Chess Romanticism Part I (Zukertort)

Chess Romanticism Part I (Zukertort)

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Greetings fellow enthusiasts! 

Today I've begun a series of blogs called chess romanticism which is characterized by old masters: Greco, Andersson, Morphy, Zukertort, Chigorin, Blackburne and others. The style was characterized by sharp, sacrificial play with relentless energy. We're talking openings in 1.e4 e5 like the Kings Gambit and Fried Liver attack, but Zukertort usually favored closed openings... There were players who were clear exceptions to this, most notably Philidor and Steinitz. Marked in 1900(Steinitz) by the death of the first truly scientific player and inventor of a new chess doctrine, (strategical play focusing on squares and weaknesses) a new era had emerged with Lasker, Rubinstein, Nimzowitsch, Tarrasch, Reti, Tartakower, Duras, Capablanca and more! This era had developed a far more tame style of play than the frequently unsound attacks of the 19th century. I could go on about the history... but... enough!  Back to Zukertort.



The Making of a Champion/His early life

Johannes Hermann Zukertort was born on the 7th of September, 1842 in Lublin, Poland. His original name was spelled Jan Hermann Cukiertort and himself claimed to be of aristocratic descent. However, it's to be taken with a grain of salt as Zukertort was a notorious braggart. He claimed that he was an expert whist and domino player, spoke 9 languages, and on top of all of that an adept swordfighter!? To scale the highest peaks of the chess world, it appears that either Zukertort was extremely multi-talented, or these statements were merely embellished, for the evidence of the veracity of these claims remain ambiguous. He did though, graduate from the University of Breslau in the study of Medicine in 1866.


A photo from a match with Steinitz.

The Rise to the Top/ His chess achievements and contributions

After having a catastrophic performance at his very first tournament, Zukertort studied Handbuch by Bilguer and improved at a remarkable rate under the guidance of the legendary romantic, Adolf Andersson. In time, he defeated his mentor resoundingly in 1871, 5-2. The chess world started taking heed to the chess artistry Zukertort implemented at the board. In time word grew that he believed himself to be the strongest chess player in the world. He was determined to prove his point in a match but got slaughter at the hands of the first positional player at the time, Wilhelm Steinitz, 7-1 with several draws. The year was 1872, in London, the city Zukertort just immigrated to. In the coming years, he won many tournaments yet again proving that his only worthy opponent was Steinitz. In 1883 he won the tournament London by 3 points, ahead of Steinitz! There was the Zukertort-Colle system, also the opening 1.Nf3 was formerly known as the Zukertort. (Nowadays it's commonly referred to as the Reti`) His chess visualization was also unprecedented for his time, and he dominated a blindfold simultaneous exhibition 11-1 with 4 draws in 1876. Unfortunately, after a 4-1 lead against Steinitz in the WCC match in 1883, Zukertort imploded, therefore drearily losing the match. In fairness, Steinitz was objectively a stronger player than Zukertort. 


Zukertort's gravestone.

Death at the Board/ Closing out Zuk's last years

Suffering from rheumatism, heart, and liver problems, it's no surprise Zukertort's exceedingly poor health had a massive impact on his chess results. In 1888 he fainted during a game in the Simpson's-in-the-Strand. He died shortly after from a brain-bleed at the age of 45.


3 Evergreen Games

Without a doubt Johannes Zukertort was the most authentic chess romantic in history, he has countless masterpieces, yet for the sake of brevity in this blog I'll display 3 games which I feel are the most representative of the romantic chess school.

Now we'll witness a breathtaking king hunt!

Finally a stunning miniature which Zukertort smashed Adolf Andersson in 28 moves.


For Further reading...

Firstly, kamalakanta's blog, simaginfan's blog,and batgirl's blog are insightful resources on classical games, the past masters, and little-known facts.

I used information from an encyclopedic biography of Zukertort, Johannes Zukertort by Jimmy Adams. This is no doubt a treasure trove for chess history connoisseurs.

A great read for everyone regarding chess romanticism is The Great Romantics by Craig Pritchett. It's dazzling games matched only by the beautiful chronological organization of chess players from Andersson to Morozevich.

I wish you a pleasant day, I hope to see you in my next blog!