George M. Tanner
Throughout the course of checker history,
there are many stories of great achievement
and phenomenal success within local game play
and tournament matches, and there are also
tales of sadness where checker greats die early
in life due to illness or accident, but perhaps
one of the most tragic stories belongs to a
checker great, who was not recognized for his
gift within the game because of the time and
place in which he lived.
Checkers game champion George M. Tanner was
born in 1885 in Illinois, and lived most
of his life in Chicago. His game history
and successes in checkers speak for themselves.
Champion George Tanner was a gifted checker
player who became the Chicago Checker Champion
in five successive years between 1911 and
In 1914, champion George Tanner defeated
the famous Internationalist, Jesse B. Hanson,
by a resounding score of five wins to none,
with eleven draws. This was indeed a feat
for George Tanner because Hanson had once
defeated the great Alfred
Jordan in a match, after which Jordan
had proclaimed that Hanson was "the
equal of any player in the world." So,
the fact that Champion George Tanner was
able to beat Jesse Hanson was a testimony
to his champion checker skills indeed.
Unfortunately, however, though Champion George
Tanner qualified for the majors in the third
American Tournament of 1915, he lost to Hanson
in a match with a score of one win against
three wins, and two draws. George Tanner’s
checker ability still reigned high in these
two matches because he outscored Hanson with
six wins to three and thirteen draws. These
games certainly do speak loudly for the game
skill of this fine checker player.
Tanner continued to play numerous checker
games on the American circuit, and in 1919,
George beat Stewart S. Bell by a score of
four wins, two losses, and 9 draws, and this
was the exact same score that defeated Spielman.
A year later, George Tanner again challenged
Stewart Bell to a match and came out victorious
with a score of three wins, one loss, and
fifteen draws. At this time in checker history,
Stewart S. Bell was a well-known, skilled
checker player so once again. Tanner also
became the Illinois State Checker Champion
in 1919, 1920, 1923 and 1924, defeating the
renowned player and author, Preston H. Ketchum
in 1924. Therefore, his wins were definitely
reflective of his innovative play and game
In 1922, checkers player George Tanner placed
9th in the fifth American National Tournament,
slightly ahead of H. B. Reynolds, who finished
11th. He lost to the great checker champion,
Asa Long, who became the eventual winner
of this tournament. However, during this
tournament match, George Tanner forced Asa
Long to fourteen games before Long finally
beat him after thirteen hard draws. In the
playoffs of this tournament, champion George
Tanner beat Internationalist checker player,
H. B. Reynolds with a score of one win, no
losses, and three draws.
In the sixth American Tournament, George
ranked 7th, just behind Stewart, who tied
for fifth and sixth place.
Then in a sixteen game Match for the Chicago
Challenge Cup, George Tanner handily defeated
Morton B. Spielman with an end score of four
wins, two losses, and nine draws.
In 1924, George M. Tanner won 7th prize
in the sixth American National Tournament,
where he defeated the great checker internationalist
player, Mike Lieber by one win, no loss,
and five draws. Lieber placed eighth and
H. B. Reynolds placed twelfth.
George Tanner’s greatest desire and
ultimate goal was to become a member of the
American team in the second International Match
against Britain, and if not as a lead player,
then as an Alternative, at the very least.
Tanner’s checker ability was recognized on
page 83 of the sixth American Tournament book, in
the following quote,
"With such a splendid
record in match and tourney play, we might venture
to state that he has surely earned a right to be
considered as worthy timber for the International Team."
This is where the story of checker player,
George Tanner, becomes a little more speculative.
When the research was first completed on
champion George Tanner, a major source stipulated
that George did not make the American checker
team and did not play in the second International
Match in New York in 1927. This was, of course,
most unfortunate because Jesse Hanson had
the second worst score on the American team,
winning only eight games while losing five,
and Heffner, who was the captain and coach
of the team, won only six games and lost
five. Further speculation suggested that
although George Tanner possessed a great
checker prowess, he did not make the U.S.
team because he was an African American player
living in a time of racial turmoil.
Yes, in 1927, America was a country that
was racially divided, bigoted, and socially
biased. Champion George
Tanner lived in an era that was
blatantly prejudiced and as a result, was
segregated. The source could only surmise
that the fact that he was a black man who
played checkers in a higher realm and not
just as an entertainment at the local store
or with friends in the neighborhood would
have been cause not to invite him to play
on the American team.
George M. Tanner had certainly earned the
right to play checkers at a higher level
and deserved a place on the U.S. International
Team, even if it was only as an Alternate
player. I know that there are several sources
that believe that it was an injustice and
a disgrace that George Tanner was not
selected to play on that team; if fact, it
was a sad testimony of the times that he
was not even considered to play the part.
Tanner’s story also suggests that it
was a grave loss for the American team, but
worse, yet, the whole situation broke Tanner’s
heart, and destroyed both his pride and self-esteem.
It’s been said that this total
lack of consideration for his checker skill
and sportsmanship hurt him so much that he
never played another game of checkers. He
quit the game completely and stepped away
from the checker arena for good.
Oddly enough, however, as the writer researched
other checker players, two pictures were
unearthed that definitely contradict the
latter part of George Tanner’s tale.
Apparently, he was chosen
as a member of the American team to participate in the
second International Match against Britain. At least,
this is what the two photographs taken of the American
team in 1927 would suggest. George Tanner is standing
in the back row of the first photo and on the left side
in the second photo, both taken during the International
Match. Could he have been an alternate? Yes, that is
possible since no discussion exists on him or his play
during the tournament, but he certainly did take part.
Whether or not he quit checkers after this match is
uncertain, and the rest of George Tanner’s story
is mere speculation since no other checker sources have
written any accounts on this American checker player.
Scenes from the 2nd International Match:
American Team and officials
Bottom: left to right.
T.J. O'Grady, John F. Horr, A.J. Heffner, Harrah
B. Reynolds, Newell Banks. Center
Row: Harry Lieberman, Mike Lieber, Sam Gonotsky,
Louis Ginsberg, Jessie Hanson, Andrew Dossett. Back
Row: John Bradford, Asa Long, John Finley,
Joseph Lanin, Will Tyson, Saul Weslow, and
checkers champion George Tanner.