Sarah's Chess Journal

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         The History and The Culture of Chess


March 19, 2005


The United States has always had a peculiar attitude towards chess.

The ability to play chess was a mark of a gentleman in early America and men such as Ben Franklin , who in his capacity as the U.S. Ambassador to France had the opportunity to play chess both in the Café de la Regénce and in many a Lady's chambers. He also wrote a most famous treatise on the Morales of Chess, outlining all the positive benefits one may receive from playing the game.

Thomas Jefferson, as Minister to France, also played at the Café de la Regénce where he learned that the dilettante style of chess to which he was accustomed wouldn't survive long against the rough and tumble players in the Regénce.

"I have heard him [Jefferson] say that when, on his arrival in Paris, he was introduced into a Chess Club, he was beaten at once, and that so rapidly and signally that he gave up all competition. He felt that there was no disputing such a palm with men who passed several hours of every evening in playing chess."

Jefferson often passed the time playing chess with his close friend, James Madison.

Chess was also a proper diversion for military leaders: George WashingtonWinfield Scott, Robert E. Lee and Hiram Ulysses Grant all played chess.

There were very few professional players in early America. One who stood out was William Schlumberger, an Alsatian who was America's best player between 1826-1837 and who earned 4 francs per day giving lessons in Paris where he also taught Saint-Amant the game. After moving to America, Schlumberger became an operator (the last one, in fact) of the Turk. After Schlumberger, Charles Henry Stanley became as close to being a chess professional, making his living in part with chess periodicals and chess columns. Neither Schlumberger nor Stanley were rich, aristocratic or intellectuals. But Stanley played Eugène Rousseau, who was a well-bred amateur and member of the New Orleans chess club, for publicly acclaimed title of  U. S. Champion. Winning the title and the $1,000 purse (the same amount that Fischer would receive 115 years later for winning the same title), Stanley was a very popular chess figure. But by and large, professionalism in chess was frowned upon. In just 12 more years, Paul Morphy, from the same New Orleans chess club as Rousseau, would usurp the title from Stanley and go on a chess frenzy that would last for a little over a year and abruptly end partly because the idea of being considered a chess professional was too distasteful.

Unlike other forms of competition, the public had a hard time seeing chess as a sport. It was perceived as a game, perhaps one of the highest order, but still a mere game. Despite the fact that the 1st American Chess Congress was one of the first organized competitions of any magnitude in the United States, it never struck a responsive chord with the general population. Although Morphy, through chess, represented the United States elegantly, eliciting admiration wherever he went and spotlighted the intellectual growth and achievements in a country that had continually been looked down upon as second class by it's European  forbearers, many people and a lot of the press saw him in a much different light:

June 6, 1859

March 24, 1858


Feb 7, 1859


July 2, 1859








All the articles had been published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle





Sarah's Serendipitous Chess Page
The Life and Chess of Paul Morphy
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Henry Thomas Buckle
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Franklin's Morales of Chess Pandolfini's Comandments
Six Chess Vignettes
Chess History is a Pain!
Fischer's 10 Greatest
My Life as a Chess Criminal Celebrities Playing Chess
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Morphy's Brilliant Moves
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