Person of day   -  14 MAY 2021

WILHELM STEINITZ

WILHELM STEINITZ

The first world champion Wilhelm Steinitz entered the chess world when romanticism reigned supreme: artistic attacks with sacrifices were valued above all and the art of defence was barely considered. Steinitz was the first to realise that chess obeyed certain laws which dictated that attacking only made sense after realising certain advantages that opened the position to attack. Defence was necessary to avoid the emergence of weaknesses in one’s own sphere. 

Steinitz’s innovative theory was the revelation of his time. It enabled him to see and understand what was in the dark for opponents. This was the main reason for his successes and victories over leading players of the old romantic school, first and foremost over Andersen and Zukertort. Steinitz was declared the first chess king after defeating Zukertort with 10 victories, 5 draws and 5 defeats in 1886. Many years later, Lasker called this match the one that settled the contest between the combinative and positional schools of thought. 

Steinitz defended his title three times. He defeated Gunsberg and Mikhail Chigorin, who was his most dangerous opponent, although their second match was decided by a heart-breaking mistake by the Russian player, who missed a checkmate in a winning position.  

In 1894, Steinitz unexpectedly lost to a young German chess player, Emanuel Lasker, who won 10 matches, drew 4 and lost 5. The chess world treated Lasker’s victory with scepticism, as he had no notable successes previously. But the revenge-match, played in Moscow in 1896-1897, brought Lasker a more decisive victory. 

After losing the title of world champion, Steinitz continued to play in different tournaments, but age and health took their toll on his results. Nonetheless, in a match-tournament of the strongest chess players in St Petersburg in 1895-1896, he came second. 

Steinitz’s life ended tragically. During the last few years of his life, he was seriously ill and he died in poverty in New York, far away from his native Prague, in August 1900. “Steinitz was the first to establish the general principles of chess strategy. He was a pioneer and one of the most thorough analysts of the fundamentals of the game, which is hidden to his contemporaries” was the review of Steinitz’s influence by the third world champion, Jose Raul Capablanca.