London 1851: The First International Chess Tournament!

London 1851: The First International Chess Tournament!‎

GM Julio_Becerra
15 | Amazing Games

In May 1851, London staged the Great Exhibition to showcase British technology. There were already railroads everywhere and the modern ships had reduced the voyage to the Americas from one month to twelve days. London’s thriving chess community felt obliged to do something similar for chess. Howard Staunton (pictured at right) worked hard in preparation for this event, and organized the first international tournament in chess!

The tournament was organized as single elimination matches, with the eight losers in the first round being dropped from the tournament. Each first-round match was a best-of-three games, draws not counting. Subsequent rounds were best-of-seven, and losers played consolation matches. The winner of the tournament was Adolf Anderssen who beat Staunton soundly, 4–1 in the third-round semi-final. As provided by the rules of the tournament, Staunton immediately challenged Anderssen to a twenty-one-game match. Anderssen agreed to the match, but could not play right away because of his job as a school teacher in Germany. The proposed match was never played.  Staunton’s strength, due to his work as organizer, was not his usual high level in the contest, as some of the games reveal.  In other games, he showed his real power.

I will show you three games from this competition, the most relevant being the third game from the match between Anderssen and Staunton, in which after excellent positional work by Staunton, he missed a simple victory. I think that was the decisive moment in the match.

Anderssen is famous today for his brilliant sacrificial attacking play, particularly in the "Immortal Game" (1851) and the "Evergreen Game" (1852), but very few know he was also the first winner of the first international tournament in chess!


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