George Henry Mackenzie

24 March 1837, North Kessock - 14 April 1891, New York City

  • Scottish Champion 1888
  • 1st prize in the New York CC tournaments in four successive years, from 1865.
  • 1st prize in the tournaments of the Café de l'Europe, New York, 1868 and 1869.
  • 1st prize in the Brooklyn CC Tournament 1869.
  • 1st prize in the Second American Chess Congress, Cleveland 1871.
  • 1st prize in the Third American Chess Congress, Chicago 1874.
  • 3rd and 4th prizes, shared with Bird, at the Paris 1878.
  • 1st prize in the Fifth American Chess Congress, New York 1880.
  • 4th prize at Vienna 1882.
  • 5th, 6th and 7th prizes, shared with Englisch and Mason, at London 1883.
  • 4th prize at Hereford 1885
  • 1st prize at the Frankfurt 1887 tournament, his greatest success, with 15/20 (+13, =4, -3).
  • 2nd prize at Bradford 1888
  • 3rd place, shared with Bird, after Tarrasch and Blackburne, at Manchester 1890, his last tournament.
  • Won matches against Rev. MacDonnell, Reichhelm (twice), Stanley, Judd, Lipschütz, Golmayo, Vasquez, and others.

George Henry Mackenzie, the youngest of four sons, was born at Belfield House, North Kessock, Ross-shire on 24 March, 1837. His father died the next year and the family moved to Inverness and later to Aberdeen, where he received his primary education. He was later sent to a high school in Southampton, finishing his education in 1853.

It was decided he should follow a mercantile career so Mackenzie was sent to Rouen, remaining there for about one year, and acquiring a thorough knowledge of French. He was then sent to Stettin, where he mastered German.

He had already been showing an interest in chess, playing correspondence games with his eldest brother, but while in Germany his interest apparently increased. At the same time, his thoughts were turning away from a career in business, and he showed instead and interest in the military. In 1856 he purchased a commission in the 6oth Rifles (The King's Royal Rifle Corps), serving for a brief time in India, and then being posted to Dublin. Here, his interest in chess continued, joining the Library Club and becoming one of the strongest players.

Mackenzie resigned his commission in 1861 and went to London to continue his chess activities. He lost a match to MacDonnell in 1862, but made such rapid progress that he won a return match in 1862-3.

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."

Hooper and Whyld indicate that from this point until 1880 Mackenzie contested 13 tournaments and 7 matches in the USA. He was undefeated in them all, and was regarded as the best player in the USA. He made several trips to Europe, some of his results being shown above. His greatest tournament success was winning at Frankfurt 1887 with a score of 15 points from twenty games.

With New York becoming his home, Mackenzie did not play much chess in Scotland. In 1886, after failing to obtain a berth on any Liverpool ships sailing to America, he decided to sail from Scotland. He spent a few days in Glasgow, including playing offhand games at Glasgow CC. He also gave two simultaneous exhibitions, the first being on Monday, 13 September 1886 at the Central CC, from about 7 pm until 10:30 pm. There were 17 opponents: Court, Harrison, McMorrow, A. Buchanan, J. Buchanan, Fair, Rennie, Slaven, Shand, Milton, Grant, Kirk, Wright, Young, McCombie, Miller, and J.Russell. Mackenzie won 15 games, and allowed draws with Miller and J. Russell.

The second display was at the Glasgow CC on Tuesday, 14 September 1886, lasting from 6:30 pm to 10 pm. There were only 14 opponents: Dr Macfie, Sheriff Spens, Messrs Black, Pirrie, Berwick, Gilchrist, Court, Russell, Macleod, Fyfe, Chambers, Dickson, Finlayson, Shand.

Mackenzie lost three games—to Sheriff Spens, Finlayson and Fyfe (in the latter case a second game)—drew with Court, and won all the other games.

Scottish Championship 1888

In 1888 Mackenzie made another trip from the USA, and en route to England for a major tournament, he stopped in Glasgow to take part in the Scottish Championship for the first and only time. He won with a score of 5/6, made up of four wins and two draws, with former champions Barbier and Mills a point behind.

After this event, he proceeded to Bradford, to take part in the British Chess Association Congress, where he finished second with 13 points, behind the winner Gunsberg, who scored 14½.

Mackenzie's health deteriorated in the 1880s and he developed tuberculosis. He made several trips to Havana, Cuba to ease the problem, at the same time succeeding in match play against local opposition.

After his last tournament at Manchester 1890, Mackenzie returned to the USA. His health continued to decline, and he apparently felt he had become too much of a burden to others. He died of an overdose of Morphine which, according to Steinitz, was taken intentionally.

The Chess Player's Chronicl
e, 29 September, 1886; The Chess Monthly, Vol. X, October 1888, p 34; BCM 1891, pp 244-247; The Oxford Companion to Chess, by David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld (1984).

The Chess Notes web site has additional information about Mackenzie, particularly with regard to his military service in the USA, and the circumstances of his death. Details can be seen at entries 5785 and 7772.

Note: John Johnstone, formerly of TUC-Griffin CC and Renfrew CC, has stated that P.B. Anderson had submitted a manuscript about Mackenzie to the German publisher Dr Eduard Wildhagen, known particularly for a series of books published under the title Weltgeschichte des Schachs. There were a number of volumes about individual players, for example Capablanca and Em. Lasker, the main feature of the books being that a diagram was shown every 5 moves of a game. Wildhagen did not publish a volume about Mackenzie, and John states that the manuscript was not returned to P.B. Anderson.

Alan McGowan
Historian, Chess Scotland