The Knights and Kings of Chess
by George Alcock MacDonnell
I FIRST met Kolisch in 1861 at the St. James's Club, then just founded by Herr Lowenthal. A short time previously he had encountered Harrwitz at the Cafe La Regence, and beaten him two out of three games. His reputation, thus established, was enhanced the very same year by his celebrated contest with Paulsen, which resulted in honours divided. It was not, however, till 1867 that Kolisch won the highest place in the chess world. That year he unexpectedly appeared in Paris, and entered the International Tournament a day or two after it had been opened. Beating, amongst others, Steinitz, Winawer, and Neumann, he won the championship of the world, and, better still, a Sevres vase, valued at £200, presented by the Emperor Napoleon. This vase, I believe, Kolisch sold for £160 cash, just before he played his concluding game in the tournament. In 1869 I frequently met Kolisch, and found him a very witty, agreeable, well-mannered, good tempered fellow. As a raconteur he was Stauntonesque. His enjoyment of all kinds of rational fun was hearty and intense, whilst his kindness and generosity to chess players requiring help was unbounded. He retired from practical chess, or at least from match playing, after his victory in 1867, yet he never ceased to cherish a love for the game, nor failed to further its interests when he had an opportunity.
Several of the international tournaments on the Continent were organised by him, and carried out successfully by his energy and liberality—notably those at Vienna and Baden-Baden. On these occasions many of the unsuccessful competitors owed some of their happiest moments to the prodigal generosity of Kolisch.
Lowenthal used to give the following account of the origin of Kolisch's commercial success. In 1868, when he was visiting Vienna, he made the acquaintance of Baron Rothschild, at that time the President of the Vienna Chess Club, and the Baron was so impressed by the pleasing manners and brilliant wit of the Hungarian, that he resolved to help him on the road to fortune. Accordingly, he proposed to play him a match at odds for £1000.
Kolisch accepted the challenge, gave him pawn and two moves, and won the money. With this sum as capital he engaged in business as a banker, under the auspices of the Rothschilds, and rapidly accumulated a fortune. So rich did he become that in 1881 he purchased a large estate near Vienna, and was created a baron of the United Empire; and so high did he stand at the Imperial Court that on one or two occasions the Empress visited his castle and lunched with him. From that time forward, accompanied by his wife the Baroness, he paid frequent visits to London, and entertained there in right royal style a large circle of friends both English and Hungarian.
Always the same pleasant, witty, generous, and good-hearted fellow, he never ceased to be loved by his associates and admired by everyone who met him.
Kolisch, one of the greatest chess generals of modern times, and certainly the greatest odds-giver of all times, was born at Pressburg, in Hungary, 1837, and died at Vienna on the 20th April, 1889.