Recently, IM Jeremy Silman contributed an article featuring the talent of Ignatz Kolisch, one of the strongest, if not the strongest, player during the 1860s.
Mr. Silman's article, Kolisch: Unknown Tactical Monster, demonstrated Kolisch's style and tactical acumen but the following article looks at Kolisch from a different angle.
Like most players in the post 1860 era Kolisch was haunted by Paul Morphy's (then very much alive) specter.
Below is a memorial published in California's "Daily Alta" on Oct. 27, 1889. Even at Kolisch's death the author felt compelled to focus 2 of his 3 paragraphs attempting to explain Kolisch's inability to secure a match with Morphy.
Paul Morphy and Ignatz Kolisch shared a birth year, 1837. Morphy died in 1884 while Kolisch lived until 1889. They both came into the chess world fast and strong and both gave up public chess at the height of their respective chess careers - Morphy to retire into what he thought was the security of his fortune, Kolisch to seek his.
They were very similar in another, perhaps unexpected, way.
The "Schachzeitung" Oct./Nov., 1861 [ed. Lange, Suhle and Hirshfeld] described the 24 year old Kolisch in it's article on the Bristol Chess Congress of Sept. 1861 :
"Gegner bot dem Zuschauer einen sehr interessanten Contrast dar.
Der eine, Paulsen, gross, breitschulterig, mit markigen Zügen und
durchweg kräftig gebaut; der andere, Kolisch, klein, schmächtig und
von beinahe mädchenhaftem Aussehen"
"The personal appearance of the two opponents offered the
audience a very interesting contrast. On the one side Paulsen,
tall, wide-shouldered, with striking features and athletically built
through and through; the other, Kolisch, small, slender and almost
girlish in appearance."
which is very similar to physical descriptions of Morphy:
"Morphy was short of stature, but well, and even gracefully,
proportioned, save that his hands and feet were preternaturally
small, the former being very white and well shaped."
-Rev. G.A. MacDonnell
"His face was that of a boy of fifteen, with as yet no single
vestige of either beard or moustache. As his age was a few
months over twenty-one at the time to which I refer, it is probable
that at no period of his life was he destined to become "bearded
like the Pard," or, indeed, ever to apply a razor to his boyish face.
I remember his gloves were ladies', and his shoes a child's size,
into which not one woman in a hundred thousand could have
squeezed her feet." -James Mortimer
The images of Kolisch don't seem to relect that desctiption, but the Chess-monthly in 1881 noted the big change in Kolisch since his youth:
Morphy - Kolisch continued below the section between the purple lines.
Before we proceed....
Some Biographical Notes:
Ignatz, born in Bratislava, then part of the Kingdom of Hungary, on April 6, 1837 was the son of Regine and Carl Wolf Kolisch. His mother died when he was 12 while his father died just a year before Ignatz' greatest chess victory in 1867. He was the middle child in a rather large family of 3 older brothers, Emanuel (born in 1827, who became a pediatrician), Samuel (born in 1829), Johann and one whose name isn't known (born in 1816 and may or may not have died in infancy), and 3 younger sisters, Júlia (born in 1839), Johanna (born in 1838) andTherese (born in 1844) . On June 9, 1882 he married the much younger Irma Rayz, the daughter of Alvis Rayz (or Rajsz) who was born on Feb. 11, 1855. Irma, writing under the pen-name Miradek had many of her articles published in both Austrian and Hungarian magazines.
Ignatz studied in Milan and Vienna but it was in St. Petersburg where he came in contact with Grigory Alexandrovich Kushelev-BezborodkoIlya (publisher of the magazine "Russkoye Slovo," and, from 1859-1863, it's supplement, "Shakhmatnyi Listok," the first Russian chess periodical) whose father, Count Alexander Gregorievich Kushelev-Bezborodko, along with Ilya Schumov, had founded the first Russian chess club, the St. Petersburg Society of Chess Amateurs, in his palacial home on Gagarinskaya Street in 1853. This was the center of chess activity in St. Petersburg where visitors might see Petoff, Shumov, the brothers Urusov, Jaenisch, Viktor Mikailov, Ivan Butrimov, Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky, Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev, Ivan Tuegenev, Leo Tolstoy and many other influential persons. Kolisch apparently flourished there. He became the personal secretary to the younger Kushelev-BezborodkoIlya.
[Many sources say Kolish was secretary to Sergei Urusov, and it's easy to see why. But although Kolisch undoubtedly was in contact with Urusov, he traveled with Grigory Alexandrovich Kushelev-BezborodkoIlya who as one of the largest land-owners at that time, was also one of the richest and most influential Russians. German papers referred to him as "Grafen Kuschelow," while English papers sometimes called him "Count Koucheleff."]
Traveling with his employer, Kolisch played chess wherever they went and built a reputation. While it would be difficult, if not impossible, to trace all of Kolisch's steps during his employment with Kushelev-BezborodkoIlya until it ended in Feb. 1863, the following vingette, presented by John Odin Howard Taylor of the Norwich Chess Club [published in the "BCM" July, 1889] shows Kolisch giving fantastic odds in London in 1859:
During the latter part of 1859, I was studying in London for my examination. Desperately hard I worked day and night. Oh! how I remember the cats in that bitier winter, and the Norfolk turkey at Christmas! My sitting-room looked upon a blank waste and sun was conspicuous by absence. My only living companion was a spider—he died or was lost through want of a fly! Very accessible from my lodgings were the Philidorian chess rooms in Rathbone Place [46 Rathbone Place, Oxford Street], then kept byr Mr. Starie. There was a little book shop below, where one could buy the Chess Player's Chronicle or Greco. One went up a modest staircase and turned to the right, entering a small room not over well supplied with chess boards and men, but where some of the greatest players of that day were wont to meet, sometimes vanishing into an inner chamber for whist. Here I found my almost only recreation from weary law.
The place being Anti-Stauntonian, was not 'fashionable'; nor had it the glory of the 'Divan,' in its best days, and then noble locale. Among the frequenters were Zytogorski, Harrwitz, Falkbeer, Campbell, Wormald, Healey, Kling, and Duffy, and many strong and enthusiastic amateurs. It was visited by such provincial amateurs as Mr. Gocher, of Ipswich; it was the scene of many matches; the finest efforts of then problem composers were set up there; chess periodicals edited and new combinations conceived and tested.
Through that room I made the acquaintance of the lamented Baron Kolisch, when he first arrived in England, and afterwards enjoyed his company as guest at Norwich, in 1861. Whilst staying with me he played simultaneously thirteen members of the Norwich Chess Club, giving the odds of the Knight, and with the result that he won 8 and drew 2 games. Our only players who oould make a stand at these odds, were Mr. Rainger, the problem composer (then champion of the Norfolk and Norwich Chess Club); Mr. Crook (its veteran hon. sec. now), and myself. The success of Kolisch at odds was most marked. He gave odds quite disproportioned to the strength of his opponents as measured with others—witness the Trieste game [see game below], of which he was justly proud; and which delighted his backer beyond measure.
He was in the habit of giving the Knight to such experienced and praotical amateurs as Mr. Maude, of the Divan. There was much talk of a match with Morphy, and when at the pitch of his skill, I think the Hungarian would have run the American hard. The latter played with more ease but not greater brilliancy.
The qualities of Kolisch were proved not only in the matches with Anderssen and Louis Paulsen, but by his great victory at Paris. From the French tournament, Anderssen was absent, but he had to meet Steinitz and Neumann. The profound combination by which he won of the latter, is hardly surpassed in practical play, and what a master Neumann then was (after years of practice with the professor of Breslau), is demonstrated by his game won of Steinitz, in which attack and defence are superb.
Still, it was not in heavy match play, that, to my taste, Kolisch shone most. There was too much of the artist in him, as there was in Boden, for mere winning, for money. He thoroughly loved a brilliant partie.
At the time when we met he was by no means a quick player,—hour-glasses were not established—and he would sit, with utmost patience of analysis, where a gem was possible. His figure—when he visited us in Norwich—was slim; his smile, charming; his manners (especially in the presence of ladies), graceful and refined. One could trace, as in so many of the continental masters, Jewish blood and a distinct air of good breeding. He was a great admirer of scenery, and delighted with Thorpe and the ancient trees and sylvan loveliness of the Earl of Kimberley's seat.
Kolisch affords the solitary example of a professional player rising to title and wealth. He did not, like Steinitz and Zukertort, exclusively devote his energies to a pastime, but utilized the brain strength (derived from cheas) in other directions.
In the portrait, which, accompanied by kindest words, he forwarded to Pine Banks a year or two back, one felt that the friendship was as of yore—recalled the same smile—but, as to the form,—alas!
In 1861, I was so keen upon chess, so ambitions of excelling, that I should rather have given up professional prospects than missed a chess crown. To Kolisch I owe (and my family owe) an inestimable debt of gratitude for, frankly saying I never could be "first class" however much I tried—and never could get beyond the status of one just above pawn and move. It was a turning advice: and may excuse this tribute by a contemporary amateur (with a moral), to one of the greatest of chess masters.
J. O. H. Taylor published the "Trieste" game in his book, Chess Brilliants" -
For a listing of Kolisch's match and tournament results, see Rod Edward's Kolisch page on his Edo Historical Chess Ratings site. The apex of his chess career arrived in 1867 when, while attending the strong tournament in Paris as a spectator, he was convinced to enter. He won that tournament and the Napoleon Prize [which, according to G.A. MacDonnell, he sold immediately for "£160 cash"] in spectacular style and promptly retired from public chess.
The "Chess Monthly" on Dec. 1881 wrote:
The following item, we are sure, will interest our readers, as it
concerns the celebrated player Mr. Kolisch, who was formerly a
resident of London. Mr. Kolisch abandoned public play after his
success in the Paris Tournament 1867, where he won the first prize.
Since then he gradually rose as a financier, and is for many years
past a banker in Paris. Mr. Kolisch has lately been elevated to the
rank of a Baron of the Austrian Empire. Baron Ignatz von Kolisch
arrived at Vienna in September last to superintend the enlargement
of a splendid villa on the Kahlenberg, near Vienna, which he had
bought from the celebrated painter Felix. On the 14th of September
the Empress of Austria arrived at the Kahlenberg by special train in
company w ith H. I. M., two brothers, the Archdukes Lndwig and
Carl Theodor, with their consorts, as well as Princess Marie of Bavaria,
and Baron Kolisch had the high honour of receiving an unexpected
visit from the exalted lady and suite. The company expressed their
gratification at the tasteful arrangements of the apartments and the
beautiful view of the surroundings.
Kolisch threw another party at his estate following his June wedding to Irma:
Chess Monthly June, 1882
On the 18th ult., it being Ascension-day, no play took place,
and Baron Kolisch invited the combatants to spend the day at
his princely villa on the Kahlenberg. Unpropitious weather prevented
any outdoor sports in the extensive grounds, but the guests sat down
to Chess and other games in the spacious winter garden and the
magnificent saloons of the host. Baroness Kolisch made the honneurs
in a most charming manner. Baron Rothschild, who was unavoidably
absent from the banquet, joined the society afterwards. His
Excelleney Baron Heydebrandt von der Lasa, the illustrious anthor
of the "Handbuch," was also present, and his toast was enthusiastically
received. The distinguished gentleman replied both in English and
German. By the time this reaches the reader the first part of the
Tournament will be conclnded, and the second act begun. This division
is a very happy thought, and much more interesting than as if the
two games which the competitors have to play with each other had
been played off at once—in fact, we have two one-game Tournaments,
and it is possible that the best in the first may not take high honours
at the conclusion of the second, which is likely to extend up to the
end of June.
The "Oxford Companion to Chess" tells us:
"In 1871, the Rothschilds helped to set him up as a banker in Vienna;
he became established within two years, a millionaire by 1880 and
was created a baron the following year. Soon afterward he bought a
newspaper, the "Weiner Allgemeine Zeiting," in which he wrote
under a pen-name."
Baron Albert von Rothschild had a fixation with chess and would be a major patron of the game for half a century. He helped establish and served as Chairman and later president of the Wiener Schachgesellschaft which would have many great players as members in its history. Rothschild became Kolisch's chess and business sponsor sometime around 1864 (the OCC states that Kolisch was first introduced to the Rothschilds in 1859).
Besides his financial ventures, Kolisch founded a short-lived financial publication, "Grüne Blätter," and in March 1880 he founded the popular liberal newspaper "Wiener Allgemeine Zeitung."
Theodor Hertzka served as editor until 1886 and Kolisch supplied articles himself under the pseudonym, "Ideka." He lost a small fortune in this venture and sold it in Oct. 1888. Around the same time, his health began to fail and most sources state he died of renal (kidney) failure "after prolonged suffering" (according to "Oesterreichische lesehalle," June 1889) with his funeral at the funeral home located I., Ebendorferstrasse 10 [currently the site of the Pension Residenz Hotel], Vienna on May 2 at 10 a.m. with the burial in the Jewish section of the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery).
[It may be worth noting that a "Dr. Kolisch of Vienna" published a well-received paper on kidney disease in 1889.]
After his death, his wife continued to sponsor chess events at the Vienna Chess Club until 1891 when she moved to Budapest. In Nov. 1899, the "BCM" wrote: "An international tourney, in which magnificent prizes will be offered, will probably be held in Vienna in 1894. The Baroness von Kolisch has promised such a contribution as will free the undertaking from any financial difficulties." This International tournament never occured.
Now, let's flesh out this ghost of Morphy and examine the exchanges between him and Kolisch.
On March 16, 1861 the "Illustrated London News" wrote:
We believe it is perfectly true that a wealthy foreign nobleman
(Kushelev-BezborodkoIlya) has offered to back Mr. Kolisch in a match
against the American player, Morphy, for 500 pounds a side, and
that a challenge has been forwarded to the latter."
A challenge feeler was sent to Morphy via Napoleon Marache that specified an 11 game match between Kolisch and Morphy at £500 per side to be played in either London or New York City.
On June 8, 1861 Morphy replied to the challenge, also via Marache with:
...Having now, however, returned to my home, and my attention
being turned to more serius matters, I cannot be expected, much
as I should be grateful to play with Mr. Kolisch, to forsake everything
for the purpose of contesting a match with that gentleman. Especially
is this impossible at the present time, as a moment's consideration will
satisfy you. (Morphy is hinting about secession and the war).
All I can promise (and I wish it to be understood as a special
exception to the rule I have adopted, of playing no matches in future)
is so to arrange my time, whenever I may again visit the Old World, as
to devote a couple of weeks, or more if necessary, to the contemplated
match. I must state, in this connection, that I positively decline playing
for any stake whatever. The non-acceptance of this clause by Mr. Kolisch
will be fatal to the match.
...a quiet, friendly match attended with no publicity, would afford me
much pleasure, as I am sure it would to Mr. Kolisch. I shall with pleasure
engage in a contest of that description whenever I may again have the
good fortune to cross the ocean."
According Charles de Maurian:
On his return from his European triumphs, he entered into an
engagement with his mother never again to play for a money or other
stake; never to play a public game or a game in a public place, and
never again to encourage or countenance any publication of any sort
whatever in connection with his name."
Morphy returned to Europe, landing in Cádiz, Spain in December of 1862. On February 14, 1863 Kolisch wrote to Morphy the following letter published in "La Nouvelle Regénce" in March 1863:
The distinguished reputation you have acquired at chess
has long since excited in me an ambition - presumptuous perhaps,
but very ardent - to have the honor of encountering you at that game.
You will remember that two years since my friends endeavored to
bring us together and transmitted you a proposal, to which you replied
by a promise equivalent to a formal engagement in case you should
ever return to Europe - a promise which was made public in the
American journal, "Wilkes' Spirit of the Times," and which has been
registered in "La Nouvelle Regénce." On the faith of this engagement
I left England when I heard of your arrival in Paris to put myself at your
disposal. Knowing, however, that at the beginning of your visit private
considerations withheld you from playing chess, I abstained from
communicating my resolution. But now, Sir, that you have resumed a
recreation in which you so much excell [sic], and daily play the game
with various adversaries, the time appears to arrive when I can recall
to you your former promise.
I am sure, Sir, that I shall not appeal to your courtesy in vain;
and I believe you will think it reasonable that I should exercise the
same liberty which you used when you first came and threw down the
gauntlet to the chief players of Europe.
Justified by both your promise and your example, I have the honor to
propose to you a chess match. The conditions, if you please, shall be
the same as those first proposed to you in the letter of the secretary
of the St. George's Club - namely, that whichever of us wins the first
eleven games shall be pronounced the conqueror.
Awaiting your reply, I beg you to accept the assurance of my
According to the Oxford Companion to Chess, "he [Kolisch] went from London to Paris where he met Morphy 'who broke his promise to play a match.'"
It could be construed this way if one's purpose is to denigrate Morphy (a noticable affliction of the OCC), but the facts remain that Morphy had made a more demanding promise to his mother and additionally had ammunition with which to resolve the issue honorably.
In response to this seemingly reasonable challenge, Morphy apparently sent to Kolisch a note, declining the offer to play, explaining his desire to divorce himself from competitive chess. In addition, Morphy sent a copy of the note to "La Regénce," asking them to publish this additional statement:
I could have believed at the time when hearing of your
successes that you are superior to other players I had encountered in
Europe, but since, as you are well aware, the result of your matches
with Messrs. Anderssen and Paulsen had not been favorable to you,
there is now no reason why I should make an exception in your case,
having decided not again to engage in such matches, an infringement
of my rules which I should be obliged to extend to others, &C, &C.
Morphy further indicated his resolve to abandon competitive chess in his letter to Willard Fiske dated February 4, 1863 (before Kolisch re-affirmed his standing challenge). It was ostensibly a reply to Fiske concerning an invitation to Morphy by the Vienna Chess Club:
My dear Fiske,
Pray, do not be too prompt in condemning the tardiness of
my reply, for in this case at least, it can be justified. I have purposely
abstained from returning an immediate answer to your favor, in the
hope of being enabled to take a trip to Vienna, not for the sake of
chess-playing, but activated by the very natural desire to see you after
such a lapse of time as has gone by since my last visit to New York, and
inquire about old friends and associations made doubly dear by the sad
events that are transpiring in our distracted America. Much as I would
enjoy a visit to Germany for those and other reasons, I am sorry to say
that it will not be in my power to leave Paris at present. I am here
with my brother in law and part of my family, the remainder being in
New Orleans. We are all following with intense anxiety the fortunes of
the tremendous conflict now raging beyond the Atlantic, for upon the
issue depends our all in life. Under such circumstances you will readily
understand that I should feel little disposed to engage in the objectless
strife of the chess board. Besides, you will remember that as far back
as two years ago I stated to you in New York my firm determination to
abandon chess altogether. I am more strongly confirmed than ever in
the belief that the time devoted to chess is literally frittered away.
It is, to be sure, a most exhilarating sport, but it is only a sport; and it
is not to be wondered at that such as have been passionately addicted
to the charming pastime should one day ask themselves whether sober
reason does not advise its utter dereliction. I have, for my own part,
resolved not to be moved from my purpose of not engaging in chess
hereafter. The few games that I have played here have been
altogether private and sans facon.
I never patronize the Café de la Regénce; it is a low, and, to
borrow a Gallicism, ill-frequented establishment.
Hoping that you will excuse my dilatoriness, and wishing you health
I remain Yours truly,
So it's obvious that Morphy resolved to give up public chess and was avoiding any indication to the opposite.
Morphy mentioned Kolisch's recent matches with Paulsen and Anderssen (against both of whom Morphy had a tremendously lopsided score to his advantage -see the notes under "Added Information" below) as proof enough that Kolisch wasn't deserving of a match with him. Those two matches, which took place only months after Morphy's initial and favorable response to Kolisch's challenge, each hold certain particularities worth looking at.
His match with Anderssen took place in in London in the summer of 1861. It was the first match played under strictly measured time limits - 24 moves in 2 hours as measured by a sand-glass. Anderssen won 4, Kolisch 3 with 2 draws. Anderssen's winnings were the 10 guineas raised by the members of the London Chess Club.
According to the "Westminster Papers," Feb. 1875
THE TIME LIMIT IN TOURNEYS.
In the rear 1860 the London Chess Club got up a little match on even
terms between Mr Kolisch and myself. Mr Kolisch of course won the
match, but in one or two of the games I was fortunate enough to run
him rather hard. In one game some position of difficulty arose,
and over three successive moves he took more than two hours,
occupying fifty-five minutes over one of their. Now, sir,
although this was complimentary to my skill, it was, as you may
imagine, a weariness, to the flesh, and I set my wits to work to devise
some means of putting an end to a system of playing matches which
had been creeping on until it had grown, as will be remembered, into
a scandal. . . Spurred on by what had token place in my little contest,
I was led to propose the method which has prevailed ever since in
every match of importance. This I need scarcely say, is the regulation
which allows a player to spend any specified time , . over any
specified number of moves. . . This was the system adopted in the
match between Anderssen and Kolisch, at Bristol in 1861 [The match
was played at the London Chess Club, not in Bristol]."
George W. Medley, Jan. 18, 1875
Remembering the descriptive comparison between Paulsen and Kolisch from the Bristol Congress given at the beginning of this article, what wasn't said is that Paulsen won that 1861 knockout tournament ahead of Kolisch. The Bristol Congress took place in mid-September and afterwards Kolisch and Paulsen agreed to a match in which the winner would be the first to score 11 games. There are so many different scores given by reputable sources that the exact score can't be determined, but they all agree that Paulsen was a game up when the match was abandonned as drawn.
Here is Rev. G. A. MacDonnell's recollection:
That same year he [Paulsen] played a match with Kolisch, which,
after a prolonged contest, was abandoned as drawn; at one time
Paulsen's score was 6 to 1, but, greatly to his credit, Kolisch fought on
bravely, and eventually scored 5 to his opponent's 6, with 14 draws.
It was reported at time that when the score was 6 to 1 against Kolisch,
he was greatly encouraged to exert himself to the utmost by the
back-pats and promises of pecuniary reward given to him by the late
Mr. N. Strode, of Chiselhurst, [with whom Kolisch was staying] a
well-known member of the St. George's Chess Club. It was said Mr.
Strode gave him £5 for every game he drew, and a still larger sum
for every game he won.
The lack of a match between Morphy and Kolisch is one of the most unfortunate of failed opportunities. Had Kolisch been a couple years earler or had he been in the U.S. at the time of his initial challenge, we might have some more great games to marvel at. But the match seemed doomed by Morphy's determination to retire from public chess.
[Thanks to member bouncing_check who helped me with the German passages]
In comparing Morphy to Kolisch by way of their common opponents, Paulsen and Anderssen:
In Dec. 1858 Morphy beat Anderssen +7-2=2 and then +5-1 in a 3 hour skittle match.
Out of 11 games contested between Paulsen and Morphy, all in the end of 1857, Paulsen won 1, lost 7 (one of which was blindfold) and 3 were draws (one of which was blindfold).
Whereas Kolish has a negative score against Paulsen and a negative score against Anderssen is match games and a plus score against him in casual games.
Kolisch's letter pblished in "La Régence," November 1860 showing his intent to challenge Morphy.
Here is Kolisch's letter in "La Nouvelle Régence" and below it Morphy's reply in the following issue:
A chess problem composed by Kolisch:
Originally, I was putting these game in the comment section, but I decided to place them here and update them as I transcribe games.
Kolisch the odds-giver
Here Kolisch gave Rook and the move to an amateur
Knight odds game:
Knight odds game:
Knight odds game:
Knight odds game:
Rook odds against Sam Loyd's oldest brother, Thomas-
The following game is a blindfold game between Kolisch and de Carbonnel at the Grand Café, Paris. The given score was cooked and I had trouble transcribing it into algebraic. Thanks to members GreenCastleBlock, Mathijs, MetalRatel, Slowhand99 and Owltuna who all did what I couldn't do.