The only known likeness
On the day before leaving his hometown of Dorpat for
good under the weight of some unspecified scandal, the man with the
improbable name of Lionel Adalbert Bagration Felix Kieseritzky, at the
augural age of 33, put on a show. Although he was well known as a talented
amateur pianist, the show he arranged was a chess show - a living chess
game played out in the public gardens. And quite fitting it was since
Kieseritsky was soon to become not just transplanted to Paris but
transfigured from a teacher of Mathematics into a teacher of Chess.
Dorpat lay in Livonia, a part of the Russian Empire
that had formerly been under Polish rule, comprised loosely of the Baltic
area now known as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Although Livonia had
former Polish ties, Kieseritzky wasn't Polish but of purely Germanic
blood. His father was a well-to-do Estate Manager. Lionel himself was
socially active and practiced at putting on theatrical shows, generally
more of a musical or dramatic variety. Entertainment coursed through his
veins as did Chess. That he had been the best player in Livonia seems
obvious as he had been playing correspondence chess with Carl Jaenisch and
immediately upon arriving in Paris set up shop at the Café de la Régence
teaching chess for 5 francs a game.
Testifying to Kieseritzky's chess reputation, George
Walker, in 1838, wrote:
To whom is destined
the marshal's baton when De la Bourdonnais throws it down, and what
country will furnish his successor? The speculation is interesting.
Will Gaul continue the dynasty by placing a fourth Frenchman on the
throne of the world? -- the three last chess chiefs having been
successively Philidor, Deschapelles, and De la Bourdonnais. I have my
doubts. Boncourt is passing, St. Amant forsaking chess; and there is
no third son of France worthy of being borne on the books, save as a
petty officer. May we hope that the laurel is growing in England? No!
Ten thousand reasons forbid the supposition. Germany, Holland, and
Belgium, contain no likely man. At present De la Bourdonnais, like
Alexander the Great, is without heir, and there is room to fear the
empire may be divided eventually under a number of petty kings. M.
Deschapelles considers that chess is an affair of the sun, and that
the cold north can never produce a first-rate chess organisation. I
cannot admit the truth of the hypothesis; since we find the north, in
our time, bringing forth the hardest thinkers of the day in every
department. Calvi of Italy will go far in chess; but so will Szen of
Poland, and Kaesaritzki of Livonia. The imperial name of the latter is
alone a pawn in his favour; but, I repeat, the future is yet wrapped
By the mid 1840's Kieseritzky was probably the strongest player in Paris
and possibly the world - though such a claim would undoubtedly be fodder
for intense debate. While the everyday contests against weaker amateurs
were his bread and butter, Kieseritzky played a good many matches against
strong masters with generally good results -
1839 vs. St Amant
vs Rousseau - won a 100 game
1840 vs. Boncourt - even score
1843 vs. Buckle at QB odds - Buckle won
1845 vs. Calvi +7-7=1
1846 vs. Horwitz 7-4=1
Staunton played Harrwitz and
Kieseritzky in a rather peculiar 2 game simultaneous
triangular contest. Staunton
gave Rook odds while his two opponents played
blindfolded. Harrwitz won both
his games; Kieseritzky lost both his games
1847 vs. Harrwitz 11-5=2
1848 vs. Buckle 2-3=3
1850 vs. Schulten 107-34=10
vs. James Thompson at P&move
odds. Thompson won the majority.
1851 vs. Buckle 2-1
vs. Mayet 13-8=1
vs. Mayet 13-8=1
vs. Szen 13-7
vs. Löwenthal 9-8
vs. Bird 8-2
vs. Jaenisch 1-1=1
vs. Anderssen 9-5=2
vs. Mongredien 1-2
Although Kieseritzky was possibly among the best theorists of the
coffeehouse players, an expert in openings and endings, he was overly fond
of wild gambits and often accused of playing for the audience, preferring
show over soundness. And he was, indeed, a showman and a capable blindfold
player. In one particular blindfold exhibition he played against four
opponents (at that time, a new record), announcing his moves in a
different language for each board - French, German, English and Italian.
He also invented a 3-D version of chess that had as little impact as his
unusual chess notation creation.
For all his social tendencies, Kieseritzky has been
described in the most unfavorable terms - of livid complexion, with
melancholic and afflicted appearance. George Walker told of an
incident that occurred while Kieseritzky took breakfast with Horowitz
during the 1851 London tournament. The waiter had been ignoring them and
Kieseritsky said, "s'il pourrait savoir!" meaning, "doesn't he
recognize us?" Walker accused Kieseritzky of vainly considering
himself to be the "Messiah of Chess."
For all his chess victories, his play was sometimes
criticized by his contemporaries -
With all his fine
genius and extraordinary knowledge of the game, Kieseritzky was the
most wayward and crotchety of players. It was this and his
constitutional timidity, perhaps, which prevented his occupying the
highest place amongst the chess masters of the day. In his Openings he
delighted in all sorts of odd, out-of-the-way manoeuvring. In his
End-games, when the road to victory lay plain and direct before him,
he would turn aside, as if from sheer wantonness, and lose himself in
some inextricable maze, while his opponent took time and heart and
reached the long-despaired-of goal. These eccentricities have been set
down to an obliquity of mind. I am disposed to attribute them in part,
at least, to another cause. He entertained a great repugnance to
giving odds, and as his opponents were, for the most part,
immeasurably inferior to him both in skill and bookish lore, he could
of course afford, when playing "even" with them, to risk a good deal.
Of what import was the loss of a few moves or of two or three Pawns to
one who felt he was a Rook stronger than his adversary? It was thus
probably that he acquired that fondness for rash attacks, and
whimsical defences, which injured his game and told against him so
terribly when he came to cope with men of mettle like his own. -
Howard Stanton, Chess Praxis.
But Kieseritsky could play brilliantly -
In 1849 Kieseritsky
started publishing his chess periodical, la Régence. Correspondence
between Kieseritzky and von der Lasa reveal Kieseritzky's shaky financial
footing. In 1850 the planned renovations of Paris included the tearing
down of the Café de la Régence, Kieseritzky's "workplace" as he called it.
The failure of his magazine the following year and the likely disruption
in his regular income most certainly weighed heavy on his mind. In 1851 he
was invited to London to play in the first international chess tournament.
Kieseritzky was one of the favorites. In spite of the fact that he had
just beaten Anderssen convincingly in a match, his showing in the
tournament was dismal with his first game, which lasted 20 minutes, being
the worst loss of his long chess career:
About this game Staunton wrote: "not only
playing away the only piece guarding his King from mate, but doing it in
such a manner that his opponent (even if he missed the mate) could still
have won his Queen instead - a sort of double-barrelled blunder that I
have never seen equalled even among beginners of the game."
La Régence was a very straightforward chess
magazine that was light on talk and heavy on games. But it had one
striking and unusual feature - one that might have contributed to it's
early demise. Kieseritzky, for some reason, used an exclusive and somewhat
bizarre notation to present the games in the periodical.
He gave the "key" to his notation in the
Note that the ranks are numbered
10-80 and the files 1-10. Each square has it's own number, much like the
coordinates used in algebraic notation. The number is arrived at by adding
the rank and the file. So, a1= 10+1=11;
etc. This absolute notation was a far cry from the relative descriptive
notation in vogue at the time.
The pawns are denoted by lower case
letters a-h, while the pieces correspond to the upper-case letters that
occupy their square in the "key."
Here is a game between Kieseritzky
and John Schulten (see game in viewer above) who was visiting Paris that
"check;" XX denotes "mate;" hyphen (-)
Kieseritsky, the favorite in
the 1851 Grand Tournament, was knocked out in the first round 0-2=1.
here everything went down hill. After the Tournament, Kieseritzky
furthered Anderssen's fame and ensured his own questionable place in chess
lore by publishing another loss, a skiddles game, to Anderssen played on
June 21, 1851. When Ernst Falbeer re-published the game in his very short
lived Austrian chess periodical, Wiener Schachzeitung, he
christened it Anderssen's Immortal.
Below is the game as it appeared in Kieseritzky's own
publication. It should be noted that the game was never played through to
mate, as it's always given, but that Kieseritzky resigned after 20. Ke2
when Anderssen's clever plan became clear.
1) See Games
II, XI, XIX, LXXUI, LXXIV, LXXX, LXXXV,
XCII, CIII, CIV, CV, CXVI, CXVII, CXXVII, CXXVIII, and CXXXV
2) White has only two ways to save the Rook, namely, E-25 and
because by playing E-17 he would the lose the Bishop by D-62-X
3) This is not the best move; he should play g-67, and if then
White plays 37-g, it's answered by F-75.
4) From this moment White's play is superior.
5) Instead of taking the Bishop that White had left skillfully
en pris, it would be much better to push for d-64
and get rid of the Knight as soon as possible.
6) The only
move to save the Queen
7) Perfect combination
8) Taking the Pawn and the attacking both Rooks is too tempting to
9) The coup de grâce, which negates all efforts of the opponent.
This game was conducted by Mr. Anderssen with remarkable skill.
The Immortal game as usually presented.