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

Napier: The Search Continues
by John S. Hilbert

    When I first finished working on Napier: The Forgotten Chess Master (Caissa Editions 1997), I was pleased to record some additional information that had come my way through the kind and generous help of fellow researchers.  Many by then had known of my interest for the past two years in the English born, Brooklyn Boy Wonder of the 1890s.  That additional information appeared in an “Addendum” to the book, at pages 352-354, and included one ending and another simultaneous game.
    One of the beauties of writing and publishing material on historical chess figures is that one quickly learns there is a small, but devoted, coterie of chess historians and aficionados quite willing to help elucidate, and at times correct, details concerning the great players of our game.  Depending, I suppose, on the personality of the writer and the spirit in which the readers respond, such communications can either be seen as the irksome bother of flies around a dying water buffalo, or else the treasured sharing between writer and readers that forms the best each has to offer.  I am pleased to count myself among the latter group, and am even more pleased to count in the latter group the very kind readers who have taken the time to respond to Napier and offer additional material and corrections.  Thanks to their thoughtful communications, I am able to offer here additional information about Napier, his opponents, and his games.
    For those unfamiliar with the player, William Ewart Napier was born in England in 1881, though his family quickly moved to the United States.  By the early 1890s, when Napier was just entering his teenage years, his family moved to Brooklyn, New York, then still an independent city and not a borough of New York City.  He quickly came under the wing of Hermann Helms, later known as the Dean of American chess, and eventual publisher of the American Chess Bulletin.  Napier had come to American chess at a fascinating time.  He joined the prestigious Brooklyn Chess Club, with members including the likes of Showalter and Pillsbury, literally within one week of another young man: Frank James Marshall, future United States Champion.
    Napier, though, rocketed into the public eye when as a sixteen-year-old he crushed the somewhat older Marshall in a match by a score of seven wins to one loss and three draws.  He soon won the Brooklyn Chess Club champion, and as that club’s representative at the 1897 annual midsummer gatherings of the New York State Chess Association defeated Wilhelm Steinitz, ex-champion of the world, in a level game.  Unfortunately for lovers of the game, Napier’s chess career was quite short.  He played at Monte Carlo 1902, his first international tournament, winning a brilliancy prize for his game against Chigorin.  He finished better at Hanover 1902, competed at Cambridge Springs 1904, where his loss to Emanuel Lasker is still considered one of the finest games played in the early decades of this century, and then won first prize at London 1904.  A few weeks later he became, thanks to his British citizenship, the first British Chess Federation Champion, after winning a short playoff match against the English player Atkins.  He played a drawn match with Mieses, lost badly to Teichmann, and defeated Marshall in a short match limited to the Rice Gambit.  Returning to the United States, Napier gave up competitive chess for a career in insurance, though from time to time he would play an occasional game.  No doubt the world gained another merely competent insurance executive at the expense of losing, potentially, one of its finest chess talents of the period.  There is no telling what heights Napier might have climbed had he stayed with chess and had devoted all his energies to the game.  He finally died in September 1952, long forgotten by the chess world  but for a few good friends.
    Although I brought together all the information I could concerning Napier in my book, including over 320 of his games, many of them annotated by contemporary sources, as well as extensive biographical information both about Napier as well as about his adversaries, such a search was, of course, in the end impossible to complete.  All which leads me back to where I started in this article: my thanks to those who have kindly given me more information about Napier, including additional games.
    Tony Gillam, of The Chess Player, and who throughout the production of Napier was a tireless contributor of both background information and games played in England, was the first to send along additional information.  In January 1998, two months after the book was published, Tony mailed in the following Napier game, originally published in the Manchester Guardian for April 14, 1905, at page 8.  The most remarkable thing about this simultaneous game, and quite revealing of Napier’s character, was that despite the fact he lost it, he submitted it for publication.
Lawrence,P — Napier,WE
Giuoco Piano: Greco (Möller)
GBR Reading
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.c3 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+ 7.Nc3 Nxe4 8.0-0 Bxc3 9.d5 Ne5 10.bxc3 Nxc4 11.Qd4 0-0 12.Qxe4 Nd6 13.Qd3 Ne8 14.Re1 d6 15.Rb1 a5 16.Bg5 f6 17.Bd2 g6 18.Nd4 Ng7 19.Re4 Re8 20.Rbe1 Rxe4 21.Qxe4 Bd7 22.Qh4 Qf8 23.c4 b6 24.Bc3 Nf5 25.Nxf5 Bxf5 26.Bxf6 Re8 27.Rxe8 Qxe8 28.Bc3 h5 29.Qf6 Qd7 30.Qh8+ Kf7 31.Bf6 1-0.
Manchester Guardian, 1905.04.14
    The next game includes some additional embarrassment for me, as I stupidly forgot to include in my notes who was kind enough to send it in to me.  If the contributor of this game recognizes it, by all means, please contact me and help me correct my error.  The game did not appear in Napier despite the source, the American Chess Bulletin, having largely been checked.  I say “largely” as it became clear early on that Napier was inactive in chess for decades at a time, and it seemed unlikely he was active at this time in the 1930s.  The fact that this game exists, of course, demonstrates the old adage that a researcher should never make such assumptions.  And of course, making such an assumption was the very mistake I made.
Napier,WE — Winkler,L
Sicilian: Closed
USA New York, NY (Metropolitan Chess League)
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 Nc6 3.d3 g6 4.Be3 d6 5.g3 Bg7 6.Bg2 e6 7.Qd2 Qb6 8.Nd1 Nge7 9.Ne2 Bd7 10.c3 e5 11.b4 a5 12.bxc5 dxc5 13.Nb2 Nd8 14.0-0 Ne6 15.f4 exf4 16.gxf4 f5 17.e5 Qc7 18.d4 Bc6
19.d5 Rd8 20.c4 b5 21.Qc2 Nxd5 22.cxd5 Bxd5 23.Bxd5 Rxd5 24.Nc3 Rxe5 25.fxe5 Qxe5 26.Ncd1 Nd4 27.Bxd4 Qxd4+ 28.Nf2 Qxb2 29.Rae1+ Kf7 30.Qxc5 Bf8 31.Qc7+ Kf6 32.Ne4+ Ke6 33.Nd6+ Kf6 34.Qd8+ Kg7 35.Ne8+ 1-0.
American Chess Bulletin, 1938.01-02, p10
    Quite recently, thanks to the magic of email, I received from English chess historian Chris Ravilious some quite useful information concerning Napier.  The first correction is quite entertaining, at least to me.  Mr. Ravilious writes that on page 279 of Napier, in my brief summary of Horace Cheshire’s career, I mention his analytic skills, adding that “he was referred to as the ‘public analyst’ of Hastings, and was kindly thought of for his ready willingness to help elucidate any position.”  As Ravilious tellingly writes, “I get the impression from this that you believe Cheshire’s title of ‘public analyst’ was a semi-jocular reference to his chessboard skills.  In fact, though everything you say about his kindly disposition and readiness to share his strategic insights is true, the title of ‘Public Analyst’ refers simply to his job.  He was a chemist employed by the local council to conduct analysis of substances in, for example, cases of food adulteration.  I can’t decide whether you knew this and were consciously pointing up the resemblance between the two sides of Cheshire’s career, or whether you assumed ‘public analyst’ to be quite simply a tribute to his chess skills.”  I don’t suppose Mr. Ravilious can see how red my face is, but I freely admit here that at the time of writing I was firmly committed to believing that “public analyst” was a kind of Johnny-Appleseed-of-chess reference, accenting Cheshire’s good nature and willingness to cultivate appreciation of the game with whomever showed interest My thanks to Mr. Ravilious.
    Mr. Ravilious also notes that my reference to Napier’s partner in Game Number 267, a consultation game against Blackburne and Cheshire, was not, in fact, William Henry Watts, future editor of the London 1922 tournament book , but rather J. A. Watt.   J. A. Watt, it now appears likely, was also one of Napier’s opponents in Game Number 273.  According to Mr. Ravilious, William Henry Watts had no known association with the Hastings Club, which had hosted the series of consultation games Napier and Blackburne conducted.  Mr. Ravilious has also provided some interesting details about this “other” Watt With his permission, I quote Mr. Ravilious at length: 
    “Who then was the confusingly-named Watt?  There’s a brief mention of him in the Book of the Hastings International Masters’ Chess Tournament, 1922, which - just to complicate things further - was edited by W. H. Watts!  On p.9 of the book we learn that ‘Mr. J. A. Watt, of the Waverley Hotel’, accommodated some of the players.  This may possibly be J. A. Watt’s only appearance in formal chess literature, but he is mentioned a good few times in Sussex chess records and in the chess column of the Hastings & St. Leonards Observer.
    “Watt played for Sussex as early as November 1901 (possibly earlier - there are some gaps in the record around the turn of the century).  From much the same date he was a regular in the Hastings Club’s first team, and while never one of its strongest players gained something of a reputation as a giant-killer.  In September of 1912 he had the honour of encountering the great Frank Marshall when playing board 1 for Hastings in a friendly match against Tunbridge Wells (unsurprisingly, he lost).  He played (with F. D. Yates, G. A. Thomas and others) in the First Class Tournament at the Kent & Sussex Congress of 1913, defeating Thomas in their individual game.  And in March 1920 he defeated Kostich in a simul held at the Hastings Club.  Watts remained active through the 1920s, taking part in the Hastings Club’s tour of Belgium and Holland in the summer of 1923.  The last time I find his name mentioned is in 1929, when he played on board 14 for Sussex in a match against Surrey.
    “Watt was a keen correspondence player, and represented the South (on board 40) in the North v South correspondence match of 1900-1901. In 1925 he won the Sussex Correspondence Championship.
    “Of  J. A. Watt as a person I know almost nothing, but in E. J. Ackroyd’s chess column in the Hastings & St. Leonards Observer in 1922 there’s a satirical reference to Watt ‘with a long Corona-Corona cigar, ... busy putting up a smoke barrage in the hopes of obscuring his own game’, and subsequently ‘exchang[ing] his Corona for a Calabash and eventually succeed[ing] in asphyxiating his opponent’, from which we may deduce that he was a heavy smoker (maybe it went with the profession of hotelier!).”
    Mr. Ravilious’s account of J. A. Watt shows what wonderful detail can be gleaned from local chess sources.  The bungling with the Watts versus Watt name confusion is, of course, my own fault, though original sources have proven quite difficult at times to read and even at times inaccurate.  In this instance, my sources are unfortunately squirreled away in a particularly difficult area to locate, and so I will simply take the blame for assuming “Watt” in fact meant “Watts,” thus by default, as it were, exonerating the Nottingham Guardian, my original source, from generating the confusion.
    While the error is of course unfortunate, its correction is interesting as well.  Certainly the information Mr. Ravilious provides concerning J. A. Watt is every bit as fascinating, down to the use of tobacco smoke as a tactical device over the board, as anything in Napier about William Henry Watts.  I am exceedingly grateful to Mr. Ravilious, and should another edition of Napier ever become feasible, his corrections and contributions shall be noted, with pleasure.
    One final game can be added to the Napier canon.  It is rather a sad note to end this article on, but it cannot be avoided.  Napier began play in the Washington Chess Divan’s 1942 championship, thirty-eight years after his last appearance in a chess tournament.  Playing along with Reuben Fine, Albert Fox (another aging veteran, who shared with Napier the distinction of playing at the great Cambridge Springs 1904 gathering), Martin Stark, Oscar Shapiro, Vincent Eaton and others, Napier completed a few rounds before two car accidents and a move to Philadelphia forced him to abandon the tournament.  It was the only time I could find in his career that he did not finish an event.  Two of his encounters appeared in Napier, and now a third has been recovered, though this latest addition is hardly a jewel among Napier’s collected games.
Eaton,V — Napier,WE
Sicilian: Hungarian
USA Washington, DC (Divan Championship)
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 g6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Qxd4 Nf6 5.c4 Bg7 6.Nc3 d6 7.Be2 0-0 8.0-0 Bg4 9.Bg5 Bxf3 10.Bxf3 Nbd7 11.Rac1 Nc5 12.Qe3 a5 13.e5 Ng4? 14.Bxg4 Bxe5 15.Nd5 f6 16.Bh6 Rf7 17.f4 Bxb2 18.Rb1 f5 19.Bxf5 [0:45-1:13] 1-0.
Washington Star, [date unknown]
    Martin Stark of Washington (who also played in this event, fifty-seven years ago!) sent along a copy of this score to me in a letter dated June 28, 1998.  In that letter he wrote that in “Eaton - Napier, Black’s thirteenth move is an incomprehensible blunder giving up a knight for practically nothing, except an insignificant pawn.”  The score was published in Donald Mugridge’s Washington Star chess column, but the date is uncertain.  Eaton, a problemist of some reputation, was then champion of the District of Columbia.
    The loss is undoubtedly one of Napier’s worst among his published games.  But truthfulness demands its inclusion.  And so the search for Napier games and information continues, a process never fully complete, and thus, with many thanks to others, a process never ending.
© John S. Hilbert 1999

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