My Favorite Game Of. Number 19. Wilhelm Steinitz.

My Favorite Game Of. Number 19. Wilhelm Steinitz.


My blog output this year has been a bit of a patchwork quilt. Whilst  away for the week I took Hans Renette's magnificent book on Paulsen with me. My friend @kamalakanta recently described it as being a book that is almost a religious experience to read, and I know where he is coming from on that. ( it's always a good idea to take a book with you when you are on holiday in 'Sunny England'!)

Reading Steinitz's fascinating obituary of Paulsen, who influenced him greatly,  reminded me that I had done most of the notes for a Steinitz game in this series, so I have come back and finished it.

So. Steinitz. Not so easy to write a brief style description of in the style of this series.!!

A fascinating, misunderstood ( even in today's world of the internet resources and properly written and researched chess history, you can still find loads of recycled rubbish written about his chess) and an enigma wrapped up in a conundrum. Without doubt one of the more fascinating of the World Champions to study, - and I say that having spent many, many hours with all of them, trying to dissect and understand them.

As with many of his contemporaries - something I noted when posting my favorite Zukertort game - you are really looking at more than one player!

During his time at the top level chess evolved hugely, and he evolved with it, so with Steinitz you are really talking about 3 or 4 different versions of the player. He studied what was going on in the chess world, learned from it, and added his own ideas to the pot.

Equally, other players did the same, and learned from Steinitz. It is a huge subject that I could sit here and write page after page on, with material straight out of my head, and the same is true of Steinitz himself. 

One quick example 

Central Pawn structures. A basic topic in any work on chess strategy.

Contrary to what some writers will tell you when quoting the same old Zukertort - Steinitz match game and mentioning that he liked to play d2-d3 in the Ruy Lopez ( hardly revolutionary at the time!! ) he really didn't view central Pawn  structures in terms of structural strengths and weaknesses, or in terms of control of space. He was primarily concerned with control of squares.

So in 1.e4 e5 openings where he was Black we often see him capturing on d4. Then he would try to get enough control of the e5 square to restrain the Pawn on e4, and play ..c7-c6 to control the d5 square. Nowadays the idea is well known in the King's Indian Defence, but to create the situation, and implement the idea, back in the days of 1.e4 e5 was incredibly deep and profound chess.

A couple of examples from the many in my head - whilst avoiding a massive discussion that goes beyond the scope of what was meant to be a small post! ( I know, I never learn to shut up and do the easy to read articles!!)

The first Lasker - Steinitz match game. Go look at the position after White's  move 34.

So how do you retake on d5? The Pawn capture creates an isolated Pawn on a half open central file. The piece capture gives White the e4 square for ever. You won't find that game in any 'Best Games Of' collection, but studying it will teach you :-

a. a lot about Lasker's approach to the match, and

b. A lot about how Steinitz actually played  at that time in his career. 

Another example, while my head is doing the chain of thought thing. A game from very  late in Steinitz's career, that you won't find in the anthologies. Another game with an IQP, this time in his opponent's position. Steinitz makes no major attempt to attack it and win it  in the whole game! He plays f2-f3, to control the e4 square - despite the backward Pawn on e3 - and quietly works on controlling squares. ( incidentally, Lasker played a similar game in his match with Showalter a few years earlier) He prepares to open lines on the K-Side with g2-g4, inducing some square weaknesses on that side of the board. Black resigns with equal material and the IQP still on the board, without having made a  significant error, as far as I can tell.

You will also find many examples where, as Black, he would reinforce the pawn  on e5 by playing the rather ugly looking move f7-f6. It wasn't an idea original to him - Morphy, following the example of George Medley against him, once used the idea. The idea is that if White can not remove the Pawn from e5, he has no useful squares in the centre for his pieces. 

O.K., I could sit here for hours talking about how Steinitz  played chess at different stages  of his career, but I had better post the actual game of his that I have spent the most time studying, which is why I have to give it as my favorite.

It was played in one of the greatest matches in chess history - indeed, my favourite Anderssen game  is also from the match. 14 games. No draws - these guys were real fighters who always played to win. there are 4 where the loser lost by poor play in the opening, and the other 10 are magnificent battles!!

I love games that are a real fight much more than one sided 'brilliancies' where one player supposedly shows how wonderful he is, so this match was my kind of chess.

Anderssen, despite some dubious opening decisions in this match, ( plus the fact noted in Chess World' that he was tired from his travelling, despite which he could not resist siting down and playing off - hand games with such a strong adversary as Henry Bird) was very strong at this point in his career. Like many - Paulsen being an opposite example at the time - he was not a natural match player. But by this point he was a seriously good player!!

Steinitz came into the match off the back of his humbling experience of trying to give the young De Vere Pawn and moves odds, and being utterly and convincingly beaten.

Notes without allocation are my own - with computer corrections on the tactics noted. I think that Anderssen missed a draw just a couple of moves from the end, but have not checked it against the tablebases, so any help there will be gratefully accepted. Thanks in advance to those with the relevant tech skills!

I have added a few contemporary comments, because they are always interesting.

Staunton did quick, sketchy comments in 'The Chess World', ed. Lowenthal.

Neue Berliner Schachzeitung ed. Anderssen and Neumann has, again, brief comments.

And Lowenthal, in an historically important work ' Transactions of  The B.C.A', as it is referred to

So. Enjoy the game!! All POLITE comments welcomed, along with any tablebase insights.

P.S. A quick thank you to Bernard Cafferty, who, when I knew nothing, taught me to appreciate Steinitz. Thanks mate!