The truly universal simultaneous master

2/12/2007 – Got a minute to spare? Here's a tiny but highly enjoyable video clip of a simultaneous master with a difference. Actually there have been players who could give simuls in different games, even blindfold, for instance Harry Nelson Pillsbury, who could play chess, checkers and whist at the same time. But this master takes it to a new level.

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The truly universal simultaneous master

Harry Nelson Pillsbury, the real thing

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 a pawn and move odds. Pillsbury won 2:1. Soon he was challenging top players in New York. In 1897 (until his death) he won the United States Chess Championships.

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 1900 he played blindfold against the 20 strongest players of the Franklin Chess Club in Philadelphia, and won with a score of +14, =5, –1. In 1902 he played 21 simultaneous games against the players in the Hannover Tournament, scoring +3 =11 –7.


Pillsbury before the start of a simultaneous exhibition in 1897. He was one of the greatest simultaneous players in history, usually taking on the strongest players in the the town or state, often in blindfold play.

Unfortunately this exceptional talent suffered from poor health, and tragically succumbed to syphilis on June 17, 1906, at the age of only 33. He was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Reading, MA.


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