English Draughts Journal, June 2011
Richard Jordan, unbeaten world champion


Richard Jordan, unbeaten world champion

By Chris Reekie

This year marks the centenary of the death of Richard Jordan, one of the finest players in the history of draughts. He was world champion for seven years and retired undefeated. The best of his contemporaries in Scotland fell before him and he crossed the Atlantic twice to thwart American opposition.

Jordan's life ended tragically at the age of only 38. On 7 September 1911, he was knocked down in a street in Edinburgh by a cable car, which was then the Scottish capital's mode of public transport before electric tramcars arrived in 1922. He was treated at the city's Royal Infirmary for head injuries and was thought to be recovering, but had to be re-admitted on 6 October. An operation was carried out from which he never rallied, and he died on the morning of 8 October with his wife and sister at his bedside.

His funeral took place from his home at 33 Buccleuch Street on 11 October, and he is buried in the New Calton Cemetery, near his birthplace in Campbell's Close in the Canongate and the Scottish Parliament building at Holyrood. His grave was unmarked for many years and now has a handsome headstone, which, I have discovered, was erected in 1992 by descendants who had emigrated to South Africa.

Jordan, a son of Irish parents, was born on 4 November 1872. He took an interest in draughts from the age of 15 and his prowess was spotted by old hands. When James Wyllie, the Herd Laddie, played in Edinburgh in December 1891 on his return from his tour of Australia and New Zealand, Jordan drew two games against the veteran. This led to a subscription match of 20 games for a purse of 10 in May 1892, with the youth of 19 pitted against the veteran of 73. The event can be seen now as a landmark, its significance captured in a newspaper phrase, "the rising star against the setting sun". Jordan, although beginning "flushed and nervous", won two games on the first day and Wyllie gained nothing until the fourth day. The end came on the fifth when Jordan was the winner by two games to one with 17 drawn.

Jordan was now on the ladder of fame. He suffered the only defeat of his glittering career in the first Scottish draughts tournament in 1893 when he lost unexpectedly in the second round to Robert Stewart, the Kelty miner, by 2-1 after 10 games. Stung by the reverse, Jordan challenged the Fifer to a match at Dunfermline and gained emphatic revenge by four wins to nil and 13 draws.

He became Scottish champion in 1896 by beating James Ferrie, who had wrested the world title from Wyllie in 1894, and then became world champion in the same year by overcoming Ferrie over 40 games in the City Hall, Glasgow. In the 10-day contest, Jordan led 3-0 after 19 games but Ferrie narrowed the gap to 3-2 after 33 games. In the 35th, Jordan offered a draw. Ferrie controversially declined and it proved costly. Jordan completed a win and drew ahead 4-2. Ferrie took the 39th and needed the final game to square the match. Jordan drew and was world champion by four wins to three, with 33 draws.

His first challenge was by Robert Stewart, who had been Scottish champion in 1894 and 1895. Arrangements were delayed while the players argued over the method of the openings, and the match finally took place in October 1897 at a hall in Drummond Street, Edinburgh. Large attendances followed the moves but The Draughts World said the hall was too small and on some evenings was "at fever heat". Spectators standing on a seat for a better view were unaware that a collie bitch had given birth to a litter of pups under their feet. The collie's owner presented a pup to each player.

The contest was intense. Jordan won the second game on the first day and Stewart drew level on the third. On the fourth, Jordan pulled ahead 3-1. On the 11th day, in the 33rd game, when he was suffering from toothache, Jordan mistook his turn and moved a piece, so forfeiting the game and narrowing his lead to 3-2. Pressed hard by Stewart, Jordan won the 38th game and drew the 39th to retain his title by four games to two with 33 drawn.

In January 1898, Jordan married Elizabeth McGuinness, who lived in Guthrie Street in Edinburgh's Old Town, only a mile from his home in Montague Street, Newington. He worked as a hatter and his draughts skill offered an alternative occupation. With his wife, he made a successful tour of Australia and New Zealand, and as soon as he returned, took up a challenge by Charles Francis Barker, the American star. In autumn 1900, accompanied only by his brother Peter and his coach, George Crookston, Jordan sailed from Liverpool to the New World.

In the banqueting hall of the American House in Boston, Jordan, then 27, faced 42-year-old Barker. He took the lead in the ninth of the 40 scheduled games and Barker equalised in the 12th. Jordan went ahead again in the 27th. When Barker drew level again in the 34th, the Americans scented victory. Jordan rose to the occasion and drew all six remaining games. The result of two wins each with 36 drawn left Jordan, the holder, still the champion.

Like Wyllie before him, Jordan became a professional player and went on tour, pitting his skill against all comers. He mastered simultaneous play and contested 12 to 20 boards at a time. Among a battery of phenomenal scores, he played 261, won 250, and drew 11 at Carlisle. Back in Edinburgh in July 1902, he defended his world crown again and defeated Harry Freedman, a fellow Scot, by seven games to one with 21 draws.

In April 1903, he relinquished the world championship and said that business would occupy his time. He became a broker with premises in Guthrie Street and now had a wife and three children to support. Two more were born later. But he could not be excluded and the greatest triumph draughts in Great Britain has enjoyed was to come. It was the first trans-Atlantic match at Boston in 1905.

At the invitation of New England checker players, the Scottish and English associations nominated a team of 10 to meet 10 Americans. The Britons sailed for New York and arrived there after seven days against strong winds. The contest began a day late to allow recovery from the rough crossing.

Britain went ahead by nine wins to three on the first day and steadily increased the lead. After 10 days, Britain had won by 73 games to 34 with 284 draws. The five English players were beaten by the Americans 32-27, and the difference was established by the five Scots, who won 46 games and lost only two. All had excellent records. Jordan was outstanding with 13 games won, none lost, and 27 drawn. James Searight was 9-1-26, George Buchanan 8-0-32, James Ferrie 9-1-30, and Robert Stewart 7-0-32.

The editor of the Pittsburgh Dispatch tried to compliment the veteran Ferrie and met the response that Jordan and Buchanan were "the coming men". And "Wee Geordie" chimed in with the memorable words: "Jamie Ferrie's guid; so am I; but Dick Jordan's a' oor maisters."

The world championship stayed vacant during Jordan's remaining years. In his last summer, he toured the North of England and amassed 1103 wins from 1505 games. After his death, the plight of his widow and young children led to draughts enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic subscribing to a relief fund. James Whyte, former secretary of Edinburgh draughts club, said: "After a practical experience of the game for forty years, I have never seen his equal at crossboard play."

Copyright Chris Reekie 2011.  (Permission to post this article on NCCA website)

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email from: CHRIS REEKIE  chris.reekie@btinternet.com
date: Tue, Sep 6, 2011 at 2:48 PM
subject: Re: Richard Jordan (Important mainly because of the people in the conversation)

Hi JR,

Thanks for placing my article on Richard Jordan from the EDA Journal on your website and giving such a fine display.

It helps that you have provided links to other sites on the same subject. These have all been on the internet for a number of years and have
been useful to me in my searches. You may have noticed a few differences in details. As I have been able to do fuller research, I have corrected
inaccuracies that appear elsewhere. Norrie Reid's material has been around since the early 1990s.

Richard was knocked down by a cable car, not a tram car. His newspaper obituaries said a cable car. I've also read a history of Edinburgh's
public transport.

His age was 38 and he would have been 39 in November. He died in October, a month after the September accident.

I have traced his family tree and found five children of his marriage, two sons and three daughters. In 2007 I located descendants in
South Africa who put up his headstone.

The correct score in the 1905 match was 73-34-284, not 74-34-283, as is sometimes quoted. I have checked the figures in the 1905 matchbook and found
there was a mistake in the last day's count. The wrong score is given on page 284 and the right score given on page 293.

You might have been surprised to find considerable space given to Richard on the website of the Edinburgh chess club. This was written
around 2005 by Geoff Chandler, one of their most enthusiastic members, who turned out a flood of articles on chess games over several years until
recently. He was sufficiently interested in investigating draughts to make this informative contribution. At least there is one chess player who
realizes draughts is not a simple game!

Best wishes.


Articles | March-2008 The Scots Magazine