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The Origin of International Chess Events
The first international chess tournament was held in London 1851.

Unofficial and Official 'World Chess Champions': Any list of World Chess Champions is split into at least two parts. First, there is a list of unofficial champions, usually including at least five names. Then there is a list of official champions, one name following another until the list becomes burdened with asterisks and footnotes in the 1990s. The first two unofficial champions were La Bourdonnais and Staunton, who earned their mentions by winning matches in 1834 and in 1843, respectively.

1851 London: The first international chess tournament was held in London as part of the Great Exhibition of 1851. Sixteen invited players competed in an elimination event, won by Adolf Anderssen of Germany. Although Anderssen started the event as a dark horse, he beat strong masters Kieseritzky and Szen in the first two rounds, overcame event organizer (and favorite to win) Staunton in the semi-final round by a match closer than its result (+4-1=0) indicates, then beat Wyvill (+4-2=1) in the last round.

Adolf Anderssen (1818-1879): Anderssen was a high school ('Gymnasium') teacher in his native Breslau (then Prussia, now known as Wroclaw, Poland). A bachelor with few interests outside teaching and chess, he used school vacations to pursue his life long avocation. His tenure as unofficial World Champion is dated from his victory in 1851, after which he won seven other strong tournaments, the last in Leipzig 1876. His chess longevity was no less impressive than masters who played later, like Lasker, Smyslov, and Korchnoi.

1857 New York: Anderssen's unofficial status as World Champion was interrupted by Paul Morphy of New Orleans. Already known to be a strong player because of casual games against Loewenthal, he was invited to the First American Chess Congress, New York City, 1857. The elimination event was organized by D.W. Fiske and brought together many strong players, including Louis Paulsen (1833-1891), who had arrived from Germany in 1854. Morphy beat Paulsen (+5-1=2) in the final match.

Paul Morphy (1837-1884): In 1858, Morphy travelled to London, where he hoped to play Staunton. For reasons which are debated even today, the two chess giants never played. While in England, Morphy dominated other strong players like Loewenthal (+9-3=2) and marvelled the public with a simultaneous blindfold exhibition against eight opponents. He travelled to Paris for more matches with more strong players, including Anderssen in December. Morphy won (+7-2=2), returned to New York by way of London in 1859, and stopped playing serious chess.

Chess Tournaments Find their Routine: The second international chess tournament, a small elimination event held 1857 in Manchester (England), was won by Loewenthal, ahead of Anderssen. The next major tournament, London 1862, the first to use the round robin (all play all) format and the first to use clocks (sand glasses), was won by Anderssen. Drawn games were replayed until one player scored a win. The 1867 event at Dundee was the first to score draws as 1/2 point.

Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900): In 1862, Steinitz relocated from Vienna to London, where he took sixth place in the tournament. Although his play was not particularly impressive, he continued to play matches and a small event in Dublin 1865, winning them all. He would later become known as the founder of modern chess, based on 'scientific' principles which he developed and elaborated, but his play in the 1860s was tactical, a throwback to the Romantic School.

1866 London; Steinitz - Anderssen: In 1866, Steinitz's successes won him financial backing for a match against Anderssen. After losing the first game, Steinitz scored four straight victories, then Anderssen won four straight; after three more decisive games, the match was tied at 6-6. Steinitz won the next two games to win the match. He considered himself to be World Champion from this moment on, but history considers him to be the last of the unofficial champions. He later won matches against Bird (1866), Zukertort (1872), and Blackburne (1876).

1883 London: Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888), moved to London in 1872, where he lived the rest of his life. Despite losing the match to Steinitz, he established himself as a strong player, and in 1883 he won a very strong international tournament in London, three points ahead of second place Steinitz. A popular story, perhaps apocryphal, recounts that both Zukertort and Steinitz claimed to be World Champion during a banquet after the tournament. Whatever the truth, Steinitz challenged Zukertort to a match.

World Championship Matches:

1886 USA; Steinitz - Zukertort

The first official World Championship match was held during the first quarter of 1886 in New York, St. Louis, and New Orleans. The winner would be the first to win ten games. A 9-9 tie would mean neither player would gain the title of World Champion. After Steinitz won the first game, Zukertort won the next four, but then collapsed. He won only won more game and the match ended on 29 March (+10-5=5), when Zukertort lost his Queen on the 19th move. He died two years later.

1889-1892; Steinitz vs. others

Steinitz, who had moved to New York after the 1883 tournament, was an active World Champion. Starting 1885, he published his International Chess Magazine, wrote the Modern Chess Instructor, and successfully defended his title three times. He beat Mikhail Chigorin (1850-1908) at Havana in 1889 (+10-6=1), Isidor Gunsberg (1854-1930) at New York in 1890-91 (+6-4=9), and again Chigorin at Havana in 1892 (+10-8=5). Chigorin had an easy win in the final game, but blundered to lose the game, the match, and his last chance for the title.

1894 USA; Lasker - Steinitz

Steinitz's reign as first World Champion ended in 1894, when he lost to Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941) in a match played at New York, Philadelphia, and Montreal (+10-5=4). He also lost the rematch to Lasker at Moscow, 1896-97 (+10-2=5). Lasker, who kept his World Championship title until 1921, was the longest reigning World Champion of all time. If history had accepted Steinitz's claim to be official World Champion in 1866, the longest reign would have been to his honor, not Lasker's.