Theophilus Thompson’s Problem Book!

Theophilus Thompson


Theophilus Thompson is recognized by most as the first Black player of note in the U.S. Born in 1855 in Frederick, Maryland, Thompson took to chess after seeing two gentlemen playing. He learned the moves from observing and was soon kibitzing in the games. It was interesting to note this interaction was possible when slavery was still practiced.

After noticing Thompson’s interest John Hanshew, the publisher of The Maryland Chess Review, loaned the 17-year old Thompson a board and several chess problems to solve. Thompson duly solved these and then made some of his own for good measure!

Thompson played in a few tournaments and has several interesting games, notably his dashing win over C.H. Blood. In a June 1986 article in U.S. Chess Life, Larry Parr reported that Thompson played correspondence chess and scored 7-2 in one tournament. Neil Brennan also wrote a very comprehensive essay on Thompson. Thompson is famously known for his book on chess problems called “Chess Problems: Either to Play and Mate”. Below is a link to this historic document!

Chess Problems: Either to Play and Mate
by Theophilus Thompson

Daaim Shabazz

Dr. Daaim Shabazz is the creator and webmaster of The Chess Drum. He serves as a tenured faculty member of Global Business & Marketing at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, Florida, USA. He holds an MBA in Marketing and a doctorate in International Affairs & Development. He has served the journalist community for more than 30 years and still competes in tournaments occasionally.

2 Comments

  1. This is an incredible piece of history! I knew of the story, but it’s amazing to actually see the book.

    Thanks Daaim for posting the link.

  2. Here is an accurate reproduction of Thompson’s problem book by Keith Halonen of Hidden Valley Lake, California. He noted that several pages were missing.

    Both online versions are missing pages 9-12! Solutions are there but those 8 diagrams aren’t. I can guess how a 19th century 4-page “signature” could be accidentally omitted or later come undone from the binding.

    The good news is that publisher O.A. Brownson also sold excerpts from his monthly Dubuque Chess Journal in bound form. I located a 439-page (1) copy of the 1873-1874 bouncd edition and found the missing pages. I have recreated the book in two PDF files.

    Here is Halonen’s work…

    Chess Problems: Either to Play and Mate

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