Tennison Gambit

by Bill Wall


Otto Mandrup Tennison was born in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 8, 1834.  He attended Heidelberg University in Germany as an engineering student and graduated at the age of 20.  He then moved to Richmond, Virginia and became a surveyor.  He then traveled to Kansas Territory where he surveyed an area which became the city of  Leavenworth in 1854.  It was the first incorporated city in Kansas.


On May 31, 1861, Tennison enlisted as a Union Sergeant in the First Regiment Kansas Infantry.   He was erroneously reported killed in action in August, 1861 at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek (also known as the Battle of Oak Hills), near Springfield, Missouri.  It was the first major battle of the Western Theater of the American Civil War and sometimes called the “Bull Run of the West.”  It was a Confederate victory.


He was later appointed 1st Lieutenant, then Captain (November, 1961), then Lieutenant Colonel  in August, 1862.  He served under Major General Ulysses S. Grant.   Tennison was the Commander of the 1st Kansas Infantry, organized at Camp Lincoln, near Leavenworth, Kansas.


In May, 1863, Tennison made a conscious decision not to support the Union cause and resigned his commission.  He was ordered to report to Camp Alton in Illinois to face court-martial, but escaped and took a horse to the Confederate camp of General Edmund Kirby Smith (1824-1893) in Kentucky.


Tennison, who wanted to join the Confederate Army, was, instead, taken as prisoner and held captive for 16 months.  The Confederates thought Tennison was a Union spy and he was sentenced to hang.  But at the last minute, his sentence was reprieved and he was sent to Shreveport, Louisiana.  Convinced he was not a Union spy, the Confederate army gave him the rank of Captain in June, 1863.  He was later wounded at the Battle of Pleasant Hill near Pleasant Hill, Louisiana on April 9, 1864.

He became a drill master throughout the rest of the Civil War.  He left the Confederate army in June, 1865 and moved to New Orleans.  He worked as a civilian in the commissary.


In 1873, Captain Tennison commanded a company in New Orleans and resorted to an armed insurrection against the New Orleans Reconstruction government.


Over the years, Tennison was involved in other military commands and participated in the Louisiana Militia, the Continental Guards, the German Battalion, the Orleans Light Infantry, and the Louisiana National Guard, in which his unit was known as the “Tennison Rifles.”  The unit had 75 members.


In the 1880, Tennison was a charter member of the New Orleans Chess, Checker, and Whist Club.


Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, he served as a reporter for the Republican newspaper and was also involved as a court reporter at the House of Representatives of the State of Louisiana.


On July 26, 1891, he published analysis on the opening 1.Nf3 d5 2.e4 (which can also be reached by 1.e4 d5 2.Nf3) , which appeared in the New Orleans Times-Democrat.  He called the opening the “Black Rook’s Gambit.”  It was later called the Tennison Gambit or the Abonyi Gambit, named after Istvan Abonyi (1886-1942), a chess master from Hungary who first analyzed and played 1.Nf3 d5 2.e4 in 1912.


In 1893, Tennison played two games against Emanuel Lasker in a simul.  Tennison won one game and lost one game against Lasker.

On June 10, 1909, at the age of 74, he died in the Confederate Soldiers’ Home in New Orleans.


The first analysis of 1.Nf3 d5 2.e4 appeared in 1825 in a Spanish text that was published in Barcelona.  Tennison was playing it in New Orleans in 1891.  The opening was also found in some games in Manchester, England in 1891.    Paul Keres was playing it by correspondence in 1932.


The Tennison Gambit is a direct precursor to the Budapest Gambit, 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e5.


Tennison – NN, New Orleans 1891

1.Nf3 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Ng5 f5 4.Bc4 Nh6 5.Nxh7 Rxh7 6.Qh5 Kd7 7.Qg6 Rh8 8.Be6+ Kc8 9.Bxc8 Qd6 10.Qe8 Kb6 11.Qa4  1-0


Krecjik – Takacs, Vienna 1920

1.Nf3 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Ng5 Qd5 4.d3 exd3 5.Bxd3 Qxg2 6.Be4  1-0


Oskam – Demmendal, Leiden 1933

1.Nf3 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Ng5 Nf6 4.Nc3 Bf5 5.Qe2 c6 6.Ngxe4 Nbd7?? 7.Nd6 mate  1-0


Wall – Lovegren, Dayton 1986

1.Nf3 d5 2.e4 Bg4 (2…dxe4) 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.Nc3 Qd8 5.h3 Bh5 6.g4 Bg6 7.Ne5 Qd6 8.d4 a6 9.Bg2 Ra7 10.Bf4 Qe6 11.O-O c6? 12.Nxg6 Qxg6 13.Bxb8  1-0


Bock – Hackbarth, Bavaria 2000

1.Nf3 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Ng5 Nf6 4.Bc4 e6 5.Nc3 Be7 6.Ncxe4 b6 7.Qe2 Nbd7 8.Nxf7 Kxf7 9.Ng5+  1-0


Wall – Chochu, Internet 2002

1.Nf3 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Ng5 Qd5 4.h4 f6 5.Nc3 Qd8 6.Ngxe4 f5 7.Ng5 h6 8.Qh5+ Kd7 9.Rh3  1-0