Move to remember the chess great

2/4/2006 – He took the chess world by storm at 22, coming out of nowhere to win one of the top tournaments in the world. Chess specialists rank him as one of the top three Americans ever to play the game, alongside the great Bobby Fischer, and they still obsess over what he might have accomplished if not for his premature death, at 33, from syphilis. Boston Globe article.

In Somerville, where Harry Nelson Pillsbury was born in 1872, he and his brief, remarkable career are long forgotten. One of his fans. Paul MacInnis, a 50-year-old salesman and amateur chess player from Andover, says he will not rest until the chess great is appropriately honored. Pillsbury will be memorialized with two bronze plaques by June 17, the 100th anniversary of his death. Ideally one would be placed at the site of the 19th-century school the chess player attended, near the Winter Hill Community School, and another, with the permission of the current owners, would identify the house where he was born.

If the recognition raises Pillsbury's profile, the chess great would take his place among a relatively small group of well-known figures born in Somerville, including football player Howie Long and Bobby ''Boris" Pickett, the composer who wrote the 1960s hit ''Monster Mash."

Full Boston Globe article

Short biography

Harry Nelson Pillsbury was born on December 5, 1872, in Somerville, Massachusetts. At the age of 16 he started playing chess, and two years later was beating the best players in the city. In April 1892, Pillsbury played a match against World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz, who gave the 20-year-old. Pillsbury won 2:1. Soon he was challenging top players in New York. In 1897 (until his death) he won the United States Chess Championship.

In 1895 the Brooklyn chess club sponsored his trip to play in the Hastings 1895 chess tournament, which he sensationally won, in spite of the fact that all the greatest players of the time were participating (they included reigning world champion Lasker, former world champion Steinitz and challenger Mikhail Chigorin).

Pillsbury was famous for his blindfold skills. He could play checkers and chess and a hand of whist simultaneously, while reciting a list of long words that had been shown to him for just a few seconds. In 1902 he played 21 simultaneous games against the players in the Hannover Tournament, scoring +3 =11 –7.

Unfortunately this exceptional talent suffered from poor health, and tragically succumbed to syphilis in 1906 at the age of only 33. He was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Reading, MA.


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