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A Player in Search of a Biographer:
George Henry Mackenzie
by John S. Hilbert

    The strongest American-based player of the nineteenth century still waiting to receive full blown biographical treatment, along with an extensive, well-researched game collection, is George Henry Mackenzie.  Yet few players could boast as interesting a life off the chessboard, at least in his younger years, than this same player.
    Mackenzie was born on March 24, 1837, in North Kessock, Scotland.  He would die a little over fifty-four years later, in New York City, on April 14, 1891.  Mackenzie’s 2560 historical Elo rating tells something about his relative playing strength, during the period, and especially during his peak years as a player.  Frank James Marshall, United States champion for twenty-seven years, in fact has an historical Elo rating only ten points higher than Mackenzie’s: 2570.  An exceptionally talented player such as the original Boy Wonder of Brooklyn, New York, William Ewart Napier, had an historical Elo of “merely” 2500.  But it is Mackenzie who has most suffered, forgotten by all but the hardiest of chess history scholars.
    Mackenzie’s finest European results are comparatively better known.  A small sampling include his finishing tied for fourth and fifth with Zukertort with a score of 22½-11½ at the great double round event held in Vienna from May 10 through June 18, 1882, behind Steinitz and Winawer (24-10) and Mason (23-11), but ahead of Blackburne, Englisch, Louis Paulsen and ten others.  The next year, at London 1883, Zukertort’s greatest tournament triumph, where he won by three full points over second place finisher Steinitz, Mackenzie tied for fifth through seventh with Mason and Englisch.  In 1886 he drew a match with Amos Burn by a score of four wins each and two draws.  His greatest international tournament success, however, was his first place score of 15-5 at Frankfurt 1887, the Fifth Congress of the German Chess Federation, held July 18 through August 2, 1887, where he out ran the likes of Blackburne and Weiss by one and a half points, and where a young Tarrasch finished tied for fifth and sixth.
    Mackenzie’s international successes came, according to Hooper and Whyld, writing in their indispensable Oxford Companion to Chess, New Edition (Oxford University Press 1992), after a fifteen year period in the United States, from 1865 through 1880, when he amassed a record of thirteen straight first place finishes in tournaments, while winning six of seven matches, with only one drawn.  His success in this country included, for example, first place at Cleveland 1871, Chicago 1874, and New York 1880, the second, third, and fifth American Chess Congresses, respectively.
    Hooper and Whyld also suggest, however, just how fascinating Mackenzie’s life appears to have been away from the chessboard.  We learn from them that he bought a commission in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, serving in Ireland, but then resigned it in 1861 to return to London for chess.  Then, “in 1863 he went to the United States and enlisted in the Northern army.  After fifteen weeks as a private he became a captain in a Black infantry regiment, from which he was discharged a few months later, allegedly for desertion and impressment.  He rejoined the army in 1864 to fight with distinction in three battles, after which he was arrested (for his earlier desertion) and imprisoned.  After his release in May 1865 he settled in New York and devoted most of his time to chess.” 
    Such extraordinary matters, both of heroism and its apparent opposite, should whet the appetite of chess historians everywhere.  Particularly fascinating, for example, would be interrelating Mackenzie’s early chess experiences in the United States with his movements within—and apparently without—the Union army during the Civil War. 
    Tantalizing glimpses can be found, of course.  Gustavus C. Reichhelm, one of the driving forces in chess in Philadelphia from the early 1860s until his death in 1905, well knew of Mackenzie’s prowess at chess, and indeed played him two games at the old Philadelphia Chess Club in 1864, where they split their contests.  Many years later, in 1898, Reichhelm would publish his Chess in Philadelphia, to this day still the best account of chess in the city of brotherly love from its beginnings to nearly the end of the nineteenth century.  Included in that volume was Reichhelm’s 1864 victory over Mackenzie.  The game was played at the old Philadelphia Chess Club, then located at the Northeast corner of Thirteenth and Chestnut streets, on the second floor, where members would find their club rooms open daily at ten in the morning.
Reichhelm,GC — Mackenzie,GH
USA Philadelphia, PA (Philadelphia Chess Club)
Annotations by Reichhelm
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.Bb2 Nf6 10.Qc2
One of the best forms of attack in the Evans Gambit.  9...Nge7 was better for Black’s previous move.
10...0-0 11.e5 Ne8 12.Nbd2 d5 13.Bd3 h6 14.Ba3 Ne7 15.Nb3
An important move to keep up the pressure and retard Black’s c-pawn.
15...c6 16.Nh4 Nc7 17.f4 Ne6 18.Qf2 Qc7 19.f5 Nxd4
Hobson’s choice.  He must extricate himself at any cost.
20.Nxd4 Qxe5 21.Nhf3 Qf6 22.Rae1 Re8 23.Bxe7 Rxe7 24.Rxe7 Qxe7 25.Re1 Qf6 26.Re8+ Kh7 27.Bc2 Bd8
To drive [the] rook away by ...Bd7.  On ...Bc7 White plays Nh4.
28.Ne5 Bc7 29.Ng6
The goal of White’s play. 
29...Bxf5 30.Nf8+ 1-0.
Chess in Philadelphia, p75
    The following year—apparently after his release from prison?—Mackenzie  again traveled to Philadelphia, where this time he was beaten by Reichhelm by a score of four wins to one, with one draw.  But in 1867 Mackenzie would obtain overwhelming revenge, defeating Reichhelm in a nine game match in Philadelphia by the score of seven wins to none, with two draws. Reichhelm rather glossed over his debacle when writing Chess in Philadelphia, merely mentioning, in the third person, that after the horrendous drubbing he took that “about this time Mr. Reichhelm concluded that match play was not his forte.  With increasing years and experience he has been able partly, but never wholly, to overcome the nervous excitement which attends him when playing games on which a great deal depends.”  The first match game of 1867 suggests some of Reichhelm’s “nervous excitement,” but also some of the advance in Mackenzie’s play.
Mackenzie,GH — Reichhelm,GC
French: Exchange
USA Philadelphia, PA (Athenaeum)
Annotations by Mackenzie
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.exd5 exd5 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bd3 Bd6 6.0-0 0-0 7.Bg5 h6 8.Bh4 g5
Black exposes his king too much by this move.
By sacrificing the knight for two pawns, White might have got up somewhat of an attack, but scarcely sufficient to have compensated for the loss of a piece.
9...Bxg3 10.fxg3 Ne4 11.c4 Nc6 12.Nc3 Nxc3 13.bxc3 Be6 14.cxd5 Bxd5 15.Ne5
It was suggested by Stanley, who was present while the game was being played, that 15.Nh4 would have given White a winning game, for suppose: 15.Nh4 gxh4 16.Rf5 Be6 17.Qg4+ Kh8 18.Qh5 and must win.
15...Nxe5 16.dxe5 Qe7 17.Rf6 Qxe5 18.Rxh6 Be4 19.Bxe4 Qxe4 20.Qh5 Qe5 21.h4 Rad8 22.Rf1 Rd6 23.Rff6
This compels Black to exchange the queen for the two rooks.
23...Qxf6 24.Rxf6 Rxf6 25.Qxg5+ Rg6 26.Qe5 Rd6 27.g4 Rfd8 28.h5 c6
29.h6 Rg6 30.g5 Rf8 31.Qe7 Re6 32.h7+ 1-0.
The Albion, New York, 1867.06.01
    But Mackenzie’s win over Reichhelm in 1867 came long after his involvement in the American Civil War, his imprisonment, and his release.  What of his activities more directly related to this period of national, and apparently for Mackenzie, personal, turmoil? 
    More tantalizing glimpses surface, and should someday prove useful to the biographer or biographers of Mackenzie.  Reichhelm wrote much, much more than his one volume, Chess in Philadelphia.  He was, for instance, chess editor of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin from 1861 through December 30, 1870, when the Evening Bulletin published its last chess column.  During his nine year tenure with the Evening Bulletin, Reichhelm published literally thousands of chess games and hundreds of chess problems.  He also, from time to time, gave brief glimpses into his own correspondence with chess masters.  His developing correspondence with Mackenzie was no exception.
    In the February 6, 1864, Evening Bulletin, for instance, Reichhelm wrote that “our readers will probably remember the arrival in New York, last fall, of Mr. George H. Mackenzie, an English [sic] chess player, who had acquired an excellent Chess reputation in London.  Mr. Mackenzie made most creditable scores with several of the strongest players in New York, and is now engaged in the great game being played by our government against the Southern rebels.  We were glad to receive a letter from him this week, dating from Virginia, and signing himself with the honorable title of ‘Captain 10th Regiment U.S.C.T.’ [United States Colored Troops—JSH].  In referring to his games with Mr. Lichtenhein, which have been a good deal quoted in New York, Captain Mackenzie says: ‘Mr. Lichtenhein was so much out of practice, that I look upon the result of the games played as no test at all of what he can do when in play.’  A valuable hint, if they would but see it, to many Chess players who build reputations upon chance successes, won from the carelessness or want of practice of superior players.” 
    The following week, Reichhelm published the first of a small number of offhand games Mackenzie played in New York City against Francis Eugene Brenzinger, then a twenty-eight year old whom Reichhelm described as “one of the leading New York players.”  The column, unfortunately, gave no specific date for the game, merely describing it as being played “a short time ago.”
Brenzinger,FE — Mackenzie,GH
Evans: Morphy (Paulsen)
USA New York, NY
Annotations by Reichhelm
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.Nc3 Na5 10.e5 Nxc4 11.Qa4+ c6
Much better than interposing the bishop.
12.Qxc4 d5 13.Qb4 Ne7 14.Ba3 Ba5
Very well played.
If 15.Qa4, Black, of course, replies with 15...b5. 
15...Bxc3 16.Qxc3 0-0
Black now has a safe game, with a pawn plus.
17.Ng5 h6 18.Nh3 Re8 19.f4 Nf5 20.Rad1
White should have boldly advanced 20.g4.
20...Qh4 21.Qf3 Ne7 22.Bxe7 Qxe7 23.f5 b6 24.Qg3 f6 25.e6 c5 26.Nf4
We should have preferred 26.dxc5, because Black would have been compelled to retake with 26...Qxc5, which would have rendered the d-pawn weak and unsupported.
26...Qd6 27.Qg6 Ba6 28.Nh5 Qe7 29.Rf3
White would have obtained a very fine game by now playing 29.Rfe1, following it up with Re3.
This move was no doubt overlooked by White.
30.Rg3 Bxh5 31.Qxh5 Kh8 32.Rdd3 c4 33.Rc3 b5 34.Rg6 Qf8
Compulsory, to prevent the threatened mate in a few moves, by Rxh6+, etc.
35.Rcg3 Re7 36.Qf3 Rd8 37.Qf4 b4 38.Qc1 c3 39.a3 a5 40.axb4 axb4 41.h4 Rc8 42.Kh2 Rb7 43.Qe1 b3 44.Rxc3 Rxc3 45.Qxc3 Qb8+  0-1.
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 1864 .02.13
    It would of course be of interest to learn whether this game was played after Mackenzie left the nation’s military service the first time, or whether it was played before that date.  Perhaps a future biographer will shed some light on this matter.
    Of interest, too, is the brief report in Reichhelm’s March 19, 1864, Evening Bulletin column, where he mentioned that “Captain Mackenzie is spending a short furlough in New York, and has played a number of games with various New York amateurs, in most of which he has proved successful.  We are glad to say that Captain Mackenzie expects to spend two or three days in Philadelphia in the beginning of next week, and will visit the Philadelphia Chess Club.” 
    But two weeks later Mackenzie still had not appeared.  Apparently his health was suspect, and this had delayed his departure.  No doubt the Philadelphia chess community was quite interested in seeing a player such as Mackenzie.  In his April 2, 1864, column, Reichhelm wrote that the Philadelphia Chess Club “which felt the depressing effect of the war so severely last year, now displays a vigorous vitality, which reminds us of the palmy days of its earlier history.”  In the same column he noted “we are glad to be able to inform our readers that Captain Mackenzie and Mr. Brenzinger, of New York, propose to pay the Philadelphia Chess Club a visit during the coming week, Captain Mackenzie’s furlough having been extended on account of sickness.  He is rapidly recovering, and we hope to see some fine specimens of play during his visit.” 
    No doubt the same correspondence that brought Reichhelm news of Mackenzie’s condition also brought additional games Mackenzie and his expected traveling companion, Brenzinger, had contested in New York.  Two more games by Mackenzie were published in the same column.
Mackenzie,GH — Brenzinger,FE
Evans: Morphy
USA New York, NY
Annotations by Reichhelm
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.Nc3 Bg4 10.Bb5 Bxf3 11.gxf3 Kf8 12.Be3 h5 13.Kh1 Qh4 14.Rg1 Qf6 15.Nd5 Qd8 16.Qd2 Ba5 17.Qc2 Nb4 18.Nxb4 Bxb4 19.Qb3 Ba5 20.Bc4 Qf6 21.Bg5
This combination is faulty.
21...Qxd4 22.Bxf7 Qc3 23.Bxg8 Rxg8 24.Qd1 Qe5 25.Rc1 Bb6 26.Qe2 Re8 27.Rcd1 Re6 28.Qd2
He cannot move 28.Rd5, now, as to do so would cost him the rook.
28...Qc5 29.Qf4+ Ke8 30.Rd5 Qxf2 31.Rgd1 g6 32.e5 Rf8 33.Qe4 Qxf3+ 34.Qxf3 Rxf3 35.exd6 cxd6 36.h4 Re2
And Mr. Mackenzie resigned. 
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 1864.04.02
Mackenzie,GH — Brenzinger,FE
Evans: Morphy (Paulsen)
USA New York, NY
Annotation by Reichhelm
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4 Bxb4 5.c3 Bc5 6.d4 exd4 7.0-0 d6 8.cxd4 Bb6 9.Nc3 Na5 10.Bd3 Ne7 11.e5 0-0 12.exd6 Qxd6 13.Ne4 Qd5 14.Ba3 Re8 15.Neg5 h6 16.Be4 Qd7 17.Ne5 Qxd4 18.Qh5 Be6 19.Nxe6 fxe6 20.Qf7+ Kh8 21.Qxe6 Nec6
White mates in four moves.
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, 1864.04.02
    The planned visit by Mackenzie and Brenzinger to Philadelphia in April 1864, however, does not appear to have materialized.  Why was this so?  Did Mackenzie’s recovery from illness further delay his leaving New York City for Philadelphia?  Was he required, rather, to immediately rejoin his troops for the Spring Campaign of 1864?  Had he already deserted by then?  Did he in fact desert at all?  Perhaps someday we will learn, if Mackenzie ever finds a biographer worthy of his talent on the chessboard. 
© John S. Hilbert 1999.  All rights Reserved.

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