Adolf Anderssen

Karl Ernst Adolf Anderssen (July 6, 1818 - March 13, 1879) was a German chess master. He is generally considered to have been the leading chess player in the world from 1851-1858 and 1861-1866. He was "dethroned" temporarily in 1858 by Paul Morphy, who announced his own retirement from chess in 1859, and permanently in 1866 by Wilhelm Steinitz, who dominated chess until his own defeat by Emanuel Lasker in 1894.

After his defeat by Steinitz, Anderssen became the most successful tournament player in Europe, winning over the half the events he entered - including the 1870 Baden-Baden event, which is considered comparable in the strength of its contestants to recent "super tournaments". Remarkably, Anderssen achieved most of these successes when he was over the age of 50.

He is famous even today for his brilliant sacrificial attacking play, particularly in the "Immortal Game" (1851) and the "Evergreen Game" (1852).

Anderssen was a very important figure in the development of chess problems, driving forward the transition from the "Old School" of problem composition to the elegance and complexity of modern compositions.

He was also one of the most likable of chess masters and became an "elder statesman" of the game, to whom others turned for advice or arbitration.

Background and early life

Anderssen was born in Breslau (now called Wrocław), in the Prussian Province of Silesia, in 1818. He lived there for most of his life, never married, sharing a house with and supporting his widowed mother and his unmarried sister. Anderssen graduated from the public gymnasium (high school) in Breslau then attended university, where he studied mathematics and philosophy. After graduating in 1847 at the age of 29, he took a position at the Friedrichs-Gymnasium as an instructor and later Professor of Mathematics. Anderssen lived a quiet, stable, responsible, respectable, middle-class life. His career was teaching math, while his hobby and passion was playing chess.

When Anderssen was nine years old, his father taught him how to play. Anderssen said that as a boy, he learned the strategy of the game from a copy of William Lewis' book Fifty Games between Labourdonnais and McDonnell (1835).

Chess career

Anderssen first came to the attention of the chess world when he published a collection of chess problems in 1842. He continued to publish problems for many years, both in magazines and as a second collection in 1852.

These brought him to the attention of the "Berlin Pleiades" group, which included some of the strongest players of the time, and he played matches against some of them.

Anderssen's development as a player was relatively slow, largely because he could spare neither the time nor the money to play many matches against strong players. Nevertheless by 1846 he was able to put up a good fight against another Pleiades member, Tassilo von Heydebrand und der Lasa, who may have been the world's strongest player at the time.

In spite of his mentioned book on chess problems that deserved him much praise, Anderssen was not a prolific author. However, after his London triumph in 1851, he became co-editor of the magazine Schachzeitung der Berliner Schachgesellschaft (later called Deutsche Schachzeitung). Anderssen held this post until 1859. Between 1864 and 1871, he became co-editor of the short-lived magazine Neue Berliner Schachzeitung. Afterwards, he became again co-editor of the prestigious Deutsche Schachzeitung. In both cases, it seems Anderssen gave his name mostly for PR reasons, because he did not much participate in the editorial work.

London 1851

In 1848 Anderssen drew a match with the professional player Daniel Harrwitz. On the basis of this match and his general chess reputation, he was invited to represent German chess at the first international chess tournament, to be held in London in 1851. Anderssen was reluctant to accept the invitation, as he was deterred by the travel costs. However the tournament's principal organizer, Howard Staunton, offered to pay Anderssen's travel expenses out of his own pocket if necessary, should Anderssen fail to win a tournament prize. Anderssen accepted this generous offer.

Anderssen's preparations for the 1851 London International Tournament produced a surge in his playing strength: he played over 100 games in early 1851 against strong opponents including Carl Mayet, Ernst Falkbeer, Max Lange and Jean Dufresne. Anderssen won the tournament (a knock-out event) by beating Lionel Kieseritzky, József Szén, Staunton, and Marmaduke Wyvill – by margins of at least two games in every case. Anderssen's prize was two-thirds of the total prize fund of £500, i.e. about £335; that is equivalent to about £240,000 in 2006 money. When Anderssen and Szén found they were to play each other, they agreed that, if either won the tournament, the other would receive one-third of the prize; this does not appear to have been considered in any way unethical.

Although most chess books regard Wilhelm Steinitz as the first true world champion, one of the organizers of the 1851 London International tournament had said the contest was for "the baton of the World’s Chess Champion". In fact Anderssen was not described as "the world champion", but the tournament established Anderssen as the world's leading chess player.

The London Chess Club, which had fallen out with Staunton and his colleagues, organized a tournament that was played a month later and had a multi-national set of players (many of whom had competed in Staunton's London International Tournament), and the result was the same – Anderssen won.

Morphy match, 1858

For the next few years Anderssen was considered by many people to be the world's best player, but as he needed to earn a living, he had to return to his teaching profession after the competition. Then in late 1858 he was beaten 8-3 by the American champion Paul Morphy in a famous match held in Paris, France (two wins, two draws, seven losses). Although Anderssen knew as well as anyone how to attack, Morphy understood much better when to attack and how to prepare an attack. Morphy had recently scored equally convincing wins in matches against other top-class players: Johann Löwenthal, the Rev. John Owen and Daniel Harrwitz.

However Morphy returned to the USA in 1859 and soon afterwards announced his retirement from serious chess. Hence Anderssen was once again the strongest active player.

Anderssen played the curious opening move 1. a3 in three games of his match against Morphy, and broke even with it (one loss, one draw, one win). This opening move, now referred to as "Anderssen's Opening", has never been popular in serious competition.

Other games 1851-1862

Shortly after the 1851 London International tournament, Anderssen played his two most famous games, both casual encounters which he won by combinations that involved several sacrifices. In the first, as White against Lionel Kieseritzky in London just after the International tournament (1851) and now called the "Immortal Game", he sacrificed a bishop, both rooks and finally his queen. In the second, played in Berlin in 1852 as white against Jean Dufresne and now called the "Evergreen Game", the total sacrifice was more modest, but still exceeded a queen and a minor piece.

Opportunies for tournament play remained rare, and Anderssen was reluctant to travel far because of the expense. His one recorded tournament between 1851 and 1862 was at Manchester in 1857, and had an unfortunate outcome – it was a one-game-per-round knock-out tournament, and he was eliminated in the second round.

After the match with Morphy, Anderssen played two matches against Ignác Kolisch, a "top 5" player who later became a wealthy banker and patron of chess; Anderssen drew their match in 1860 and narrowly won in 1861 (5/9; won four, drew two, lost three; Kolisch was ahead at the half-way stage).

London 1862

Three years after being defeated by Morphy, Anderssen won the London 1862 International tournament, the first international round-robin event (in which each participant plays a game against each of the others) with a score of twelve wins out of thirteen games, losing only to the Rev. John Owen and finishing 2 points ahead of Louis Paulsen, who had the best playing record in the early 1860s and was also a "top 5" player in the 1870s and early 1880s. Morphy had retired from chess at this time, so Anderssen was again generally regarded as the world's leading active player.

Anderssen's only known competitive chess between 1862 and 1866 was a drawn match (three wins, three loses, and two draws) in 1864 against Berthold Suhle, who is virtually unknown to-day but was about to break into the top 5 and was a respected chess writer.

Steinitz match, 1866

In 1866 Anderssen lost a close match with 30-year-old Wilhelm Steinitz (six wins, eight losses, and no draws; Steinitz won the last two games). Although Steinitz is now known for inventing the positional approach to chess and demonstrating its superiority, the 1866 match was played in the attack-at-all-costs style of the 1850s and 1860s. This is generally seen as the point at which Steinitz succeeded Anderssen as the world's leading active player. Although ideas of a contest for the world championship had been floating around since the 1840s, the 1866 Anderssen-Steinitz match was not defined as being for the world championship and such a claim could not easily be made while Morphy was alive.


By this time tournaments were becoming more frequent, and the general adoption of the round-robin format meant that the occasional lost game was not such a disaster. Anderssen took advantage of these developments to compile a very successful tournament record in the late stages of his career (starting at age 50): five first places, two second places, two third places; and a sixth place in the final year of his life, when his health was failing. One of his first places was ahead of Steinitz, Gustav Neumann, Joseph Henry Blackburne, Louis Paulsen and several other very strong players at the 1870 Baden-Baden tournament, which is regarded as one of the 20 strongest tournaments ever despite the proliferation of "super tournaments" since 1990. One of Anderssen's third places was at the strong Vienna 1873 tournament, when he was 55. About half of Anderssen's tournament successes came at championships of the different regional German Chess Federations; but these were open to all nationalities, and most of them had a few "top 10" or even "top 5" competitors.

The Leipzig 1877 tournament, in which Anderssen came second behind Louis Paulsen, was organized to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Anderssen's learning the chess moves. The initiative sprang from the Central German Chess Federation. It is the only tournament ever organized to commemorate a competitor. At Leipzig, the participants of the Anderssen "Jubilee celebration" (Jubiläumsfeier), delegates of various chess clubs, took the decision to establish the national German Chess Federation (Deutscher Schachbund, DSB) and to hold international DSB congresses every two years.

Still at Leipzig, Anderssen lost a match against tournament winner Louis Paulsen (three wins, one draw, and five losses). Matches used to be Anderssen's relative weakness; his only match win in this period was in 1868, against the 26-year-old Johann Zukertort (eight wins, one draw, and three losses).


Playing strength and style

Anderssen was the king of European tournaments from 1851 to early 1878, taking first prize in over half of the events in which he played. His only recorded tournament failures were a one-game-per-round knock-out event in 1857 and sixth place at Paris 1878 when his health was failing and he had only about a year to live. His match record was much weaker: out of the 12 that he played, he won only two, drew four and lost six. But to be fair: one loss was against Paul Morphy, who annihilated other leading players at least as thoroughly; Anderssen gave Wilhelm Steinitz as hard a fight as anyone did until Emanuel Lasker beat Steinitz in 1894; Daniel Harrwitz (drawn match, 1848) was the weakest of his other opponents.

Arpad Elo, inventor of the Elo rating system, retroactively calculated ratings through history, and estimated that Anderssen was the first player with a rating over 2600 . Chessmetrics ranks Anderssen as one of the top 5 players for most of the period from 1851 to shortly before his death in 1879.

Steinitz, who spoke his mind without fear or favor, rated Anderssen as one of the two greatest attacking players: "We all may learn from Morphy and Anderssen how to conduct a king’s-side attack, and perhaps I myself may not have learnt enough." Although Anderssen is regarded as a member of the "heroic" attacking school, he was not in favor of mindless aggression, for example he said "Move that one of your pieces, which is in the worst plight, unless you can satisfy yourself that you can derive immediate advantage by an attack", a principle more recenty labelled "Makagonov's rule". Nevertheless his approach to development was haphazard and he totally failed to understand why Morphy won.

Anderssen's home town was so proud of him that in 1865 Breslau University awarded him an honorary doctorate.

Influence on chess

The "heroic" attacking school of play to which Anderssen belonged was eclipsed by Steinitz' positional approach – by 1894 it was generally acknowledged that the only way to beat Steinitz was to apply Steinitz' principles.

Anderssen has had a more enduring influence on chess problem composition. He started composing in the last years of the "Old School", whose compositions were fairly similar to realistic over-the-board positions and featured spectacular "key" moves, multiple sacrifices and few variations. He was one of the most skilful composers of his time, and his work forms an early stage of the "Transition Period", between the mid-1840s and the early 1860s, when many of the basic problem ideas were discovered, the requirement for game-like positions was abandoned and the introduction of composing competitions (the first of which was in 1854) forced judges to decide on what features were the most desirable in a problem.


Steinitz wrote: "Anderssen was honest and honourable to the core. Without fear or favour he straightforwardly gave his opinion, and his sincere disinterestedness became so patent....that his word alone was usually sufficient to quell disputes...for he had often given his decision in favour of a rival..." On the other hand Reuben Fine wrote, "There is a curious contrast between his over-the-board brilliance and his uninspired safety-first attitude in everyday affairs."


Adolf Anderssen died on March 13, 1879 in his hometown. The Deutsche Schachzeitung noted his death in 1879 with a nineteen-page obituary. Bombing raids during World War II damaged his grave in Breslau. After the war, the city became part of Poland and is now known under its Polish name Wrocław. In 1957, the Polish Chess Federation decided to re-bury Anderssen in a new grave at the Osobowicki Cemetery.

Notable games

Tournament results


Date Location Place Score Notes
1851 London International Tournament 1 --- Ahead of Marmaduke Wyvill, Elijah Williams, Howard Staunton, József Szén, Capt. Hugh Kennedy, Bernhard Horwitz, Henry Edward Bird, Lionel Kieseritzky, Brodie, Mucklow and E.Kennedy.
A knock-out tournament in which the contestants played mini-matches in each round, increasing from best-of-3 in the 1st round to best-of 8 in the final. Anderssen himself beat Kieseritzky, Szen, Staunton and Wyvill - his closest mini-match was +4=1-2 in the final against Wyvill.
1851 London Chess Club Tournament 1 --- Ahead of Karl Meyerhofer, Daniel Harrwitz, Frederic Deacon, Kieseritzky, Bernhard Horwitz and others. Apparently intended to be round-robin, but the weaker players quickly dropped out.
1867 Manchester - --- 8-player knock-out tournament in which the contestants played just 1 game in each round. Johann Löwenthal eliminated Anderssen in the 2nd round and drew the final against Samuel Boden.
1862 London International Tournament 1 12/13 Ahead of Louis Paulsen, (11/13), Rev. Owen (10/13), George Alcock MacDonnell, Serafino Dubois, Wilhelm Steinitz and 8 others.
One of the first successful round-robin (all play all) tournaments.
1868 Aachen (West German Chess Federation) 1 3/4 Ahead of Max Lange.
1869 Hamburg (North German Chess Federation) 2 4/5 Behind Louis Paulsen; ahead of Johannes Zukertort, Johannes von Minckwitz, Emil Schallopp and Alexander Alexander.
1869 Barmen (West German Chess Federation) 1 5/5 Ahead of Zukertort, von Minckwitz, Schallopp and Wilfried Paulsen and Richard Hein.
1870 Baden-Baden 1 11/18 Ahead of Steinitz, Gustav Neumann, Joseph Henry Blackburne, Louis Paulsen, Cecil Valentine De Vere, Szymon Winawer, Samuel Rosenthal, von Minckwitz and Adolf Stern.
1872 Altona (North German Chess Federation) 1 3½/4 Ahead of Neumann, Goering, Schallopp and Pitschel.
1873 Vienna 3 8½/11: 19/30 Behind Steinitz (10/11: 22½/25) and Blackburne; ahead of Rosenthal (7½/11: 17/28), Louis Paulsen, Henry Edward Bird, Fleissig, Heral, Meitner, Gelbfuhs, Schwarz and Pitschel
This tournament had a very unusual scoring system: each player played a 3-game mini-match with each of the others and scored 1 for a won mini-match and ½ for a drawn mini-match. The numbers before the colons (:) are the points awarded; the other 2 numbers are the usual "games won / games played" scoring.
1876 Leipzig (Central German Chess Federation) 1 3½/5 then 2/2 Anderssen, Goering and Pitschel tied for 1st; the order after the playoff was (1)Anderssen, (2=)Goering and Pitschel; all finished ahead of Louis Paulsen, Schallopp and Carl Berber.
1877 Leipzig 2= 8½/11 Behind Louis Paulsen (9/11); tied with Zukertort (8½/11); ahead of Winawer (7½/11), Goering, Englisch, Schallopp and 5 others. This tournament was specially arranged to honour the 50th anniversary of Anderssen's learning the chess moves.
1878 Frankfurt (West German Chess Federation) 3 6/9 Behind Louis Paulsen (8/9) and Adolf Schwarz (6½/9); ahead of von Minckwitz (5/9), Wilfried Paulsen (4½/9) and 5 others.
1878 Paris 6 12½/22 Anderssen was in poor health.

Match results

Date Opponent Result Location Score Notes
1845 Ludwig Bledow Lost Breslau 0/5 or ½/5 ??? Sources vary about the score.
1848 Daniel Harrwitz Drew Breslau 5/10 +5=0-5  
1858 Paul Morphy Lost Paris 3/11 +2=2-7  
1860 Ignác Kolisch Drew Paris 5½/11 ???  
1861 Kolisch Won London 5/9 +4=2-3  
1862 Louis Paulsen Drew London 4/8 +3=2-3  
1864 Berthold Suhle Drew Berlin 4/8 +3=2-3  
1866 Wilhelm Steinitz Lost London 6/14 +6=0-8 As a result Steinitz was widely recognized as the world's best player.
1868 Johannes Zukertort Won Berlin 8½/12 +8=1-3  
1870 Louis Paulsen Lost Baden-Baden ½/3 +0=1-2  
1871 Zukertort Lost Berlin 2/7 +2=0-5  
1876 Louis Paulsen Lost Leipzig 4½/10 +4=1-5  
1877 Louis Paulsen Lost Leipzig 3½/9 +3=1-5  


Further reading

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