Book Review – The Man Chess Made

Albert Beauregard Hodges: The Man Chess Made

Albert Beauregard Hodges.

The Man Chess Made.

Authors: John S. Hilbert and Peter P. Lahde.

542 Pages. 351 Games played by Hodges. 75 Games played by others.

Paperback.

Price £32.50/$39.95

“Albert Beauregard Hodges is a legend among chess aficionados. One of the most well-known American chess players of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he played an important role in transforming chess from a pleasant pastime into a social institution.” So states part of the publicity material on the back of this hefty volume. I came to it recognising Hodges’ name and knowing that he participated in the Anglo American Cable Matches which took place more than a century ago but ignorant of anything else concerning his life. Even this was more than my chess playing friends, none of whom recognised his name. Several months later, I appreciate his place in the history of American chess.

Hodges was born on 21st July 1861 in Nashville, Tennessee, the son of a druggist (pharmacist). The third child of six (three sons and three daughters) to Samuel and Eveline D. Hodges, his middle name is that of Confederate General Pierre Gustave Touant Beauregard, signalling his parents’ sympathies. Sources indicate that he learned to play chess around the age of 19 years at local chess rooms and improved rapidly. By 1884 he was chess editor of the Nashville Daily American newspaper and being dubbed ‘The Tennessee Morphy’. Moving to St. Louis in the mid-1880s and working as a railroad auditor, he became acquainted with Max Judd, contesting a match with him in the summer of 1887. It was suspended and never completed with Hodges leading with 3 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses. The following January Judd defeated Hodges in another match, winning 5 games and losing 2 with no draws.

Around 1889 or 1890 – the exact date is unclear – Hodges took up residency in New York. With Judd’s help, he spent time as an operator of the automaton ‘Ajeeb’. Hodges subsequently obtained the post of Chief Clerk (Secretary) of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor – a home for aging seamen – where he remained employed for over twenty years. Sensibly never relying upon chess for a living, he considered such a lifestyle unsustainable for all but a few of the very best players.

When residing in New York, Hodges was an active member and official of several chess clubs, facing the strongest American players of the era as well as many European masters who were touring or had taken up residency in the U.S.A.. Most memorably, he was the only player on either side to compete in all thirteen of the Anglo American Cable Matches, remaining unbeaten with 5 wins and 8 draws. (These contests receive extensive coverage, although there is less information about the final few matches in which the American teams did less well.)

It is unfortunate that invitations to participate in International Tournaments came Hodges’ way when he was no longer at the height of his powers. The results he obtained are not a fair representation of his earlier abilities. During the 1920s he played less competitive games and the final encounter quoted here dates from 1930. He died of a heart attack on 3rd February 1944 at his home on Staten Island.

This April 2013 paperback edition is a reprint of the library bound edition first published in 2008. It is split into a biography (pages 5–328), a games collection (pages 331–505) and a section comprising chess problems, several appendices and indices plus three obituaries (pages 507-542). The introductions, annotations and games analysis are taken from contemporary newspaper column sources. To derive full benefit from this work, it is important to read the extensive footnotes that appear throughout the text. They frequently correct errors that appeared in contemporary sources and give both sides when alternative explanations are available. I favour this layout but that may simply be a matter of taste. The lengths to which the authors have gone to research their subject is outstanding. On that basis, and having regard to the quality of production, the purchase price is entirely appropriate. Highly recommended.

Book Review Courtesy of:

David Geoffrey Mills. 25th January 2018. Hull, England.


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