International Chess Tournament Vienna 1882

by ChessBase
1/3/2005 – 122 years ago a great tournament ended. In round three Wilhelm Steinitz drew after 36 moves, the first time he had conceded a draw in nine years. The first world champion ended the 18-player double round robin with 24/30, equal first with Szymon Winawer. Read all about it in this article from ChessBase Magazine 103.

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The Second International Chess Tournament, Vienna 1882

By Johannes Fischer

This article appeared together with all the games of Vienna 1882 in ChessBase Magazine 103.

When Wilhelm Steinitz and George Henry Mackenzie drew after 36 moves of their game in round three of the Second International Chess Tournament in Vienna on the 12th of May 1882, it was the end of the longest winning run in the history of chess. For the last 25 games, Steinitz had gone from victory to victory – the last draw he had conceded having been nine years earlier on the 3rd of August 1873 against Philipp Meitner in the Vienna tournament, which Steinitz had won after a tie-break against Blackburne.

But after this success, Steinitz withdrew from active chess playing. In 1876 he played a match against Blackburne, which he won 7-0, and then he concentrated on his work as a chess journalist. But since his reputation as the best player in the world was endangered by the long pause, Steinitz decided in 1882 to return to the tournament arena and to take part in the Second International Chess Tournament in Vienna. At that point this was the strongest chess tournament of all time. It had first been held on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Vienna Chess Society, and sponsored by Ignaz von Kolisch, a strong chess player who had become rich as a banker, and Baron Albert Rothschild, the richest man in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The patron was the emperor Franz-Joseph, who also donated a special prize.

Joseph Henry Blackburne, nicknamed "The Black Death";
Louis Paulsen, theoretician and blindfold player

This tournament underlined the importance of chess in Vienna at the time. In Luftmenschen: Die Schachspieler von Wien (Aerial Spirits: the chess players of Vienna), Michael Ehn writes: “After the foundation of the ‘Vienna Chess Society’ [in October 1857] the game of chess had finally penetrated the ‘better’ social circles of Vienna. Committee members from the nobility, the upper middle class and the higher reaches of the civil service made the club appear exclusive, and this exclusivity was kept up by means of a restrictive rule book and high membership dues.... In 1872 Baron Albert Rothschild ... became president and patron of the chess society, which soon turned into one of the intellectual poles of the city, over and above the chess activity. It was an exclusive club of about 200 people built on the English model, and playing chess was no longer the only reason for going; it was a suitable arena for political discussion as well as discussing business.” (Luftmenschen, pp. 27-28)

As befitted the prestige of the Vienna Chess Society, Vienna 1882 was a mammoth double round all play all with eighteen contestants, beginning on the 10th May and ending on the 24th June. The rules were hard: “From the beginning to the end of the tournament, each participant must play a game every day against the opponent allocated to him by the drawing of lots, with the exception of Sundays and holidays. The games begin at 10.00 a.m. and continue until 2.00 p.m. At this time, either player can request a break of at the most two hours. The game must be resumed at 4.00 p.m. at the latest and played to a finish without any break. However, if the game is not finished by midnight, either player may request an adjournment and the committee will decide when the game shall be resumed. Thinking time is set at 15 moves per hour, with the player carrying forward any unused time.... During an adjournment any consultation or analysis on a board is strictly forbidden and will be punished by exclusion from the tournament.”

And the tournament rules demanded commitment on the part of the players: “Each participant is required to play all of his games to the best of his ability. All private arrangements which might influence the result of the game are forbidden and will be punished by exclusion from the tournament.” (From the original report in the Österreichische Lesehalle, January 1882, pp. 11-12, quoted in the tournament book, The Second Vienna International Chess Tournament). The participants did not let the organisers down: the rate of draws was a low 30% and the games lasted on average 39 moves, with the drawn games even averaging 46 moves.


The field was composed of the very top international players and the best Austro-Hungarian players. Here is an alphabetical list of the participants with short biographical notes based on the Oxford Companion to Chess by David Hooper and Kenneth Whyld.

  • Henry Bird, (1830-1908). Bookkeeper. One of the strongest English players and all his life a habitué of the chess cafés of London.

  • Joseph Henry Blackburne, (1841-1924). Nickname: The Black Death. Legendary for his consumption of whisky and his attacking games. After his victory in the British championship 1868-69, he turned professional and earned his living by simultaneous tours in England. Distinguished composer and solver of problems.

  • Berthold Englisch, (1851-1897). Austrian master, then one of the best players in the world.

  • Bernhard Fleissig, (1853-1931). Austrian master.

  • Vincenz Hruby, (1856-1917). Czechoslovakian chess player who worked as a teacher in Trieste and who scored good results in 1882 and 1891 in matches against leading Austrian players.

  • George Henry MacKenzie, (1837-1891). Born in Scotland, MacKenzie served as a soldier in Ireland and India and fought on the side of the North in the American Civil War. At the end of his military career, he devoted himself to chess intensively and quickly became one of the best players in the USA.

  • James Mason, (1849-1905). Born in Ireland, he emigrated to the USA. A brilliant chess journalist and highly gifted player, who was among the best in the world in the 1880s. But his too great consumption of alcohol stopped him ever really reaching the top.

  • Philipp Meitner, (1836-1910). A strong amateur who lived in Vienna and was a student friend of Steinitz.

  • Josef Noa, (1856-1903). Hungarian master.

  • Louis Paulsen, (1833-1891). Important theoretician and excellent player of blindfold chess. Born in Germany in 1833, he emigrated to the USA in 1854 in order to help with his brother's tobacco firm. There he became one of the best players in the country.

  • Adolf Schwarz, (1836-1910). Strong amateur Hungarian player, who had settled in Vienna in 1872.

  • William Steinitz, (1836-1900). Born in Prague, Steinitz lived for some time in Vienna, till he moved to England and later to the USA as a professional chess player and journalist. First official World Champion, and founder of the scientific method of positional play.

  • Mikhail Chigorin, (1850-1908). In 1882 the top Russian player was at the start of his international career. He had played in his first international tournament in Berlin in 1881 and by 1883 he was already amongst the top players in the world.

  • Preston Ware, (1821-1890). An American player who came to notice because of his original treatment of the opening. For example, a variation to which his name was given begins with the moves 1.a4 e5 2.a5 d5 3.e3 f5 4.a6.

  • Miksa Weiss, (1857-1927). Born in Hungary, Weiss was amongst the strongest players in the world between 1880 and 1890. The he decided to limit his chess in order to continue his successful career as banker in the Rothschild bank.

  • Szymon Winawer, (1838-1920). Polish businessman, who was amongst the best players in the world from the end of the 1860s till the beginning of the 1880s..

  • Alexander Wittek, (1852-1894). A Viennese architect, who scored some good tournament results between 1880 and 1882, but then concentrated on his profession as an architect.

  • Johann Hermann Zukertort, (1842-1888). One of the most brilliant players in the history of chess, Zukertort was particularly gifted in blindfold chess and as a journalist. At the end of the 60s, he edited together with Anderssen the Neue Berliner Schachzeitung; together with Leopold Hoffer, he later published the English chess magazine Chess Monthly.

The course of the tournament

Of course the tournament favourite was Steinitz. But after his long absence from tournament chess, it was not known if he would play as strongly as he had ten years previously. As a matter of fact, he was somewhat rusty. He did start off with two wins, but then, after the aforementioned draw with MacKenzie, he lost three games in a row – against Zukertort, Hruby and Ware, and then after defeating Fleissig in round 7 he lost once more to Wittek in round 8. Especially bitter was the defeat by Zukertort, then the greatest rival of Steinitz for the title of world chess number one. But in round 9, Steinitz got back into his rhythm and at the end of the first series of games he sat on 11.5 points, one point behind the tournament leader Mackenzie (12.5), and half a point behind Winawer in second place with 12 points. Blackburne and Mason both had 10 points to show for their efforts and were followed by Englisch, Hruby and Zukertort each with 9.5 points.

Johann Hermann Zukertort, one of the most brilliant players in history;
George Henry MacKenzie was leading after the first series of games

This order was disappointing for Zukertort especially, since he wished to show in Vienna that he was superior to Steinitz. But, just like Mason, he was able to step up a gear in the second series and, five rounds before the end, things looked as follows at the top: Mason led from Steinitz with 20.5 to the latter's 20; then came Winawer and MacKenzie both with 19.5 and Zukertort with 19. Blackburne, in sixth place with 17 points, two points behind the leading group, was practically out of the running.

It was Winawer who had the easiest games to come and the strongest final sprint. He got 4.5 out of the last five games, one by walkover against Fleissig who had quit the tournament after round 21, four rounds after Noa who had thrown in the towel after the first series of games. Steinitz, however, managed 4 points out of the last five rounds, whereas Mason and MacKenzie stumbled. Mason could only score 50% from the final five games, including a walkover against Noa. MacKenzie managed three points, also including a walkover.

A tiebreak was played between Winawer and Steinitz to decide the winner

The final round could not have been more dramatic. Steinitz led with 23 points, Winawer stood on 22.5, but still had an adjourned game from round 32, in which he had the better position against Weiss, after managing to turn round a completely lost endgame. In the last round, Steinitz was to play Bird and Winawer faced Englisch. Bird had conceded his games in the previous four rounds because he was suffering from a severe case of gout, but he pulled himself together to face Steinitz. The latter protested to the arbitration committee about this behaviour, but in the long run he had to play. Whilst Winawer had an easy win over Englisch, Steinitz found it hard to get the full point from his superior position against Bird. In fact, shortly before the finish, the convalescent Englishman could have saved the draw with a tactical resource – this would have left Steinitz in second place. But after Bird missed this opportunity, everything depended on the adjourned game between Winawer and Weiss, which was not played until the end of round 34. Steinitz was saved after 142 moves: it was a draw, meaning that first place was shared between Steinitz and Winawer. Third was Mason with 23 points. MacKenzie and Zukertort shared places four and five with 22.5 points each. The special prize for the best performance against the top three went to Zukertort.

For his shared first place, Winawer could thank above all his capacity for scoring points against the weaker participants. Whereas he could only take 7.5 points from 16 games against the players in places 1 to 9, he got 16.5 out of 18 against the players in positions 10 to 18. The sharp and double-edged nature of his play can also be seen from the low drawing ratio (only four of his games were drawn) and the rich imagination which helped him save himself from difficult positions (e.g. in the games Hruby-Winawer [round 4] and Weiss-Winawer [round13] he had dubious positions just after the opening, but went on to win both games).

MacKenzie was let down by his weakness with the black pieces. Whereas with White he won 13, drew 4 and lost none, he only scored five full points with Black (one of them a walkover), drew five times and lost no less than seven games. Nor was Steinitz convincing with Black. He won 14 games with White, drew two and lost only one, but he only won six with Black (including two walkovers), drew six and lost five.

The sharing of first place between Steinitz and Winawer brought about a tie-break for victory in the tournament and the first prize. It was to be two games. Should the tie-break also end in a draw, the prize would be shared. In the first game, Steinitz played all out for a win and after a dubious opening launched a speculative attack with sacrifices of material. But Winawer managed to beat off the attack and win the game.

In the second game, Steinitz steered play along more peaceful lines. He accepted a cramped position in order to secure long term positional advantages. Finally, he reached an advantageous endgame, which Winawer lost after a few inaccurate moves. So Steinitz and Winawer ended the Vienna Tournament of 1882 as joint winners. This was the greatest success in Winawer's career, but only a year later he withdrew from competitive chess.

Steinitz, on the other hand, had strengthened his reputation as the best player in the world – although his position at the top was not as unchallenged as it had been. But the Vienna Tournament of 1882 marked another important point in Steinitz' career, for a totally different reason. While he was playing in Vienna and sending weekly reports on the tournament to The Field, the magazine which Steinitz had helped achieve fresh fame in the chess community with his columns since 1873, a plot was being hatched there against him in his absence. That came to a head after the Vienna Tournament in a spiteful article, which praised the efforts of the English participants and those of English origin in Vienna but disparaged the tournament victory of Steinitz and Winawer in a xenophobic way. Steinitz stopped working for The Field, to be succeeded by Leopold Hoffer, a close friend of Zukertort and a sworn enemy of Steinitz. After that Steinitz did remain for long in England, the country in which he “had felt himself a foreigner for 20 years”. At the start of 1883 he emigrated to the USA and gave new impetus to the chess scene in that country.

All 308 games of the Second International Chess Tournament, Vienna 1882 are included on the CBM 103 CD.


  • Christiaan M. Bijl, (ed.), Das II. Internationale Schachmeisterturnier Wien 1882, Zürich: Edition Olms, 1984.
  • Michael Ehn, Luftmenschen: Die Schachspieler von Wien, Wien: Sonderzahl 1998.
  • Thorsten Heedt, William Steinitz: The first World Chess Champion, ChessBase Monograph, 2003.
  • David Hooper & Kenneth Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess, Oxford, New York, Oxford University Press, 1996.
  • Kurt Landsberger, William Steinitz, Chess Champion, McFarland 1993.

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