Johann Jacob Loewenthal was born in 1806 (traditionally 1810) in Pest, Hungary.(1) From 1842-1862 he was a member of the international chess elite, scoring multiple wins over the best players of his day, including Paul Morphy, Howard Staunton, Adolf Anderssen, Daniel Harrwitz, and Jozsef Szen.
Despite belonging to a Jewish family, Loewenthal attended a Catholic Piarist middle school,
along with future Hungarian champion Jozsef Szen. It is not known whether they were school friends or even knew each other at this point, but by 1836 they were regular partners at the Cafe Europa, Pest's premiere chess haunt.
Szen, already recognized as Hungary's strongest player, gave his partner large odds, but within a year, Loewenthal could compete at even odds, and eventually began scoring some fine wins, such as Loewenthal vs Szen, 1842. Szen now regarded Loewenthal highly enough to enlist him as first assistant in an 1842 correspondence match against Paris, which Pest won 2-0. In 1846 Loewenthal toured Vienna, winning a match against Carl Hamppe. He didn't fare as well against Baron Tassilo von Heydebrand und der Lasa in an informal series of games at Neuner's Cafe, going down +0 -5 =2. Von der Lasa attributed this lopsided score to Lowenthal's "persistence in playing, three times, the Evans's gambit attack."(2)
In 1848 Loewenthal joined the Hungarian nationalist democratic revolution of Janos Kossuth, and served in the civil administration of a provisional parliamentary government. The revolution was crushed in late 1849 and Loewenthal fled Hungary for Germany. In Hamburg he booked passage on a steamship bound for America, and arrived in New York City on 29 December 1849.
Cincinnati Cigar Divan
Understandably, Loewenthal found himself in a state of mental distress, with scant savings and little more than a vague idea to travel west and "settle down upon the land."(3) He had not been a chess professional in Hungary, and he had no intention of pursuing a chess career in America. After some weeks he chanced upon a chess puzzle in the New York Albion which rekindled his passion for chess, and instilled a desire to join the company of strong American players. He contacted the newspaper, which in turn gave him a letter of introduction to Charles Henry Stanley, the Albion's chess column editor. Stanley knew Loewenthal was a Hungarian chess master and introduced him to the New York chess circle. Loewenthal was embraced, engaging in a series of informal matches. He began a tour of the United States, always preceded by a letter of introduction that guaranteed him a warm welcome at each new stop. During a brief sojourn in New Orleans he played, and lost, two games to a 12 year old Paul Morphy. His American odyssey ended on 22 June 1850 in Cincinnati, where he garnered enough local support to open his own "Cigar Divan" (chess parlour). In early 1851 Loewenthal’s friends raised the necessary funds to send him to the International Chess Tournament in London.
In the first round of London 1851 Elijah Williams knocked Loewenthal out of the tournament. He was too ashamed to go back to America because he felt guilty about letting down his Cincinnati backers. Eight years later he published an apology to them in <The Book of the First American Chess Congress>. There were other reasons to remain in England, most notably the chance to test himself against the best masters in the world. Between 1851-1854 he played a series of games against Staunton, Anderssen, and Lionel Adalbert Bagration Felix Kieseritzky. Howard Staunton in particular was impressed with Loewenthal, both as a chess player and a man, and he soon became a powerful benefactor. Through his influence he secured employment for Loewenthal as a chess writer for the "Era," and in 1853 he arranged a match between his new protégé and Daniel Harrwitz, a player ranked by <The Oxford Companion to Chess> as the strongest master in the world at this time (4). The match, first to 11 wins, would prove both a grueling and bitter affair, partly because Staunton insisted on politicizing the contest even before it had begun. He castigated Harrwitz for being a professional chess player whilst praising Loewenthal for conforming to the English ideal of a gentleman master who kept "the game subordinate to the duties of life." (5) Loewenthal established a 9-2 lead, but Harrwitz dug down and after almost three months of struggle came out on top +11 -10 =12.
Staunton was disappointed by the result, but contrary to a widely held and persistent belief, he did not break off cordial relations with Loewenthal at this time.(6) Staunton continued to exert his influence to aid his protégé, recommending him as a chess tutor, an agreeable job Loewenthal could add to chess writing and chess club administration as a means to eke out a very modest income without actually becoming a chess professional. Staunton had no quibble with Loewenthal or others making a living from chess, so long as that living did not derive solely from exhibitions, playing for stakes in clubs, or winning cash prizes from matches or tournaments. The actual falling out between Staunton and Loewenthal likely arose from a disagreement over the record of an informal series of consultation matches played between 1856-1857 featuring Staunton + allies vs. Loewenthal + allies. Staunton took to boasting about his gaudy plus score, and when publicly challenged on its accuracy (though not by Loewenthal), he requested that Loewenthal publish his agreement with the tally. Loewenthal failed to do so, and Staunton severed relations. He also withdrew his longstanding public support, using his influence to ease Loewenthal out of a paid position as secretary of the St. George Chess Club.
Loewenthal's first English tournament victory at Manchester 1857 proved a somewhat curious affair, partly because the master's section was regarded to be an undercard for this widely publicized consultation game-Anderssen / Horwitz / Kling vs Staunton / Boden / Kipping, 1857. In addition, it was a three round single game knockout designed to finish the event as quickly as possible. Nonetheless, Loewenthal triumphed by eliminating Bernhard Horwitz and Adolf Anderssen, then "beating" Samuel Standidge Boden by drawing him in the final round. Boden was forced to leave to meet an engagement in London, so Loewenthal was declared the winner and awarded a set of Chinese carved chessmen, which he proudly put on display in London.
In 1858 Loewenthal became the first European master to face Paul Morphy, now a grown man determined to prove he was the greatest chess player in the world.
Morphy won the match with relative ease, although Loewenthal managed three wins, including at least one truly fine performance in game five- Loewenthal vs Morphy, 1858. Morphy, even more dead set against chess professionalism than Staunton, tried to give the match stakes to Loewenthal, who refused, but finally allowed Morphy to buy him new furniture.
The struggle with Morphy had Loewenthal fighting fit for the Birmingham 1858 congress, which proved to be his career highlight. After dispatching James Kipping in the first round, he squared off against Howard Staunton and vanquished him in their first game, a two day 66 move struggle that lasted at least 12 hours- Staunton vs Loewenthal, 1858. The experience seemed to break Staunton, who offered little resistance in game two of the round. He would never again post a good result in a significant chess event. After eliminating John Owen in round 3, Loewenthal faced the formidable Austrian master Ernst Falkbeer in the final. In the first to 3 wins championship round, Falkbeer offered considerably more resistance than had Staunton, but Loewenthal triumphed +3 -1 =4, carrying off top honors and a 60 guinea cash prize.
Citizen of Empire
Now serving as secretary of the British Chess Association, Loewenthal organized the London 1862 congress, an imporant event featuring the English debut of Wilhelm Steinitz. The congress was also notable for its round robin format, which would soon permanently replace the traditional knock out system. In addition, Loewenthal supervised a supplementary problem solving contest, wrote the tournament book, and entered the tournament, which proved too much for him. After winning his first three rounds against Thomas Wilson Barnes,
Valentine Green, and Augustus Mongredien, Loewenthal dropped out of the competition due to exhaustion. Adolf Anderssen would ultimately win the event. London 1862 marked the end of Loewenthal's competitive chess career.
Loewenthal continued to serve in the B.C.A until 1868, organizing a Challenge Cup in 1866 which was won by Cecil Valentine De Vere, who thus became recognized as the first official British Chess Champion. Loewenthal was widely respected for his work in the B.C.A., but he prompted a great uproar by attempting to use this office to create new official English chess rules designed to update the rules Staunton had laid down in 1860 in <Chess Praxis>. The controversy arose largely from one exceedingly strange proposal, that a player was not obligated to change a promoted pawn into a different piece.(7) This engendered a heated argument over English chess rules that was not finally resolved until the early 20th century.
Happily, this gaffe did not seriously affect Loewenthal's position as a leader in British chess administration. No foreign master had held so many high offices in important chess clubs and national organizations, and he formalized his full integration into the English chess scene by obtaining British citizenship in 1866. Loewenthal's love for England was reciprocated in concrete form on two occasions. In 1864 and 1874 special funds were collected to supplement his always precarious income. Four years before his death in 1876, Loewenthal met Staunton for dinner at the Malvern chess congress and renewed their friendship, an occasion Loewenthal likely appreciated as much or more than the financial support. From 1851-1876 he had dedicated his entire life to English chess, and continued to do so after his death. He left his modest estate as a trust fund to promote chess in England. This only amounted to 274 pounds, but the St. George Chess Club used it to purchase a silver cup which was used from 1922 on as a prize for inter-county championships.
(1) Loewenthal's birth year has traditionally been given as 1810, but it is likely earlier than that. In his 17 July 1866 application for British citizenship, he states he is 60 years old, which would put his birthday in 1806 or even late 1805. It seems unlikely Loewenthal would forget how old he was by a four year margin. His application can be viewed in the National Archive of the U.K. ref. HO1/133/5171.
(2) Chessplayer's Chronicle VII (1846) pp. 216-218.
(3) Daniel Willard Fiske (ed), The Book of the First American Chess Congress (New York 1859), p. 390.
(4) Hooper and Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess>. 2d Edition, Oxford 1992, p. 169.
(5) Illustrated London News XXII 15 (October 1853), p. 531.
(6) Tim Harding, Eminent Victorian Chess Players - Ten Biographies. McFarland 2012, pp. 84-86.
(7) The B.C.A. revision of Staunton's Chess Praxis rules was intended to harmonize English and Continental rules. They were drafted with the help of foreign masters including Von der Lasa and Jaenisch. The revisions did eventually help achieve the goal of harmonization, but they were badly marred by the inclusion of the "dead pawn promotion" option, in which a player was not forced to change a promoted pawn to another piece. The discussion over the revisions was complicated by the tendency of some to support the revisions solely in order to oppose Staunton, and also by the fact that Continental journals such as the Wiener Schachzeitung agreed with Staunton that the "dead pawn" rule was ridiculous.
Daniel Willard Fiske (ed.), The Book of the First American Chess Congress. New York 1859.
Hooper and Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess. 2d Edition, Oxford 1992.
Tim Harding, Eminent Victorian Chess Players - Ten Biographies. McFarland 2012.
How to pronounce Lowenthal's name, courtesy of <Annie K.>: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7UjY...