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William Steinitz 1836-1900
Editors: Tryfon Gavriel, Janet Edwardson of Barnet chess club (London, England)
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William Steinitz (1836-1900), The first official world champion

Index

Personal Background
Match/Tournament History
Steinitz game philosophy
Literary contributions
Other activities
Steinitz quotes
Steinitz games (pgn zipped)
Steinitz java browser
Research references and credits
Revision history

Personal background
bulletHe was born in Prague, in 1836. He was the last of thirteen children in his family.
bulletHe showed early promise as a Talmudic scholar, arguably among the best in Prague.
bulletHe was a talented mathematician, and was not set on a rabbinical career path as his parents had envisaged.
bulletSteinitz completed his mathematics studies at the polytechnical institute in Vienna. It was here he developed his skills in chess, playing for money in coffee-houses to supplement his poor student income.
bulletHe was in the city when Morphy's famous European exploits hit the headlines and revived everybody's enthusiasm in the game.

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Match/Tournament History

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Introduction

From Steinitz's match/ tournament history shown below it can be seen that he was a brilliant match player, and indeed had a spell where he was undefeated for 30 years in match play.

He also showed himself to be a great tournament player, and made incremental progress initially in the Vienna tournament, eventually winning it. This allowed him to gain an invitation place in the London International tournament of 1862.  This represented the start of his climb to the top echelons of the chess world. His two main adversaries included Anderssen and later Anderssen's star pupil Zukertort. The latter providing the platform for the 1st world championship match in 1886. Amongst his other match victims, there was Russia's top player of the time, Tchigorin; top British players Blackburne and Bird.

He successfully defended his world title in 3 matches against Tchigorin (twice) and Gunsberg respectively before finally losing to Lasker. When someone is so dominating for such a long period of time in chess history, the significance of the "uncrowned kings" such as Zukertort, Tchigorin,   Gunsberg must not be forgotten. These were also great players of the time, that were unfortunate to have to face the might of Steinitz.

The editor believes it is highly appropriate to state the prizes given in the matches and tournaments, because Steinitz as a professional player had a dependency on chess to make his living. It is unfortunate that despite his greatness in chess, he still died in poverty, less than a year after his last tournament, London 1899.

Indeed, it could be argued, that it did not help his mental state to have suffered such a dichotomy between his status in chess, and financial status outside of chess. In this light, the actions of later World Champions such as Fischer in demanding high prizes, rightly promotes chess as a game which deserves greater respect and reward, especially at the highest echelons of the game.

Year Description and implications Result
1859 Vienna championship 3rd place
1860 Vienna championship 2nd place
1861 Won the Vienna chess tournament (finally!) 1st place
1862 (June 16-July 31) London International tournament

Steinitz played in the all play all London international tournament [Editor's note: before Adam Raoof's time!], chosen to represent Austria at the greatest chess event England had seen.

The tournament format was 14 players, with time limit of 24 moves in 2 hours, no adjournments. If a draw, then then another game, until a winner emerged.

This was to be the start of Steinitz's climb to the peak of world chess. He finished in 6th place in the tournament (winning £5). Adolf Anderssen won the tournament (winning £100).

Anderssen indirectly reasserting his claim to be again regarded as the strongest player in Europe in the absence of Paul Morphy. Anderssen was too modest to make this assertion but Steinitz clearly realised that Anderssen was the player to beat.

He finished 6th. (Adolf Anderssen first)
1862 Serafino Dubois match

Serafino Dubois had finished one place above him in the above London International tournament.

Implications: Steinitz showed ambition by immediately challenging the player who finished one place above him to a match. It could be speculated that he knew he could have done better in the London International tournament and wished to prove this to himself.

He beat Dubois 5.5 - 3.5
1862 London championship. Steinitz became a chess professional after this tournament. Won with a perfect 7-0 score
1862-63 Blackburne match (London's best player at the time) (+7=2-1) (7 wins, 2 draws, one loss)
1865 Irish championship in Dublin Won
1866 London knockout tournament Won (+8=3-0)
1866 British chess association congress held in London Won (12 wins)
1866 Anderssen match

His style of play in this match was very much the style of the time- outright romantic attacking chess, which he later refined to be more positional. For example see games 2 and 4.

won 8-6
1866 Bird match Beat Bird 7-5 with 5 draws
1867 Paris tournament
[some ungentlemanly behaviour, with Steinitz spitting on Blackburne and Blackburne knocking out Steinitz!!]
3rd place (Kolisch first)
1868 7th German championship held at Aachen 2nd place (behind Anderssen)
1868 London Handicap tournament Won
1869 Blackburne match (won 6 pounds) Won
1870 Baden-Baden Steinitz, came 2nd, 1/2 point after Anderssen, ahead of Blackburne and Zuckertort
1870 Blackburne match

[Editors note: The British player Blackburne got so wound up, that he threw Steinitz out of the window at one point!! (Blackburne may have been a bit drunk at the time)]
He crushed Blackburne 8-1
1872 London tournament He won 1st prize in London (+7=1-0), ahead of Blackburne and Zuckertort.
1872 (sep) Zukertort match

This was their first early encounter and one which Steinitz made a point of emphasising to Zukertort on later occasions when they met.

It was English players who wanted Zukertort to beat Steinitz for them, paying Zukertort's expenses and a 20 guinea fee in this hope.

Johannes Zukertort was Anderssen's most outstanding pupil.

Since 1862 Steinitz had not lost a single match, thus he was an outstanding match player of his time.

he convincingly beat Zukertort (+7=4-1)
1873 Vienna tournament.

Tournament highlights: Steinitz had an amazing run of 16 successive wins. Some of his notable wins in the 16 successive wins, included double wins over L.Paulsen, Anderssen, and Blackburne.

Implications:

This tournament showed a turning point in Steinitz's style of play. There was evidence of much greater positional play than previously.

Everyone become more convinced that he was the best player in the world. He was paid 200 ducats by the Austrian Emperor.

16 successive wins, taking 1st prize (+18=5-2)

Blackburne had lost 7 games, and Steinitz had only lost 1, but in line with the scoring rules, they were deemed to have tied for 1st. In the playoff, Steinitz won 2-0

Steinitz won tie break against Blackburne 2-0

1876 Blackburne match
(This was the first time spectators were charged an entrance fee to view the match)
Won (+7=0-0)
1882 Vienna tournament Came first at Vienna with Winawer(+20=8-6) ahead of Mason, Mackenzie, Zukertort, and Blackburne

Playoff against Winawer was drawn (+1-1)

1883 London International tournament

Description: This was an absolutely massive tournament with 26 rounds of which 14 players were invited in all play all where they played each other twice.

Prizes: Due to a prize donation from the Maharajah of Vizayanagaram, the organisers were able to create a very high prize fund- more than double than ever before. 1st prize: £300, followed by 5 more prizes and even a consolation prize of £25 for the player making the best score against the 6 prize winners.

Tournament highlights: Zukertort started very powerfully winning 21 of his first 22 games! He lost his last 3 games through exhaustion!

Implications: This tournament result behind Zukertort was the pre-cursor motivation behind the 1st world championship match. Some claimed that Zukertort with this tournament victory was the strongest player in the world.

In terms of personality, Zukertort was clearly irritating to Steinitz because he was very assertful about himself, see Steinitz Personality, pretentiousness and falsehood note. This, and Steinitz moving to New York caused delays in organising a match between them.

Two chess publications at the time, provided vehicles for their bickering, London's Chess Monthly, and the International Chess Magazine.

2nd to J.H. Zukertort (+19-7) ahead of Blackburne, Chigorin, Mackenzie, Mason and Winawer.
1884 Blindfold, simultaneous exhibition matches
(He could even play cards between moves while doing simultaneous matches)
1886, Monday 11th January, 2pm 1st official World championship match in Cartier's Hall, 5th Avenue, New York against Zukertort

Match background

This was the battle of the two biggest egos of the chess world. They had  prior to the match made resourceful use of Chess Monthly and The International Chess Magazine respectively as vehicles for hurling abuse at each other across the Atlantic.

Match highlights

1st session in New York

Less than 40 people were present at the start of this historic match. However the American crowds started increasing after Steinitz won the 1st game.  Historical note: It was the first time a big demonstration board was used to help the spectators follow the moves.

Steinitz was down 4-1 after the 1st session.

2nd session in St Louis

Steinitz equalised the match to 4-4. Note: At the start of this match, Steinitz requested that the board be changed, because it used red squares which he didn't like. The board was changed to a new one using black and canary coloured squares.

3rd and last session in New Orleans

Zukertort like in the 1883 London Tournament collapsed in this final stage of the match, most likely due to exhaustion.

Match summary:

The whole match lasted 11 weeks. Although Steinitz started very badly (losing 4 winning one), the next two sessions were very successful.

Implications: This match win represented deeply for chess a win for the then 'modern' school of chess against the previous domination of the romantic era of chess.

Steinitz won +10=5-5

(match part 1: +1=0-4
part 2: +3=1-1,
part 3: +6=4-1)

1889 Tchigorin world title defence match in Cuba

Smallest prize fund ever for a world championship match (1,150 dollars)

Implications: Again the match represented more deeply the 'modern' school Vs the 'romantic school' of chess.

Beat Tchigorin (+10=1-6)
1890 Tchigorin cable match Lost
1890 Gunsburg world title defence match held at the Manhattan chess club in New York

This was the first time, that the match loser took a share of the purse (3000 dollars shared 2/3 to Steinitz and 1/3 to Gunsburg)

Beat Gunsburg  (+6=9-4)
1891 Played Tchigorin in Havana by cable

Arrested by New York police on suspicion of being a spy for using chess code over a cable. This was later resolved.

Lost
1892 Tchigorin match, world title defence match

Implications: The match represented the 'modern' school Vs the 'romantic school' of chess. This confirmed a fundamental change in direction of the style of chess widely adopted.

Beat  Tchigorin (+10=5-8)
1894 Lasker, 19 game World title defence match Lost
1895-96 St Petersburg tournament, a quadrangle match tournament Came 2nd after Lasker, ahead of Pillsbury and Tchigorin.
1896 Nuremberg Prize
1896-97 Lasker return match for World title Lost
1898 Vienna tournament

This was a fine achievement for the veteran Steinitz

4th prize
1899 London tournament   
1890 Died

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Steinitz game philosophy

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Introduction

Steinitz was the first great systematic thinker in Chess, pioneering a scientific approach to the game. He founded a school of thought which he called 'Modern' but nowadays in 1998 would be termed Classical.

Steinitz wanted to move the game forward, and so his game philosophy takes on extra significance, because it really did impact the game of chess. Indeed, one of the most influential writers ever on chess, Nimzovich was influenced by Steinitz.

Steinitz achieved his goal of taking chess forward, allowing players to view it in a more sophisticated positional way. He put an end to the domination of unsound gambits, such as the Kings Gambit and Evans gambit. [Editor's note: It should be noted however, than Steinitz started his chess career in the same attacking philosophy of his peers, and his shift towards more positional play occurred in the 1880's (see for example 1873 tournament).]

Steinitz did not keep his positional philosophy to himself, but rather used the chess publications of the time, to outline his new philosophy to players world-wide. Arguably positional philosophy had already been evidenced in some of the games of Staunton, however Staunton did not echo positional thoughts in his annotations of those games.

It is interesting to note that now, approaching the year 2000 in the year 1998, we only very occasionally see a game reminiscent of the romantic era of chess, which Steinitz shifted the game away from. For example, in the recent London International tournament, there was the following game reminiscent of the pre-Steinitz era :-

Wall,T (2370) - Ippolito,D (2430)
Hampstead IV GM (5), 29.10.1998

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nc3 Qh4+ 4.Ke2 d6 5.Nf3 Bg4 6.d4 g5 7.Nd5 Kd8 8.Kd3 c6 9.Qd2 Bxf3 10.Qa5+ b6 11.Nxb6 Bxe4+ 12.Kxe4 axb6 13.Qxa8 Qe1+ 14.Kd3 Kc8 15.Bxf4 Qxa1 16.Be2 Qxh1 17.Bg4+ f5 18.Bxf5+ Kc7 19.Qa7+ Kd8 20.Qxb8+ Ke7 21.Qxd6+ Kf7 22.Qe6+ Kg7 23.Be5+ 1-0

Steinitz's game philosophy can be bulleted as following:-

bulletThe accumulation of small advantages was a key Steinitzian principle introduced into wide chess practice. This countered the more "romantic" philosophy of the time. For example by contrast, Tchigorin emphasised the role of imagination, and to treat each position on its own merits, and not to generalise and systemise chess into a scientific game where the position is analysed from the perspective of weighing the elements in the position.
bulletSteinitz introduced the idea of balance of position. [Editor's note: Indeed a very popular book in present time (1998) is called "Reassess your chess" by Silman which elucidates the concept of "imbalances", and playing on our positive imbalances (positive differences in position). This seems to be an echo of Steinitzian theory! ]
bulletSteinitz believed the power of the pawn centre, for example he like 1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.d4?! Qh4+ Ke2 which he played stubbornly for 30 years!
bulletHe was interested in weaknesses in pawn structure, e.g. isolated pawns, doubled pawns, and holes. He advocated great care to be made before making any pawn moves, other than those needed to open the game, because holes would be created as the game progressed.
bulletIn terms of opening theory, Steinitz was not an innovator, but rather a follower. He selected and refined the opening ideas of other players. His few innovations however included the Dutch Indian.

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Steinitz personality

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Introduction

Steinitz's personality cannot be viewed in isolation to his circumstances both psychologically and physically. Since moving from Vienna to London for example, he was never comfortable with the new social framework he had to integrate himself into. This arguably is a major cause of his seemingly troublesome argumentative nature. Also in later years, he suffered physical symptoms, which caused him discomfort, and thus increased irritability.

Bulleting points about his personality:-
bulletIn the 1860's however, he was regarded as pleasant, well-tempered and a man who took defeat with a smile. He was also regarded as a kind friend who was helpful to other players, most notably the ungrateful Hoffer who arrived in England as a penniless immigrant. [Editor's note: It could be speculated that Hoffer represented someone who Steinitz could identify with, because he had to integrate himself into a foreign society]
bulletHe disliked pretentiousness and falsehood and could write scathingly for example when Zukertort decided overnight to title himself doctor of medicine. Zukertort was a supreme example in fact of someone who made very self-asserting claims, to which there was only tenuous evidence to support. This personality mismatch was unfortunate because prolonged negotiations for the 1st world championship match between them.
bulletHe never felt comfortable in London since moving from Vienna his home town, describing himself as a "foreigner for 20 years". He was proud and self sufficient. This led him to not be bound by other people's social rules. Evidence of this nature is for example in 1884, when Chess Monthly [Editors note: before the London Chess Centre!] emphasised the frequency of disputes in tournaments that had involved him. In chess politics, unsurprisingly, he was also drawn into disputes, which he entered with his usual fighting spirit.
bulletHe was generally known in his later years to be a morose, and irritable man. This coincided however with his heart trouble and painful knee injury in his later years.
bulletThe last couple of years of his life witnessed mental degradation. He had a nervous breakdown after losing his 2nd match to his World Champion successor Lasker, and he was declared insane in 1900. He died that year.

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Literary contributions

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Introduction

Publications provided a very important vehicle for the new Steinitzian philosophy to be conveyed to chess players world-wide. It was very fortunate that Chess had such a writer, and indeed Steinitz was arguable have been the best chess teacher up to that time since Philidor.

Bulleting his contributions:-
bulletEdited column in the London Figaro (owned by Napoleon III) from 1876 to 1882
bulletEdited column in The Field from 1873 to 1882. His game annotations in these columns were an outstanding improvement on what had gone on before. They encapsulated not only a critique of good moves and errors, but more fundamentally a teaching of chess as a logical science, or philosophy. The annotations were arguable an integral part of marketing the new 'modern' school of chess thought. Previously only Philidor who was perhaps too ahead of his time with his "The pawns are the soul of chess" metaphor, spoke of a higher strategy in chess, but this was not taken up by the general public. Instead , Morphy and Anderssen raised the profile of romantic chess to its highest ever level, and the role of the annotator was widely seen as one of praising the king attacker's design, and not criticising it, or even suggesting there existed defensive resources by the opponent.
bulletProprietor and editor of the International chess magazine 1885-91, one of the best and most interesting magazines, now a collectors item.
bulletWrote a book on the New York international tournament of 1889, annotating every one of the 432 games.
bulletIn Part I of the Modern chess instructor (1889) he analyses some openings and writes a long introduction, explaining some of his chess theories. (The work was never completed although he published Part II section I in 1895)

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Other activities

bullet

1873-82, he tutored chess at Cambridge and one of his students was Winston Churchill's father! He helped organise the Cambridge-Oxford chess matches which began in 1873 and still continues today!

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Steinitz games

Zip pgn file of Steinitz games
Steinitz Java Browser

Steinitz quotes

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"Capture of the adverse King is the ultimate but not the first object of the game."

Of Morphy:

"Being the greatest player of the old school, Morphy naturally exhibits most profound mastery in the sacrificing tactics directed against any weakness in the adverse king's quarters once he holds the grip of the game. But he sometimes also hazards impetuously for the purpose of precipitating a crisis, especially against a player whom he knows to be below his force. To use a philosophical illustration he employs the subjective in preference to the objective reasoning for the purpose of getting the best of the argument." (Editors note: i.e. Morphy took unnecessary risks)

Of Epstein (a rich banker) when asked by Epstein who he thought he was in response to a request to hurry up his move:

"On the Bourse you are Epstein and I am Steinitz; over the board, I am Epstein and you are Steinitz."

In the outset of his career:

"I did not play with the object to win directly, but to sacrifice a piece"

After Anderssen match in 1866:

"I was the champion of the world for twenty-eight years, because I was twenty years ahead of my time"

In reply to a  person in Vienna saying that it was time for the younger players to have some fame:

"I can spare the fame, but not the prize money"

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Research references

Books

The Kings of chess, by William Hartston
The Oxford companion to chess, by Hooper and Whyld
The Guinness book of chess grandmasters by William Hartston
The World of chess, by Saidy and Lessing

Relevant web sites

World chess champions
World chess championship matches
Tim Krabbe's chess curiorities has a good section of the full Morphy

Further Reading

William Steinitz, Chess Champion : A Biography of the Bohemian Caesar
Kurt Landsberger / Hardcover / Published 1993
William Steinitz : Selected Games
Charles Devide(Editor)
The World Chess Championship : Steinitz to Alekhine
Pablo Moran(Translator)

 

Presentation Credits
bulletIllustrations to historical flavour to this overview are Page headers and footers from Le Palamède Français (1863) courtesy of Alan Cowderoy
bulletMusic by Brahms who coincidentally lived exactly the same number of years as Steinitz, but was 3 years younger

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Paper revision history

28/11/98
bulletAdded new entries to match record for after Steinitz lost to Lasker to make match/tournament record more complete

26/11/98
bulletJava browser has been added for 300+ Steinitz games
bulletCrescendo music has been added

 

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