Harry Nelson Pillsbury vs. Jackson Whipps Showalter Match
February 10 - April 4, 1897
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1
Pillsbury ˝ ˝ 1 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 0 1 ˝ 1 0 1 0 1 1 10 (w/3 draws)
Showalter ˝ ˝ 0 0 0 1 0 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 ˝ 0 1 0 1 0 0 8 (w/3 draws)
Victory was to go to the first player to win 7 games. In the
event of a 6-6 tie, victory would go to the first player to win
10 games (with a final tie if the score reaches 9-9).
Harry Nelson Pillsbury was an enigmatic figure in US Chess
History. Another world championship caliber player lost
prematurely, in the grand tradition of Morphy and Fischer.
Learning the moves at the age of 16, his victory at Hastings 1895
and strong showing at Saint Petersburg 1895 at the age of 22, led
him to be considered a serious challenger for World Champion
In an unusual turn of events, it was Showalter who challenged
Pillsbury to this match, feeling that Pillsbury's European
successes seriously undermined his claim to be the best US player.
Pillsbury agreed to play the match, but did not want the title
of US Champion, leaving it in Showalter's possession after the
match was over. As Pillsbury had said beforehand: "I was not
seeking the match, and even if I should win I shall leave
Showalter in possession of the title; I am not in search of any
title but one." The match articles of agreement duly made no
mention of the match being for the US Title, though in the minds
of some onlookers it was, just the same. The British Chess
Monthly, for example, reported that Pillsbury became uS
Champion upon winning this match.
Pillsbury won the match all right, but Showalter did much
better than anyone had expected him to do. Pre-match predictions
ranged anywhere from a 7-0 to a 7-3 victory for Pillsbury. As a
result, this was one of those rare matches (similar to
Karpov-Korchnoi 1978 and Fischer-Spassky 1992) in which the winner
was the one who found his reputation taking a hit. Losing 8 games
to Showalter was a blow to those attempting to help arrange a
Lasker-Pillsbury World Championship Match. The American Chess
Magazine did damage control, thusly:
"The result was somewhat disappointing for Pillsbury’s admirers,
especially for those who want to bring about a match between him
and Lasker. While Showalter’s score is looked upon by many as a
“moral” victory, we do not think that Pillsbury has impaired his
chances for a match with Lasker. All he has to do is to win a big
international event and Lasker must come to the scratch. As for
Showalter, he has proven a better player than he has been given
Play was conducted at the Hamilton Club in Brooklyn. Stakes
were $1000 per side.
As to the level of play, the American Chess Magazine wrote this:
"The chess played in this match, as a rule, is of a high order.
Pillsbury’s conduct of some of the games is a model one, while in
others he proved rather venturesome, and, contrary to his style,
he often gave up a Pawn for a future attack. Showalter played with
his wonted pluck and ingenuity, exhibiting great power of
resource. His fondness for a King’s side attack by Queen and
Knight is noticeable."
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