A Note on Ben Foster

John S Hilbert

I found the article and cover from Ben R. Foster on p.12 of Chesstamp Review #139 quite interesting. I’ve been collecting material for a book on Max Judd, and so of course have been examining St. Louis chess quite a bit. I’ve managed to find more than 440 of Judd’s games, but no doubt a few more will show up.

I’ve also collected several of Foster’s games as well, and although he wasn’t a very strong player, he certainly was enthusiastic about the game. Here’s one you won’t find in the usual databases:

E.S. Hillyer – Ben R. Foster [C50]

International Correspondence Match, 1890

Played in the recent correspondence match between the United States and Canada between E.S. Hillyer, M.D., of Hamilton, Ontario, and Ben R. Foster of this city. Commenced December 29, 1888, and finished March 29, 1890. 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.Bd5 d6 5.c3 Nf6 6.a4 a5 7.d4 exd4 8.b4 Bb6 9.Bxc6+ bxc6 10.Nxd4 Nxe4 11.0–0 0–0 12.Nxc6 Qf6 13.Be3 Bxe3 14.fxe3 Nxc3 15.Nxc3 Qxc3 16.Ne7+ Kh8 17.Nd5 Qe5 18.Qd3 Ra7 19.b5 c6 20.bxc6 Ba6 21.Qb3 Bxf1 22.Rxf1 h6 23.c7 Qe6 24.Qb8 Ra8 25.Qb7 Kh7 26.Re1 f5 27.Nf4 Qc4 28.Rd1 Rac8 29.Nd5 Qxa4 30.Rd4 Qc2 31.Rf4 a4 32.Rf2 Qc1+ 33.Rf1 Qc5 34.h3 Rxc7 35.Nxc7 Rf7 36.Qd5 Rxc7 37.Qd3 g6 38.Ra1 Qc3 39.Qxc3 Rxc3 40.Rxa4 Rxe3 41.Ra7+ Kg8 42.Kf2 Re6 43.Kf3 Kf8 44.Rh7 h5 45.g4 fxg4+ 46.hxg4 hxg4+ 47.Kxg4 Ke8 48.Ra7 Re7 49.Ra6 Kd7 50.Ra7+ Ke6 51.Ra6 Ke5 52.Kf3 Re6 53.Ke3 d5 54.Ra1 g5 55.Rg1 Kf5+ 56.Kd4 g4 57.Rf1+ Kg5 58.Rf8 g3 59.Kxd5 Re2 60.Kd4 Kg4 61.Kd3 Rh2 62.Ke3 Rh7 63.Ke2 Kh3 64.Kf1 Kh2 65.Rg8 Rf7+ 66.Ke1 g2 67.Rh8+ Kg1 68.Ke2 Re7+ 69.Kd1 Re5 70.Kd2 Kf2 The Republic (St. Louis), April 6, 1890 0–1

Foster also came up with a new variation of the game, based on an additional piece, the Chancellor, which moved like a rook and knight, as a kind of parallel to the Queen moving as a rook and bishop. I'm writing from memory, but I believe he played the game on a 9 x 9 board and I know he wrote a book about it, Chancellor Chess, a small 80 or so page affair, that he offered readers. Judd thought he was nuts (and I have the quotation to that effect), but Albert Hodges at least was willing to play a game of Chancellor chess with the inventor, and it was eventually published. A number of chess problems were composed using the Chancellor piece. Obviously, it didn't catch on.

The following is from the American Chess Bulletin. A sad end for Foster, that’s for sure:

American Chess Bulletin, January 1926, p.10:

Ben. R. Foster of St. Louis

“It is with deep regret that, through the courtesy of L.T. Maenner, president of the Missouri Pacific St. Louis Chess Club, we learn of the sad death of Ben R. Foster, for many years the chess editor of the St. Louis “Globe-Democrat” and for long the secretary of the old St. Louis Chess Club, which latterly became merged with the organization mentioned first. Of this the deceased was an honorary and much beloved member. According to the report we have, his end was self-inflicted, doubtless under stress of very great pain.”

“With Max Judd as president, Mr. Foster was largely instrumental in bringing about the Seventh American Chess Congress at St. Louis, late in 1904. He worked incessantly for the good of chess in St. Louis. Rated among the best players in that city, he also took a keen interest in problems, of which he composed quite a few.”

“We quote the following from the “Globe-Democrat” of January 3:”

“Benjamin R. Foster, 75, connected with the Globe-Democrat for thirty-seven years as chess editor and in the business office, who retired on pension about a year ago, was found dead, shot through the head in the bathroom of his home, 6163 McPherson avenue, early yesterday morning by his wife, Mrs. Julia Foster. Foster was retired because of eye trouble and it is thought this, with ill health, caused his action.”

“Before becoming connected with the Globe-Democrat, Foster conducted a private school, known as Foster Academy, at Sixteenth and Pine streets. He was a graduate of Westminster College, Fulton, Mo., and in 1923 celebrated the golden anniversary of his graduation. He was a member of the class of 1873.”

“Foster conducted the chess column appearing in the Globe-Democrat before the war. He was conceded to be an expert, and his opinions were widely quoted. He is survived by his widow and two children, Randall Foster, 626 Waterman avenue, and Mrs. G.A. hope, 5328 Delmar boulevard.”