Steinitz Changes The Chess World
The king doesn't belong there...or does it?

Steinitz Changes The Chess World

| 40 | Chess Players

When Wilhelm Steinitz stepped into 1870 he was still tossing tactics here and there, never fearing anything at all. He was also coming up with various new opening ideas. One of these (eventually named the “Steinitz Gambit”) called for White’s king to remain in the center by moving his king to e2 (though it might go here or there later), and White will also be down a pawn.

A Position That Only its Mother Would Love

Why would anyone play this? Here are the reasons:

  • White gets a strong pawn center.
  • White will likely regain the pawn.
  • And White will gain time by attacking Black’s vulnerable queen.

Wilhelm Steinitz

Wilhelm Steinitz via Wikipedia.

The Steinitz Gambit wasn’t easy to deal with, but eventually it faded away, like all the other interesting but not quite workable ideas. Nevertheless, he demonstrated an extremely creative, original mind, and after a couple years went by he literally changed chess as it was, dragging everyone into a whole new understanding of what the game could and would be.

In 1873 Steinitz “officially” showed the world his new chess ideas; he morphed from attacker to positional player (in general, the other players didn’t have a plan, they just tried to find a killing tactic). This gave Steinitz a huge edge over his opponents since he was able to build his position, only attacking when the position called for it.

Here is an early game where he demonstrated a new chess paradigm.

Of course, in 1870-1872 he still loved chess brutality (part of him was still the Austrian Morphy), but his opponents weren’t aware that he was soon to rip reality apart with a chess paradigm shift that would change chess forever.

Here are a few puzzles that show his caveman soul.


As Steinitz’s mind was churning away and preparing for a meeting with fate, he still bludgeoned his opponents to mush.





Zukertort was off the map during the early and mid-1860s. Apparently he was living in Breslau and, since Anderssen also lived there, they became friends, and they played an enormous amount of games against each other (Zukertort claimed that he played 6,000 against Anderssen but I don’t believe that anyone believed it.). By 1867 he was a strong player.

When Steinitz played Zukertort in a London tournament, Zukertort came in second behind first place Steinitz. I will show this game (it’s well worth the time) since Steinitz utilized the “Steinitz Gambit.”


Zukertort was clearly outplayed in the above game, so they arranged a match. Steinitz won that too by the score of 9-3 (7 wins for Steinitz, 1 win for Zukertort, and 4 draws), and off they went into the embrace of history. I should add that in 1872, Steinitz didn’t worry about Zukertort (as the results in 1872 proved). However, Zukertort was one of those guys that never quit, and he got better and better as the years went by until he became a very serious opponent indeed.

Here is a game from their 1872 match. Though Steinitz dominated Zukertort when he played various gambits (King’s Gambits, Evans Gambit), he smoothly wiped out Zukertort when Steinitz demonstrated his positional skills. It soon became clear that Steinitz was superior in every part of the game.

Of course, Zukertort will appear again, much improved and ready for bear!


Zukertort via Wikipedia.

The following game, against Anderssen, opened up the positional floods, and Steinitz became the first complete chess player ever (one might claim that Morphy was also a complete player, but I don’t believe it).

Steinitz created many new ideas in the openings, and his tactical skills were always waiting to cut off his opponent’s head. He had excellent endgame skills, good defensive skills (in those days “defensive skills” were dirty words), and his buildup of calm strategic plans left his opponents in the dark. 

Of course, when someone turns what you know into ashes (chess and everything else), you will find that criticism will pour down on him. In this case some of the old school called him cowardly, but after he wiped them out, using both positional and tactical acumen, most of the haters shut up, and others (like Anderssen) embraced it!



Let's continue with the game:


I should also mention that Steinitz wiped out Blackburne, considered one of the best players in the world, in 1870 with the score of 5 1/2 to 1/2. Wanting revenge, another match was put together in 1876, and this time the score was 7 - 0.

The next years were busy, with Steinitz playing in five tournaments: He won three and came second in the other two. His match results were amazing, (he was viewed as unbeatable in matches). He also did many simultaneous and blindfold exhibitions. The big change, though, was his writing for a famous British sports magazine (The Field), and he quit playing tournaments for 10 years due to his work as a chess correspondent and his desire to study chess as deeply as he could.

Though he obviously had a lot of things on his plate, he was a chess player and chess players always crave to play in tournaments. So, in April of 1883, he once again embraced his love affair with the chess pieces and returned to the fold, playing in a strong event in London. Zukertort came in first, Steinitz came in second, and Blackburn and Chigorin were behind. This wasn’t the same Zukertort that he played in 1872; Zukertort was now extremely strong.

It was obvious that Steinitz really enjoyed writing, and when he lost his post in The Field in October 1883, he moved to the United States and created his own magazine called International Chess Magazine.

Steinitz had thought of himself as being world champion after beating Anderssen in their 1866 match, and beating Zukertort in their 1872 match solidified his dominance. Due to this, many chess fans accepted that he was THE MAN in chess. However, others just didn’t believe it. With the resurgence of Zukertort (he had fantastic results during the years when Steinitz wasn’t playing), and with some fans claiming that Zukertort was the real champion, both players knew that there had to be a reckoning.


  • Baden-Baden 1870 — Anderssen (1st), Steinitz (2nd).
  • London 1872 — Steinitz (1st) ahead of Blackburne and Zukertort.
  • Vienna 1873 — Steinitz (1st) ahead of Blackburne, Anderssen, etc.
  • Vienna 1882 — Steinitz and Winawer (1st & 2nd) ahead of Mason, Mackenzie, Zukertort, and others. Steinitz won the playoff, 2-1.
  • London 1883 — Zukertort (1st), Steinitz (2nd), ahead of Blackburne and Chigorin.


  • Steinitz vs. Blackburne (1870) 5 1/2-1/2
  • Steinitz vs. Johannes Zukertort (1872) 9-3
  • Steinitz vs. Blackburne (1876) 7-0
  • Steinitz vs. Dion Martinez (1882) 3 wins, 1 loss, 3 draws
  • Steinitz vs. Dion Martinez (1882) 7-0
  • Steinitz vs. Philipp Meitner (1882) 5-0
  • Steinitz vs. Alexander Sellman (1882) 2 wins, no losses, 3 draws
  • Steinitz vs. Celso Golmayo (1883) 8 wins, 1 loss, 1 draw
  • Steinitz vs. George Mackenzie (1883) 3 wins, 1 loss, 2 draws
  • Steinitz vs. Dion Martinez (1883) 9 wins, no losses, 2 draws
  • Steinitz vs. Alexander Sellman (1885) 3-0
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