Friday, 19 December 2014

Graves of Famous Chess Players: No 6 in a series of ......?

Well, in this case "famous" might be stretching it a bit, but there's no doubt whatever that Samuel Tinsley (1847-1903) was a very strong player, who should probably be better remembered in British chess history. According to the Chessmetrics website, he achieved a peak rating of 2588 in December 1890, and a ranking high of world number 21. And his achievements were all the more impressive, as he reportedly only began to play seriously when he was in his forties.

Tinsley's chief claims to fame are that he participated in two epic tournaments - Hastings 1895 (a mammoth 22 player all play all) and the even stronger London 1899. Pillsbury created a sensation by taking first place at Hastings with 16.5/21, ahead of Chigorin, world champion Lasker, Tarrasch and ex-world champion Steinitz. Our hero finished some way adrift of these all-time greats, coming 21st with a score of 7.5/21 (+7 =1 -13). His biggest scalps were von Bardeleben (who lost an immortal game against Steinitz in this tournament), Janowski, Mason and Gunsberg.

Four years later he fared less well, essentially coming last of 14 in a double round (!) apa, as the 15th player, Richard Teichmann, had to withdraw after only 4 games. Tinsley's wins came against Chigorin, Showalter and, twice, Cohn, with draws against Janowski, Mason and, twice, Lee. The tournament saw a brilliant win by Lasker who lost only 1 game (against Blackburne, though he won their other game) and scored at least 1.5/2 against every other opponent. He finished an incredible 4.5 pts clear of a three way tie for 2nd between Maroczy, Pillsbury and Janowski.

Samuel Tinsley is buried in what is now called Brockley and Ladywell Cemetery - which makes this a first venture south of the river in this series! - in yet another large and largely neglected Victorian cemetery. I have to record my thanks to an excellent 2012 article by Martin Smith on the Streatham and Brixton Chess Blog, which contains far more information than I have provided here. Without this sterling piece of detective work, I would never even have known of Tinsley, nor of his resting place - and I would certainly never have been able to track down the grave amongst the romantic but completely overgrown wilderness that makes up most of the cemetery.

The wording on Tinsley's headstone has become very worn, but Martin Smith records that it originally read:-

Till He Come
In Loving Memory of
Born 13th January 1847
Died 26th February 1903
"The waters closed over him"
"Death to Sin"
"Life to Righteousness"
Also of Sarah Ann
Wife of the above
Called home July 26 1925
Aged 84

(The lowest line is damaged and lost)

And so to a game. I can't pretend I'm aware of any Tinsley masterpiece, so here is his greatest ever scalp - a win against the mighty Mikhail Chigorin, ascribed a retrospective grade of about 2725 by Chessmetrics when this game was played and a peak of 2797/world number 2!!

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