The Top 15 Chess Games From Before 1900 (And 130+ Honorable Mentions)

The Top 15 Chess Games From Before 1900 (And 130+ Honorable Mentions)

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When did chess "arrive"? Was it when Alexander McDonnell and Louis De La Bourdonnais played their incredible match in the 1830s? Was it the first international chess tournament, organized by Howard Staunton in London in 1851? Was it when Paul Morphy toured Europe in the late 1850s? Perhaps it was when en passant, or stalemate, or white moves first were codified? Or maybe it was with the first World Chess Championship match in 1886?

In truth, there were many stages in the development of chess, and it's hard to say when the game transitioned from a pretty casual and cultureless pastime to a worldwide phenomenon with players in every country, iconic games like the Immortal Game, and celebrities like Paul Morphy.

The 1800s were a remarkable time for chess. Though we have relatively few games recorded from the era, many of the most iconic games of all time were played then. Of the top ten notable games on, four were played in the 1800s: the Opera Game (Morphy vs. Allies, 1858), Immortal Game (Anderssen vs. Kieszeritzky, 1851), Evergreen Game (Anderssen vs. Dufresne, 1852), and Steinitz' Immortal (Steinitz vs. Von Bardeleben, 1895). Chess at this time was often defined by extremely poor defensive skills and enthusiastic attacking skills. Additionally, defenders often felt honor-bound to accept sacrifices. These factors were quite a recipe for excitement.

In all of my top tens from across the decades (top fifteen in this case due to the longer period covered), I have selected only a single game from each player. This ensures that many players are represented, and more unique games are showcased. In this decade in particular, this has been quite limiting. I only have one game from Morphy, Anderssen, and Steinitz. Naturally I could well select five games from each player, but I think that the other games chosen in their place are also quite enchanting.

It is notable that in this period more than any other, chess was a gentleman's game. By that I mean that wealth and power were often pre-requisites to having the spare time to master chess and the money to afford chess books. The great players were often nobles, and names like Captain William Evans, Baron von der Lasa, the Duke of Brunswick, Count Isouard, Prince Urosov, or my favorite, Prince Andre Dadian of Mingrelia, herald the relatively small strata of society represented in the game at the time.

Today, chess has grown a lot. More strategies have been discovered. Fresh opening ideas have been unearthed. Chess skill has reached nigh perfection. Chess is played in every country, by women and men from all levels of society. The game has much growth yet ahead of it, but chess has always shown an ability to adapt and grow beyond the vision of it's current players.

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See also: Top 10 of the 1900s, Top 10 of the 1910s, Top 10 of the 1920s, Top 10 of the 1930s, Top 10 of the 1940s, Top 10 of the 1950s, Top 10 of the 1960s, Top 10 of the 1970s, Top 10 of the 1980s, Top 10 of the 1990s, Top 10 of the 2000s, and Top 10 of the 2010s

Top 15 Games from before 1900

#1: Morphy vs. Allies, 1858

#2: Anderssen vs. Keiseritzky, 1851

#3: McDonnell vs. La Bourdonnais, 1834

#4: Hamppe vs. Meitner, 1872

#5: Pillsbury vs. Lasker, 1896

#6: Zukertort vs. Blackburne, 1883

#7: Steinitz vs. Von Bardeleben, 1895

#8: Mason vs. Winawer, 1882

#9: Pillsbury vs. Lasker, 1896

#10: Urosov vs. NN, 1887

#11: Saint Amant vs. Staunton, 1843

#12: Chigorin vs. Steinitz, 1892

#13: Fleissig vs. Schlecter, 1893

#14: Konyovits vs. Charousek, 1893

#15: Weiss vs. Pollock, 1889

Honorable Mentions