Isidor Arthur Gunsberg was born in Budapest. He began his chess career as the hidden operator of the chess automaton Mephisto (Automaton). In 1876 he moved to Britain, and was later granted citizenship.
Gunsberg's success in match play leaves no doubt that he was one of the strongest competitors of his era: he defeated Henry Edward Bird (+5 -1 =3), Joseph Henry Blackburne (+5 -2 =6), and drew with Mikhail Chigorin (+9 -9 =5). In 1890, he challenged Wilhelm Steinitz for the world championship, but lost (+4 -6 =9), see Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship Match (1890).
Gunsberg's career reached its peak at the end of the 1880s, with impressive results in Game Collection: New York 1889 and Manchester (1890) (second behind Tarrasch).
According to Chessmetrics, he was 2-5th in the world 1886-90. 1; whilst EDO Chess estimates Gunsberg to have been 2nd-7th for the same period. 2
At New York, Gunsberg came third. He beat Chigorin 2-0, but lost to Weiss by 0.5 to 1.5. Gunsberg then seized an unexpected and sudden opportunity. With the joint tournament winners Chigorin and Weiss declining to play a match to select a challenger to world champion Steinitz, Gunsberg challenged Chigorin. At the time of the match Gunsberg was 35 years old, four years younger than his opponent.
Gunsberg had struggled for his place in the limelight. He had never been seen as the preeminent British player and was usually eclipsed by Joseph Henry Blackburne .Gunsberg had emerged in the third German Chess Congress 1883. Gunsberg was 17th with 5/18 whereas Blackburne won with 13.5/18. At the fourth German Chess Congress, Hamburg July 13th - 25th 1885, Blackburne again won on a tie break followed by James Mason. Gunsberg improved his standing to 5th, half a point behind the winner.
At Hereford, August 4th – 12th, 1885, Blackburn won and Gunsberg was fifth equal, whilst at the Second BCF championship London 1886, July 12th – 29th, he was third equal with Taubenhaus behind Blackburne and Burn.
At the fifth German Chess Congress, Frankfurt July 17th - August 2nd, 1887, Blackburne was fourth and Gunsberg was far back in 14-16th place. He scored only two points against the top ten players.
The Third BCF Congress London 1887, November 29th - December 12th, improved his status. Gunsberg was first equal with Burn ahead of Blackburne by 1 1/2 points; and at the Fourth BCF championship in Bradford, August 6th – 18th 1888, Gunsberg won, 1 1/2 points ahead of all his important British rivals including: George Henry Mackenzie, Mason, Amos Burn , Blackburne and Henry Edward Bird.
In 1887, Blackburne - Gunsberg (1887), Gunsberg defeated Blackburne in a match , played in Bradford and London, 26th September – 9th November 1887 scoring +5 -2 =6.
Having tied for first in 1887 and won the title outright in 1888, and at least temporarily drawn ahead of his most obvious rival, his victory in this match gave him the status as a credible challenger to Steinitz for the world championship.
"The difference in style between the two players has been very well brought out in the present match. Gunsberg is impetuous and Blackburne is careful, but both have a wonderful power of combination, and are capable, of very brilliant strokes." 3
Gunsberg's problem was that he was not consistent. At Breslau (1889) , 15th – 26th July 1889, he was equal fourth, but Tarrasch eclipsed all the other participants with a magnificent +9. At Amsterdam (1889) , 26th August – 1st September 1889, he came only half-way up the field (+2 -2 =4).
“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….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.” 4
Steinitz, however, saw Chigorin as his most credible challenger and chose to defend his world championship title against him in Havana (20th January 1889 - 24th February, 1889). Steinitz defeated his Russian challenger by 10-6, in the Steinitz - Chigorin World Championship Match (1889).
Gunsberg, however, by coming third at the Game Collection: New York 1889 , was given an unexpected opportunity. The co-winners of the tournament, having tied a short match intended to decide a single winner, preferred not to challenge Steinitz. The rules then allowed Gunsberg as the third player to challenge Chigorin for a match which would effectively be a Candidates Final. See Game Collection: Chigorin-Gunsberg Match.
By tying this match, Gunsberg felt he could challenge for the world championship. He went on to give a good account of himself in the Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship Match (1890) by 8.5 to 10.5.
3 Morning Post - Monday 10th October 1887, p. 2.
4 Bristol Mercury - Tuesday 21st August 1888, p.8.
Wikipedia article: Isidor Gunsberg