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The best free, downloadable chess database I've found is Kingbase (http://www.kingbase-chess.net). It only has games since 1990. I also have the Android Chessbase Online app, which also appears to only have relatively newer games. The only source I know of that has historical chess games is www.chessgames.com (but I don't think you can download the entire database into something like SCID).

Why are these older games so hard to come by?

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  • The Kingbase link no longer works -- another dead project? – M.M Jan 6 '20 at 23:07
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I invite you do it yourself...

https://github.com/student-t/ExtractPGN

This is my Python repository for web crawling chess games. I use it to extract PGN chess games from Chessgames. This is an example of the games I extracted:

It's trivial to change the code such that you extract all games from chessgames (entire database) into a single PGN file. I believe you're a programmer, so that shouldn't be an issue for you.

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    The github link is broken. – Qudit Apr 9 '19 at 23:11
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This is the link for SmallChess's Python repository for web crawling chess games I found it, just click here : https://github.com/pmerg/ExtractPGN

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