Professor Anderssen

Sep 30, 2009, 5:49 PM |

The Chess Player's Chronicle
1st APRIL 1879.


     Very deep and general regret has been excited in London Chess circles by the unexpected announcement of the death, at Breslau on the 14th of March, of this renowned master. It might have been expected, from his perforniances at Paris in the International Tourney, and immediately afterwards at Frankfort in the West German Chess Congress, that he had many years of vigorous life and Chess activity before him. We write without any information beyond that derived from the daily papers, and are unaware, as yet, of the circumstances of his last illness. The following account of his career is derived mainly from Herr Schallopp's Book of the Leipzig Congress of 1877, on the occasion of the Anderssen Jubilee.

     Adolf Anderssen was born at Breslau, in Prussian Silesia, on the 6th of July 1818; and almost the whole of his uneventful life was spent within the walls of his native city. At the age of nine he learnt the moves from his father, and he had been fifty years devoted to the game when, in July 1877, he received the most splendid testimonial ever offered to a Chess player, and all Germany assembled to do him honour. We read with some amusement that, when a fifth-form boy (Secundaner) at the gymnasium (public school) of his native town, he was in the habit of beguiling the tedium of lesson hours with problems and end-games, surreptitiously inserted between the leaves of the Greek poets and Latin orators, and even sometimes (tell it not in Eton !) "shirked school " with an equally audacious friend in order to play Chess in his own room. We had always imagined that German school-boys were more studious, and lese enterprising, than English; we must conclude that the discipline applied to truants is less sharp and summary on the Continent. As a sixth-form boy (Primaner), he found antagonists more worthy of his powers among the leading players of Breslau ; but he did not wreck his prospects for the sake of a mere game, and the approach of the dreaded "matriculation exam " interrupted his Chess ardour for some time. At the age of eighteen he passed, still at Breslau, from the school to the University ; and, without neglecting his studies, he now encountered for the first time (presumably at Berlin) such masters as Bledow, Löwenthal, and Heydebrandt von der Lasa ; and while he rapidly improved, the result of these youthful essays brought home to the Bursch the fact that he had not yet reached the maturity of his powers. He did not, like Morphy, take the world by storm at twenty-one.

     Once more the completion of his studies involved a temporary abandonment of chess. After his last public examination he made teaching his profession, he held various appointments in the Prussian gymnasia. One of these in particular gave him frequent opportunities of visiting Berlin ; hence it was that he reached his full strength in contests with the great players of the capital, was for a time editor of the Schachzeitung, and owed his introduction to the London Tournament of 1851, the scene of his first great triumph. In 1852 he moved to Breslau, and taught German and mathematics in the higher classes of the public school ; and his success in this department was rewarded, German fashion, by the honorary title of Professor. This last appointment he retained until his death.

     If we have dwelt at some length on these facts of his biography, it is because Anderssen showed, throughout his career, that it is possible to attain the very highest rank among Chess players without making Chess the business of life. Anderssen the schoolmaster was as much an amateur as Buckle the historian, far more so than Philidor the musical composer, or Staunton the littérateur and Shakespeare editor. And we may add that he was conspicuously free from the taint of professionalism too often observable in self-styled amateurs. Enthusiasm for the game was the mainspring of his daily devotion to it—nulla dies sine linea ; fame, and not lucre, was the inspiring principle of his highest efforts.

     Before he became known as a master in practical play, Anderssen made his mark at an early age by the publication of a volume of problems. We have not seen the German edition of this work, but we believe the date was about 1842, when his age did not exceed twenty-four. The late Herr Kniper afterwards republished in England Anderssen's Sixty Problems, together with an equal number of his own ; and the best of them are included in Alexandre's collection. Anderssen's problems, together with those of Brede and D'Orville, which appeared about the same time, mark a distinct advance in the art of composition, and are well entitled to the epithet of " epoch-making."  Being mostly limited to a few moves, they appeal to the taste of the present day more than the lengthy, though intricate and beautiful, inventions of Bolton and Bone ; and, improving upon the hints contained in a few Italian problems of the last century, they finally discarded the endless checks which had hitherto formed the staple material of problem-making, and developed tho system of coups de repos. A slight inspection of the tasteless work of the generation immediately preceding him in Germany, of Mauvillon, Mendheim, and Silberschmidt. will attest the originality and genius which Anderssen brought to this department of Chess.

     Until 1851, he was better known, at least abroad, as a problemist than as a practical player. We do not think that public opinion would have singled him out beforehand as the future winner among so many distinguished names. Staunton, Kieseritzky, and Szen were among the vanquished ; and Mr. Wyvill, now almost the only survivor of the band, achieved the second honours. The most distinguished of Anderssen's rivals on this occasion was Staunton, who was unfortunately both the chronicler of the Tournament and unable to bear defeat with good grace. The injustice with which Staunton treated Anderssen and other opponents, and his jealousy of all rising talent ever afterwards, led by a natural reaction to an equally absurd depreciation of his own powers. Before 1851, as we were assured by Captain Kennedy and others who had the best opportunities of judging, Staunton was beginning to lose the fine edge of his play ; he no longer enjoyed, and his habits did not conduce to, the physical health indispensable for long and arduous contests ; and during the Tournament he was heavily weighted with business responsibilities, which, as the art of managing Chess Congresses has improved, are now rightly left to non-combatants. Now that the grave has closed upon the survivor of these " mighty opposites," we desire to record our final opinion that Anderssen at his best was a shade, and only a shade, better than Staunton, taken also at his best.

     The second great London Exhibition, in 1862, brought with it another International Tonrney, in which Anderssen was again first, L. Paulsen second. "All round" play now took the place of the pairing which, in 1851, had thrown out some of the best players in the first round. The time limit was for the first time introduced, and the Games of the Congress, as edited by Löwenthal in 1864, are more interesting and attractive than those of the earlier Tournament. In 1866 Anderssen came over to England to play a match with Steinitz, which he lost, after an exciting contest marked by many vicissitudes, by eight games to six. On this occasion Anderssen hardly did himself justice ; he was in too great a hurry to get back to Germany, and played too persistently to avoid drawn games. But he never sought to reverse the verdict by another set match. At Baden, in 1870, he carried off the first prize, and on this occasion defeated Steinitz, we believe by half a game in the total score. The next year he lost a match to Zukertort, and the varying results of several short matches with L. Paulsen inclined on the whole rather against him. In 1873, at Vienna, he had to succumb to Blackburne and Steinitz, who tied for the first prize. We need not mention all the German, as distinguished from the International, Congresses in which he bore a part ; but at the memorable Leipzig Congress of 1877 his Chess Jubilee was celebrated by a magnificent present of plate and a series of fêtes from hie countrymen, aa well as compliments from abroad, which showed that, thongn no longer the champion player of Europe, he was still the most prominent and representative figure in the Chess world. In the Paris Tourney last year, as most of our readers will remember, he did not rise above the sixth place, but in some of his games, and notably in those with Blackburne and Mackenzie, he gave a touch of his old quality. His sixtieth birthday—unfortunately the last he was to witness—occurring in the midst of the Tourney, was marked by graceful hospitality on the part of his French host, MM. Morel. We know of no player, even Morphy not excepted, whose games are more interesting and instructive to the student than Anderssen's. He was learned, and wrote largely on the theory of several openings, particularly upon the Evans Gambit, but his learning did not obscure his genius or weaken his self-reliance. It might be invidious to single him out as the most brilliant player of his generation, but we hold that in this attractive feature of Chess style he was at least unsurpassed. All brilliancy presupposes some weakness on the part of the adversary—a fact often realised by aspirants to their own cost. Some great players can only be brilliant in light games, or at odds. But Anderssen is scarcely ever dull, even in match games ; and a slight error on the part of a first-rate antagonist often elicits, on his part, a highly imaginative and yet correct finish. We have already given some of his best games in our Select Reprints, and we hope to do him further honour of a like kind, the materials being unusually ample. In one respect we find it less easy to compare him with some other Chess Masters, such as Staunton, Morphy, Steinitz, and Zukertort ; among his hundreds of published games there are comparatively few specimens of his skill in giving odds, especially the odds of the Pawn.