Feb 7, 2009, 10:18 AM |

by Charles Devidé






It is worse than useless to deplore the irremediable, yet who can fail to mourn the cruel fate of mighty masters, whose brilliant day gave promise of a glorious evening, but who passed from earth after a dreary night of darkness. The light that shone in them has failed : the once lucid mind, it has collapsed, and the powerful brain refused to work coherently. Such was the stern decree fate had in store for Morphy, Neumann, and Steinitz. Of the three, Morphy enjoyed the briefest space for the development of his extraordinary powers. His achievements were perfect, but his career lasted only two years, while his work on the Openings, with which he intended to crown the edifice of triumphs was never begun.

In Neumann's case we have perhaps only to deplore the loss of masterpieces that might have equalled, but could scarcely have surpassed what we possess. A fuller life has been allotted to Steinitz; his faculties were far more complex and his aims were more ambitious; he therefore needed length of years for their co-ordination, and it is a cause for regret, that from the discords of his youth and manhood he could not have wrought a clear and lucid harmony.

William Steinitz was born in the city of Prague, Bohemia, on May 17, 1836. He passed his boyhood just like most children by poor parents with numerous offspring, except that he distinguished himself at school and advanced rapidly, notwithstanding his bodily infirmities and a persistent tendency for sickness. It was the wish of his pious parents that William should become a Rabbi, and at the age of thirteen he was acknowledged the best Talmudist among the young men of his native city, but the boy's predilection and manifest talent for mathematics prevailed and eventually he obtained the desired consent to complete his studies at the Polytechnicum in Vienna.

At the age of twelve, Steinitz learned the moves of the game from a schoolmate. The purchase of a board and chessmen being much beyond their means, the boys cut out some rude figures in kindling wood and painted a piece of calico to represent a chessboard. His Professor used to play chess of an afternoon and his pupil looked on. One day the Professor's regular opponent failed to appear, so the Professor condescended to play his pupil and lo and behold Steinitz won every game. The next day the Professor's usual adversary tried the pupil's skill with the same result. Hearing about this, one of the best players of Prague offered to play young Steinitz at long odds, but was routed tooth and nail. The young enthusiast thenceforth devoted his leisure hours to hard practice. Once a week he went to the café where the chess-players convened, and pitted himself against the best players. At first he did not succeed, but it was not long before he came to be regarded as an expert player.

At the age of twenty, Steinitz went to Vienna, where he was enrolled as a student in the Polytechnic Institute. His life was the thorny one of the poor acolyte, who has to earn his living and his way at college by giving tuition. Moreover, his studies were considerably interfered with by trouble with his lungs and eyes. For a time he joined the staff of one of the leading Vienna papers, but this position, also, the state of his eyesight compelled him to give up.

Toward the end of 1858 an incident occurred of far-reaching consequence. At that time the Café Römer formed the rendezvous of the élite of chess-players and thither Steinitz went one day, by chance. The complex position of one of the games in progress at once aroused his interest, and bending eagerly forward he touched one of the onlookers with his elbow. The latter, looking up, took in at a glance the haggard, pallid face and threadbare clothes, and half-contemptuously asked, " Do you play chess, too ? " " Oh, yes," replied Steinitz, " and I also can play blindfolded." With a view of disconcerting the intruder and to derive no small amusement at his expense, they selected the strongest player of the place as Steinitz's antagonist, but lo and behold, Steinitz not only won, but did so in most brilliant fashion. But it was not only chess victories which he gained that day; he had made enthusiastic friends and admirers, and the very next evening he was introduced in the Vienna Chess Club, where at once he established a reputation for uncommon strength and brilliancy. In the club tournament of the same year, he took third prize, although entirely new to tournament play, his predecessors being the celebrated Hamppe and another^ matador by name of Jenay. The following year Steinitz won second prize, Hamppe again first, but in 1861 Steinitz won premier honors, having lost only one game out of thirty-four played, and thenceforth became the acknowledged champion of Austria. Meanwhile he had devoted himself entirely to chess, playing at the Club as well as at different resorts, mostly conceding odds of all sorts and descriptions. Then, as in our days, no one could amass a fortune by playing chess for a wager, but at least Steinitz no longer needed to go supper-less to bed or wear summer clothes in midwinter. His unusual brilliancy made him very attractive so that he never lacked opponents, while his table was ever crowded with onlookers. The whole chess-world then reverberated with the admiration for Morphy, and to play like the great American was the aim of everyone. In his latter days Steinitz spoke of his earlier style as follows: " I did not play with the object to win directly, but to sacrifice a piece." The same independence and unflinching attitude of which Steinitz gave so much evidence when on the summit of his fame, formed a characteristic feature all his life long. In his Vienna days Steinitz had quite a remunerative customer in Gustave Epstein, one of the richest bankers in the Austrian capital. On one occasion, the position being uncommonly intricate, the young expert studied the position longer than his usual wont, so that Epstein, growing impatient, drawled out what would be the English equivalent of " Well ! " After a while the game reverted in favor of Steinitz, whereupon the banker fell into a deep and prolonged meditation, until interrupted by Steinitz's drawled out, "Well !"    "Sir, don't forget who you are and who I am," angrily remarked Epstein, but Steinitz retorted quickly as a flash: "On the Bourse you are Epstein and I am Steinitz; over the board I am Epstein and you Steinitz."

Selected to represent Austria in the International Tournament during the Exhibition of 1862, Steinitz arrived in London carrying with him the good wishes of his Austrian friends and numerous letters of introduction, none of which he delivered. He would not be under obligation to anyone.

The London tournament proved to be the starting-point of his career as a great chess-player. Up to that time he was a great Viennese player; from that date he was to become a great European player and to take his place with the masters of the world. In the tournament Steinitz won sixth prize, after Anderssen, Paulsen, Owen, MacDonnell, and Dubois. But Anderssen declared that he had played the finest game of the tournament, and the brilliancy displayed in some of his games in this contest earned him the name of " Austrian Morphy." And subsequently he had the satisfaction of defeating the masters, who preceded him in this tournament, one by one, in set matches, and for the next thirty-one years he never lost a match on even terms,—a record hitherto unparalleled. The match with Anderssen took place in London in July, 1866. The past-master made a gallant fight, but Steinitz won eight to six. The contest informally involved the right to the championship of the world, and thenceforth Steinitz held the title for twenty-eight years, until he had to give way to youth in his match with Lasker.

Less fortunate was Steinitz in tournament play. At Paris, 1867, he was third to Kolisch and Winawer. But for the faulty conditions according to which drawn games were reckoned as lost to both players, he would have shared second prize with Winawer. At Baden Baden, 1870, Anderssen won first prize from him by just half a point.

Successively Steinitz had completely changed his style. Formerly brilliant but not safe, he became safe but not brilliant. Daring and impetuous, he became cautious and deliberate, aiming at the accumulation of small advantages, deprecating any attack on the King's side, but seeking rather to win in the ending. While his games lost much of their attractiveness to the general player, they became highly appreciated by the connoisseur and form an invaluable source of instruction. The success of the new style was simply phenomenal. At the annual meeting of the British Association at London, Steinitz won first prize by twelve to none. The international tournament at the Crystal Palace in London assembled, among others, Zukertort, Blackburne, Wisker, and De Veré. Steinitz won seven to none; one draw. Then came the match with Zukertort, which ended in a crushing defeat of the latter by seven to one; four draws. The solitary game lost was an Allgaier Gambit.

The desired opportunity to make good his claim to superiority throughout, having demonstrated his pre-eminence in England beyond the shadow of a doubt, came to Steinitz with the Vienna tournament of 1873, for which the emperor himself had offered a prize of two hundred ducats to the victor. Well aware, however, of the uncertainty of tourneys, Steinitz, prior to play, challenged the eventual winner to a match in London.


A new plan, devised by Ignace Kolisch, was tried for the first and last time. The players had to contend in matches of three games with one another, draws counting one half a point, the aggregate sum of matches won to decide. This gave the winner of the first game a tremendous advantage inasmuch as he only needed to draw the remaining two. After defeating Pitschel in two games, Steinitz's second match was with Blackburne. The Englishman having the advantage of the move scored the first and third games against the inferior defence to the Ruy Lopez 3 КKt—К 2. The second game—a French —was drawn. When Steinitz rose from the table after resigning the third game and the match he said to his friends, " I have forfeited first prize."

The two following matches with Meitner and Fleissig were scored by Steinitz by one win and two draws each. The two draws with Fleissig had a salutary effect, inasmuch as they caused Steinitz to abandon his ill-fated Lopez variation for good and to revert to the standard defence. A giant, who has overcome an ill spell, and found his true strength again, Steinitz scored the remaining seven matches, defeating, nay, crushing his opponents, not allowing anyone to draw a single game. But Blackburne, though losing and drawing games, still led in the match score. In the final round, however, Blackburne succumbed to Rosenthal, and Steinitz, who had disposed of his last opponent, was now abreast with his rival, each having scored ten matches. Altogether, Blackburne had lost seven games, Steinitz two. The committee ordered the tie to be played off in a match two games up. It needed but two games to* secure the coveted prize for Steinitz. This record of winning sixteen straight games was unparalleled and henceforth—if reluctantly—he was acknowledged the strongest player on the face of the earth.

Upon his triumphant return to London, Steinitz was offered the editorship of the chess department in the Field. Steinitz enthusiastically entered upon his new duties and at once proved himself as great a writer on the game as he had been a player. Henceforth a new era in chess annotation was begun The care, the painstaking industry, the analytical skill he constantly displayed were simply astounding; nothing like it had been seen before. His labors in the field of analytical researches have been unceasing and will remain a monument to his skill and industry. He formed a new school of chess, giving the game order, method, directness. He convincingly proved that the surest way to win is by accumulation of small advantages rather than by a fierce onslaught upon the hostile King, and one by one the experts of the game were compelled to accept his doctrines and the modern style, a fact acknowledged by the famous Viennese player Adolph Schway, when at the Vienna tournament of 1882, pointing to Steinitz, he said: " This little man has taught us all how to play chess." And not one dissenting voice was raised from among the galaxy of masters assembled. It was somewhat of a consolation for Steinitz that ultimately he was beaten by his own methods, his own weapons.

The modern theory achieved one of the most brilliant triumphs in the great match by telegraph between the St. George's and Vienna Chess Clubs. This match, for £200 a side, was begun in 1872, adjourned during the tournament, and completed in 1874. One by one the players on the London committee, unable to comprehend and grasp Steinilz's idea, dropped out, leaving the conduct of the games entirely to Steinitz and his pupil Potter. The unprecedented fore- sightedness and consummate judgment of position on the part of the Anglo-Austrian, became manifest to all when the Vienna committee, headed by brilliant Ignace Kolisch, resigned the match.

During a period of nine years following his winning of the emperor's prize, Steinitz was altogether taken up by his editorial duties and his bodily ailments. On one occasion he arose from the sick-bed with permanent lameness in one of his legs,. which had become and remained shorter than the other. But once did he engage in active play, a match having been arranged in January, 1876, with his old-time antagonist Blackburne, which ended in an overwhelming triumph for the Austrian, who won seven games straight.

Steinitz re-entered the chess arena in the Vienna tournament with a brilliant victory over Blackburne, but subsequently his lack of practice told severely against him. After the close of the first round he vied with Englisch and Weiss for eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth place. In the second round, however, he was himself again and ultimately tied with Winawer for first honors. The supplementary match to break the tie, consisted against all precedents of two games only. In the first game Steinitz made a grand combination, which involved the sacrifice of both rooks, but missed the winning combination, lost ultimately after having rejected a draw by perpetual check. In the next game Winawer, with the move in his favor, played for nothing but a draw, and apparently had reached his goal when Steinitz turned the tables by a profound combination. There is little doubt that if the match had been prolonged Steinitz would have won first honors; as it was, he had to content himself with dividing prizes with Winawer, but in the eyes of unbiased and fair-minded people Steinitz had again demonstrated his superiority over all contemporaneous players.

Steinitz's relations in England where, though naturalized, he had remained "a foreigner for twenty years," grew more unpleasant than ever. Having previously resigned from the Field, Steinitz gladly accepted an invitation by Mr. David Thompson of Philadelphia to fulfil an engagement at the Franklin Chess Club.

Like the great Roman, the Bohemian Caesar came, saw, and vanquished. In matches he defeated his opponents in most impressive style; of single games, whether on the level or at odds he scored an overwhelming majority, while in his simultaneous performances he broke all records in regard to the Score as well as to the number and caliber of his opponents. He never played more than four games blindfolded, generally engaging in a game of whist at the same time, but his opponents were selected from among the strongest players of the respective clubs, and he seldom lost a game. Altogether Steinitz's American tour was a great success, and his reception was so cordial that he resolved to make this country his permanent home, which he did two years later.

The London tournament of 1883 wrought him a bitter disappointment, inasmuch as Zukertort took first prize from him by a large margin. Thenceforth all his energies were bent on securing a match, which, however, was not consummated until 1885, chiefly through the effort of American lovers of the game. The match was played in three cities. In New York Zukertort won four to one; in St. Louis Steinitz closed up the gap, and in New Orleans he completely turned the tables, winning by ten to five, five draws. From that time on Steinitz's title to the championship remained unquestioned.

After his match Steinitz devoted himself chiefly to editing the International Chess Magazine, which he published since 1885, but frequently fulfilled engagements. In 1888 the Havana Chess Club offered to arrange a match between him and any opponent he would choose. Steinitz decided for Tchigorin, as the champion of the old school. The foe was worthy of his steel, as shown by the result, Steinitz ten, Tchigorin six.

In 1889, the Sixth American Chess Congress, which Steinitz had helped to organize, took place. He himself refrained from taking part in it, but edited the book of the tournament. At the same time the first volume of the Modern Chess Instructor had made its appearance, and the suggestions contained therein as to the Evans Gambit and the two Knights Defence led to the match by cable with Tchigorin which Steinitz lost, which in turn led to another match at Havana between the two in 1891. Steinitz barely won, ten to eight, his previous encounter with Gunsberg having already proven that his powers were on the decline.

In 1894 Steinitz entered into his match with Lasker wholly unprepared and rusty from lack of practice. Yet in the New York series he played some grand games, although handicapped by his defence to the Ruy Lopez, and it is the writer's firm belief that had he won the seventh game, wherein he had completely outwitted his opponent, the match would have taken a different turn. As it was, the game went far towards demoralizing Steinitz, while Lasker's confidence was restored. Steinitz lost the next game and broke down completely in Philadelphia. In Montreal he recuperated, but could only make even games.

The second match with Lasker proved him clearly to be outclassed, but he retained enough of his old powers to secure a prize in every tournament wherein he competed, except his last in London, 1899. A singular coincidence, that the scene of his first great success should witness his complete downfall. A year before in Vienna, in reply to a sympathetic remark that he had won fame enough, and could afford to let the younger generation earn some, he said: " I can spare the fame, but not the prize money."

After his match in Moscow with Lasker, strange behavior on his part caused his detention in an insane asylum there. During the following three years he seemed to have recovered his mental equilibrium, but his mind became completely unbalanced after his return from the London tournament. He died on Ward's Island on June 22, 1900.



1862.  Beat   S. Dubois, 5 to 3. 1 draw.
1863.     ' '    J. H. Blackburne, 7 to 1. 2 draws.
1863.     ' '    F. Deacon, 5 to 1.
1863.     ' '    Mongredien, 7 to 0.
1864.     ' '    V. Green, 5 to 0. 2 draws.
1864.     ' '    Healey at Kt odds, 5 to 0.
1860.     ' '    Anderssen, 8 to 6.
1866.     ' '    Bird, 7 to 5. 5 draws.
1867.     ' '    Fraser, 3 to 1.
1867.     ' '    Fraser at P and move, 7 to 1. 1 draw.
1870.     ' '    Blackburne, 5 to 0. 1 draw.
1872.     ' '    Zukertort, 7 to 1. 4 draws.
1876.     ' '    Blackburne, 7 to 0.
1882.     ' '    Martinez, 7 to 0.
1882.     ' '    Martinez, 3 to 1. 3 draws.
1882.     ' '    Sellmann, 3 to 0. 2 draws.
1887.     ' '    Mackenzie, 3 to 1. 2 draws.
1887.     ' '    Golmayo, 8 to 1. 2 draws.
1887.     ' '    Martinez, 9 to 0. 2 draws.
1885.     ' '    Sellmann, 3 to 0.
1886.     ' '    Zukertort, 10 to 5. 5 draws.
1888.     ' '    Vasquez, 5 to 0.
1888.     ' '    Golmayo, 5 to 0.
1888.     ' '    Ponce, 1.
1889.     ' '    Tchigorin, 10 to 6. 1 draw.
1890-91. ' '    Gunsberg, 6 to 4. 9 draws.
1892.     ' '    Tchigorin, 10 to 8. 5 draws.
1894.   Lost   Lasker, 5 to 10.
1896.    ' '          ' '     2 to 10.


1859.   Vienna.  Third prize after Hamppe and Jenay.
1860.        ' '       Second prize after Hamppe.
1861.        ' '       First prize.
1862.    London.  Sixth prize (12 players).
1862.    Dublin.  First prize.
1860.    London. Handicap, first prize, 8 to 0.
1867.    Paris.  Third prize after Kolisch and Winawer.
1867.    Dundee. Second prize after Neumann.
1867.        ' '      First prize, handicap ; Fraser, second ; Neumann, third.
1870.    Baden Baden. Second prize after Anderssen.
1871.    British Association, London. First prize, 12 to 0.
1872.             ' '                       ' '      First prize, 7 to 0 to 1.
1873.    Vienna.  First prize.
1882.        ' '      First and second prizes divided with Winawer.
1883.    London. Second prize after Zukertort.
1894.    New York. First prize ; Albin, second.
1895.    Hastings. Fifth prize.
1896.    St. Petersburg Quadrangular Tourney. second prize after Lasker ; 
            Pillsbury, third ; Tchigorin, fourth
1896.    Nuremberg. Fifth prize.
1898.    Vienna. Fourth prize.
1898.    Cologne. Fifth prize.