For a game with a long and rich history it took a long time for Chess to produce a world champion. It can be argued that many historical greats were the world champions of their day but the first official champion was crowned in 1886 and he would remain champion for a further 8 years.
Wilhelm began playing as youth in Prague (which at the time was part of Austria and not the Czech Republic as it is today). He started to play seriously whilst studying maths at Vienna Polytechnic. His first notable tournament win came in 1861 on an old chess set with a score of 30/31 in the Vienna Chess Championship. This match was played with wooden chess pieces and was a huge victory for Wilhelm.
In 1873 Wilhelm unveiled a new style of chess play – “positional chess”. This forms the basis for the modern game. Despite the striking success of his play (it would be the first time he would beat Anderssen to the top slot in a competitive tournament), he immediately retired from competitive play and would not return until 1882. Instead he concentrated on chess journalism, for which he would be reviled after his death – largely thanks to a “war of ink” where he would trade angry words with his contemporaries over strategy. (It is only recently that we’ve been able to demonstrate that this “war of ink” did not impact on his relationship with these players and he was in fact considered a “good egg” by those who knew him).
In 1886 he drew down against the other “strongest player in the world’” of his time, a chap called Adolf Anderssen (a German). They played for a then not insubstantial sum of 100 pounds for the winner, and 20 pounds for the loser. It’s worth noting that this would be worth nearly 60,000 pounds and 12,000 pounds respectively today. Steinitz won a hard fought battle on the chess board and defeated Adolf 8 games to 6. (There were no draws conceded during the match).
It was at this point he was given the official title of “World Chess Champion”. Who did he lose this title to? We’ll find out on our next stop in this series.