Lionel Kieseritzky

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The only known likeness of Lionel Kieseritzky


     On the day before leaving his hometown of Dorpat for good under the weight of some unspecified scandal, the man with the improbable name of Lionel Adalbert Bagration Felix Kieseritzky, at the augural age of 33, put on a show. Although he was well known as a talented amateur pianist, the show he arranged was a chess show - a living chess game played out in the public gardens. And quite fitting it was since Kieseritsky was soon to become not just transplanted to Paris but transfigured from a teacher of Mathematics into a teacher of Chess.


     Dorpat lay in Livonia, a part of the Russian Empire that had formerly been under Polish rule, comprised loosely of the Baltic area now known as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Although Livonia had former Polish ties, Kieseritzky wasn't Polish but of purely Germanic blood. His father was a well-to-do Estate Manager. Lionel himself was socially active and practiced at putting on theatrical shows, generally more of a musical or dramatic variety. Entertainment coursed through his veins as did Chess. That he had been the best player in Livoia seems obvious as he had been playing  correspondence chess with Carl Jaenisch and immediately upon arriving in Paris set up shop at the Café de la Régence teaching chess for 5 francs a game.

     Testifying to Kierseritzky's chess reputation, George Walker, in 1838, wrote:

To whom is destined the marshal's baton when De la Bourdonnais throws it down, and what country will furnish his successor? The speculation is interesting. Will Gaul continue the dynasty by placing a fourth Frenchman on the throne of the world? -- the three last chess chiefs having been successively Philidor, Deschapelles, and De la Bourdonnais. I have my doubts. Boncourt is passing, St. Amant forsaking chess; and there is no third son of France worthy of being borne on the books, save as a petty officer. May we hope that the laurel is growing in England? No! Ten thousand reasons forbid the supposition. Germany, Holland, and Belgium, contain no likely man. At present De la Bourdonnais, like Alexander the Great, is without heir, and there is room to fear the empire may be divided eventually under a number of petty kings. M. Deschapelles considers that chess is an affair of the sun, and that the cold north can never produce a first-rate chess organisation. I cannot admit the truth of the hypothesis; since we find the north, in our time, bringing forth the hardest thinkers of the day in every department. Calvi of Italy will go far in chess; but so will Szen of Poland, and Kaesaritzki of Livonia. The imperial name of the latter is alone a pawn in his favour; but, I repeat, the future is yet wrapped in darkness.


By the mid 1840's Kieseritzky was probably the strongest player in Paris and possibly the world - though such a claim would undoubtedly be fodder for intense debate. While the everyday contests against weaker amateurs were his bread and butter, Kieseritzky played a good many matches against strong masters with generally good results -

1839  vs. St Amant  1-1=1
             vs Rousseau - won a 100 game match
1840  vs. Boncourt - even score
1843  vs. Buckle at QB odds - Buckle won
1845  vs. Calvi  +7-7=1
1846  vs. Horwitz  7-4=1
1846  Staunton played Harrwitz and Kieseritzky in a rather peculiar 2 game simultaneous triangular contest. Staunton gave Rook odds while his two opponents played blindfolded. Harrwitz won both his games; Kieseritzky lost both his games 
1847  vs. Harrwitz  11-5=2
1848  vs.Buckle   2-3=3
1850  vs. Schulten  107-34=10 
              vs. James Thompson at P&move odds. Thompson won the majority.

1851  vs. Buckle  2-1
         vs. Mayet  13-8=1
         vs. Mayet  13-8=1 
         vs. Szen  13-7   
         vs. Loewnthal  9-8
         vs. Bird  8-2    
         vs. Jaenisch 1-1=1 
         vs. Anderssen  9-5=2  
         vs. Mongredien  1-2

     Although Kieseritzky was possibly among the best theorists of the coffeehouse players, an expert in openings and endings, he was overly fond of wild gambits and often accused of playing for the audience, preferring show over soundness. And he was, indeed, a showman and a capable blindfold player.   In one particular blindfold exhibition he played against four opponents (at that time, a new record), announcing his moves in a different language for each board - French, German, English and Italian. He also invented a 3-D version of chess that had as little impact as his unusual chess notation creation.   

     For all his social tendencies, Kieseritzky has been described in the most unfavorable terms - of livid complexion, with melancholic and afflicted
.  George Walker told of an incident that occurred while Kieseritzky took breakfast with Horowitz during the 1851 London tournament. The waiter had been ignoring them and Kieseritsky said, "s'il pourrait savoir!"  meaning, doesn't he recognize us?  Walker accused Kieseritzky of vainly considering himself to be the "Messiah of Chess."

     Just as for all his chess victories, his play was sometimes criticized by his contemporaries -

With all his fine genius and extraordinary knowledge of the game, Kieseritzky was the most wayward and crotchety of players. It was this and his constitutional timidity, perhaps, which prevented his occupying the highest place amongst the chess masters of the day. In his Openings he delighted in all sorts of odd, out-of-the-way manoeuvring. In his End-games, when the road to victory lay plain and direct before him, he would turn aside, as if from sheer wantonness, and lose himself in some inextricable maze, while his opponent took time and heart and reached the long-despaired-of goal. These eccentricities have been set down to an obliquity of mind. I am disposed to attribute them in part, at least, to another cause. He entertained a great repugnance to giving odds, and as his opponents were, for the most part, immeasurably inferior to him both in skill and bookish lore, he could of course afford, when playing "even" with them, to risk a good deal. Of what import was the loss of a few moves or of two or three Pawns to one who felt he was a Rook stronger than his adversary? It was thus probably that he acquired that fondness for rash attacks, and whimsical defences, which injured his game and told against him so terribly when he came to cope with men of mettle like his own.  - Howard Stanton, "Chess Praxis"

     In 1849, Kieseritsky started publishing his chess periodical, la Régence.  Correspondence between Kieseritzky and von der Lasa reveal Kieseritzky's shakey financial footing. In 1850 the planned rennovations of Paris included the tearing down of the Café de la Régence, Kieseritzky's "workplace" as he called it. The failure of his magazine the following year and the likely disruption in his regular income most certainly weighed heavy on his mind.  In 1851 he was invited to London to play in the first international chess tournament. Kieseritzky was one of the favorites. In spite of the fact that he had just beaten Anderssen convincingly in a match, his showing in the tournament was dismal with his first game, which lated 20 minutes, being the worst loss of his long chess career:


     About this game Staunton wrote: "not only playing away the only piece guarding his King from mate, but doing it in such a manner that his opponent (even if he missed the mate) could still have won his Queen instead - a sort of double-barrelled blunder that I have never seen equalled even among beginners of the game."

     Kieseritsky, the favorite, was knocked out in the first round  0-2=1.

From here everything went down hill. After the Tournament, Kiesertizky furthered Anderssen's fame and ensured his own questionable place in chess lore by publishing another loss, a skiddles game, to Anderssen played on June 21, 1851. When Ernst Falbeer re-published the game in his very short lived Austrian chess periodical, Wiener Schachzeitung, he christened it Anderssen's Immortal.


     Below is the game as it appereaded in Kieseritzky's own publication. It should be noted that the game was never played through to mate, as it's always given, but that Kieseritzky resigned after 20. Ke2 when Anderssen's clever plan became clear.

2) White has only two ways to save the Rook, namely, E-25 and G-48,
because by playing E-17 he would the lose the Bishop by D-62-X 
3) This is not the best move; he should play g-67, and if then
White plays 37-g, it's answered by F-75.
4) From this moment White's play is superior.
5) Instead of taking the Bishop that White had left skillfully
en pris, it would be much better to push for d-64 
and get rid of the Knight as soon as possible.

6) The only move to save the Queen
7) Perfect combination
8) Taking the Pawn and the attacking both Rooks is too tempting to resist.
9) The coup de grâce, which negates all efforts of the opponent.
This game was conducted by Mr. Anderssen with remarkable skill.
L. K.

 The Immortal game as usually presented.


     Two years later, at age 47 - the same age as Morphy when he died - Lionel Kieseritzky would die, penniless and friendless in the Hotel du Dieu in Paris, referred to as le Hôpital de la Charité, a place for the care of the insane, and buried in a pauper's grave, his funeral unattended.