Editor: Harry Nelson Pillsbury (1972-1906) was a redoubtable American chess champion (1897 to his death in 1906). Pillsbury arrived almost unknown in Europe, to win the tournament at Hastings in 1895, defeating Europe's strongest Masters. Hastings was one of the greatest tournaments of the day and, indeed, of all time.
The following exchange took place between A.J. Goldsby and Ray Keene today -
A.J. Goldsby writes -
At least 20+ years ago, I was at a U.S. Open, and I was honored to be included in a gaggle of chess players, that included 3-4 GM's, many IM's, and a fair contingent of other strong players.
The topic turned to "Who was the best chess player of all time?" (I had my copy of ELO's book under one arm.) One of the players asked me to "shock them," and asked me to give them the name of a player that might be pretty good, but no one had included in a list of "best players."
I offered the name of "Harry Nelson Pillsbury," as one of the 10 greatest players of all time. One GM laughed so hard, he almost threw up in a trash can, another politician, (who went on to become an officer of the USCF); laughed and told me that, "You don't know beans about chess!"
However, Pillsbury's accomplishments are still legendary, that he had an incredible memory is not in doubt. His skill at blindfold chess was superb, some of his examples in this field are true works of art.
I own just about every chess book (in English) ever written on Pillsbury. Here are a few of my questions:
# 1.) How would you rank Pillsbury now?
# 2.) What are say five of Pillsbury's best games?
# 3.) How come no modern GM has ever written a book on this great player?
# 4.) Have you ever considered writing a book about this player?
PS I took the liberty of posting this missive in your forum as well.
Ray Keene replies -
Co-incidentally a new book on Pillsbury by the Russian GM Cherniaev has just come out;
HARRY NELSON PILLSBURY A GENIUS AHEAD OF HIS TIME
Try your regular stockists-it's a fine book.
His best games -
v Tarrasch, Hastings 1895
v Lasker, Nuremberg 1896
v Lasker, Cambridge Springs 1904
v Schlechter, London 1899
v Tchigorin, St Petersburg 1895-6. Pillsbury was Black in a 4 Knights [' Opening-Ed].
I don't think he was in the all time top ten, but with better health and a longer life he might have been.
A.J. Goldsby adds -
How bothersome - yet apropos that I would discover this AFTER e-mailing you!!!!!!!!!! ........
I just got my "Chess LIfe"[the official magazine of the US Chess Federation-Ed] the other day, (May, 2007); however, I have not yet had a chance to really read it yet.
On page # 50, there is an article entitled, "The American Meteor," ... ... ...
GM Pal Benko writes: "Here are a selection of Pillsbury's endgames --- ones in which most masters would simply shake hands on a draw, but in which Pillsbury, one of the earliest of America's great players, fights on for the win."
This is rather strange. I wrote Pal - about 10 years ago - about Pillsbury, and he seemed decidedly lukewarm on this player.
Ed: Pal Benko (Hungarian: Benk? Pál) was born in France but raised in Hungary - indeed Susan Polgar promises that her clients will meet Benko as a Hungarian chess legend on the trip to Budapest this summer that Susan is currently publicising. Benko fled to the USA after the 1956 Rising.
I reviewed the new Pillsbury book in the News Review section of yesterday's Sunday Times by the way.
Ed: The site that AJ quotes places Pillsbury at Number 10, in terms of his highest rating over three consecutive years. That is above several Soviet World Champions including Smyslov, Petrosian, Tal and Spassky. Pillsbury does have a strong claim to be included in the All Time Greats of chess.
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