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  WCC Overview
Zukertort vs Steinitz 1886
New York / St. Louis / New Orleans

 Steinitz and Zukertort, 1886
 Zukertort (left) and Steinitz.
Wilhelm Steinitz was born in Prague, Bohemia (today Czech Republic) in 1836.[1] He dominated the chess world for most of the second half of the 1800s,[2] and beat his strongest active contemporaries in matches: Anderssen - Steinitz (1866), Steinitz - Zukertort (1872) and Steinitz - Blackburne (1876). Steinitz considered his world championship tenure to have started with his win over Adolf Anderssen,[3] although in these matches the title of world champion was probably not officially at stake.[4] In 1882, Steinitz challenged Johannes Zukertort to another match but the negotiations failed.[5] Zukertort was born in Lublin, Poland in 1842,[6] and by the 1870s he had become one of the world's strongest chessplayers.[7] Zukertort scored an overwhelming victory at London (1883) ahead of Steinitz. Contemporaneous periodicals openly questioned Steinitz's superiority.[8] At the end of June 1883, Steinitz again challenged Zukertort to a match, and proposed conditions.[9] Zukertort agreed in principle to the match, but his poor health after his tournament victory did not permit the stress of such a match in the near future.[10]

Steinitz emigrated to the USA in late 1883.[11] The negotiations for a match with Zukertort now dragged on. The main disagreement was location: Steinitz wanted to play in the USA, but not in London, where he had encountered unfairness and hostility.[12] Zukertort, on the other hand, insisted on a match in London, where his financial backers resided.[13] Finally, in mid-1885 Zukertort agreed to a match in the USA and Steinitz agreed to play a return match in London.[14] At first, the preliminary seconds were to be Gustave Simonson for Steinitz and James Innes Minchin for Zukertort, but by the time the match started, Steinitz had chosen Thomas Frere and Zukertort Charles Moehle as their respective seconds. Frère and Minchin went on to conduct the match negotiations.[15] A forfeit deposit of $250 was imposed.[16] Steinitz forwarded the sum at the beginning of December 1885.[17] Zukertort arrived in New York on December 13 but the transmission of his deposit was delayed, so the match began later than originally planned.[18]

The conditions for the first official world chess championship match were signed on December 29, 1885. The stakes were $2,000 a side,[19] with a guarantee of at least $750 to the winner and $500 to the loser.[20] The winner would be the first to win 10 games. In case of 9:9 (draws not counting), the match was to be declared drawn. The time control was 30 moves in 2 hours and then 15 moves in 1 hour. The match was to begin in New York and remain in that venue until one player had scored 4 wins. Then it would move to St. Louis until one player had won 3 games there. The rest of the match was to take place in New Orleans. An umpire for each player was chosen from the chess club hosting the match during each of the three legs. The two umpires supervised the games and settled all disputes. In the case of a disagreement between the umpires, or of a player feeling that an umpire's decision contradicted the rules, the referee had the final say.[19] A change was made in St. Louis that the match would be considered drawn if the score reached 8:8, draws not counting.[21]

The match began on January 11, 1886 [18] in Cartier's Hall, Fifth Avenue, in New York.[22] The New York leg ended January 20, when Zukertort scored 4 consecutive victories after losing the first game. Play was resumed on February 3 in St. Louis.[23] The games were played during the day in the Harmonie Hall and at night in the Chess, Checkers and Whist Club.[24] The umpires were Ben R. Foster for Steinitz and William Duncan for Zukertort.[25] The St. Louis leg ended on February 10 after Steinitz scored 3 wins and a draw.[23] After a rest of almost 2 weeks, the New Orleans leg began on February 26.[26] Charles Francis Buck was the referee. The umpires were Fernand Clairborne for Steinitz and Charles Maurian for Zukertort.[27] Play took place in the New Orleans Chess, Checkers and Whist Club at the corner of Baronne and Canal Street.[28] Carnival activities led to a suspension of the match for a few days.[29] After a draw, Steinitz pulled ahead with 2 wins. Zukertort struck back with a win, but managed only 3 draws and another loss in the next games. Steinitz then went on to win the last 3 games, becoming the first official world champion on March 29, 1886 with a final score of (+10 -5 =5).[23]

click on a game number to replay game 1234567891011121314151617181920

FINAL SCORE:  Steinitz 10;  Zukertort 5 (5 draws)
Reference: game collection WCC Index [Steinitz-Zukertort 1886]

NOTABLE GAMES   [what is this?]
    · Game #19     Zukertort vs Steinitz, 1886     0-1
    · Game #1     Zukertort vs Steinitz, 1886     0-1
    · Game #9     Zukertort vs Steinitz, 1886     0-1


  1. Jeremy Gaige, Chess Personalia: A Biobibliography, (McFarland 1987, softcover reprint 2005), p. 406
  2. Rod Edwards, Wilhelm Steinitz
  3. Obituary in the New York Times, 14 October 1900, quoting Steinitz from My advertisement to anti-Semites in Vienna and Elsewhere. In Edward Winter, Early Uses of ‘World Chess Champion’
  4. Edward Winter, Early Uses of ‘World Chess Champion’
  5. Kurt Landsberger, William Steinitz - Chess Champion 2d ed. (McFarland 1995), p. 168
  6. Gaige, pp. 481-482
  7. Rod Edwards, Johannes Zukertort
  8. The Chess Player's Chronicle mentions that Zukertort had become champion "in the opinion of some" (18 July 1883, p. 50. In Edward Winter, Early Uses of ‘World Chess Champion’). According to the Cincinnati Commercial, the "indications are that Mr. Z. is the strongest living player" (7 July 1883. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, Chess Archaeology, Item 2). The Baltimore Sunday News was quoted as saying that Zukertort was now the acknowledged world champion chessplayer (Newark Sunday Call, 8 July 1883. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, Chess Archaeology) and the New York Turf, Field and Farm announced Steinitz's soon to be published match challenge to be a challenge to Zukertort's "title to the championship" (6 July 1883. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, Chess Archaeology, Item 1). Johannes von Minckwitz writes, that their rivalry grew more and more acute after the tournament, and a match between them moved closer and closer (Source #cite_15>15, pp. 4-5. Reprinted in Internet Archive). Charles Devide described the tournament as a bitter disappointment and that then all of Steinitz' energies were bent on securing a match (Devidé, A Memorial to William Steinitz, New York and London, 1901, p. 7. Reprinted in Internet Archive).
  9. New York Turf, Field and Farm, 13 July 1883. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, Chess Archaeology, Item 1
  10. British Chess Magazine, August-September 1883, pp. 282-283
  11. Landsberger, p. 138
  12. Landsberger, p. 146
  13. Landsberger, p. 145
  14. Landsberger, p. 148
  15. Johannes von Minckwitz, Der Entscheidungskampf zwischen W. Steinitz und J. H. Zukertort um die Meisterschaft der Welt, Leipzig, 1886, pp. 7-8. Reprinted in Internet Archive
  16. Landsberger, p. 150
  17. Nashville Union, 6 December 1885 (originally from the New Orleans Times Democrat). Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, Chess Archaeology, Item 3
  18. British Chess Magazine, February 1886, p. 69
  19. Chess Monthly, January 1886, pp. 136-137. In Edward Winter's World Chess Championship Rules
  20. Landsberger, p. 150
  21. British Chess Magazine, May 1886, p. 184
  22. British Chess Magazine, February 1886, p. 54
  23. Rod Edwards, Steinitz-Zukertort (1886)
  24. British Chess Magazine, March 1886, p. 116
  25. St. Louis Globe-Democrat, 3 February 1886. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, Chess Archaeology
  26. Charleston Sunday News, 21 February 1886. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, Chess Archaeology, Item 1
  27. British Chess Magazine, April 1886, pp. 139-140 (originally from the New Orleans Times-Democrat, 28 February 1886)
  28. Landsberger, p. 163
  29. Brooklyn Chess Chronicle, 15 March 1886, volume 4, number 6, p. 81. Reprinted in HathiTrust Digital Library

 page 1 of 1; 20 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Zukertort vs Steinitz 0-1461886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchD10 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav
2. Steinitz vs Zukertort 0-1461886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchC45 Scotch Game
3. Zukertort vs Steinitz 1-0471886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchD10 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav
4. Steinitz vs Zukertort 0-1391886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchC67 Ruy Lopez
5. Zukertort vs Steinitz 1-0321886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchD10 Queen's Gambit Declined Slav
6. Steinitz vs Zukertort 1-0611886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchC67 Ruy Lopez
7. Zukertort vs Steinitz 0-1351886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchD32 Queen's Gambit Declined, Tarrasch
8. Steinitz vs Zukertort ½-½221886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchC67 Ruy Lopez
9. Zukertort vs Steinitz 0-1381886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchD44 Queen's Gambit Declined Semi-Slav
10. Steinitz vs Zukertort ½-½211886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchC67 Ruy Lopez
11. Zukertort vs Steinitz 0-1421886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchC49 Four Knights
12. Steinitz vs Zukertort 1-0441886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchC67 Ruy Lopez
13. Zukertort vs Steinitz 1-0861886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchD35 Queen's Gambit Declined
14. Steinitz vs Zukertort ½-½481886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchC67 Ruy Lopez
15. Zukertort vs Steinitz ½-½491886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchD50 Queen's Gambit Declined
16. Steinitz vs Zukertort 1-0491886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchC65 Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defense
17. Zukertort vs Steinitz ½-½521886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchD55 Queen's Gambit Declined
18. Steinitz vs Zukertort 1-0401886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchC65 Ruy Lopez, Berlin Defense
19. Zukertort vs Steinitz 0-1291886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchD50 Queen's Gambit Declined
20. Steinitz vs Zukertort 1-0191886Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship MatchC25 Vienna
 page 1 of 1; 20 games  PGN Download 
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
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Mar-20-18  Big Pawn: I think Karpov in the 70s was the best of the bunch but Fischer was in a league of his own. Karpov could barely handle Korchnoi and Korchnoi was a leftover from a different era.
Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <blathering pontificator: I think Karpov in the 70s was the best of the bunch but Fischer was in a league of his own....>

During his purple patch of 1970-72, agreed.

<....Karpov could barely handle Korchnoi and Korchnoi was a leftover from a different era.>

This proves that you really need to stick to Rogoff; Korchnoi was at his peak in the late 1970s.

Mar-21-18  FredGambit: I think the logic is that Korchnoi was in his mid to late 40s back when he was the world #2, ergo, pro chess was weak at that time if a guy that old performed that so strongly.

Isn't it possible Korchnoi simply aged better than any other player in history? He was still in the top five back when he was about 60. He won strong events at 70 and 73. He was in the Top 100 in the mid 2000s. Just because virtually every guy pushing 50 falls by the wayside doesn't mean exceptions don't exist.

I guess chess in the late 90s was terrible too since there was a girl in the top 10.

Mar-21-18  Olavi: Korchnoi, far from being <a leftover from a different era.> got clearly stronger in his 40s.
Mar-21-18  Big Pawn: < FredGambit: I think the logic is that Korchnoi was in his mid to late 40s back when he was the world #2, ergo, pro chess was weak at that time if a guy that old performed that so strongly.>

In essence that is correct, although I think the word "weak" is inaccurate. There's nothing weak about top level chess in any era by definition. It's top level. But none the less, the top level chess of the late 70s allowed an aging chess player to score well. Even Tal had a resurgence during this period. He suddenly rose up to be #3 in the world again.

Regarding Fischer, I think if he had played for another year after winning his championship and had enjoyed the same kind of results he had in 1970-72, his rating would be been 2850.

The other day I was at 2700 chess and I see that Fischer's last live rating was 2789.7. That would put him in the middle of the pack of the top ten today in 2018. He achieved that rating before all of the rating inflation which makes it even more incredible. Perhaps if he had been playing in the inflated ratings era, his ELO would have been near 3000.

Karpov thinks that he and Fischer were stronger than Carlsen. He also thinks that ratings are way overinflated.

<Karpov: I think both Fischer and I were stronger, but Magnus is still developing and he really knows what he’s doing. His opening repertoire could be more varied and he could also work more, but nevertheless, he has a wonderful memory and his own take on the opening and other issues.>

He goes on to talk a little bit about ratings and rating inflation.

<Ratings are now rising – I haven’t looked into the mathematical formulae for why it’s happening, but it seems to me there’s an issue – since Fischer had 2760 at his peak, and I got to 2730 or 2735, but when I was rated 2720 Korchnoi was second and he was 2670, so there was a 50-point gap. That indicates something, of course, as it does that Fischer, when he reached that peak, was dozens of points – even close to a hundred – above his rivals. That’s significant. But as for ratings having an absolute significance… well, now they’ve got to 2800. In my day I became World Champion when the best chess players had ratings at about 2600, 2700. After Fischer I was the first to reach 2700, but at that time 2650 was a great rating, while now 2650 – perhaps even… no, maybe you still make it into the Top 100 with 2650.

Rating inflation has taken place?

Inflation is obvious, yes. >

I think Karpov deliberately underestimated Fischer's rating when he said he peaked at 2760. I think Fischer's top rating was 2785, as is indicated on his player page Robert James Fischer

Yes, Karpov was about 50 points ahead of Korchnoi, as Karpov pointed out, but Fischer was 120 points ahead of Spassky who was #2 at the time.

Premium Chessgames Member
  OrangeTulip: Could it be that Zuckertort after his 4 first wins in a row became too easy in his mind? Like tennis: after winning the first set you are going to think to have the match in the pocket. Chess like tennis is a highly psychological game
Jun-30-18  offramp:

Wilhelm Steinitz. Austria, so COFFEE.
Emanuel Lasker. German, but TEA.
Jose Raul Capablanca. Certainly COFFEE.
Alexander Alekhine. TEA.
Max Euwe. COFFEE.
Mikhail Botvinnik. TEA.
Vasily Smyslov. TEA.
Mikhail Tal. COFFEE.
Tigran PetrosiaN. COFFEE.
Boris Spassky. TEA.
Robert James Fischer. COFFEE.
Anatoly Karpov. TEA.
Garry Kasparov. TEA.
Vladimir Kramnik. TEA.
Viswanathan Anand. TEA.
Magnus Carlsen. COFFEE.

Premium Chessgames Member
  ChessHigherCat: You mean Sachertort COFFEE:

Jun-30-18  zanzibar: <CHC> yum!

<Offramp> <Alexander Alekhine. TEA.>

Do you mean Long Island Iced TEA?!

Jul-01-18  Retireborn: Irish coffee, I should have thought.
Jul-01-18  ZonszeinP: TEA wins!
Jul-01-18  offramp: <ZonszeinP: TEA wins!>

Yes! Hooray!!

Jul-01-18  ZonszeinP: I associate tea with well-being at home

Coffee with "hurry up, I'm late for work"

Premium Chessgames Member
  ChessHigherCat: <ZonszeinP: I associate tea with well-being at home>

You must be thinking of domestici tea, but what about publici tea?

Jun-22-19  rcs784: Fascinating match! Apart from Zukertort's terrible blunders in games 11 and 20 and some refinements in opening theory that hadn't been made yet, most of this match doesn't look like 19th century chess at all--so many of the strategies look strikingly modern.

Now contrast that with, say, the Steinitz-Chigorin match played 3 years later!

Aug-02-19  Chesgambit: I analysis Steintz -Zukertort matches
they are making blunders
Aug-02-19  Chesgambit: but sometimes steintz performance rasing ( no dubious move etc. )
May-24-20  Allanur: Korchnoi peaking late is a myth created and believed by those who look at statistics only. In 1977 and 1980 encounters, Petrosian completely outplayed him but lost due to blunders. Polugaevsky (1980) and Spassky (1977) was similarly head to head with him even though Spassky was playing far below his peak play, Korchnoi's luck was in a miraculous level (or to put it in skill measurement, we can say he was more concenteated, less deteriorated). He was not playing better chess, his chess did not improve, he did not peak. Just his opponents deteriorated more than Korchnoi did.

And that old Korchnoi was almost too hard for Karpov. Fischer, as Korchnoi told in 2015, was really in a class by himself, especially in 70s.

Premium Chessgames Member
  thegoodanarchist: 7 consecutive decisive games to start a match, and a WC match at that! Quite impressive!

These men came to play FIGHTING chess.

Jan-13-21  lupco jan steriev: No, the first world chess championship was in 1851 when Anderssen destroyed everybody except for Buckle who did not attend but most likely he would not beat andy and they had to wait until morphy croaks to have official championship in 1886. Steinitz met Morphy once but was not allowed to talk on chess. Morphy told his friend that Steinitz gambit sucked. Even though Morphy did not play competitive chess, he followed game progression his entire life.

Hey, this tournament had time controls!

The time control was 30 moves in 2 hours, with a 2 hour dinner break, then 15 moves an hour

And this is how it should be today, not blitz/rapid bs playoffs and FIDE IDIOTS, THIS IS NOT BOXING, CHANGE 12 GAMES TO 14 because 14 games must be played for the right to challenge the champ.

My chess musings:

Premium Chessgames Member
  MissScarlett: < the first world chess championship was in 1851>


Jan-18-21  Wanda Nida: No, before matches were played too, 1851 london knock out tournament is IT as the best played and Anderssen was crowned and most recognized him as world champ, official or not, he should be first world chess champion!
Jan-19-21  Petrosianic: 1834.
Jan-11-22  SymphonicKnight: For a phenomenal article that has merged commentary by Steinitz (International) and Zukertort (Monthly) with commentary by other contemporary top players and much exemplary detail filled in by newpaper articles, enjoy here: Research is by Nick Pope who has shown how it should be done.
Jan-11-22  Ivan Karamazov: Re: "first" world chess championship: have you people all forgotten about the great Og-vs.-Ig match (11,482 BC)? Admittedly, documentation that far back is a bit scanty...
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