Winner's POV: Vienna 1882 Part 1

Winner's POV: Vienna 1882 Part 1

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It's been a while, partly due to how long this post is, partly due to real-life nonsense. But we're back, and what a tournament to return to. Ahem...

In Winner's POV, we take a look at tournaments from the 19th century and see the games that allowed the top player to prevail. Some tournaments will be known and famous, others will be more obscure - in a time period where competition is scarce, I believe there is some value in digging for hidden gems in the form of smaller, less known events.

Vienna 1882: The Greatest Tournament of All Time

9 years ago, during the 1873 World Fair, the Austrian city of Vienna hosted its first international chess tournament. Despite being held in the midst of a financial crisis and a cholera endemic, the tournament was a massive success, finally planting their very own Wilhelm Steinitz firmly at the top of the chess world. We've seen Steinitz - and the international chess scene as a whole - go into something of a slumber since then, but that ends now.

Really, there was never going to be a situation in which this event failed. The congress was hosted by the Vienna Chess Club, whose patrons included the well-known player Baron Ignatz von Kolisch, as well as the unfathomably wealthy Baron Albert von Rothschild (whose bank Kolisch worked at, and whose wealth contributed towards his Barony). Even the Emperor Franz Joseph I contributed monetarily towards this event. Other guests included the legendary Baron Tassilo von der Lasa, author of the most well-respected opening book of the era, the Handbuch des Schachspiels. It's a star-studded lineup indeed, and that's even before we look at the players.

Critics of the Paris 1878 tournament noted that the field was a little weak, as there were many native French players (and a couple of foreigners) that were well below the caliber of the highest masters; those same critics lamented the Berlin 1881 tournament for only being a single all-play-all format. Those critics would not be able to make either of these points against the Vienna tournament, hence why it was largely considered to be the greatest tournament ever held.

Format and Prizes

Eighteen players entered and competed in this double round-robin, making it the largest international master tournament to date. The time control, as was becoming the standard, was 15 moves per hour.

Due to the Emperor's donation coming somewhat late in the planning stage, the prizes were initially published one way, but were changed afterward. Chess Monthly presents the updated prize distribution:

I remain one who doesn't quite understand the workings of historical currencies, but I think we can just say that the prize funds continue to be more respectable and move along, yeah?


Once again per Chess Monthly:

According to the Edo list for 1882, the top of the field is Steinitz (1st in the world), Johannes Zukertort (2nd), Szymon Winawer (3rd), James Mason (4th), Joseph Henry Blackburne (5th), George Henry Mackenzie (6th), and Berthold Englisch (9th). At Paris, I made a note that 9 of the players were in the world's top 20; here, that number is 12. Like I said, this tournament was unparalleled in terms of strength.

The Winner*: Szymon Winawer

As a disclaimer, Winawer did not win this tournament outright; he would ultimately share 1st with Steinitz when all was said and done. However, for the purpose of not making a post with a hundred games in it, I'm splitting the tournament in half, and Winawer will be our main subject for this portion. Thus, it's his games we shall focus on as we traverse the first half of the Vienna 1882 tournament from "the Winner's" POV.

Round 1: vs. George Henry Mackenzie

Mackenzie was Winawer's main roadblock at Paris, as he was the only one to properly defeat Winawer in a mini-match (Mackenzie scored 1.5/2). Thus, there's a score to settle here.

Mackenzie essayed one of his usual Ruy Lopez openings that gave him an open position with easy development. Winawer's 11th move lead to a sequence where his Kingside was incredibly weakened, though he found a Greek Gift on move 17 that Mackenzie had to accept. When he didn't, Winawer went up two mostly-healthy pawns, though Mackenzie is never one to just call off an attack, so things remained very complicated.

I've spoken before about Winawer's issues with time management, and I imagine that's what happened with him here. His defense was mostly holding on, though his 29th move simply blundered the Queen to a very precise Rook check. A rough start for Winawer, who was nil for two against Mackenzie's fierce Spanish.

Round 2: vs. Joseph Henry Blackburne

Up to this point, Winawer had never beaten Blackburne in a tournament game; their current score was 3 wins for Blackburne and 3 draws. This fact probably wouldn't help Winawer bounce back from his loss, at least not the same way that Blackburne bounced back after his first-round loss at Berlin. It's a rough spot for our subject.

Blackburne's experiments in the opening continued, and the players played a game completely devoid of theory. Blackburne gained space on the Queenside while Winawer pushed his Kingside pawns, though both players spent a decent amount of time situating their pieces to combat the center. Blackburne was the one to break with 23. e4, though the resulting sequence (with both players missing things) provided him with little more than a slightly more pleasant middlegame.

As the players transitioned into the endgame, Winawer was able to pick up a pawn, though Blackburne's Bishop pair meant that he wasn't actually worse. That changed after his very strange 43. b6, which simply gave up two pawns for nothing. Although Winawer didn't play the most accurate moves possible, and even objectively lost the win at some point, he was able to successfully grind out a full point against arguably the strongest endgame player in the world. Quite the statement.

Round 3: vs. Johannes Zukertort

The pairings aren't getting any easier for Winawer. His record against Zukertort was only marginally better than against Blackburne, with Winawer having one win to Zukertort's four in their tournament history. However, after scoring his first ever win against Blackburne in an endgame grind certainly has to do good things for your motivation, so I believe Winawer came very mentally prepared for this duel.

The players started by following the game Zukertort - Chigorin, 1881 for 15 moves, though Winawer played leagues differently after the novelty. He thrust forth his Queenside pawns, which made sense as Zukertort's Queenside structure was compromised and his light-square Bishop was bad. Zukertort, as per usual, responded by sacrificing a pawn and launching a Kingside attack. We're looking at a pretty textbook Romantic game, played by two of the era's strongest players.

Once again, Winawer's play in time trouble proved very bad, as he blundered a Knight with his 30th move. Zukertort, however, missed the free material on his 30th move, and he was never given another chance back into the game. Winawer ensured that the attack never went through, and after a couple precise moves, consolidated his advantage and secured a winning endgame. This game is quite intense, I highly recommend going through it.

Also worth noting is that this is the round where Steinitz's winning streak ended. After 16 consecutive wins at the end of Vienna 1873, a 7-0 whitewash in his 1876 match against Blackburne, and two wins in the first two rounds of the tournament, it was none other than Mackenzie who held Steinitz to his first half point in 26 serious games.

Round 4: vs. Vincenz Hruby

Hruby won the Vienna Chess Club tournament earlier in the year, cementing him as one of the strongest local players. He would actually give Steinitz his first loss in the following round, followed by scoring wins against Mason and Blackburne later in the tournament. He's certainly not a player one passes over.

Ironically, I feel like passing him over today, though it's mostly Winawer who's to blame. He played the opening very erratically, though the chaos was not properly managed by the local master, and our subject ultimately won. It's too hectic for me to adequately summarize, and there's something else I'd like to talk about in this round.

The Mason-Bird Episode

The point of a time control, at least to us, should be very straightforward: you play your moves within the allotted amount of time, or you forfeit the game. One would think that the issue would be as straightforward back at the creation of the time control, given that its explicit purpose was to eliminate the unnecessary prolonging of games. This thought would be backed by the fact that time forfeitures have happened before, and we've covered at least one (the first that comes to mind is one of Blackburne's wins at London 1876, see his second game from here). 

However, a curious incident occurred during the Mason-Bird pairing of this round. In a worse position (objectively losing, even) Mason ran out of time before he was able to make his 30th move. Thus, the official game looks like this:

However, the chivalrous Bird refused to score the game, and play continued. From the accounts I've read, it seemed that Mason's moves were already calculated, and he only ran out of time because he was unaware exactly what move it was (he made his 29th move thinking it was his 30th). So, the players continued, and Mason ended up turning around the game and ultimately winning the endgame.

Following this, Steinitz (who had something of a reputation for lodging complaint after complaint) made an argument to the organizing committee that Bird was not allowed to refuse to score the game, and that Mason's win had to be annulled and scored in favour of Bird. The committee, apparently reluctantly, agreed, and the game was given to Bird. In hindsight, this was the objectively correct decision, though the parties involved were more of the opinion that chess was a gentlemanly pastime than the cutthroat sport that it is today.

I have more on this subject if anyone would like to hear more about it, but I think we should return to the subject at hand. I just thought this was important to mention, as it has a very important impact on the final standings as you'll see in part 2 (or you can look it up, the results have been known for 140 years now).

Round 5: vs. Alexander Wittek

This would be Wittek's final tournament before he would retire and devote his time wholly to architecture. At Berlin, his =5th finish came partially due to his win over Winawer, so once again our subject has a chance to right a wrong against someone he arguably should be better than.

Winawer repeated his motif from last game of refusing to castle and instead thrust his h-pawn up the board towards his opponent's castled King. Unlike last game, things didn't work out for him. Wittek properly staved off all threats, opened up the center, and found a couple of very nifty moves to ultimately do the attacking. It's a bad game from Winawer and a good game from Wittek, and one I don't want to dwell on for too long.

Round 6: vs. Philipp Meitner

Following the Vienna 1873 tournament, Meitner's playing record is scarce, though he seems to have won the Vienna championship of 1875. Had he developed to be up to snuff vs. the strongest players in the world?


Round 7: vs. Mikhail Chigorin

At Berlin, Chigorin really blasted onto the scene by defeating Winawer in a 17-move King's Gambit. His third place finish (half a point behind Zukertort) solidified him as a dangerous player, though his 2/6 start here meant that he wasn't quite in the upper echelons yet. There's still some work to do.

Chigorin unleashed some very aggressive intentions early in this Center Game, though his breaking of opening principles meant that he had a disadvantage after Winawer deflected and consolidated. There was going to be chaos after the players castled on opposite wings, but it was immediately clear that Winawer's attack was faster. After one move of mutual blindness, Winawer's advantage was solidified as his Queen on b4 meant that Chigorin needed multiple moves to develop his much-needed Queenside pieces.

Chigorin's desperate attempts to force an attack cam to a head when he found his Rook attacked on move 25. He decided to sacrifice it, which was objectively the best move according to the engine. However, Winawer played the follow-up pretty much perfectly, going on a checkmating attack that showed he had both the material and the compensation. This was just not a good game from Chigorin, but a good revenge bout for our subject.

Round 8: vs. Louis Paulsen

Winawer's record against the German #1 was a good one up to this point; we saw Winawer's win at the 1877 Leipzig event, and the previous two international tournaments we've looked at both featured a Winawer win. Given that Paulsen was approaching 50 years old at this point, I wonder if it's safe to say that his chess was on the decline, and he was on his way out of the world's elite.

This game wasn't a particularly good one for him, either. An opening experiment found him placing his Queen on b6 and Bishop on a6; the former would be kicked away, the latter locked in after Paulsen neglected to push c5-c4. He never recovered from these opening issues, and Winawer applied more than enough pressure to get the job done. It's honestly not something I want to detail too much, have a look for yourself.

Round 9: vs. Henry Bird

Bird is one of those players whose continued inclusion in these top-level events confuses me. He's lost nearly every game of his we've featured, and (as far as I'm aware), he's won no important events to this point. There is a little drama in that he did beat Winawer at Wiesbaden, so there's another revenge story we could possibly tell with this game.

Winawer went for an early theoretical deviation in the Sicilian, which Bird (always the experimenter) was doubtlessly happy to see. The Englishman thrust his f-pawn up the board before doubling the pawns in front of Winawer's King. After a useless 19th move from Winawer, Bird even sacrificed a full Knight to assert that his attack was unstoppable. Both the attack and defense were imperfect, but after Bird sacrificed an additional exchange following the time control, it was clear that he was onto something.

At move 36, we reached the critical moment. Had Bird traded off a pair of Rooks before pushing his d-pawn, he would have promoted and won arguably the most brilliant game of the tournament. Instead, he pushed the pawn first, and ultimately lost it as the players traded into an endgame. Although neither player played the resulting endgame too accurately, we know that this area of the game is not Bird's expertise, and the experienced Englishman lost another game. What a fight he put up, though.

Round 10: vs. James Mason

It's somewhat amusing that we have Bird followed by Mason, given the episode we discussed previously. After that dramatic round, Mason never really recovered, falling into the middle of the pack after the perfect 3-0 start. Up to this point, Winawer had a 4-0 head-to-head score in tournament play, so there was possibly a lot of psychological pressure that could be applied to his potentially demoralized opponent.

The French had a reputation of being boring and drawish back in these days (and even today people still despise it), but Mason seemed to be on a mission to fight that assertion. After Winawer castled, a response of castles would have been perfectly reasonable, but Mason instead chose to fire his Kingside pawns up the board. Ever the tactician, Winawer tried to create double-edged chaos with a piece sacrifice, though he ultimately regained the piece (and an extra pawn) while Mason castled on the other side of the board and left Winawer's King in the most danger.

Immediately after the castling, Winawer sacrificed an exchange, apparently believing that the attack was too strong to survive. The players traded down into an endgame that was very winning for Black, and that was indeed the result. James Mason's campaign at this tournament was far from finished.

Round 11: vs. Josef Noa

We missed Noa at Berlin, as his illness caused him to withdraw in the final round. How much stronger has he gotten since his debut at Graz?

Just like the first time we saw him, Noa's opening play wasn't quite as strong as his opponent's, and Winawer was already equal before move 10. This game would ultimately be one of those examples of a player pushing the pawns in front of his King to get an attack going, only to be the one getting attacked. Winawer was the one doing the attacking in this game, and Noa just wasn't sufficiently skilled in defense to withstand him (but few players were, in fairness).

Round 12: vs. Wilhelm Steinitz

After nearly a decade away from tournament play, the legend returns. How has Steinitz's first tournament back been going so far? You'll have to get down to the bottom of the post to see the crosstable, but perhaps this game can give you an idea.

This tournament was where Steinitz debuted his novelty in the French Defence, 2. e5. While objectively dubious, Steinitz didn't lose a game in the opening through the main body of this tournament (and according to the database I glanced at, he only lost one game outside of this tournament in it). One can probably guess that this lack of defeat most likely stems from Steinitz's superior positional understanding than his peers rather than the merits of the opening, but that's a story for another time.

This game itself is pretty frustrating for me, as it's another example of Winawer's poor time management. He had built up a rather promising position, but the moves he made prior to the time control rapidly threw any advantage away. He flagged before he could make his 30th move.

Round 13: vs. Max Weiss

Weiss was garnering something of a reputation like Englisch as a very solid player. He wasn't drawing quite as many games, but he wasn't yet in the upper echelons of the chess world; give it some time.

This was an opening nightmare for Winawer, who missed a very powerful sacrifice on f7 that saw him lose a pawn and all semblance of a safe King. Weiss had a huge Kingside pawn mass, and went on to sacrifice his final Queenside pawn (giving Winawer three(!) passed pawns on that side of the board) to further his attacking goals. 

Unfortunately for Weiss, he made one of the most catastrophic blunders of the tournament on move 33, pushing f5-f6 one move prematurely. He went from having a strong attack to losing both material and attack in one fell swoop, and our subject swindles a game. Like I said, we'll see Weiss improve over the decade, so hopefully these points won't slip out of his hands much after this.

Round 14: vs. Berthold Englisch

Of the four times these two have played, Winawer's sole win came from a very quick King's Gambit attack, while Englisch won two 50+ move endgames (with one game being drawn). The paradigm is clear here.

Winawer seemed to disagree with my above statement, as he was quite happy to make exchanges that resulted in a Queenless middlegame. Both of the exchanges he made were bad ones, and left Englisch with a very strong position. However, after Englisch prematurely traded a pair of Rooks, Winawer's resource culminating in 27. e4 was enough to give him a promising chance at drawing the endgame.

This was one of the rare games where it seemed like Englisch was the one who cracked under time pressure. His exchange sacrifice on move 28 was refuted with Winawer's 30th move, leaving the Viennese master with a much worse endgame. His final blunder came on move 45, right at the time control, as he blundered an additional piece. A good endgame win for Winawer, even if it was assisted somewhat.

Round 15: vs. Bernhard Fleissig

The younger brother of Maximilian Fleissig (from the Vienna 1873 tournament), Bernhard came 2nd at the Vienna Chess Club tournament that Hruby won. How does he stack up against our subject?

Really, this game doesn't do the best job at answering that question. Winawer's play was not very good, as you'll see, and I really don't want to spend more time than needed discussing this game. Let's just finish up with this event.

Round 16: vs. Preston Ware

Would you believe me if I told you that Ware, who was middle-of-the-pack among the American masters, beat Steinitz in this event? See for yourself:

I guess that's the result of 9 years' worth of rust. Anyway, to the game we're actually supposed to be looking at.

This battle was an opening success for Winawer, who coerced Ware into giving up castling rights after a premature Bishop move. However, this opening victory was not properly acted upon; really, the majority of the middlegame was confusing at best. Winawer's advantage slipped, and while Ware made multiple mistakes of his own, they weren't properly refuted.

Things got interesting after Ware's 19th move, as the exchanges left him in a precarious defending position. While he was able to stave off material loss through the second time control, his King's unsafe position was then exploited by Winawer. Our subject certainly knows how to attack, and he executed this assault with his usual precision and efficiency.

Round 17: vs. Adolf Schwarz

The last round of the first half pits our subject against the man who I would have considered the second strongest Austrian native behind Englisch. His third place finish at the Vienna Chess Club tournament (ahead of Englisch) should help to maintain his reputation as a strong local, though the exact placement is still up for debate.

What else would Schwarz play than the Vienna for this game, right? The players committed to a very clear dichotomy early on, with Schwarz's Kingside pawns and Winawer's Queenside pawns rapidly expanding before either player had castled. Although the players eventually both went Queenside, Winawer didn't really have any attacking prospects due to his bad Knight that was sitting on b6. Meanwhile Schwarz's Kingside space allowed him to beneficially open the f-file and apply constant pressure with his Bishop and Rook.

Right at the time control, Schwarz offered an exchange that gave Winawer all of the momentum in the world. He quickly removed Schwarz's active Bishop, thrust forth with d6-d5 to make a passed pawn, and found a way to exchange his bad Knight away. However, he was still saddled with a tall pawn (not much of a Bishop) on g6, which Schwarz relentlessly pressured. By the time the third time control was reached, it was suddenly very possible that Schwarz was better once again.

Things finally came to a head with Schwarz's 51st move, which resulted in a series of exchanges that technically won him material, but did not give him a good endgame. In fact, Winawer's two pawns were so much better than Schwarz's extra piece, that the Austrian decided to sacrifice the piece back in order to get a passed pawn of his own. He ultimately lost the race, and Winawer won a crazy game that was doubtlessly the product of the players getting fatigued by the length of what would already be considered a solid tournament length. It's hard to believe that they're only halfway through.


Writing this chapter is even more awkward given that Winawer didn't even win this half, but that's how it goes sometimes. We'll be looking into Steinitz's games from the second half in the following chapter, which will finally conclude this event. I have no idea how long that will take, but hopefully you will enjoy it and this two-part mini-series altogether when it's done. Cheers.

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