World chess champion 1886-1894

Born 14.5.1836 Prague, Bohemia

Died 22.6.1900 Ward's Island

William Steinitz (born Wilhelm but later changed his name) was born into a large family in Prague, Bohemia in 1836. His exact birth date is unknown. The best research comes from Dr. Hermann Neustadtl who establishes his birth date on May 14, 1836. The traditional date is set at May 17, 1836. Steinitz was born lame and grew to barely 5 feet in height. He was the 13th child of Talmadic scholar.

Steinitz learned chess in 1848 from a school mate but did not take it seriously until he moved to Vienna. Steinitz moved to Vienna in 1856 and attempted to become a journalist. He attended the Vienna Polytechnicum as a math student but dropped out of school because of insufficient funds and poor health. He started hustling chess at the Cafe Romer and played most of his opponents blindfolded.

He took 3rd place in the 1859 Vienna championship (won by the Swiss player Carl Hamppe, a senior government official in Vienna).

Steinitz took 2nd place in the 1860 Vienna championship (again, won by Hamppe), and finally won the Vienna championship in 1861. His first place prize was a suitcase.

In 1862 Steinitz moved to London and played in his first international tournament, London 1862 (held from June 16 to July 31). He took 6th place behind Adolf Anderssen, Louis Paulsen, John Owen, George MacDonnell, and Serafino Dubois. His score was 8 wins, 5 losses (draws did not count). His prize money for 6th place was 5 pounds. After this tournament he challenged the 5th place finisher, Dubois, to a match. Steinitz won. It would be another 31 years and 25 matches before anyone could defeat him in a match.

He won the London championsip in September, 1862 with a perfect 7-0 score. Steinitz became a chess professional after this tournament. He defeated London's best player, Henry Blackburne, in a match in 1862-3 with 7 wins, 2 draws, and 1 loss. He traveled throughout the British Isles giving simultaneous exhibitions and winning tournaments. He won the Irish championship in Dublin in 1865. In June-July, 1866 Steinitz won the London Knockout tournament with 8 wins, 3 draws, and no losses. He won the British Chess Association Congress held in London with 12 wins.

On July 18, 1866 Steinitz took on Adolf Anderssen in London, considered the strongest active chess player in the world, and defeated him on August 10, 1866 with 8 wins and 6 losses. This was the first match that ever used mechanical clocks (sandglasses). The time control was 20 moves in 2 hours. Steinitz's prize money for this match was 100 pounds. Steinitz then played a match in London with one of England's top players, Henry Bird in September, 1866. Steinitz defeated Bird with 7 wins, 5 draws, and 5 losses.

In 1867 Steinitz traveled to Paris where he took 3rd place (Ignac Kolisch took first). In this event Steinitz got in an argument with Blackburne. Steinitz finally spat on Blackburne and Blackburne punched out Steinitz.

In 1867 Steinitz took second place in the Dundee International in Scotland. This was the first tournament in which draws were not replayed, but counted as a half a point.

In 1868 Steinitz traveled to Germany where he took 2nd place in the 7th German championship (Anderssen was first). He then returned to London where he won the 1868 London Handicap.

In 1869 Steinitz defeated Joseph Blackburne in a match and won 6 pounds.

In 1870 he took 2nd place at Baden-Baden, won by Anderssen. Steinitz scored 9 wins, 3 draws, and 4 losses and missed tying for first by 1/2 point.

At the Second British Chess Association Championship, held in London in July, 1872 he took first place with 7 wins and 1 draw.

In August, 1872 Steinitz played a match against Dr. Johannes Zukertort in London. Steinitz won decisively with 7 wins, 4 draws, 1 loss. This was the first time that time pieces were used in a match.

Steinitz participated in the first telegraph match between London and Vienna. In Vienna, 1873 Steinitz played in an international tournament, winning 18 games, drawing 5 games, and losing one. Almost everyone now conceded that Steinitz was the strongest chess player in the world. His first place prize money of 200 ducats was presented to him by the Austrian Emperor.

From September, 1873 to 1882, Steinitz was a regular chess columnist for the English magazine, THE FIELD. He also tutored chess at Cambridge and one of his students was Winston Churhill's father. He helped organize the Cambridge-Oxford chess matches which began in 1873 and still continues today.

In February, 1876 Steinitz played Joseph Blackburne in London and made a clean score of 7 wins, no losses or draws. This was the first time spectators were charged and entrance fee (half a guinea) to see a chess match.

In 1876 Steinitz began a chess column in the London FIGARO, which lasted until 1882. The magazine was owned by Napoleon III.

In Vienna, 1882 Steinitz tied for first place (with Szymon Winawer) with 20 wins, 8 draws, and 6 losses. This was an 18-player double round robin. Until his first loss in this tournament, Steinitz did not lose a game from August 4, 1873 to May 11, 1882, almost 9 years without a loss and 25 straight wins.

In London, 1883 Steinitz took 2nd place, behind Zukertort, with 19 wins and 7 losses. This was the first time double chess clocks were used in a tournament. After the tournament a reception was held at the St George Chess Club. Someone made a toast to the best chess player in the world. Both Steinitz and Zukertort stood up. Neither one yielded to the other.

In August, 1883 Steinitz emigrated to the United States, changed his first name from Wilhelm to William, and eventually took American citizenship. He first moved to Philadelphia and was a member of the Franklin Chess Club, then later moved to New York.

In 1884 Steinitz was giving blindfold, simultaneous exhibitions. He would even play cards between moves while doing his exhibitions.

In January, 1885 Steinitz began editing THE INTERNATIONAL CHESS MAGAZINE, which he continued to do so until December, 1891. He also wrote chess articles in THE NEW YORK TRIBUNE and THE NEW YORK HERALD.

Back in England, Zukertort was claiming he was the world's best chess player because of his victory in the London 1883 tournament. Steinitz challenged him to a match and they both agreed that the first person to win ten games would be declared world champion, but that if each won nine games, the title would not be awarded.

On January 11, 1886 the first game for the offical world chess championship began in New York. Less than 40 people were present at the start of this historical match, despite Steinitz's daughter selling programs and photographs to earn a few extra dollars for the family. Steinitz couldn't even afford a winter coat for her daughter. Steinitz and Zukertort agreed to play the match in New York, St. Louis, and New Orleans.

The first 5 games in New York was disasterous for Steinitz. Although he won the first game, he lost the next 4 games in a row and was trailing the match with 1 win and 4 losses. The match was the first time a chess demonstration board was used.

The match was moved to St. Louis in February, where Steinitz won 3 games and drew 1 game. Finally, they went on to New Orleans where Steinitz won 6 games, drew 4 games, and lost only 1 game. He had won the first world chess championship, a title he had invented, with a score of 10 wins, 5 draws, and 5 losses. Steinitz was 49 years old (Zukertort was 43) and had been considered the unofficial world champion for the past 20 years. Steinitz received $2,000 in prize money.

On October 6, 1888, William Steinitz became a naturalized U.S. citizen. In January, 1889 Steinitz defended his world championship title against Mikhail Tchigorin of Russia. Their match was held in Havana, Cuba. Steinitz won with 10 wins, 1 draw (the last game), and 6 losses. Steinitz received the smallest prize fund ever for a world championship match, $1,150.

In March, 1889 Steinitz wrote MODERN CHESS INSTRUCTOR. He then organized the 6th American Chess Congress in New York. He spent the rest of the year writing a book on this tournament, annotating every one of the 432 games. The book was published in 1891.

In 1890 Steinitz played a cable match with Tchigorin in Havana from New York, but lost that match.

In December, 1890 Steinitz defended his title against Isidor Gunsberg of England (born in Hungary). Their match was held at the Manhattan Chess Club in New York. Steinitz won with 6 wins, 9 draws, and 4 losses. Steinitz received 2/3 of the total prize money ($3,000), and Gunsberg received 1/3. This was the first time a loser of a match took a share of the purse.

In 1891 Steinitz again played Tchigorin in Havana by cable and lost. Shortly afterward, the New York police arrested Steinitz as a spy for using chess code over a cable. This was cleared up later on.

In January, 1892 Steinitz defended his title against Tchigorin again and, again, played in Havana. Steinitz won with 10 wins, 5 draws, and 8 losses. Soon after the match, his wife and daughter died. Steinitz himself was crippled with gout.

In March, 1894 William Steinitz, aged 57, took on Emanuel Lasker of Germany, aged 25 in New York. Steinitz finally lost his title after winning 5 games, drawing 4 games, and losing 10 games. The match started in New York, went to Philadelphia, and ended in Montreal.

On May 26, 1894 Emanual Lasker became the second official world chess champion. Steinitz held the official title for 8 years, and the unoffcial title for 28 years. Steinitz was the oldest world champion at 58 years, 10 days. Steinitz did offer an excuse as to why he lost the match. he said it was due to insomnia.

In October, 1894 Steinitz was back playing tournaments and won the New York championship, winning 8, drawing 1, and losing 1 game.

In May, 1895 he participated in the Hastings International where he took 5th place (11 wins, 4 draws, 6 losses).

In December, 1895 he participated in a quadrangular match-tournament in Saint Petersburg and took 2nd place, behind Lasker. He won 7 games, drew 5 games, and lost 6 games.

In 1896 Steinitz defeated Emanuel Schiffers of Russia in a match, winning 6 games, drawing 1, losing 4.

In July, 1896 he took 6th place at Nuremberg (won by Lasker) with 10 wins, 2 draws, and 6 losses.

In November, 1896 Steinitz played a return match with Lasker in Moscow. Steinitz won only 2 games, drawing 5 games, and losing 10 games. This was the last world chess championship for the next 11 years. Shortly after the match, Steinitz had a mental breakdown and was confined to a Moscow Sanitorium for 40 days against his will. He played chess with the inmates.

In August, 1897 Steinitz tied for first place in the New York State Championship. He then went on to Vienna where he played 22 games simultaneously blindfolded, winning 17 games. He was 61 years old. Soon after, he developed heart trouble (mitral stenosis) and had periods of irrationality and delusions.

In May, 1898 Steinitz came in 4th place in Vienna (won by Tarrasch) where most of the world's best players were competing.

In August, 1898 he took 5th at the 11th German Chess Federation Congress in Cologne, winning 8, drawing 3, and losing 4 games.

His last tournament was London in June, 1899. He took 11th place and it was the first time he had not won any prize money since 1859. For 40 years he had been in the top places of every tournament he had ever played. Steinitz was now 63 and in very poor health. Upon returning to the U.S. Steinitz was making claims that he could move chess pieces at will by emitting electric currents, that he could phone anyone in the world without wire, and that he was trying to contact God, offering a pawn and move in a match.

In 1900 His wife committed him to the insane asylum at Ward's Island, New York.

On August 12, 1900 William Steinitz, former world champion for 28 years, died in poverty at Ward's Island, New York. In September he was buried in a pauper's grave. He left a second wife and two small children destitute. His lifetime Elo rating has been calculated at 2650. William Steinitz won 43, drew 29, and lost 43 world championship games, for a total of 57.5 points in 115 games. He was the official world champion for 8 years, despite winning every match of the best players in the world for 28 years. He played in 6 official world championship matches and died penniless. He played over 400 match and tournament games in his lifetime and won over 64 percent of his games.