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Georgia Chess Association

Isaac Edward Orchard - HOF Class of 2024

Summary:

• one of the strongest players in Georgia between 1883 and the end of the century

• Atlanta chess champion, 1877

• Champion of the South, 1891

• organized Atlanta Chess Club in 1883 (and its later 19th-century reiterations)

• helped put Atlanta on the national chess map

• Chess journalist of note in the South in late 19th century

• Champion of Charleston, SC, at age 12; Atlanta resident since 1883

 

Isaac Edward Orchard (1853–1908) was born in Columbia, SC, to English immigrants. Like so many, the family suffered the ravages of the Civil War. Orchard eventually found work in a Railroad Office. We do not know when he began to play chess, but at age 12 he defeated the best players in Charleston, SC, and by age 15 could play two simultaneous blindfold games. By the time he was twenty,he was regularly having his games published in chess magazines and columns. Chess journalist Orestes Brownson, Jr., wrote November 1873 Dubuque Chess Journal that in Orchard’s play “the ring of the true metal is heard.”He played both over the board and by correspondence, and he supplemented his income by writing a chess column for the Charleston, SC, News and Courier. His railroad work often brought him to Atlanta (originally called Terminus) where he would play chess with locals. Among the strongest was A. F. Wurm. Orchard played a match with Wurm in 1877, and, by winning it, he briefly could claim to be the unofficial champion of Atlanta.

By 1883,I. E. Orchard, now a newspaper man, had moved to Atlanta “for his health.” At that time Atlanta boasted nearly one hundred known good chess players, so he organized a chess club. At its opening, Orchard again challenged Wurm to a public match, the winner to score seven games. This time Wurm was victorious, 7-1-3. Orchard admitted that Wurm “played much too skillfully for me.” But they engaged in at least three additional matches in the 1880s. Author Neil Brennen wrote: “it is not too much of a stretch to call Orchard and Wurm the Karpov and Kasparov of nineteenth century Georgia chess.” Like the 1883 match, their encounters in both 1887 and 1888 were designed to help promote the Atlanta Chess Club, both locally and to an international audience through publication of their matches and games.

We do not know when Orchard’s Atlanta Chess Club folded, but by 1890 the renewed Atlanta Chess and Checker Club was renting fine rooms in the downtown area, populated by prominent citizens. An Atlanta Constitution reporter noted that there is “hardly any hour in the day when some player is not to be found in the room. No restrictions as to time are placed upon the members, the room being open day and night.” The club regularly hosted tournaments and consultation matches.  Brennen notes that “Although consultation play is a lost art among today’s club players, it... [allowed] weaker players to learn from the stronger, and aiding analysis of openings and endings by bringing them to practical test.” That year, the noted chess player George Henry “Captain” Mackenzie visited the club for a consultation match.

Orchard was editing the chess column of the Sunny South newspaper and working for The Atlanta Constitution, making a comfortable living from journalism. His knowledge of chess literature was comprehensive and literary, able to cite Benjamin Franklin, Sir William Jones, Jean-Jacques Rosseau, John Stuart Mill, and Williard Fiske on the subject. He was something of theorist and tested his theoretical novelties in the Spanish opening at the club. He once more challenged Wurm to a match in 1891, which he won, becoming the Champion of the South. The Orchard–Wurm matches were published nationally and internationally, bringing attention to the world that serious chess was being played in Atlanta.

Orchard next sparred with a young newcomer to Atlanta chess, Dr. Leroy Harris, whose skill, Orchard noticed, was rapidly improving. He was a worthy opponent, testament to the club as a place for serious chess instruction. The club had moved location, perhaps due to the nation’s severe economic downturn in the early 1890s. Then a fire broke out, destroying the club’s rooms. Once again, Orchard and his fellow chess players set to work reorganizing. In April 1895, the Atlanta Chess and Checkers Club reopened in temporary quarters in the Hotel Weinmeister.

By this time I. E. Orchard was spending less and less time in the South, as his journalistic career often took him to Northern cities. By the late 1890s, he had moved to New York, in which city he would reside until his death. “But,” Neil Brennen concludes, “his contribution as player, organizer, and promoter of Atlanta chess was enormous. Indeed, it is not too much praise to credit Orchard with a role as a spark to light the fire of Atlanta chess....”

 

Sources:

Neil Brennen. “Rising from the Ashes: Isaac Orchard and the Growth of Atlanta Chess,” Georgia Chess Nov/Dec 2007 and Jan/Feb 2008.

supplemented by:

The Atlanta Constitution, 9 Feb 1890.

Dubuque Chess Journal, November 1873.

The Salt Lake Herald, May 17, 1891.

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