The Most Remarkable Match

The Most Remarkable Match

| 21 | Chess Players

     "This match is, in respect of its vicissitude, perhaps the most
      remarkable in the annals of chess

      - from I. O. Howard Taylor's obituary of John Jacob Löwenthal
        in "American Chess Journal" of Sept. 1876

     At precisely noon on September 26, 1853, Mssrs. Harrwitz and Löwenthal commenced what would turn out to be one of the strangest chess matches before or since.
     As with many matches from that era it followed a road littered with acrimony and conflicting accusations stemming from both camps which in itself adds a layer of interest but it also proved to be a roller coaster ride for the two contestants. 

The Players:


     János Jakab Löwenthal learned chess in his native Hungary. There his name became known as one of the triumvirate that also included Vincenz Grimm and József Szén who taught Löwenthal and founded the Pest Chess Circle,  Pesti Sakk-kor which defeated the famous Parisian Le Cercle des Echecs members in both games in their correspondence match of 1842-5.  But the Kossuth revolution in Hungary displaced Grimm and Löwenthal, both of whom had close associations with Lajos Kossuth, in 1849 (with Szén following after the repressive government's closure of social clubs).  While Grimm found asylum in Turkey, Löwenthal made his way to the United States via Hamburg, arriving on December 29, 1849.  Friendless and speaking little English, Löwenthal was, to his surprise, embraced by the American chess community and toured various cities in the U.S. where chess was played.  He ended up in Cincinnatti, Ohio where he managed to open a Chess and Cigar Divan (Löwenthal was a non-smoker).  The next year he was invited to London for the Great Exhibition tournament being organized by Howard Staunton.  He performed poorly and never returned to the U.S. In his own words: "I arrived in London very ill. An old wound in my leg had broken out afresh, and the long and rapid journey had worn me out. My ill success in the tourney is on record. It was nothing more than might have been expected. In my weak state every thing took a morbid hue. I estimated defeat too highly : I thought a beaten man would be looked coldly on, and I felt I could not go back to those friends at Cincinnati, whom I had left with such high hopes and anticipations."
     In 1856 he was elected secretary of Staunton's St. George Club and in 1858-9 he founded the St. James's Club. He worked diligently for English chess, helped organize the second international tournament in 1862. He edited the chess column for the "Illustrated News of the World," "Era" and "Land and Water" and many others. He also edited for a time the periodicals "The Chess Player's Magazine" and The Chess Player's Chronicle."   He published the only authorized compilation of "Morphy's Game of Chess," prefaced by Morphy himself and the 1862 tournament book (with George Medley).
     Although a deep theorist, as a player he was too nervous and prone to oversights. He was considered first class, but was generally unable to compete successfully with the very best due to his constitution and temperament.
     Max Lange, however, looked at it a different way. In his book, "Paul Morphy, a Sketch for the Chess World," he wrote about Löwenthal:

     In the year 1857 he obtained the first prize in the tournament at Manchester. With equal success he played at the Birmingham tourney in 1858, where he proved his decided superiority over all his opponents, and amongst others over Staunton.
     Herr Lowenthal may be, therefore, considered the Chess Champion of England, and his match with Morphy as a proof of the relative strength between England and America.

     Löwenthal was a short, thin, frail man of poor overall health and a nervous temperament. He was considered courteous to a fault, devoted to both peace and political freedom.
     When Löwenthal took sick in 1874 and retired, English chess players purchaced a £500 annuity for him as a memorial for his vast services. He never recovered and died less than two years later.


     Daniel Harrwitz  hailed from Breslau as did Adolf Anderssen, and later Siegbert Tarrasch.  Like Löwenthal, he was short and frail in both body and temperment.  Harrwitz arrived in Paris in 1845, already a first class player who could contend with Lionel Kieseritsky both sighted and blindfold (years before the celebrated blindfold play of Paulsen and Morphy, Harrwitz and Kieseritsky had ushered in this form of chess as a matter of course). He played a bizarre match with Staunton in London the following year with Staunton winning 7-0 even and 4-3 at Pawn-&-2, but then losing to Harrwitz 6-1 at Pawn-&-move. He drew 5-5 with Anderssen in Breslau in 1848. Vacillating between Paris and London, Harrwitz sought a true match with Staunton around 1852 but it fell through amid the normal vituperous and blame-laden negotiations.
     Kieseritsky, the house professional at the Café de la Régence, had died in the Spring of 1853 and the following year Harrwitz took his place. He remained at la Régence for the rest of his chess career.
     Harrwitz had been chess editor for "The Family Friend," a London paper that appeared on the 1st and 15th of each month with a column advertised as "Elementary Instruction" and also edited the short-lived "British Chess Review" for two years.
     After losing matches to both Morphy and Kolisch, Harrwitz,  who had inherited a stipend  from his father, gracefully retired to Botzen, South Tyrol, a Bavarian community in the Italian Alps. He outlived both Staunton and Löwenthal, dying the same year as Morphy.

     A rather noteworthy observation is that both contestants, as well as Staunton, who hovers in the background of this story, are often best remembered today through some skewed perception in their brief interactions with Paul Morphy.


     Harrwitz played a match with Elijah Williams during the summer of 1852.  During that match Löwenthal made public his desire to play the winner.  His challenge was ignored and after the match he reiterated it.  
     This was the year after the first international tournament was played in London. Löwenthal, who arrived in London just for the tournament and with all intentions of returning to the United States, made his home in London and became Staunton's protégé.

To the Editor of the Chess Player's Chronicle.
Sir,—Being apprised of the match now in progress between Messrs. Harrwitz and Williams, and well knowing how much such contests between strong players are calculated to promote the cultivation of Chess, I beg to make your valuable magazine the medium of conveying a challenge from me to play the winner in the combat now pending a match for the best of twenty-one games. The match to be played at the St. George's Chess Club, for any amount of stake which my opponent may determine.
                                                                    I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
London, Nov. 25th, 1852.                                              J. Lowenthal.
PS. As my chief object in proposing this match is to advance, as far as my humble powers will allow, the cause of Chess and afford amusement to its amateurs, I shall make it my endeavour, in the event of the defi being accepted, to offer every facility for the publication of the games during their progress.
-"Chess Player's Chronicle," Dec. 1852

      Harrwitz won the match with Williams and noting that Williams had recently defeated Howard Staunton in two matches , he felt desirous of, and correct in, challenging Staunton - this was his reason for ignoring  Löwenthal's initial challenge. But the desired match with Staunton never materialized and, after some haggling, Harrwitz and Löwenthal scheduled a match.
     [Harrwittz was referring to Williams beating Staunton 4½-3½ in the 1851 tournament and 7½-5½ in a later match in which Staunton conceded odds of 3 games.  Harrwitz had written in his "British Chess Review" : "At this time, Mr. Williams had recently defeated Mr. Staunton in two matches, besides having conquered Mr. Horwitz, as well as several English amateurs of high standing, who had been opposed to him in tho London Chess-Club."]
     Williams, an apothecary, died of cholera almost exactly one year after the start of that Harriwtz-Löwenthal match.
     Löwenthal's intimate relationship with Staunton (at that time - it was soon to sour as did most of Staunton's relationships), as well as his employment of Robert B. Brien, Staunton's main supporter, as his second for the match tainted Harrwitz' view of Löwenthal whose challenge he believed to be some sort of ruse conjured up by Staunon himself. 
     Staunton's "Chess Player's Chronicle" and Harrwitz' "British Chess Review" are so replete with contradictory stories that intertwine the failed match between Staunton and Harrwitz with the successful match between Löwenthal and Harrwitz,  It's rather amazing that the latter match ever materialized but, once it did, it was one of the most anticipated matches to date.
     Charles Tomlinson reminisced on the fervor of the time in his article "Simpson's" in the Feb. 1891 issue of the "British Chess Magazine" :

     But the excitement at the Divan was, perhaps, at its height during the match between Harrwitz and Lowenthal. The former repaired to the Divan after the day's play, and went over the moves of the game before an admiring host of friends. Harrwitz was so elated at having won the first two games that he declared in my presence that Lowenthal should not win a single game.
     Boden encouraged him by saying: "I had rather throw a five pound note into the gutter than that you should lose this match.' Staunton, who got hold of every thing that occurred in the chess world, got hold of course of this boast of Harrwitz's, and in his next chess column remarked " We understand chat Mr. Harrwitz intends his contest with Mr. Lowenthal to be a maiden match."
     The players met in a private room in an hotel near Spring Gardens, and in the following week I was present when Staunton dropped in, and Harrwitz went up to him and denied ever having made the remark which called forth Staunton's sarcasm. Staunton simply smiled, and said nothing. Of course I was equally silent, from a reluctance to get into hot water with the Divan party.
     Here the feeling ran very high, and it became so embittered as to lead to very discreditable conduct on the part of some of its inferior members. As the match inclined decidedly in favour of Lowenthal, one man said, in my hearing, that he had sent an organ boy to play before the window, so as to distract the attention of Lowenthal, who was known to be very nervous. He also did not like smoking, and had stipulated beforehand that visitors should not smoke; but some of the Divan party made it a point to smoke as near to Lowenthal as possible, and I even saw one man light his cigar at Lowenthal's candle, and puff the smoke into his face. I was never more convinced of the necessity for a chess player to be a gentleman.

      Löwenthal belonged to Staunton's St. George Chess Club while Harrwitz was a denizen of the London Chess Club.  One of Harrwitz' conditions in both the proposed Staunton match and the Löwenthal match was that all the game were to be played before very limited audience at the London Club which would retain all rights to the games. This condition was rejected of course. 

Mars (G.A. MacDonnell) had this to say in his sketch of  Löwenthal

     Lowenthal often alluded with natural and becoming pride to the great interest which his match with Harrwitz excited; the large wagers that had been laid on the result, and the illustrious players whom it had attracted to the scene of action. On one occasion, when he was discoursing on this subject, Staunton interrupted him, and remarked, "No doubt, sir, the interest was great; but what was it compared to that excitement aroused by my great international match with St. Amant? Why, then there were couriers waiting at the club door to convey each move the moment it was made to every court in Europe! There, sir, was work for the brains!'' Thereupon Lowenthal looked amazed, but not incredulous.
     Whether he did believe that story or not I leave my readers to determine.

The Match:

The Set-up:

Harrwitz' "British Chess Review" tell us:

     With respect to the match just played, then, the terms were arranged in August; but Mr. Harrwitz had the annoyance of finding that his opponent would not play until two months after the time at which the challenge was made. To Mr. H, whose intention was to have played about the time when he challenged Mr. Staunton, and when he was in good health and spirits, and more than usually at liberty, this delay was exceedingly disadvantageous and annoying. There was, however, no alternative between submitting to this long deferment and abandoning the match. The time for playing having at length arrived, and the comparative force of both players being pretty well known to the Chess-playing world, a more than ordinary degree of curiosity and interest was evinced as to the progress of the match.
     (It may be interesting to some of our readers to state that the whole of the games of this match were played in a private room at the Ship Hotel, Charing Cross; and that Mr. Lowenthal's second was Mr. Brien, late of Oxford University; the second on Mr. Harrwitz's side being Mr. Simons, an amateur of the London Chess-Club. Many friends of both players were freely admitted during the play, and they witnessed the games with great patience and interest throughout, the time limited for each move on either side being noted by one or another of the friends present.)

The actual, and rather tame, match terms were as follows:

1. —The player who shall first win eleven games shall be declared the winner of the match.
2. —The match shall be played for the stake of £50 a side.
3. —A deposit of £25 on each side shall be made within three days after signing the preliminary agreement, and the remaining £25 shall be staked seven days before the day appointed for commencing the match. The party failing to fulfil the last part of the engagement shall forfeit the deposit already made, and all engagements for the match shall then be considered null and void.
4. —In one half of the games played, each party shall play for his first move his King's Pawn two squares. The first game shall be thus commenced, and the first move in every game shall pass from one to the other alternately, drawn games included.
5. —In all other respects the match shall be played in accordance with the Rules which were drawn up by Mr. Lewis and a Committee of the London Chess Club.
6. —Play shall commence at 12 a.m. on Monday the 26th of September, 1853, and be continued at the same hour on the ensuing Wednesday and Friday, and on every ensuing Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, until the match be terminated. One game at least, when it is possible, shall be played out at a sitting, but neither party shall be compelled to play for a longer period than twelve hours during one day, nor after 12 p.m. If either party be absent within half-an-hour of the time appointed for play, he shall be fined £1 for every such offence, the fine to be paid before or at the next meeting for play under penalty of forfeiture of the match; and if he be absent more than one hour beyond the appointed time, one game shall be added to the adversary's score.
7. —Either party failing to attend on three successive days for play shall be considered to have lost the match, and the stakes shall forthwith be paid over to his opponent.
8. —In the absence of one of the parties, the other shall not be compelled to wait for his opponent more than one hour after the time appointed for play. No excuse whatever for non-attendance shall be admissible.
9. —In the event of either party forfeiting a game to his opponent by reason of absence, and if at the same time a game has been left unfinished at a previous sitting, the adjourned game shall not be considered to be the one scored to the opponent.
10. —Each party shall be allowed twenty minutes for deliberation on any move. In the event of either party taking more than twenty minutes, he shall be fined the sum of ten shillings for each additional ten minutes, the fine to be paid as in Condition 6. But neither party shall be allowed more than one hour over a move, and the party who does not play a move at the expiration of one hour shall forfeit the game to his opponent.
11. —At the commencement of every sitting, each party shall name a gentleman present to act as umpire on his behalf. All matters of dispute must be referred to the two umpires, and, if they differ in opinion, to the referee. W. Lewis, Esq., of 12, Chatham Place, Blackfriars, has kindly consented to be the stakeholder and referee for both parties.
12. —The number of persons admitted into the room at which the play takes place, shall be limited to four friends of each party. The match shall be played at __________ . The place of play is left open at present, with the understanding that it is to be some private and neutral hotel.

[The match actually took place at the "Ship" at 45, Charing Cross.]

The Play:

    This is the most interesting part of the whole affair.
     Harrwitz won the first two games. Upon this initial success he boasted that Löwenthal wouldn't score a single point. Löwenthal, however, managed to win the next five games in row, leaving Löwenthal winning 5-2 after seven games.
     At this point, Harrwitz, who claimed to have had a severe head cold, took a short leave of two days to go to Brighton.  This leave cost him 2 games (a game per day). Upon returning Harrwitz managed a draw in the eighth game but then lost games nine and ten.

     Löwenthal now led +9-2=1 in this seemingly one-sided affair.

     There's something to be said for tenacity. The eleventh and twelfth games were drawn, then Harrwitz finally scored 2 wins in a row.

      Löwenthal  now led +9-4=3, not as good but still substantially. 

     However, from here on Harrwitz took control of things while Löwenthal seemingly fell apart.  But the Hungarian player still maintained a glimmer of hope.

     In games 15 through 24 there were seven draws and four wins for Harrwitz, but then Löwenthal won the twenty-sixth game played, leaving the score +10-8=10 and Löwenthal in need of winning just one game before Harrwitz could win three. 

    But this wasn't to be.

     Then next game was a draw, followed by two wins for Harrwitz, tying up the match at +10-10=11.

     The next person to score a win would be the victor.  One more draw followed before Harwitz became that victor, winning the thirty-first game.

     Löwenthal managed to throw away a seven game margin in the first ten games played (winning two games without playing) to losing the match unable to secure just two more wins in the next 21 games.  

     Mars (G. A. MacDonnell) wrote:

      I then asked him [Löwenthal] to solve the mystery of his match with Harrwitz. "I cannot do so," he replied, "I dare not; but when I die the cause of my defeat will be found engraved upon my heart in one word." I respected his reticence, and guessed his secret. Ah Saccharissa pulcherrima, how many noble heroes have thrown away golden crowns and scorned the love of nations to kneel at thy shrine and worship thy beauteous image! No doubt his natural nervousness, intensified by some external accident, occasioned his defeat, for at one period he had scored ten games, and had one in hand which only needed common care to consummate his victory, when the game was adjourned to the following day. All Löwenthal's friends regarded the match as virtually decided in his favor. All Löwenthal had to guard against was an insidious draw, which Harrwitz had designed. Löwenthal, however, clearly discerned his intention, and was fully prepared to frustrate it. "Take," said Staunton, "pencil and paper, and write down your analysis, so that you may make no mistake." "There is no need; I could not fall into such a blunder." Nevertheless, when he resumed the game, he made the very fatal move which he had foreseen would enable Harrwitz to escape with a draw.

     Games 1 and 13 were KGD's in which Harrwitz played Black. In his notes for game thirteen, Staunton makes the humorous observation:

"The reason assigned by Mr. Harrwitz for evading the Gambit which Lowenthal proffed in the very first game was the modestly-amusing one, that, as he intended the contest to be a 'love match' -that is, he intended to win every game-it was not well to afford his adversary a chance! What excuse he will make for refusing the Gambit in the present game we are curious to hear."

     Howard Staunton was so astonished by the unexpected reversal he wrote in the November issue of his "Chess Player's Chronicle" :

Who, after seeing the score of this contest in our last number, when the Hungarian stood the winner of nine games to two, could possibly have anticipated that the victory should remain undecided up to this time? Yet so it is. After carrying all before him for the first month —winning no less than seven games, without his opponent getting one— Mr. Lowenthal seems suddenly to have come to a dead halt, and out of the thirteen games last played he actually won none! Of course, the thick and thin supporters of his adversary put their own construction upon this unexpected change, and attribute it to the better condition of their man, and his consequent improvement in play; and, in corroboration of this view of the case, have set forth a flaming paragraph showing that, since his return from the sea-side, Mr. Harrwitz has won every game, &c. This way of accounting for the strangely-altered score is an easy one, and having an air of plausibility about it, will be accepted by many who are not in the habit of troubling themselves much about cause and effect; but to those who have examined, and are capable of appreciating the games, such an explanation must appear simply ridiculous. In the first place, Mr. Harrwitz. has not won every game since his return. Of the first three played after the match was resumed, one was drawn and the other two won by Lowenthal; so that if the pure air of Brighton did operate beneficially upon the play of Mr. H., it was certainly not until it had been qualified by a week or ten days' admixture with our London gases. In the second place, throughout the whole thirteen games last contested (of which Harrwitz has scored five and the rest were drawn), there are scarcely two in which the Hungarian did not acquire a winning advantage. To talk, then, of Mr. Harrwitz having retrieved himself by improved play is manifestly absurd. The plain truth is, he has recently scored a few games, which his opponent, in the earlier ones perhaps from over-confidence, and in the latter from vexation and fatigue, threw away; but the play has been almost entirely on the side of Lowenthal. Every one not besotted by party spirit sees this, and knows beside that without going out of Britain, we could find half-a-dozen amateurs who, with due practice and preparation, would have made a better figure, as far as real chess is concerned, and have produced us better games, in a contest with, the Hungarian, than Mr. Harrwitz has yet done.

     In this more visual view of the match, since the games are usually numbered by those actually played, the two forfeited games are left unnumbered :


     Immediately following the match, Löwenthal submitted the following challenge but nothing came of it :

CHALLENGE TO MR. HARRWITZ. (To the Editor of the Chess Player's Chronicle.)
Sir,—My opinion having been asked upon the propriety of assigning a fixed time for every move in Match Games, as first tried in the late contest between Mr. Harrwitz and myself, I have no hesitation in declaring from experience, any such restriction to be inconsistent with the spirit of Chess, and injurious to the powers of the players. In the match just played, it would be easy to show that I lost several games, where the advantage was clearly on my side, by this obnoxious stipulation. The only justification of a rule of this description is its having the effect of preventing an undue protraction of a sitting. How far it is effectual in this respect may be judged from the Thirtieth Game in the last Match, where with the view of testing the rule, I purposely took the maximum time in the majority of moves, and the game lasted nearly fifteen hours! Had my opponent consumed an equal time, the game must have been protracted to at least twenty-four hours. In confirmation of this opinion, I beg to say, that on no consideration would I play another match on such terms, but I am ready to play Mr. Harrwitz another match for £50 aside, upon the following conditions. 1.—That the player who first wins seven games be declared the conqueror. 2.—That no sitting exceeds eight hours. 3.—That there be no limitation of time in the consideration of moves. 4.—That on no pretence whatever, more than three persons on each side, besides the players, be present during the games. This I consider would be Chess in its true spirit, and therefore a fair test of the relative powers of the players.
          I am, Sir, your obedient servant,            J. LOWENTHAL

Some Games:

     Below are a few games from the match that sparked my interest.
[note: in this match, Black often moved first. But in the games below the first mover is always shown as White.]

     Game 3

     Game 16

     Game 26

Some Related Material:

George Alcock MacDonnell's sketch of Harrwitz

Rob Tierney's account of Löwenthal's first encounter with Morphy
A very faithful and well-written historical fiction in 8 parts.

"Eminent Victorian Chess Players" by Tim Harding, 2012.

Löwenthal's Visit to America

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