Adolf Anderssen - The Immortal One

Adolf Anderssen was a great 19th Century chess master
Adolf Anderssen
Adolf Anderssen was born on July 6, 1818 in Breslau, Prussia (now Wroclaw, Poland). He came to be remembered as one of the most exciting chess players ever.

He studied chess intensely in his early years. He claimed that he developed much of his chess philosophy from the Labourdonnais - McDonnell series in the 1830s. He played exciting chess, on a par in creativity with someone like Richard Reti. He was widely recognized as the world's leading player from 1851-66 with a brief interruption from Paul Morphy.

His finest hour arrived in the famous London Tournament of 1851. This is recognized as the first major tournament of the Modern Era. Anderssen triumphed in a knockout tournament boasting the 16 best players in the world. He was then recognized as the world's leading player.

Young Adolf

Young Adolf
Young Adolf Anderssen
Anderssen learned to play chess from his father around the age of nine. He later said that he picked up his strategy from the William Lewis work Fifty Games between Labourdonnais and McDonnell.

As Anderssen reached adulthood he worked as a professor of mathematics in a local college, this was his bread and butter. Although he loved chess it was only ever considered a pastime or a hobby, certainly not a profession. It never interfered with Anderssen's working life. This was typical of the times.

Anderssen's progress as a chess player was somewhat in keeping with his personality, slow and steady, methodical. Even well into his 20s he still was not the best player even in Germany but his progression was as sure and true as it was gradual. Eventually he could play against and beat anyone.

Anderssen's Problems

Adolf Anderssen published many chess problems
Adolf Anderssen published many chess problems
Adolf Anderssen had a great interest in chess problems. He was a prolific publisher of these and introduced new concepts with respect to devising them. He moved away from the idea that a problem should always be a conventional position that could arise in a game.

He said the main goal in a problem should not be that it is a real position taken from a game. He declared that it was far more pressing that people learn something valuable about chess tactics or strategy when they are working out the solution.

Anderssen published Aufgabe fur Schachspieler in 1842. Later he was discovered by the Berlin Pleiades group which contained many of the biggest names around and Anderssen's chess adventure moved to a new level.

Immortal and Evergreen Games

Adolf Anderssen masterminded the infamous Immortal and Evergreen games.
Adolf Anderssen defeated Kieseritzky and Dufrense in the infamous Immortal and Evergreen games
His rise was not meteoric but was relentless. He never put chess above his profession but worked quietly and diligently on his game. At first he struggled to compete against the top players like Ludwig Bledow and Tassilo von Heydebrand und der Lasa among others but eventually he was strong enough to beat them.

He was a good if not phenomenal positional player. Positional strategy would not come to the fore until the emergence of Steinitz. It was his unbelievable tactical combinations containing remarkable sacrifices that he is still remembered for.

Two of these games stand out in particular. The Immortal Game, played 21 June 1851 vs Lionel Kieseritzky in London and The Evergreen Game, played some time in 1852 vs Jean Dufrense in Berlin. These two games still bewilder chess lovers today.

London 1851

Adolf Anderssen wins London 1851
Adolf Anderssen wins London 1851
His reputation had now grown to such an extent that he was on the shortlist for any top-level master competition that was organized.

These competitions were becoming more common-place now, round robin leagues with a number of players. The old one-on-one, head-to-head matches with a set number of games were less frequent.

The biggest one yet was to take place in London with the strongest field imaginable. Anderssen was by now respected but was not expected to win the tournament.

It was a knock-out competition with 16 players and he won it out with consummate ease. Lionel Kieseritzky, Jozsef Szen and Howard Staunton all fell to the might of Adolf Anderssen. Marmaduke Wyvill was defeated in the final and Anderssen was King.


Paul Morphy
Paul Morphy blitzed Adolf Anderssen in 1858
By 1858 Adolf Anderssen had cemented his position as the #1 player in the world. He went back to his teaching job in Breslau and played chess intermittently. He had the measure of everyone in Europe. Suddenly though there was about to be big changes. A chess genius had arrived off the steamboat from America and was making waves.

He first terrorized the English chess scene, brushing aside all challengers there. Howard Staunton didn't even want to play him. He then turned up at the Café de la Régence in Paris with the intention of beating the top players in Europe. This player was none other than Paul Morphy. Morphy proceeded to send Lowenthal and Harrwitz packing.

He now had Europe's attention. He sent the stakes from the Harrwitz encounter on to Adolf Anderssen. The German made the trip to Paris to face the challenger. Morphy was quite ill when the match was to take place and Anderssen suggested they postpone until he had recovered. But Morphy was determined to play and though barely fit to stand won convincingly.

London 1862

Adolf Anderssen regains poll position in London in 1862
Adolf Anderssen regains poll position in London in 1862
Morphy withdrew from competitive chess soon after establishing himself as unquestionably the world's best player. This meant that things were really as you were. The next big tournament was held in London in 1862 to decide who was top of the tree.

This time the competition was decided on a league basis between 14 players, each playing one game against the other 13. This system really suited Anderssen as he was a little vulnerable in a match situation against top rivals.

But as time would prove he was good at picking up points against the slightly weaker masters under the new system. Anderssen dropped only one point to finish two clear of his nearest challenger Louis Paulsen. He was top dog once more.


Steinitz 8-6 Anderssen in London in 1866
Steinitz beat Anderssen 8-6 in London in 1866
Another challenger arrived to take Anderssen's position at the helm in 1866. He was William Steinitz from Prague. A match was arranged and Steinitz won it 8-6 with no draws. It was played in the old classical style with all-out attacking play.

From this point on Steinitz was regarded as the world's leading player. But this was not the end of Adolf Anderssen as a force in the game. He went on to have great success in the tournament leagues that were becoming more and more common.

He would win more than half of the competitions he entered in his later years plus some second and third place finishes. All of this against top quality opposition. He continued to play right up to the last couple of years of his life.


Adolf Anderssen won in Baden Baden.
Adolf Anderssen wins Baden Baden '70
Anderssen was still determined to compete at the highest level. There was a particularly strong tournament held in Baden-Baden in 1870. The field included Steinitz, Paulsen, Neumann, Blackburne and others.

Even though Anderssen was not strong enough to beat Steinitz in a match one-on-one, he could come out on top in these events as he only had to play one or two games against the Bohemian genius. He topped the table in this one too.

He stuck mainly to these types of round-robin tournaments as the top two or three players could now beat him in a match. Like Steinitz, Paulsen overtook Anderssen. Zukertort who earlier could not beat Anderssen eventually overcame him also.

Baden-Baden 1870 Final Table

1 Anderssen,Adolf
1-10-01-.51-11-.51-01-01-111.0 / 16
2 Steinitz,William 0-0
1-10-.51-11-11-1.5-1.5-010.5 / 16
3 Neumann,Gustav Richard 1-10-0
1-.50-10-11-10-.51-110.0 / 16
4 Blackburne,Joseph Henry 0-.51-.50-.5
1-01-11-.5.5-.51-110.0 / 16
5 Paulsen,Louis 0-00-01-00-1
1-01-.51-.5.5-17.5 / 16
6 de Vere,Cecil Valentine 0-.50-01-00-00-1
0-11-10-16.5 / 16
7 Winawer,Szymon 0-10-00-00-.50-.51-0
1-.51-16.5 / 16
8 Rosenthal,Samuel 0-1.5-01-.5.5-.50-.50-00-.5
0-05.0 / 16
9 Minckwitz,Johannes 0-0.5-10-00-0.5-01-00-01-1
5.0 / 16

Style and Legacy

The style and legacy of Adolf Anderssen
Anderssen had a style of constructing brilliant and beautiful attacks, his legacy is that imaginative play brings tears to a glass eye
Anderssen was one of the last of the great masters of the Romantic Era where the emphasis was always on quick and violent Kingside attacks. The idea was to mate the opposing King before your own would fall. Not much consideration was given to fortifying one's own position, just all or nothing dare-devil attacks.

For a player of his time Anderssen's positional understanding was probably as good as that of anyone else. The reason for the magnitude of his success undoubtedly lay in his natural creativity and his unique understanding of how to bring his pieces together, making music as they cast the mating net.

From an attacking point of view he was probably as good as anyone. But the new generation of positional players, led by Steinitz, would prove his undoing. They neutralized his game by the use of these new ideas. But regardless, nothing can take away from the brilliance of Adolf Anderssen.

Private Life

Adolf Anderssen won in Baden Baden.
Adolf Anderssen was laid to rest in his home town
For the best part of his life Anderssen lived in the family home in Breslau. He supported his mother and sister. He never married or had a family.

He completed his education in his home town and took a job in a local college teaching mathematics. He lived reasonably comfortably.

Anderssen played chess until about a year before his death when his health deteriorated somewhat. He died on March 13, 1879 aged 59.

Moving On

Daniel Harrwitz
Daniel Harrwitz
Adolf Anderssen worked his way up through the chess world slowly but surely. He started out in an era when players would gather in chess cafes in every city in Europe and play for stakes.

He would have come across all sorts of characters, facing all the main players of his time. He would have seen the cream of the crop during his career spanning some 40 years.

There was one contemporary of his that he would have been very much aware of. A man from the same city and a similar age. He moved to Paris and began to play regularly at the Café de la Régence, establishing a formidable reputation there. That man's name was Daniel Harrwitz.