 B  g4 8.c3 Na5 9.Nxf6+ gxf6 10.Bh6 Re8 11.Bb5 c6 12.Ba4 b5 13.Bc2 Bb6 14.h3 Bd7 15.g4 Kh8 16.Qe2 Rg8 17.Nh4 f5 18.Nxf5 Bxf5 19.exf5 Qh4 20.Bd2 f6 21.b4 Nb7 22.Qf3 h5 23.Ke2 d5 24.Qg3 Qxg3 25.fxg3 Nd6 26.Kf3 Rae8 27.Rae1 Rg7 28.Re2 Bc7
29.gxh5 Nxf5 30.g4 e4+ 31.dxe4 Ng3 32.Rhe1 Nxe2 33.Rxe2 Rge7 34.Bd3 dxe4+ 35.Rxe4 Be5 36.Re2 Rd8 37.Bf5 Rde8 38.h4 Bd6 39.Rxe7 Bxe7 40.g5 Rd8 41.Bf4 Rd5 42.Be4 Rd1 43.g6 f5 44.Be5+ Kg8 45.Bxf5 Rf1+ 46.Kg4 Rg1+ 47.Kh3 Bd8 48.h6 Rh1+ 49.Kg2 Rxh4 50.Be6+ Kf8 51.g7+ 1-0.
Buffalo Express, 1901.08.14
    But time stands still for no one. Though every story in a sense does begin in the middle, as the opening of this article suggests, for each of us, individually, the end is very clear cut.  Thornton continued his work as official stenographer to the Buffalo courts until late in 1919, when, while working in Judge Brown’s courtroom in the city, he was stricken by complications associated with heart disease.  After an illness of eleven weeks during which he did not leave his bed, he succumbed to heart failure at his home early on the morning of January 30, 1920.  He was buried a few days later in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Buffalo, New York, last resting place of the Thirteenth President of the United States, Millard Fillmore.  From his obituary we also learn that Thornton was survived by his wife and three grown daughters.  A personal tragedy in his life clearly was the death of his son, William L. Thornton, a physician, several years before his own passing.  No one wants to bury a child.
    Buffalo had lost one of its distinguished citizens, and its chess community had lost one of its founding fathers.  Though George Howard Thornton hardly played chess internationally, or even nationally, he remained throughout his life a valued member of the Buffalo chess community, one who helped western New York chess flourish.  A solid club player, as we have seen, he could at times give a fight to the best of players.  In a sense every city has its George Thornton, and for their contributions to chess on the local level, they deserve better than to be totally forgotten.  And with Thornton’s passing, the Queen City had indeed, for a time, lost its King.
© John S. Hilbert 1998
The author wishes to thank Nick Pope and Andy Ansel for their help with sources for this article.

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