Friday, 8 July 2011

News & series on 'The Greats' from Steve !

In terms of chess news, it appears to have been rather a quiet week. So much so that despite a few tournaments rumbling on, the headline story is the revelation that Peter Falk – better known to many as Colombo – quite liked chess. A far cry from the wild tales of political corruption and alien abduction of my last update. Rather than trying to hash together some tortuous links between a scruffy detective and the game of chess, I figured I’d look back and begin my series on some chess characters of years ago. This week, Wilhelm Steinitz:

Steinitz was the 1st chess world champion, and held his title between 1886 and 1894. In the early stages of his career, Steinitz rose to the top by playing the all-out attacking chess which was almost mandatory at the time. Refusing any sacrifice or even trying to defend against an attack was regarded as unsporting, if not downright cowardly, and many chess games of this period are a bit like a Rocky Balboa fight with players just flaying wildly at each other in utter disregard of their own safety. Not always the best idea, but it certainly makes for entertaining chess.

Later on in his career, however, Steinitz became the catalyst for a dramatic revolution in how chess was played and understood. By using a slow and subtle positional style, he was able to efficiently manoeuvre his pieces into good positions and jab away at his opponent without ever risking too much. Steinitz’s approach proved too much for the rough and ready attack-minded brawlers of the time, who reports suggest would often later attribute their loss to a damaged pinky finger which meant they weren’t able to move their pieces as well. Eventually, however, the world caught up and Steinitz would lose his title in 1894 to one of the greats of chess history, Emanuel Lasker.

On a personal level Steinitz, like many other chess players that will feature in this series, was a little odd. He is generally held to have had a rather violent temper and was quick to insult others around him, possibly due to acute ‘short-man syndrome’. He also didn’t quite seem to understand the concept of money, making various dodgy decisions and eventually dying as a pauper leaving his wife destitute. On the plus side, he had a cool beard.

Finally, for those who picked up on the boxing references and have time to spare, have a search for chess-boxing on youtube.




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