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  WCC Overview
Gunsberg and Steinitz Steinitz vs Gunsberg 1890/91
New York

Isidor Gunsberg was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1854. During the mid-1880s, he established himself as one of the strongest chessplayers in the world.[1] In matches, he beat Henry Bird in 1886[2] and Joseph Henry Blackburne in 1887.[3] His tournament successes included 1st at Hamburg 1885, shared 1st with Amos Burn at London 1887,[4] 1st at Bradford 1888,[5] and shared 1st with Bird at London 1889.[6] In 1888, he said that before considering a challenge for Wilhelm Steinitz's title, his play should first become "a little more mature."[7]

A year later, when Mikhail Chigorin got his shot at the title, chess journalist Leopold Hoffer asked Steinitz why he hadn't chosen George Henry Mackenzie or Gunsberg. Steinitz replied that the former had refused and the latter had a worse record than Chigorin.[8] In support of Gunsberg, Chess Monthly declared that Chigorin should have played Gunsberg instead of Steinitz. The Havana Chess Club announced it would host a match between Gunsberg and the Russian, even if the latter lost to Steinitz.[9] Gunsberg drew the Havana match against Chigorin in early 1890.[10] This result was enough to convince Gunsberg to challenge Steinitz to a title match. The Manhattan Chess Club served as intermediary for this preliminary negotiation, and Steinitz settled in principle to play for a stake of $1,500.[11] James Mason objected to the choice on the grounds that Steinitz favored challengers who were both fellow Jews and weaker players than himself. Steinitz labeled the objection "impudent" and insinuated that Mason was drunk when he made it.[12] At New York 1889, Gunsberg had performed considerably better than Mason.[13] Mason suggested that Gunsberg should play him first as a condition for a match against Steinitz, but the champion rejected this proposal.[11]

The conditions were agreed upon on December 6, 1890. The winner would be first to 10 games (draws not counting), or most wins after 20 games. A draw would be declared in the case of 9 wins each.[14] The stakes were $1,500 with 2/3 for the winner.[15] Gunsberg received $150 traveling expenses from the Manhattan Chess Club. The winner of a game received $20, the loser $10 and in case of a draw, they both got $10. British amateurs contributed 75 pounds towards Gunsberg's share of the prize fund.[16]

The match began on December 9, 1890 in the Manhattan Chess Club. Club Vice President Colonel G. F. Betts opened the proceedings and introduced the players.[17] The referee was Isaac Leopold Rice, and the umpires were Holladay for Steinitz and August Vorrath for Gunsberg. Fred Mintz was in overall control of the match.[18] They played in a small room between 13:30 to 17:00 and 19:00 to 22:30, while the spectators followed the games on a wallboard in a larger room downstairs. Initially the match received less interest than expected because Steinitz was considered a prohibitive favorite, and also because a popular ongoing cable match between Steinitz and Chigorin had to be interrupted.[18]

Steinitz took an early lead with a win in game 2. The match was suspended after game 4 because Steinitz had a bad cold.[19] In game 5 Steinitz lost with the white pieces in a Queen's Gambit, after which he vowed to keep playing this opening until he won with it.[20] With Gunsberg pulling ahead, interest in the match increased.[21] Still not fully recovered from his cold, Steinitz managed to win game 6. During this game, Gunsberg exceeded the time limit but Steinitz refused to claim a win.[22] Steinitz reached his goal of winning with the Queen's gambit in game 7 and retained the lead for the rest of the match. After a brief Christmas break,[23] Gunsberg struck in game 12 with the Evans Gambit. Prior to the match, Steinitz had challenged Gunsberg to a theoretical duel in this opening.[24] The contested position had also previously arisen in the adjourned Steinitz-Chigorin cable match and the public had been looking forward to Gunsberg taking up Steinitz's challenge.[25] Steinitz did not show up for game 18. The telegram he had sent to excuse himself had been delayed. Gunsberg could have claimed the game but did not.[26] Gunsberg played the Evans Gambit for the 4th time in game 18. Gunsberg had previously scored well with it, but he lost this game. Steinitz drew game 19, thereby winning the match and retaining his title (+6 -4 =9).

click on a game number to replay game 12345678910111213141516171819

FINAL SCORE:  Steinitz 6;  Gunsberg 4 (9 draws)
Reference: game collection WCC Index [Steinitz-Gunsberg 1890]

NOTABLE GAMES   [what is this?]
    · Game #12     Gunsberg vs Steinitz, 1891     1-0
    · Game #16     Gunsberg vs Steinitz, 1891     1-0
    · Game #7     Steinitz vs Gunsberg, 1890     1-0


  1. Rod Edwards, Isidor Gunsberg
  2. Rod Edwards, Gunsberg-Bird 1886
  3. Rod Edwards, Gunsberg-Blackburne 1887
  4. Rod Edwards, London 1887
  5. Rod Edwards, Bradford 1888
  6. Rod Edwards, London 1889
  7. Bradford Observer Budget 28 July 1888. In Edward Winter, Chess Note 5136 (submitted by Joost van Winsen, Silvolde, the Netherlands) An interview with Gunsberg
  8. Kurt Landsberger, William Steinitz - Chess Champion 2d ed. (McFarland 1995), p.209
  9. Landsberger, p.210
  10. Rod Edwards, Chigorin-Gunsberg 1890
  11. Landsberger, pp.238-239
  12. Landsberger, pp.237-238
  13. Rod Edwards, New York 1889
  14. International Chess Magazine (Nov 1890), pp.325-328. In Edward Winter, World Chess Championship Rules
  15. Landsberger, p.238
  16. Landsberger, p.240
  17. The World New York, 10 Dec 1890. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, 1890 Gunsberg-Steinitz, World Championship Match
  18. The Sun New York, 10 Dec 1890. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, 1890 Gunsberg-Steinitz, World Championship Match
  19. New-York Daily Tribune 19 Dec 1890. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, 1890 Gunsberg-Steinitz, World Championship Match
  20. The Sun New York, 19 Dec 1890. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, 1890 Gunsberg-Steinitz, World Championship Match
  21. New-York Daily Tribune 21 Dec 1890. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, 1890 Gunsberg-Steinitz, World Championship Match
  22. The Sun New York, 21 Dec 1890. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, 1890 Gunsberg-Steinitz, World Championship Match
  23. The Sun New York, 28 Dec 1890. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, 1890 Gunsberg-Steinitz, World Championship Match
  24. New-York Daily Tribune 6 Jan 1891. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, 1890 Gunsberg-Steinitz, World Championship Match
  25. The World New York, 6 Jan 1891. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, 1890 Gunsberg-Steinitz, World Championship Match
  26. New York Sun 20 Jan 1891. Reprinted in Jacques N. Pope, Chess Archeology

 page 1 of 1; 19 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Steinitz vs Gunsberg ½-½251890Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchD35 Queen's Gambit Declined
2. Gunsberg vs Steinitz 0-1401890Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchC62 Ruy Lopez, Old Steinitz Defense
3. Steinitz vs Gunsberg ½-½271890Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchD31 Queen's Gambit Declined
4. Gunsberg vs Steinitz 1-0571890Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchC50 Giuoco Piano
5. Steinitz vs Gunsberg 0-1281890Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchD20 Queen's Gambit Accepted
6. Gunsberg vs Steinitz 0-1431890Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchD00 Queen's Pawn Game
7. Steinitz vs Gunsberg 1-0281890Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchD26 Queen's Gambit Accepted
8. Gunsberg vs Steinitz ½-½361890Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchC53 Giuoco Piano
9. Steinitz vs Gunsberg ½-½801890Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchA46 Queen's Pawn Game
10. Gunsberg vs Steinitz 0-1431891Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchC53 Giuoco Piano
11. Steinitz vs Gunsberg ½-½291891Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchD05 Queen's Pawn Game
12. Gunsberg vs Steinitz 1-0241891Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchC52 Evans Gambit
13. Steinitz vs Gunsberg 1-0401891Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchA46 Queen's Pawn Game
14. Gunsberg vs Steinitz ½-½331891Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchC52 Evans Gambit
15. Steinitz vs Gunsberg ½-½391891Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchE14 Queen's Indian
16. Gunsberg vs Steinitz 1-0211891Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchC52 Evans Gambit
17. Steinitz vs Gunsberg ½-½561891Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchD06 Queen's Gambit Declined
18. Gunsberg vs Steinitz 0-1541891Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchC52 Evans Gambit
19. Steinitz vs Gunsberg ½-½411891Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship MatchD00 Queen's Pawn Game
 page 1 of 1; 19 games  PGN Download 
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
< Earlier Kibitzing  · PAGE 2 OF 2 ·  Later Kibitzing>
Sep-14-06  dehanne: I thought the players on the pic were Chigorin and Georg Marco.
Nov-12-06  Calli: "Gunsberg is watching a game between Weiss and Chigorin (New York 1889)"

Looking again, this must be right. The guy standing behind Gunsberg is Lipsch├╝tz and the man standing back in the corner is Winawer, I think. Still don't know the other player sitting or the guy next to Gunsberg.

Jan-03-08  Nikita Smirnov: Is that Charlie Chaplin on the picture.
Jan-03-08  hovik2003: Nice shot but I think Chaplin was still living in England back in 1889.
Jan-04-08  Nikita Smirnov: And is that Roosevelt standing on the right of Chaplin.
Jan-04-08  Shams: look closely and you can see Zelig in that picture
Feb-28-08  Knight13: <Nikita Smirnov: And is that Roosevelt standing on the right of Chaplin.> No.
Mar-03-08  Nikita Smirnov: Isn't it Roosevelt on the picture?
Premium Chessgames Member
  thegoodanarchist: Is this where Bobby Fischer got his ideas for the (potential) 1975 title defense?

First to 10 wins? Champion retains title in case of 9-9 wins tie?

Fischer must have really respected these early chess pioneers of the WCC...

Apr-19-09  talisman: Bat Masterson covers the match for the newspaper.
Apr-19-09  AnalyzeThis: Gunsberg was a tough customer, and aquitted himself well in this match.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Sneaky: <Is this where Bobby Fischer got his ideas for the (potential) 1975 title defense?> Yes and no. Note that this match was capped at 20 games, so it should go without saying that if one player achieved 10 wins he is a shoo-in. You'd think that it would be "10 1/2 wins" to secure the title, but the idea was that if you reach 10 wins first, you must be the better player.

But while Steinitz didn't want "draw odds" for the entire match, he also didn't think it was right to play one game for "all the marbles", hence then 9-9 clause. Thus started the long tradition of giving the defending champion a tangible advantage in the match format. The challenger must really prove himself better, not just prove himself an equal.

In Fischer's famous letter advocating the Cramer proposal, he pointed to these matches as a historical precedent for the system. However, Lasker-Steinitz World Championship (1894) is a much better example of the format he was seeking. The terms of that match were "The first to win 10 games, draws not counting" implying a completely unlimited format. "Draws not counting" is the operative phrase there.

<Fischer must have really respected these early chess pioneers of the WCC...> Of that there is no doubt. Any of his old chess interviews (when he still talked about the "old chess") were largely focused on these guys; they were his idols. Steinitz, Morphy, and (perhaps surprisingly) Staunton were admitted his chess heros, far more than modern players. He devoured their games and they became part of him.

In one interview I recall, the interviewer mentioned how brilliant Morphy was with games like his one against Duke Karl, asked how these old players like Morphy would fare today. Fischer said astutely "The reason why there aren't any more Morphy's today, is because there aren't any more Duke Karl's." He then went on to elaborate, and said that with some preparation of modern theory, Morphy would no doubt be a first class player in the modern era, but he didn't go so far as to say that Morphy would dominate everybody. I think they way Fischer put it was that "He wouldn't do anything bad."

The interviewer then asked him if HE could beat Morphy, if somehow they could play each other. Then Fischer (fairly young at time) started to squirm a little and nervously laughed--he probably thought he could have a good game with Morphy, but he had a rare humble streak to him as well. He replied simply "I don't know."

By the way, is that footage online? I'd LOVE to see that interview again but it's one piece of footage that I haven't seen leak into the internet yet.

Jun-07-09  ughaibu: What do you think they mean by a 10-10 tie?
Jun-07-09  ughaibu: I see, 10 points as opposed to 9 wins.
Jan-23-10  Knight13: <in the event of a 9 wins to 9 wins tie, Steinitz retains the title.>

K, so, if Steinitz won 9 games and Gunsberg won 8, Steinitz can just resign his next game and still retain the title?

Feb-06-10  Petrosianic: We've got three mystery games here. The match was 19 games, but there are 22 games in the database for this year. The 19 games of the match plus these three others:

Gunsberg vs Steinitz, 1890

Gunsberg vs Steinitz, 1890

Gunsberg vs Steinitz, 1890

All three are labeled as just "Match", rather than "World Championship Match", and none of them seem to be duplicates. Even if Game 20 of the match was played as an exhibition game (as were the last three games of the 1889 match), we've still got two extras here.

Feb-06-10  Chessdreamer: Gunsberg vs Steinitz, 1890 = Aron Nimzowitsch vs.Jacques Mieses, Hannover 1926

Gunsberg vs Steinitz, 1890 = George Salto Fontein vs. Eugene Aleksandrovich Znosko-Borovsky, Scheveningen 1923. The result should be 0-1.

Gunsberg vs Steinitz, 1890 incorrect duplicate of C Watson vs Capablanca, 1922.

Premium Chessgames Member

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

Part Four:

Part Five:

Part Six:

Premium Chessgames Member
  Chessical: There is a pretty firm conviction at the clubs that that Gunsberg, especially since the death of Zukertort, is the strongest and hardiest of the professional masters of the game, and that in his present condition he can be more trusted than anyone else to play up to his best form over a fortnight's course.

Judging from personal observation, I should certainly say that "Mephisto" is more strenuous, both in bodily and in mental vigour, than any other master now in England, including our Continental and American visitors, and that his stamina is likely to outlast that of all his rivals; though Locock may one day run him close.

Bardeleben has several of the best qualities of a player, and is, doubtless, capable of greater development.

It will soon be time, by the way, to demand a match between Gunsberg and Steinitz -the old Achilles who sulks on his reputation in America. Mr Steinitz is giving us time enough in England to forget his prowess, and people already say that his victory over Zukertort, when the decline of the doctor's powers had manifestly set in, was not of sufficient importance to provide him with laurels for the remainder of his life.

No doubt, this is said partly by way of defiance, and in course of time it is pretty certain that the champion will have to descend into the lists again, and try conclusions with Mr Gunsberg.

<Source: Bristol Mercury - Tuesday 21 August 1888, p.8.>

Jan-26-14  Karpova: There is now a new Intro for this World Championship match.
Premium Chessgames Member
  Chessical: The Gunsberg-Chigorin Match, took place in Havana in January-February 1890. Only two months before, it appears that Gunsberg was attempting to arrange a match in Havana against his long-term rival Blackburne.

<The Havana Chess Club and Mr. Gunsberg>.

Mr. Gunsberg telegraphed to the Havana Chess Club on October 5 asking that a match should be arranged there between himself and Mr. Blackburne in January. The Havana Club, however, declined to comply with this request.

Source - <Manchester Evening News - Thursday 16 October 1890, p.2.>

Sep-05-14  Roark: They were such gentlemen in regards to Steinitz winning on time and not claiming and vice versa when Steinitz did not show and Gunsberg not claiming the win.
Jan-22-16  TheFocus: On this date, Steinitz defeated Gunsberg to retain world championship title.
Premium Chessgames Member

It is announced by a Reuters New York message that Baron Albert Rothschild will hold the stakes at the forthcoming chess match, while Baron Zubaroff, formerly Russian Ambassador at Berlin, will be umpire for M. Tschigorin; Professor J. L. Rice, of New York, being umpire for Herr Steinitz.

Dr. Tarrasch is unable, on account of other business engagements, to accept the invitation of the Havana Club to play Herr Steinitz. A match between Herr Steinitz and Dr. Gunsberg will be played at New York in December."

<Source: York Herald - Tuesday 7th October 1890, p.4.>

Jun-15-18  offramp: <Baron Albert Rothschild will hold the stakes at the forthcoming chess match...>

It would have been funny if he said he had lost them.

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