Adolf Anderssen - Assessment (Conclusion)




Playing strength and style

Anderssen was the king of European tournaments from 1851 to early 1878, taking first prize in over half of the events in which he played. His only recorded tournament failures were a 1-game-per-round knock-out event in 1857 and 6th place at Paris 1878 when his health was failing and he had only about a year to live. His match record was much weaker: out of the 12 that he played, he won only 2, drew 4 and lost 6. But to be fair: one loss was against Paul Morphy, who annihilated other leading players at least as thoroughly; Anderssen gave Wilhelm Steinitz as hard a fight as anyone did until Emanuel Lasker beat Steinitz in 1894; Daniel Harrwitz (drawn match, 1848) was the weakest of his other opponents.

Arpad Elo, inventor of the Elo rating system, retroactively calculated ratings through history, and estimated that Anderssen was the first player with a rating over 2600 (Elo 1978:191). Chessmetrics ranks Anderssen as one of the top 5 players for most of the period from 1851 to shortly before his death in 1879.

Steinitz, who spoke his mind without fear or favor, rated Anderssen as one of the two greatest attacking players: "We all may learn from Morphy and Anderssen how to conduct a king’s-side attack, and perhaps I myself may not have learnt enough." Although Anderssen is regarded as a member of the "heroic" attacking school, he was not in favor of mindless aggression, for example he said "Move that one of your pieces, which is in the worst plight, unless you can satisfy yourself that you can derive immediate advantage by an attack", a principle more recenty labelled "Makagonov's rule". Nevertheless his approach to development was haphazard and and he totally failed to understand why Morphy won.

Anderssen's home town was so proud of him that in 1865 Breslau University awarded him an honorary doctorate.

Influence on chess

The "heroic" attacking school of play to which Anderssen belonged was eclipsed by Steinitz' positional approach - by 1894 it was generally acknowledged that the only way to beat Steinitz was to apply Steinitz' principles.

Anderssen has had a more enduring influence on chess problem composition. He started composing in the last years of the "Old School", whose compositions were fairly similar to realistic over-the-board positions and featured spectacular "key" moves, multiple sacrifices and few variations. He was one of the most skilful composers of his time, and his work forms an early stage of the "Transition Period", between the mid-1840s and the early 1860s, when many of the basic problem ideas were discovered, the requirement for game-like positions was abandoned and the introduction of composing competitions (the first of which was in 1854) forced judges to decide on what features were the most desirable in a problem.


Steinitz wrote: "Anderssen was honest and honourable to the core. Without fear or favour he straightforwardly gave his opinion, and his sincere disinterestedness became so patent....that his word alone was usually sufficient to quell disputes...for he had often given his decision in favour of a rival..." On the other hand Reuben Fine wrote, "There is a curious contrast between his over-the-board brilliance and his uninspired safety-first attitude in everyday affairs."