Gossip in Skaneateles

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In July and August of 1895, George Gossip competed in the New York State chess tournament at the Packwood House in Skaneateles. It was his final tournament, capping a star-crossed career that began in 1870. For those who love the game but play poorly, Gossip should be a patron saint, for his efforts were rewarded by failure on a grand scale. Chess writers mocked his play, calling him a “grandpatzer” and “the king of the wooden spoonists,” a reference to the figurative or literal wooden spoon given to a last-place finisher. In fact, Gossip did finish dead-last in five consecutive events: the Master Section at London in 1889, the Meisterturnier at Breslau in 1889, the Master Section of Manchester in 1890, the Master Tournament at London in 1892 and the Master Tournament in New York in 1893.

The one constant in his career was bad fortune. His opponents came to the table directly from a meal of onions, or smoked acrid cigarettes. His hotel rooms were next to machinery that ran all night or above stables whose workers arrived before dawn. He faced similar disappointments as a writer. His heroic 900-page Chess Player’s Manual (1874) was a critical and commercial flop. His Theory of the Chess Openings (1879) was well received but promptly pirated, depriving him of royalties.

He was, throughout his career, an easy target for ridicule. On June 16, 1889, the New York Times ran this portrait:

“Gossip, with his long, flowing beard, looks like one of the old-time monks. He has a good-shaped cranium, bald at the top, and is a little above the medium height… He believes himself to be one of the greatest chess players in the world, and thinks that if everything had gone on to his liking he could have beaten all the champions at the tournament. He is a deliberate player, but every now and then he takes a nip from a flask of brandy that generally stands on his table. He complained that his chair was too low, and he once attributed a defeat to that. Finally, he got a large ledger and sat upon it. He did, in fact, seem to derive some inspiration from its contents, for he played two or three excellent games afterward.”

In Skaneateles, Gossip won three, lost three, and finished fifth of seven players, never to compete again. He then vanished from the public eye and only surfaced post-mortem when he died of heart disease in 1907 at the Railway Hotel in Liphook, England.

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