-- under construction --
A meta collection for US Championship matches held prior to the inauguration of the championship tournament first held in 1936.
For links to US championship tournaments (and a few matches), see Game Collection: US championship tournaments (meta).
Early efforts to establish a US champion met with problems similar to those seen in the early history of the world championship. Both arose from informal match play for stakes. Initially, each player (or his backers) would be expected to contribute equally to the purse, and in early matches it was common for the winner to collect the entire prize. With the transition to established champions and challengers, more and more responsibility for raising the prize fund fell to the challenger. The prize distribution eventually changed from winner-take-all to some sort of split with the champion being guaranteed some minimum and the remainder split in some manner between winner and loser. Champions also gained more ability to dictate terms of a match such as number of games, location, purse size, etc. It became increasingly common for otherwise qualified challengers to fail to obtain a title match. Losers of a championship match were not guaranteed any easier time of securing a rematch. Champions might make conditions difficult for specific challengers for any number of reasons, but probably the most common reason for failed negotiations was the inability of challengers to raise enough money for the prize fund. These haphazard methods eventually ended with control of the championship being passed off to a governing body responsible for setting conditions and selecting challengers.
Links to early American Chess Congresses are included despite only the first one being in match format because the results from these tournaments sometimes influenced who was considered US champion.
Stanley - Rousseau 1845 match (Game Collection: Stanley - Rousseau 1845 match) -- This was the first match considered to be between the two strongest players in the US. Stanley was in New York and Rousseau was in New Orleans, so there were regional rivalries at stake as well. <under construction>
Stanley - Turner 1850 match (Game Collection: Stanley - Turner 1850 match) <under construction>
First American Chess Congress, New York 1857 (Game Collection: New York 1857) -- Organized as a series of knockout mini-matches with 16 of the best players that could be persuaded to travel to New York to play in the first "real" tournament in the US. As expected, Morphy won easily, losing only a single game Paulsen vs Morphy, 1857. On the basis of this result and his clear superiority over any other US player, Morphy was considered US champion.
Second American Chess Congress, Cleveland 1871 (Game Collection: Cleveland 1871) -- With the retirement of Morphy, George Henry Mackenzie emerged as the dominant player in the US and his success at Cleveland was the start of a string of domestic and international successes.
Third American Chess Congress, Chicago 1874 (Game Collection: Chicago 1874) -- Also won by Mackenzie.
Fourth American Chess Congress, Philadelphia 1876 (Game Collection: Philadelphia 1876) -- Mackenzie did not play.
Fifth American Chess Congress, New York 1880 (Game Collection: New York 1880) -- Again won by Mackenzie.
Sixth American Chess Congress, New York 1889 (Game Collection: New York 1889
Game Collection: 0) -- By this point, Mackenzie was too ill to participate. Despite finishing fifth in the tournament, Samuel Lipschutz was the highest-scoring US player, and so was considered the new US champion.
Showalter - Lipschutz 1890 match -- In their book on the US championship, Soltis and McCormick write that Showalter won a short match from Lipschutz and this was the basis of his claim on the US title. I am not sure if this match did or did not occur, as there seems to be evidence both for and against it. I summarize this in Edward Winter's Chess Notes (#6996, right after the Euwe-Fischer note -- http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/...).
Showalter - Judd 1890 match (Game Collection: Showalter - Judd 1890 match) <under construction>
Showalter - Judd 1891-2 match (Game Collection: Showalter - Judd 1891-2 match) <under construction>
Lipschutz - Showalter 1892 rematch (Game Collection: Showalter - Lipschutz 1892 match) -- This was either a match or a rematch, depending on whether an 1890 match was played. In either event, Lipschutz crushed Showalter (+7 -1 =7).
Showalter - Hodges 1894 match (Game Collection: Showalter - Hodges 1894 match) -- Lipschutz had moved to California for health reasons following his 1892 match with Showalter. Many assumed he had retired from active play. Showalter (re)claimed the title and accepted a challenge from Hodges. Lipschutz, writing from California, objected to this being called a championship match, leading to another Showalter-Lipschutz match in 1895.
Hodges - Showalter 1894 rematch (Game Collection: Showalter - Hodges 1894 rematch) -- This was either a rematch or an renegotiated extension of the New York match, transplanted to Brooklyn.
Showalter - Lipschultz 1895 match (Game Collection: Showalter - Lipschutz 1895 match) -- Despite having moved to California for health reasons, Lipschutz objected to the first 1894 Showalter-Hodges match being called a US championship match, so this match was organized for the year after the Showalter-Hodges rematch.
Showalter - Kemeny 1896 match (Game Collection: Showalter - Kemeny 1896 match) -- Kemeny was a strong Philadelphia master.
Showalter - Barry 1896 match (Game Collection: Showalter - Barry 1896 match) -- Barry was a Boston lawyer and strong amateur, playing for the US in a number of cable matches, which were popular at the time.
Pillsbury - Showalter 1897 match (Game Collection: Pillsbury - Showalter 1897 match) -- Showalter had been the most active US champion, but Pillsbury was considered the best player in the US, having won at Hastings (Game Collection: Hastings 1895), and placing third at St. Petersburg (Game Collection: St. Petersburg 1895-96) and Nuremburg (Game Collection: Nuremberg 1896). Nevertheless, Pillsbury was within a game of losing the match after game 13 and finally won it by the barest of margins. The slim margin would lead to a rematch the following year.
Pillsbury - Showalter 1898 rematch (Game Collection: Pillsbury - Showalter 1898 rematch) -- This was a much more convincing win for Pillsbury than the 1897 match with Showalter. It was probably a combination of Pillsbury playing better and Showalter playing worse. There was some talk of a third match, but it never took place.
Seventh American Chess Congress, St. Louis 1904 (Game Collection: St. Louis 1904) -- Max Judd, who was the head of the organizing committee for St. Louis 1904, wanted to name the winner of the tournament US champion, as by that point Harry Nelson Pillsbury was no longer well enough to defend his title. However Pillsbury through his friend, Walter Penn Shipley objected strenuously (http://www.chesscafe.com/text/skitt...).
Marshall - Showalter 1909 match (Game Collection: Marshall -- Showalter 1909 match) -- After Pillsbury's death in 1906, the US championship was considered to have reverted to Showalter. Marshall, being the dominant US player of the day, challenged Showalter to a title match despite Showalter being clearly past his prime. Marshall needed to firmly establish his claim for the title.
Marshall - Ed. Lasker 1923 match (Game Collection: Marshall -- Ed. Lasker 1923 match) -- Negotiations for a rematch broke down and negotiations for a Marshall-Kashdan match fared no better, so this was the last match held for the US championship under the champion's authority. The US Chess Federation did sponsor a few matches (1941, 1946, 1952, 1957) once they assumed sponsorship of the title and they did experiment with the knockout mini-match format similar to that of the 1st American Chess Congress for a couple of years in the early 1990s, but for most years it was a tournament.