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Tim Harding's research article: Zukertort's 1879 visit to Dublin

Life of Johannes Hermann Zukertort

Sept 7 1842 - June 20 1888.

Zukertort's grave in London's Brompton cemetery has been restored, with a new headstone in English and Polish, thanks to GM Stuart Conquest, the Polish Heritage Society, Dr Michael Negele and several other benefactors. A rededication ceremony was held there on 26 June.

One of the strongest chess grandmasters of the 19th century, Zukertort won London 1883, one of the greatest tournaments ever played. However, he is now best remembered as the loser (to Steinitz) of the first official World Chess Championship match, played in various American cities in 1886.

Sadly, his health was already in decline by this time and the Steinitz match jeopardised it completely. His results after that were poor and he soon died.

Zukertort's earlier career and games were, however, most impressive by the standards of the day. Only Anderssen, Morphy and Steinitz himself could match or surpass his achievements. His name (meaning "sugar tart") might sound like a joke but his combinative genius was no joke to the many opponents he crushed in brilliant games.

Zukertort was born in Lublin of Polish-Jewish descent but his family moved to Prussia while he was a boy. He enrolled as a medical student in Breslau Univeristy but latest research tends to show that Zukertort never completed any medical or academic qualification although he was sometimes referred to in England as "Dr".

For more on Zukertort's life, please read the chapter on him in my book Eminent Victorian Chess Players which has recently been published. This includes the fruits of the latest research into Zukertort, superseding parts of my old article that used to be on this website.

Once in England, Zukertort became known as a clear writer on the game, explaining popular openings like the Two Knights Defence and Evans Gambit to the amateur readership of the day in periodicals like the Westminster Papers and the City of London Chess Magazine. However, in his later years Zukertort was turning to newer opening systems based on 1 d4 and 1 c4, although he was surpassed in this by Steinitz who had the deeper understanding of positional play.

The queen's pawn game involving d4, Nf3, Bd3 and the fianchetto of white's queen bishop is still known today as the Colle-Zukertort System (Colle's contribution was the attack based on c2-c3 rather than b2-b3) which has been employed successfully in more recent times by some masters and GMs, notably Yusupov.

Zukertort's greatest triumph was his first prize in the marathon London 1883 tournament, which had a truly international field and included most if not all the great players of the 1870s and 1880s. Zukertort dominated for most of its duration, although he faltered near the end when first prize was assured. (He had 22/23 with two weeks to go and it is suspected that the use of drugs affected him in the late rounds and began his decline. At this time, opiates were not illegal in Britain and elsewhere; their dangers were not fully understood.)

It was on the strength of this tournament, in which he and Steinitz had each won a game against the other, that the two were universally recognised as the right players to contest the first world championship, but the match itself came rather too late for Zukertort, who was warned of the risk to his health.

It was played early in 1886 in several US cities. Zukertort lost the first game, then had a winning streak in games 2-5. Gradually his lead was eroded and he eventually lost the match. After the six games in New York he led, but in St Louis he achieved only one draw from three games. They moved on to New Orleans where Game 10 was drawn before Steinitz took the lead by winning games 11 and 12.

A win by Zukertort in Game 13 reduced his deficit, after which came a one week break because of the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Games 14 and 15 were drawn but then Zukertort lost again in Game 16 and he collapsed. The final score was 12.5-7.5 (Zukertort made +5 -10 =5).

Zukertort's final years were a tragic coda to his earlier genius.

Download a PGN file of games by Zukertort.

Other Zukertort pages