Captain George Henry Mackenzie

Scotland's best ever player

North Kessock lies on the A9 across the Beauly Firth just north of Inverness. For 700 years it was the site of an ancient ferry route running between Inverness and the Black Isle until the Kessock Bridge opened in 1982. North Kessock should be a place of pilgrimage for chessplayers as the birthplace of "Captain" George Henry Mackenzie in 1837. North Kessock information.

Despite the achievements by Motwani, McNab and Rowson gaining modern grandmaster titles there is no doubt that Mackenzie was of super-GM strength and clearly the best ever Scottish player. Jeff Sonas, the statistics guru at Garry Kasparov's now defunct website, has recalibrated historical ratings to assess strength of players of different periods (see www.Chessmetrics.com). Sonas estimates Mackenzie's peak rating at 2684, which for a brief period made the Scot world-ranked second only to Wilhelm Steinitz.

Mackenzie led an interesting life. He was a professional soldier in the King's Royal Rifle Corps, serving in Ireland. In 1863 he went to America, enlisted in the Northern side in the Civil War, and achieved the rank of Captain in charge of a Black regiment. According to Hooper and Whyld's Oxford Companion to Chess, "he was discharged a few months later, allegedly for desertion and impressment. He rejoined the army in 1864 to fight with distinction in three battles, after which he was arrested (for his earlier desertion) and imprisoned. After his release in May 1865 he settled in New York and devoted most of his time to chess."

Captain Mackenzie succeeded Paul Morphy as the dominant force in American chess until Steinitz arrived in New York in 1882. The Captain's greatest achievement was outright first at the Frankfurt tournament in 1887. The following year he ventured back to Scotland for his single Championship victory in Glasgow. He died in 1891.

Here is a gift point from Siegbert Tarrasch at Frankfurt 1887,

White: G. Mackenzie, Black: S. Tarrasch, 1 e4 c5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 Nf3 g6 4 d4 cxd4 5 Nxd4 Bg7 6 Be3 d6 7 Bb5 Bd7 8 0-0 Nf6 9 f4 Ng4 10 Nxc6 bxc6 11 Bd4 e5 12 fxe5 cxb5 13 e6 Ne5 14 exd7+ Qxd7 15 Bxe5 Bxe5 16 Qd5 0-0 17 Nxb5 Rab8 18 a4 a6 19 Nd4 Qa7 20 c3 Rxb2 21 Kh1 Qd7 22 h3 Rc8 23 Nf3 Rxc3 24 Ng5 Rc5 25 Rxf7 Rxd5 26 Rxd7 Rdd2 27 Rc1 Rdc2 28 Rg1 Bd4?? 29 Rd8+ Kg7 30 Ne6+ 1-0.

Further reading and links to Mackenzie games:

ChessLinks

Chess Archaeology

The Chess Archaeology site suggests Mackenzie is a player, "in search of a biographer". The Renfrew player John Johnstone has commented recently that P B Anderson, the 1950 Scottish Champion, had written an unpublished biography of the Captain.

(photo provided by Alan McGowan from Chess Monthly)

Scottish Championship 1888

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

 

1

Capt. G.H. Mackenzie

 

1

½

1

1

½

1

5

2

G.E. Barbier

0

 

½

1

1

½

1

4

3

D.Y. Mills

½

½

 

1

0

1

1

4

4

P. Fyfe

-

-

0

 

½

1

1

5

A. Hunter

0

0

1

½

 

-

-

6

J.D. Chambers

½

½

0

0

-

 

0

1

7

Sheriff Spens

0

0

0

0

-

1

 

1

The 1888 Championship was played in Glasgow, August 17-21.

Mr Hunter, one of the strongest London amateurs, made his first appearance at the event, and began by defeating former champion Mills. However, because of business engagements, he was unable to finish the event. The crosstable, taken from Chess Monthly , Vol. 1X, August 1888, page 355 (reprinted from the Glasgow Herald ), does not clearly indicate which games were unplayed, except for that between Hunter and Spens. It looks, though, that Hunter failed to play two games. Also, Mackenzie and Barbier are shown as scoring wins against Fyfe, but against Fyfe's name these were not recorded as losses, instead being marked as shown. Perhaps they were defaulted.

Barbier had won the championship in 1886. Mills had won in both 1885 and 1887, and would go on to win a total of eight championships, the last being in 1900.

Peter Fyfe (1854-1940), who took part in the first championship in 1884, was the originator of the Fyfe Gambit in the Vienna Game, characterised by 1 e4 e5 2 Nc3 Nc6 3 d4, first analysed in the chess column of the Glasgow Weekly Herald, 1883.

 

 


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