For links to other US championship matches, see Game Collection: US Championship matches (meta).
After the death of Harry Nelson Pillsbury in 1906, the US championship was vacant. Marshall had a strong win at Cambridge Springs (1904), finishing ahead of current world champion, Emanuel Lasker, Pillsbury, as well as the title holder prior to Pillsbury, Jackson Whipps Showalter. He also easily won the 7th American Chess Congress (1904) in St. Louis. As arguably the strongest active US player of the day, he could be considered the natural successor to Pillsbury's title. However, the days of assuming the championship by "acclaim" were long gone. Arguments about lineage and qualification similar to the objections raised by Walter Penn Shipley in response to the proposal to name the winner of the 7th American Chess Congress as US champion were revisited.
The New York Chess Association planned to host a match for the US championship between Marshall and former champion Albert Hodges during their July 1909 meeting at Bath Beach. Of course Hodges probably had less of a claim on the title than Showalter, but this match would be derailed before that became a critical issue.
The situation was complicated by the fact that Marshall had been beaten badly in a match by Jose Raul Capablanca (+8 -1 =14) earlier in 1909. Capablanca had lived in the US for almost five years, and objected to a US title match being arranged without his input. There was some debate as to whether he had a claim on the title. Shipley again weighed in, maintaining that citizenship, not mere residency, was a prerequisite:
"If there is any chess champion of the United States, Jackson W. Showalter, of Kentucky, is the holder of the title. Since he won it, he has never declined a challenge, and until he does so, neither Marshall, nor Capablanca, nor any other player has a valid claim to the title. It is self-evident that no one who is neither a native or naturalized citizen of the United States can be considered." - Chess Weekly, 1909.
Prior to leaving for Havana for a six week trip, Capablanca was reported as intending to apply for US citizenship once he became eligible (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 11 Jul 1909, page 6). After his return to the US, Capablanca made a public statement with a somewhat modified position (quoted here from the American Chess Bulletin):
"Since my return to this country, a few days ago, I have been asked several times concerning my attitude with respect to the United States championship and my citizenship. In reply I wish to make known my attitude in this respect. I am the undisputed champion of Cuba, and last spring I beat Marshall by the score of 8 to 1. Mr. Marshall has the greatest reputation and the best score in tournaments of any living chess player in the U. S. A., and is therefore considered everywhere as the strongest representative of the United States.
By my victory over Marshall, I have taken his position as the strongest representative on this side of the Atlantic. Therefore, I consider myself the 'champion of America,' and stand ready to defend my title within a year against any American of the U. S. A. or anywhere else, for a side bet of at least $1000, United States currency. Under these circumstances the question whether I am a citizen of the U. S. A. or not has nothing to do with the matter under consideration."
While there have been those who have alleged this is evidence that Capablanca tried to pronounce himself US champion, American Chess Bulletin's interpretation of this statement was that Capablanca was claiming to be the strongest player in the Western Hemisphere, not US champion. In any event, Capablanca was clearly more interested in trying to arrange a challenge for the world championship than any claim of a US title.
Marshall made arrangements to challenge Showalter before anything else could complicate the situation further. Marshall was eager to arrange and start the match, so was willing to travel to Kentucky. Showalter had never been particularly difficult in regard to match conditions, so details were settled without prolonged negotiations. A friend of Showalter wrote to the American Chess Bulletin in October 1909, saying:
"We discussed the conditions of his match with Marshall and he was willing to agree to all of the conditions proposed, with the exception of having draws count a half point. He says that, in view of the fact that he has not played any serious chess for a year or so, he is likely to lose several games in the earlier stage of the match and would be seriously handicapped in that case to have draws count a half point. He says, however, that you need have no fear of there being any large proportion of draws, as he intends to play the games to a finish. Concerning the number of games, he suggests eight up as suitable, but, if Marshall prefers, will change it one game either way.
In regard to the number of games per week and the number of off days, he is willing to leave this entirely to Mr. Marshall. As to the time of day for playing, he prefers afternoons. His home is ten miles from Lexington and it takes an hour to get here. If the proposed conditions are satisfactory, we would suggest that you draw up a contract and forward a copy here."
Phoenix Hotel, Lexington, KY, 9-26 Nov 1909
Marshall +1 +1 +2 +3 +2 +2 +2 +3 +4 +5 +4 +5 (+7 -2 =3)
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 Pts
1 Marshall 1 = 1 1 0 = = 1 1 1 0 1 8.5
2 Showalter 0 = 0 0 1 = = 0 0 0 1 0 3.5
Showalter at this point was past his prime, and not that serious an obstacle to Marshall. Marshall would hold the title for many years, but only defend it once.
Original collection: Game Collection: Marshall -- Showalter 1909 match by User: crawfb5..