Midocean wireless chess champions!

As you would have seen from my avatar, chess is one of my major hobbies. As well as playing the game, I love researching the history of the game, especially looking through chess columns of old newspapers for interesting stories and obscure games.

Here is a great example, taken from the New York Times of January 19, 1903.


Philadeplhia’s Team defeats the Lucania’s players

The American Liner Philadelphia is the first midocean wireless chess champion. A game was started once last summer between the Philadelphia and the Cunarder Campania, both of which were racing to this port [New York], but the big liners gout out of range before the game was decided.  The Philadelphia got in wireless communication with the Lucania about fifty miles off, on Friday, and three of her passengers accepted the challenge of five Britons and and American on the Cunarder to play a game of chess. The Lucania’s players resigned on the thirteenth move, and the Philadelphia is now prepared to defend her title. Both liners docked shortly after 9 o’clock yesterday morning.

The Lucania got in communication with the Atlantic Transport liner Minnetonka on Wednesday when that vessel was several miles to leeward. After a few long distance pleasantries a chess game was started, but a new aerial wire which was being tried on the Lucania as an experiment snapped and the game was off. The four moves made by the Lucania’s experts were e4, d4, Nc3 and Be3. Quartermaster Walters, who took the plays from the smoking room to Marconi Operator Brooker says that it was the last move that broke the wire.

Two days later when the Lucania was in latitude 43.50 north and longitude 57.20 West, her wireless instruments got into touch with those on the Philadelphia, which was then forty-nine miles to starboard off the Lucania. Capt Pritchard and Capt Mills exchanged bearings, asked each other whether the heavy weather had done any damage, and a few messages were sent by the passengers. Just before luncheon the sextet of chess friends, whose appetities had been whetted by the short contest with the Minnetonka, sent this message to the Philadelphia:

“We would like to play you a game of chess. Will you pick a team?”

Operator Kelly answered that the team would be ready as soon as luncheon was over, and it was not long before the moves began to travel through the slashing northwest gale that was making it merry for both ships. The Lucania’s players were Captain Frederick W Young and RW Milbank of Liverpool, E Horace Mundy and F Marshall Fox of London, William Evans of Edgbaston, and Capt HR Campbell of this city [New York]. Capt Campbell formerly was first officer on the American liner St Louis. The Philadelphia’s team was made up of Frank Caldwell of Chicago, WB Phelen of Philadelphia, and Waldemar Weiss of this city [New York]. The Philadelphia had the first move and the game was as follows:

1. e4 e5 2. Nc3 Bc5 3. Nh3 d6 4. Qf3 h6 5. Bc4 Nf6 6. d3 Bg4 7. Qg3 O-O 8. Nd5
Bxh3 9. Qxh3 Nxd5 10. Bxd5 c6 11. Bc4 Nd7 12. O-O

12….Qf6 13. Qxd7 Black resigns.

Mr Fox made the fatal 12…Qf6 move for the Lucania, but it had hardly been ticked off when he rushed up to the wireless room, which is just under the bridge. “Recall that move”, he gasped to Operator Brooker. “The answer is coming back already”, said Mr Brooker. “Good Lord, we’ve lost!” said Mr Fox. The Philadelphia players had been quick to recognize their opportunity, and while Mr Fox was bewailing his unlucky move he read the winning move on the tape. He had nothing to do but send congratulations. The game occupied two hours.

The liners remained in communication Friday afternoon and all day Saturday. When first in communication the Philadelphia was about nineteen miles astern of the Lucania, but when they sighted each other at 8 o’clock on Saturday morning they were abreast.  A new set of wireless instruments will be installed on the Lucania before she makes her next westward trip, presumably for the newspaper wireless experiment, which, according to Cuthbert Hall, the London manager of the Marconi Company, will be tried on one of the fast Cunarders.



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