The Anderson - Wyllie Matches

by John McKerrow

The following contemporary account of these historic matches was provided by John McKerrow in a letter to The Draughts World in May 1899.
The first time I had the pleasure of seeing and playing Mr Wyllie was shortly before he met Mr Anderson in their first match at Edinburgh. He would be from 16 to 18 years of age, and he introduced himself by saying he wished to have two days play with me. But I forgot, I had received a letter from Ayrshire a day or two before, informing that I should get a call from a young and extraordinary player, not but that I had heard of him, but he was in a manner quite unknown to me. At the end of the two days play, I told him he would have no chance with Anderson, and the result justified the prediction.

The faith of the Edinburgh fleshers and dealers in the Herd Laddie, as they called him, was extraordinary, nothing seemed to shake it. Time and again, five in all, they pitted him against Anderson for the draughts supremacy, and out of these matches he gained only one. It was in the trial which came off at Carluke that he triumphed, but it was shrewdly suspected by the outside public, as well as by his supporters, that it was the state of Mr nderson's mind which accounted for his defeat, being nearly broken-hearted by the death of his wife shortly before. So convinced were Anderson's friends that he could still - given normal conditions - beat his youthful opponent, though they admitted the latter had made wonderful progress and was close at the heels of the former champion, that a challenge was issued - and accepted at once.

The two agreed to meet at Lanark in the Clydesdale Hotel. On that occasion, at the request of Mr Anderson, I acted as his second, and on the next (the fifth match) I was again asked to fill the position. The winning of the match at Lanark by Anderson was a surprise to many, and especially to Wyllie and his friends. Indeed it was on purpose to relate how this was brought about that I sat down to write this article.

Exactly one day before the match was finished, Mr Wyllie was two games ahead of the older player and to all appearance in a fair way of again coming out conquerer. So sure was David Brown, Anderson's principal if not only supporter, of the result, that he had almost made up his mind to losing his money. It was also the general opinion of townspeople that "Andra" would lose, and there was a good deal of downheartedness connected therewith, for Anderson was well liked, besides being counted nearly a townsman.

On the morning of the day previous to the conclusion of the match I was in the Barber's shop, when in came the Herd Laddie. At once he said in his slow deliberate way, and slightly comical lisp, "Mr McKerrow, I think I'm going to get the better of Mr Anderson this time." "I am not sure about that", I replied, and immediately left the place.I was nettled, for there was a quiet sarcastic triumph in his manner and mode of expression that piqued me. To make matters worse, that night also, some of the Lanark folk expressed themselves to me in similar fashion. "Not at all" I said, "Anderson has just been puzzling and playing with him, wait till tomorrow". When saying these words I had not the least notion what was going to take place next day; my words, in truth, were mere brag - bluffing the game as it is called.

The fact was, we were both astonished at the originality, boldness, and general excellence of Wyllie's play. He had something in the Ayrshire Lassie we had never seen before, and he put forward that game whenever he had the chance, we were baffled and that was the truth. "Come on", I said to Mr Anderson on the night in question, "this will never do, we must sit up all night and sift that game. If we can find a flaw in Wyllie's system, so headstrong and opinionative is he that he'll run into the trap every time." We did find a neat was also arranged that Anderson should put off no time but aim for a draw - when it was his turn to move first (Note by Derek Oldbry:- One is led to suspect a tiny mix-up here in remembrance: the colours do not tally). It all turned out as we desired, and, as I may say, we had foreseen. Mr Wyllie pushed his favourite to the front when he had the black men, and twice in succession was the lonely maid put to blush.

At this stage, the two being now at par, Mr Wyllie's second, an Edinburgh solicitor I believe, and financially interested in the match, addressing me proposed an adjournment. "No", I said, glancing at the eager faces of the onlookers - the house was packed, and the tension of whose mind was shown by the absolute stillness - "it would not be fair to interrupt the play at present, they have paid their money, the game is at an exceedingly critical point, and the players themselves are keen to go on." "Yes", said Mr Wyllie, in his simple straightforward way, "I think Mr McKerrow is right." This was enough. I heaved a sigh of relief, for probably an adjournment would have spoilt all. The next game, Anderson having the move, of course was a draw. It will scarcely be believed, but Wyllie, with that fixedness of purpose which was one of his characteristics, and an admirable one when under control, pushed the beautiful Ayrshire damsel as before into the identical same fix, with the inevitable result, that she again was humiliated.

Then came a full-throated acclamation of the victor, which was taken up by those outside. The landlord of the Globe then requested the attendance of principals, seconds, and a few sympathisers and friends in a private room, when he very handsomely placed on the table five bottles of prime wine.

Certainly the match was won, not by superior play but mainly by a knowlege of a weak point in Mr Wyllie's mental organism. I have said that Edinburgh people were so set on Mr Wyllie that nothing seemingly could shake their confidence. In proof of this, another challenge to Mr Anderson was issued by the Herd Laddie, the match this time to come off in the metropolis. The gage was at at once lifted, and the place of meeting agreed on was thr Robin Hood Tavern, a well-known and highly respectable resort in the city. This was the fifth contest between the two, and the last appearance in public, as a principal, of Anderson. As stated above, he again desired me to act as his second.

There have been various versions as to how this match was won, but I will now give the true one. Nothing that I can say will detract from Anderson's established merit, and without egoism, nothing I may set down, permit me to say, will add to my own. There is little in it, but in referring to this match I am, as it were, compelled to tell it, to make it intelligible. There are only three who knew of it: Drummond, Anderson and myself, and two of them are dead men, years ago.

The main condition of this match was like the others: that the first nine won games secured by a contestant should entitle him to be declared dominus. Anderson managed eight, but do his best, he could not get the other one. Wyllie's fence end defence was so good. It was so good that Anderson said to me one day, "I am sick of it, I'll draw the match, besides it is expensive staying here." "Nonsense", I replied, "you have only one game to get and the money is yours." "True," he said, "but how are we to get that game?" "Let Drummond," I returned, "take my place with the watch, and I'll practice all day by myself and see what can be done." This was agreed to, and at night I showed Anderson and Drummond what I had wrought out. Drummond averred it would do, if adroitly managed. Next day, it was tried, and it did exactly what it was meant to do, win the game.

And now perhaps it may be possible to attempt of Mr Wyllie as a draughts player. I risk nothing by making the statement that he was, without cavilling, one of the very few who have gained a certain point in draughts playing. It will not be denied, Mr Wyllie had a very large share of that precious and indefinable thing called genius, without which no one, however industrious, and book-learned, can hope to attain pre-eminance at the game.

What were Mr Wyllie's prime characteristics as a player? In my opinion there were two - originality and dourness - anglice doggedness, his courage was splendid. The originality was shown not so much by brilliant play, as by masterly combinations, and massing of his forces into well nigh impregnable positions, against which many a gallant foe dashed himself in vain. Not that he could not make a daring charge with the best, but that from temperament and choice his mode was steady sustained advancement, once gained, always kept. When playing Mr Wyllie, one had the impression of contending against a force, equable and powerful, not erratic, but constant and continuous. When at his best his play was of an extraordinary high nature.Like a long-distance runner, he went off at one speed and kept it up to the end. He knew where he excelled, he knew his staying power, and whenever he could manage it he preferred a long match to a short one.

To compare Mr Anderson with Mr Wyllie, I would with all diffidence say that, while both stand on the same platform, what distinguishes the one from the other in a general sense is that Mr Anderson was mre versatile, quicker at perceiving and taking any advantage, while Mr Wyllie was more pertinacious, if slower, and when he got a chance, more deadly. Equally far sighted, the versatility and deftness of the one was counter-balanced by the momentum of the other.