History of the Annual North-South Match,
by Fred N. Christensen

The California Chess Reporter Vol. 1 No. 10, May 1952

The Mechanics Institute, one of the oldest chess clubs on the Pacific Coast, developed a nation-wide reputation with its telegraphic chess matches, played against Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Chicago. The greatest rivalry naturally developed in the matches against Los Angeles. One of the earliest references to telegraphic chess was found in E. J. Clarke's Chess Column in the San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 16, 1927, where a game between George Halwegen of San Francisco and Petersen of Los Angeles was published. This game was played in the Decoration Day Telegraphic Chess Match in 1913! These matches continued until the Spring of 1926, when the last one was played.

With the development of fast-moving cars and excellent highways, the idea of personal over-the-board matches was developed. It was finally agreed to meet at San Luis Obispo on November 14, 1926, for the first personal encounter between Northern and Southern California. This first match proved disastrous for the North. One of the cars, carrying five strong players, including two State Champions, broke down 16 miles outside of King City. The players sat in the car all night and nearly froze to death. Early in the morning they got on a stage and arrived at San Luis Obispo utterly exhausted. The result of the match was South 7 1/2 - North 4 1/2.

Since that first match, 18 over-the-board matches have been held between Northern and Southern California. Four of them were held in Atascadero: 1927 and 1947-9 inclusive. The rest of them have all been held at San Luis Obispo. We have been treated royally in both cities. In the days before the War, May Louis Sinsheimer of San Luis Obispo would welcome us each year with a flowery speech, just before the match started. At the conclusion of his speech it was customary for the drivers of the aforementioned fast-moving cars to present him with tickets they had collected along the road for speeding. He did not believe that we should incur any unnecessary expenses in connection with the long trip. Mr. C. J. Smith of San Luis Obispo was a hard worker and was instrumental in making these matches a success. he acted as intermediary and referee. In the early 1930s he had hand-painted chess boards prepared. These boards were presented to the winners of the individual games. A number of them may still be seen in various clubs throughout the State, and many of them have been used over and over again in the annual matches. Trophies have been awarded to the teams, and silver pins have been awarded to players who have played ten years in these matches. At the present time, nine of these silver pins are worn by Northern and eight by Southern players. This year five-year bronze pins will by awarded for the first time. Approximately 85 players are eligible to receive them. This should assure a good turnout for both teams in the coming match.

Elmer W. Gruer, State Champion, was captain of the Northern team in 1926 and 1927. He became seriously ill in 1930 and passed away July 16, 1931. State Champion Adolph J. Fink was captain of the Northern team in 1930. From 1931 to 1940 inclusive, the writer was captain of the North. In 1946 H. J. Ralston headed the Northern team and since then the North has been captained by Wade Hendricks and Wm. G. McClain. In the early days G.S.G. Patterson and Harry Borochow captained the Southern team. They were succeeded by Leroy Johnson in the 1930s, who has been captain for the South up until the present time.

The number of players on each team has increased from 12 in the first three matches to 58 in the last match played. This is a healthy sign of the increasing interest in the game throughout the State. With numerous chess clubs playing inter-club matches in all sections of the State, strong players are developed. The cream of the crop gathers each year for the big match at San Luis Obispo. Keen rivalry is shown in the actual playing of the match. Before and after the match players have the opportunity to reminisce and renew friendships that have developed during the 25-year span of these personal encounters.

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