The Golden Era-Old Time Checker Players
In the early years he battled the 1st recorded World Champion -Andrew Anderson. This in the 1840's and 1850's. With Anderson's retirement in the 1850's, Wyllie was the undisputed World Champion. In those days stake matches were in vogue, with the players usually finding wealthy backers to have them play. Tournament play , as we know today, has not yet started.
With Anderson gone from the scene, Wyllie went into semi-retirement, and during this time fathered 9 children.
Then in the early 1860's, Robert Martins, from England, was touring the width and breadth of England, beating all comers. Wyllie wasn't about to miss a chance like this and challenged the English great to their 1st match in 1863, and the rest is history.
Martins eventually adopted Glasgow, Scotland as his home, (the same as Wyllie) with Scotland adopting him- and he is usually mentioned as being from Scotland.
With great interest in the game again, Wyllie announced he would come to America to play our best. His American trip was a resounding success, gathering news headlines in both countries. He won more than he lost. Financially, it was also a great success for Wyllie and in later years Richard Jordan and Willie Gardner were to follow suit and tour America.
Wyllie made a 2nd trip to America and one to Australia. He indeed was putting the game on the map.
He lost the World title to American, Robert Yates, who reigned from 1876-78, then Wyllie held the title again, losing it to Martins for a brief period, regaining it again, and held it till 1894, before losing it to James Ferrie. Wyllie was about 74 years old by the time he lost to Ferrie.
During this period the style of play was GAYP, with "Restricted" checkers thrown in to prevent repeat games. Those restrictions was not 2-move checkers, as we later came to know it, but restrictions that were agreed to by contract. They might demand so many games be played with a certain opening move, and the white reply would be forced by contract-with several ways to begin agreed to and so many games were to played on the agreed opening moves.
Wyllie was a dynamite player even in the late 1830's. A natural crossboard player, he had no competition with the exception of Anderson. For a half a century, or so, he dominated the game, and as an Ambassador, put a lot back in it.
He claimed to have never owned a checker book or studied published play. But his own published play is in existence in book or booklet form.
James Wyllie's unexpected death occurred on April 5th, 1899 at the age of 78 or so, as his birth year is listed as being 2 different years, but 1820 is generally accepted as the correct year.
The "Herd Laddie" was gone. But not his legacy. It will live as long as the game is played. "The Babe Ruth" of Checkers.
"DEMON DRAUGHTS PLAYER" "Many years ago, a party of Draughts players had assembled in the kitchen of a farm-house, situated near the Yarrow water. Soon after play had begun, a packman chanced to stroll in, who was at once was invited to take part. The visitor, as if reluctantly, seated himself at a board, but "wiped out" his opponents so effectively that he was asked to try with one of more experience. But he had as little success as the first. In short he utterly discomfitted every player in the room. No one could get a win; but worse still, no one could get a king. The company were spell-bound. Besides, as he went out he tripped in the passage. The sparks flew in all directions from his well-tacketed boots, and many of the company as they took their way home glanced fearfully around, as in half expecting that their visitor was more than human. Of course the stranger was no other than the James Wyllie." (Taken from "Draughts World" Oct-1892 issue-sent in by David Thomson of Ardwell, Stranraer who submitted it as an early incident in the early history of the "Herd Laddie.") (Photos from Draughts World-circa 1880's)
|IN 1905 it was decided to have an
International Match-the famed Scots and British players
the U.S. |
Held in Boston, the British team demolished the U.S. Team 74 to 34 and 283 draws. They were led by Richard Jordan's 13 wins.
Jordan retired as undefeated World champion -also in 1905.
The U.S had not produced so many good players, as the English and Scots. But strong checker clubs, mainly in the East, were about to change that.
Bottom-left to right. T.J. O'Grady, John F. Horr, A.J. Heffner, Harrah B. Reynolds, Newell Banks. Center row. Harry Lieberman, Mike Lieber, Sam Gonotsky, Louis Ginsberg, Jessie Hanson, Andrew Dossett. Back row. John Bradford, Asa Long, John Finley, Joseph Lanin, John Finley, Will Tyson, Saul Weslow and George Tanner.
(Photos from 2IM book)
Scenes from the 2nd International Match. The victorious U.S. team is shown on the left. The U.S. crushed the British team-
|In 1927 the 2nd International Match was held
at the "Hotel Alamac" in NYC. |
The U.S had now produced many very strong players. By this time the World Title was back in Scotland in the person of Robert Stewart.
America had young stars. Asa Long was but 21 or 22, with Mike Lieber and Sam Gonotsky 22 and 24 respectively.
Gonotsky has entered his 1st Am. Ty. in 1926, and won it! But the "feared one" had a reputation before he even started playing in Am. Ty's. Studious, he and his buddy, Lieber, had learned the game, primarily, at the Brooklyn Library where the finest Checker library existed.
He practiced constantly against good competition, one of which was the also young-Willie Ryan. Ryan was no match for Gonotsky in these early years, as he was to come into his own much later- in 1939.
But Gonotsky developed quickly. A small man with a protruding forehead, he struck terror in the hearts of his peers, with a "sphinx" like appearance at he board. No games known to me exist with Gonotsky against the other 2 recognized great players of that era-Asa Long and Newell Banks. Just who avoided who is not clear, but no one wanted to play Gonotsky.
Sam Gonotsky scored 13 wins for the U.S. team, and turned in his scorecard with the comment: "This ties Dick Jordan's record (in the 1st IM games) but mine is better as I was in no losses, and missed no wins." Time may have tempered that statement, but regardless, Gonotsky was amazing.
In 1929 he entered the 7th Am. Ty. (One of them. There was 2 that year) His buddy Mike Lieber, still in his 20's, was a victim of a bad flu epidemic in 1929, and had died 2 weeks before the 7th Ty of Pleural Tuberculosis.
Gonotsky won that one to and he was 2 for 2 in Am. Ty's, having entered 2, and won them both-as well as his stunning performance in the 2nd IM games.
He was coughing badly at the 7th Ty, and after he won, he returned to Detroit, where he worked for Chrysler. He was immediately hospitalized. Like his friend, Lieber, he never made it, and just 2 weeks after the death of Lieber, Gonotsky himself died in the Hurley Hospital in Detroit, of Pleural Tuberculosis-at age 26. No brighter star had shined in checkers, and to this day he is considered the best to ever play the game, by some. Today, Marion Tinsley holds that honor, in the opinion of most-but if Tinsley had any competition -in this world- perhaps it would have been "Terrific Sam Gonotsky." We will never know.
|Newell Banks is considered one of the best of all time, and former world champion in the early part of the century. Left is the great grandmaster (seated-right) in his 1952 match games with 25 year old Marion Tinsley, ( won by Tinsley) sponsored by the Chrysler Corp.|
|Asa Long is known as the "Iron Man" of Checkers. He was 18 years old when he won his 1st Nat. Ty. and became American champion in 1922. The youngest to ever do so. He also won the 7th Am. Ty. in 1929, giving two National Titles in the "20's". The same as Sam Gonotsky. In 1980, he won it again, at age 76!, to become the Oldest to ever win it! In 1984 he broke his own record, and won it again. After winning these 2 Nat. Ty's., he challenged Tinsley for the World Title, but lost both times. Asa Long ranks as the 2nd or 3rd best player of all time. (I personally asked Marion Tinsley at the 1994 NT to list his top ten. Don Lafferty was present and began writing the names down on a napkin, which I still have. He ranked Walter Hellman as the best he ever played, with Asa Long 2nd and Willie Ryan 3rd. He then listed the rest of "his top ten", mentioning that the names could easily be slipped into different slots, with so many very close in ability. Don and I had already entered Tinsley as #1.) Asa Long was World Champion from 1934 to 1948, when he lost the title to Walter Hellman. As age 95, he resides in Ohio.|