Steinitz Wilhelm (17.05.1836 – 12.08.1900)

steinitz_wilhelmWas the first official World Chess Champion and the founder of the modern chess strategy. The entire chess world remembers him not only as a great player, who has achieved the title of the World Chess Champion, but also as a great thinker who has highly influenced the development of the new modern chess playing. Was born on 14 May 1836 in Prague and lived there until he turned 22. While an adolescent, he was already interested in mathematics and was a talented chess player.

His chess career started when he moved to Vienna, where he studied in the Vienna Institute of Polytechnics. Being in the Vienna chess society, from the very beginning, he started playing against very strong opponents, which contributed to his quick development in regarding chess. In 1859, he participated in the third Club Championship and a year later in the second, and in 1861, he already won the first prize.

His international chess career commenced with his participation in the London Tournament in 1862. He achieved a very good result (the sixth place among 11 participants); as a result, some of his well performed games attracted the attention of the chess people. Immediately after his performance, he decided to stay in England and to finally devote himself to chess. At that time, England was the centre of the chess world, and most of the important international championships took place there. However, there were still not enough tournaments organised, so Steinitz in the following few years played only exhibition simultaneous games.

His match against Anderssen took place in July 1866. After Morphy’s death, Anderssen was considered to be the strongest chess player in the world, and therefore, no one doubted that he would win the match with Steinitz. The match turned out to be a very difficult and persistent one. None of the games out of 14 finished in a draw, and Steinitz won with the score 8:6. Then, he achieved successful results, which for one moment brought him to the highest point of the chess elite: the first place in the London Tournament in 1872, somewhat later a brilliant victory in the match with Zukertort, and, finally, in the year of 1873, he took the first place in the International Tournament in Vienna. Starting from that tournament, a new important era commenced in his chess career. He devoted himself to the publishing. He conducted the analysis of thousands of games and fully devoted himself to the formulation not only of the new issues but also to the whole perception of a chess game.

At that time, he played only exhibition games and in some small tournaments, he was present only as an observer. It might seem strange but particularly that period was the most meaningful and decisive one in his chess career. In the systematic analytical work and in the further refusal from playing and participating in the tournaments, Steinitz established a number of strategic rules, which later became the conceptions of the entire modern chess perception.

Steinitz was a born struggler with very unusual great ambitions. It was obvious that his refusal to play in the tournaments would not last long and he would be back to the chess arena in order to achieve new successes, especially to prove that his conceptions were right. His first performance after the pause in the Vienna Tournament in 1882 was not very successful. He did not manage to play altogether well and he shared the first prize with Winawer. A real failure overtook him a year later. After the trip to the US that lasted for several months, he took part in the International Tournament in London and was defeated and finally took the second place after Zukertort. Already then Steinitz decided to play the match with Zukertort and he wanted this match to be the official match for the title of the World Chess Champion. However, it was not possible to fulfill it right away.

Steinitz moved to the US, and there he set about to publish the International Chess Magazine. This magazine was on a high level and included his brilliant analytical work, a critical study of the former development of chess, and it was a real achievement in the history of chess journalism. In 1886, the chess world was eager for this match for the title of the World Champion to take place. Three cities in the US started constructing the venues for this match – New York, St. Louis and New Orleans. The beginning turned out to be catastrophic for him; after the first part, he lost and the score was 4:1.

He contributed his entire art of playing and his best abilities and qualities into the game. And the success? Until the end of the Championship Match, Zukertort managed to win some more games and, with the score 10:5 with five draws and having won, he left the stage. Right after the match Steinitz expressed his wish to play a return match with Zukertort in England. Steinitz proved his title with success in two tournaments (in 1889 and 1892), when he played with Gunsberg (1890), but he did not resist the attack of the younger generation that applied the methods and conceptions of Stenitz themselves. In 1894, Stenitz lost to Dr. Emanuel Lasker with the obvious advantage of Lasker (10:5, with 4 draws), in which Lasker achieved this advantage in the games from 7 to 11.

This painful defeat for the old Master was meant to be the last phase of his chess life. His warlike nature did not let him deal with this defeat. He doesn’t care for his age and strove for a return match. Instead of getting some rest, Steinitz traveled from place to place, visited England, Russia, the Netherlands, and Germany, took part in tournaments, played in the pause matches, in many free games and gave simultaneous performances. The match played against Lasker in Moscow in 1896-97 finished unavoidably catastrophically for him. His nerves did not resist the destructive defeat (10:2 with five draws) and having become mentally ill, he had to be put into a special institution in Moscow. Once again, he recovered from this depression. It was the ideal time for him at the age of 61 to get some rest and to concentrate on the literary work, in which he could contribute so much. Instead of settling in this kind of work, he returned to the chess arena.

It is difficult to state the reasons for that. His nature did not let him stay away from the tournaments and be the observer of the conceptions of the new generation of masters. He stayed in chess up until the end. After a success in Vienna in 1898, he achieved a rather weak result in Köln on Rein in 1898 and then he was defeated in London in 1899, and with this defeat, he fell into a deep depression. After this mental disease, Steinitz never recovered and passed away on 12 August 1900. Steinitz’s life was not an easy one. He was one of the first Masters, who entirely dedicated himself to chess. Chess was his real weakness. He had no friends, who would forgive him the acuity of his polemics. Steinitz had lived in four countries, and none of these countries were a real homeland for him. For thirty years he knew the strategies of many chess players in the world. During ten years in front of the whole chess world, he was proving the title of the World Champion. Despite the fact that he was the first in chess history to win the World Champion title, the meaning of his personality is based not only on his great achievements.

His power of playing this game was very unusual and he was not only a brilliant thinker and his deed was marked as the beginning of a new epoch, where chess had become a real scientific game. When we want to understand some of Steinitz’s works, we must at least in short study the standings, which prevailed in the chess strategy at that time. It is necessary to know, in order to understand, what a revolutionary deed Steinitz’s speech appeared in his column in Field, later in the International Chess Magazine and then in the Modern Chess Instructor Book, which was criticised and further led to a conclusion that the effective attacks are almost always possible through weak defences, and the previous game was played without either standings and conceptions or strategic principles. Except for the critics, Steinitz worked very hard at formulating the new principles of the right game’s conducting.

The innovation that Steinitz had created out of the chess strategy spheres, Lasker brought to the following four conceptions later:

1. There exists such a notion: “Equilibrium of positions (of the struggle)”.

2. Vehement attacks can be conducted only when the equilibrium is swung, not in the least before.

3. An attack can be generally conducted only at the “weak points” of an opponent.

4. The defence must be in the highest degree economic with no spare strength wasted. These four rules, which are applied and met today by almost every chess player in practice, are like elementary mathematical rules. Steinitz was the first to discover the significance of the meaningless positional disadvantages in a game. So much of what Steinitz discovered had enriched the opening theory.

In the games of the modern tournaments we can meet Steinitz’s defence and Steinitz’s attack in the Spanish game and his variants of the French game. He was the fist to begin playing the queen gambit. Steinitz was very often accused of dogmatism, by means of which he had applied his conceptions. In the opening, Steinitz mainly underestimated the meaning of static elements, of weaknesses in the opponents’ positions, the dynamic elements, the possibility of using the rapid development of pieces with the aim of the effective attacks progress. The disadvantage of Steinitz’s opening proved to be Steinitz’s weakness, for instance, in the match with Lasker and Chigorin. This is a paradox because Steinitz enriched this theory of the opening with so many fresh and deep ideas. Almost no one, who achieved something new and great, is able to avoid the uneven estimations of his discovery and cannot protect his theory being invalid in the opinions of other people. Therefore, the practical worker Steinitz is often left behind Steinitz the thinker. Many generations of Chess Masters have acquired and applied Steinitz’s conceptions, which proved to be right in so many tournaments and matches. It is impossible to think about chess without remembering the standings and conceptions of Steinitz on the positional play.

The enrichment of chess strategy principles and the profound study of the game course technique are also some of the numerous achievements and theories of Wilhelm Steinitz. He participated in the 1859 and 1860 Vienna Championships with the third and the second places, but won the 1861-62 Championship.

Best results in the international tournaments: 1862 London -6th; 1865 Dublin – 1st; 1866 London – 1st; 1867 Paris – 3rd; 1867 Dundee – 2nd; 1870 Baden-Baden -2nd; 1872 London – 1st; 1872 London -1st, 1873 Vienna – 1st; 1882 Vienna – 1st; 1883 London – 2nd; 1889 Havana -1st; 1890/1891 New York – 1st; 1894 New York – 1st; 1895 Hastings – 1st; 1895-96 St Petersburg – 2nd;1896 Nuremberg – 6th; 1897 New York – 1st; 1898 Vienna – 4th (he was 62); 1898 Keln – 5th; 1899 London – 10th; Played matches: in 1866, won a match with Bird and with Anderssen A.; in 1872, beat Zukertort; in 1876, beat Blackburne; in 1886 won a match with Zuckertort.1889, in 1892, beat Chigorin, 1894, in 1896-97 lost a match to Lasker. Between 1873-1882, the editor of the chess column in The Field. 1876-82, editor of the chess column in Figaro. 1883, editor of the chess column in Ashore or Afloat. 1890-93, editor of the chess column in the New York Tribune. 1893, editor of the chess column in the New York Herald. 1885-91, owner and editor of the International Chess Magazine. Major works: Modern Chess Instructor, (1889, 1895); 6th American Chess Congress (1891). Steinitz gambit was introduced by the author at the Dundee Tourney in 1867.