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The History and The Culture of Chess
The Indominatable Ellen Gilbert
February 22, 2004
Ellen E. Gilbert (sometimes referred to as Mrs. J.W. Gilbert; sometimes as Ellen E. Strong Gilbert) from Hartford, Connecticut was born in 1837. She lived to be 63. A few years before she died, she lost most of her sight and had to give up chess, but between 1875 to 1879, when she was in her early 40's, she became known as the Queen of Chess.
The stature of women in chess has never been very great, but in the 19th century women chess players were very few and for a woman to play against a man in anything but a game of diversion was quite rare and almost unthinkable.
The U.S. and Great Britain had set up a correspondence match in 1877 ( International Postal Card Chess Tourney ). The man in charge of the American team was both ahead of his time and very astute. Against a flurry of criticism, he pitted a woman, Mrs. Ellen E. (Strong) Gilbert against George Hatfield Dingley Gossip.
Also playing for the American team were the masters Eugene Delmar and Max Judd.
For those who never heard of Gossip, he was a decent player capable of occasional brilliancies and, although his tournament record is splotchy, he was considered one of the world's strongest correspondence players of that time (He was winner of First Prize in the Correspondence Tournament of the "Chess Players Chronicle" in 1873-1874 - for information on the development of this periodical see John S. Hilbert's review at Chess Café) But Gossip was not well liked. According to Hooper and Whyld, Gossip "had an unusual talent for making enemies . . . disliked in England, he travelled to Australia, the United States and Canada where he also became unpopular."
So, the matching of Gilbert and Gossip was thought to have been a complete mismatch. And that assumption turned out to be true . . . only in complete reverse of everyone's expectations!
Mrs. Gilbert won all her games, announcing "mate in 21" in one game and "mate in 35" in another.
Gossip who, as noted above, was usually somewhat caustic and abrasive, proved to be unusually gallant in this instance and eventually dedicated his book, "Theory of Chess Openings," to Mrs. Gilbert.
Here's the "mate in 35" game:
[Event "US-Britain corr. match"]
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. d4 b5 7. Nxe5 Nxe5 8. dxe5 Nc5 9. Bb3 Nxb3 10. axb3 d6 11. Qe2 dxe5 12. Qxe5+ Qe7 13. Bf4 Qxe5 14. Bxe5 Bb7 15. c4 O-O-O 16. Nc3 b4 17. Na4 Rd3 18. Rfe1 Rxb3 19. Re3 Rxe3 20. fxe3 Be7 21. Bd4 Rd8 22. Rf1 f6 23. Nc5 Bxc5 24. Bxc5 Rd2 25. Rf2 Rd1+ 26. Rf1 Rxf1+ 27. Kxf1 a5 28. g3 Kd7 29. Ke2 Ke6 30. Kd3 Kf5 31. Bf8 g6 32. Be7 Bg2 33. Kd4 b3 34. Kc3 a4 35. Kb4 Bf1 36. c5 Bb5 37. h4 Bc6 38. Bd8 Kg4 39. Bxf6 Kxg3 40. Kc3 h6 41. Kb4 Kg4 42. e4
42..... g5 43.hxg5 hxg5 44.Bd8 Kf4 45.e5 g4 46.Bc7 g3 47.e6+ Kf3 48.Be5 g2 49.Bd4 Ke2 50.e7 Kf1 51.Kc3 g1Q 52.Bxg1 Kxg1 53.Kd3 Kf2 54.Kd2 Kf3 55.Kd3 Kf4 56.Kc4 Ke5 57.Kb4 Ke6 58.Kc4 Kxe7 59.Kb4 Ke6 60.Kc4 Ke5 61.Kc3 Ke4 62.Kc4 Ke3 63.Kc3 Ke2 64.Kb4 Kd2 65.Ka3 Kc2 66.Kb4 Kxb2 67.Ka5 a3 68.Kb6 a2 69.Kxc6 a1Q 70.Kd7 Ka3 71.c6 b2 72.c7 b1Q 73.c8Q Qd4+ 74.Ke7 Qh7+ 75.Ke6 Qg6+ 76.Ke7 Qd6#
Here's a game played four years earlier in which Mrs. Gilbert announces "mate in 18":
1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 a6 4. Ba4 Nf6 5. O-O Nxe4 6. Re1 Nc5 7. Bxc6
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