Thursday, December 24, 2009

How early Boylston Chess Club?

While thumbing through the Boyslton Chess Club Library, I started to wonder how early I could find a reference to our esteemed club. We know that it was formally founded on August 27, 1919, and that the Young Men's Christian Union, our original home, had chess playing in the late 1800's. But could I find the actual references in print, especially to the days when it was still informal?

With the Google Book Library Project, it becomes very easy to search old books for small mentions. Here is what I've found so far, going backwards. With Google Books, this research only took a few hours.

First, I'll start with a neat article (I can send the full article to interested parties) about a young Sammy Reshevsky kicking the collective Boston butt in 1922, just 3 years after our club's founding.

This was hosted by an older chess club, the defunct Boston Chess Club, but the Boylston Chess Club had serveral representatives listed, including C.B. Snow, who is mentioned as "a vertern player, who was the local champion over forty years ago and who had defeated Steinitz twice in similar events...." He lost, but Jacobs of the Boston Club actually checkmated Sammy over the board, noted as the first mate in over 400 exhibition games in America!This article is significant, as it is the earliest mention of an EVENT that features players specifically from the Boylston Chess Club that I could find. Can anyone get earlier?

Moving backward in time, I've found the article in the American Chess Bulletin, 1919, discussing the first founding meeting of the Boylston Chess Club, which must certainly be one of the earliest use of the official club name in print.

So that is probably how early we can officially go. But chess was played in the Boylston Chess Club space in the YMCU on Boyslton Street for many years before the founding of the club. How early can we go?

YMCU on Boylston photo-1911
First, in 1911, is a reference in the YMCU yearly report, is this image of the chess players:

Is this the nascent Bolyston Chess Club, meeting for some casual games, or even a tourament?

Going back even further, I can find several references to the Chess Room at the YMCU, while not an official club, certainly was the starting point of our club. These include a 1898 reference to the Chess Room. However, the earliest I can get a reference to chess in the YMCU goes all the way back to the the early days of the YMCU on Bolyston Street in 1869:

What I like about this reference is that chess is not mentioned in the 1867 or 1868 yearbooks, giving me confidence I'm hitting one of the earliest references to the chess of the future Boylston club. Not a spectacular mention, but one that suggests chess was played at the YMCU 50 years before the club was officially founded.

So, with that I turn it over to the club elders, who may have more details about the club's early days. During my library work, I barely touched the old newspaper clippings and other dusty materials that may hold even better information. What I would really like to see are some early cross-tables, perhaps even those from unofficial tournaments BEFORE 1919. That would be pretty cool.

But I also hope that other club members will dive into the great Google Book resource and find even more print references to chess in Boston.

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