Martin Severin Janus From achieved lasting fame by analysing the gambit 1.f4 e5 which he played against Magnus Oscar Mollerstrom in 1862. Subsequently it became known as From's Gambit.
"The name at least of the inventor of the From Gambit is well known
in this country ; but very few of his games have been recorded in English
periodicals, and no mention of his recent death occurs, so far as we are
aware, in chess columns. It is thought therefore that the following notice
from the Tidsskrift for Skak, Copenhagen, specially translated for the
B. C. M by Mr. Erik Edling of Grangesberg, will prove not without interest
to our readers.
MARTIN SEVERIN JANUS FROM, inspector of the penitentiary of Christianshavn, Denmark, was born at Nakskov, 8th April. 1828, and received his first instruction at the grammar school of Nykjobing. He was gifted with a rare intelligence, and made rapid progress in his studies; but through his precocious and strongly developed independence of character he became involved in a dispute with his teachers, and left school without passing his examinations for the University. On the breaking-out, soon after, of the war with Germany for the possession of Schleswig, he entered the army as a volunteer, served in the brigade of Colonel Rye, of the 6th battalion, and, among other actions, was present at the battle fought for the redoubt of Trelde, on the 6th of July, 1849, at Fredericia.
At the end of the war he settled at Copenhagen, where he was employed in the Statistical Bureau, and shortly afterwards in the office for prison management, and to the central office of that institution he remained attached for the rest of his life. His work there was marked by singular ability, zeal, and interest, and, as we are told from the most competent quarters, "was combined with an unrivalled knowledge of every detail of the history of our prison System." From the year 1890 he was inspector of the penitentiary of Christianshavn.
While in the Statistical Office From made the acquaintance of O. Møllerstrøm, who then (1851) was the strongest chess player of Copenhagen, and by him he was initiated into the mysteries of the chess board. It was soon apparent that he was possessed of no common aptitude for the game, and, to the great surprise of his instructor, after the lapse of but one year, he turned out more than a match for him. From that moment and during the course of the following twenty years, the period within which his career as a chess player properly falls, he was without a rival among the chess players of the North, and when in the year 1865 the new Copenhagen Chess Club was organized, he, as a matter of course, became its president. Among Danish players who at this time came nearest to him may be cited G. Nielsen, S. A. Sørensen, and Ludvig With. He never chanced to break a lance with H. Miller, who left Copenhagen in the same year, 1851, and went to Jutland.
From's play showed an acute eye for position, it was always spirited, often ingenious, and, as a rule, of a strongly aggressive nature, in the style of Morphy. Like this prince of the chess board, and in opposition to the principles of Philidor, From had a preference for the open game, and, in the opening, considered the Pawns rather as an obstacle than as a support in the attack of the pieces. One Pawn, however, the King's Bishop's Pawn, was a favourite with both of them-it is spared and protected, later on to be brought forward as a sacrifice or a menace, alike pernicious to the adversary, on f 5 (f 4), and the art with which this is accomplished is often admirable.
It is therefore very characteristic that From, like Morphy, scarcely ever
plays King's Gambit, neither Knight nor Bishop Gambit, whereas gambits on the Queen's side occur constantly. From's play combined rapidity with soundness, and he very seldom committed a blunder. However, the energetic brainwork which he put into his play affected his nerves, and after a protracted game with an able adversary he was not quite in good form. With the constructive theory of chess he occupied himself only as far as it interested him to discover new points of view, and to enter upon a new course, but his general knowledge of the theory of the openings was altogether very limited. It may be owing to these circumstances that at the great tournament in Paris, 1867, he did not arrive at a result corresponding to his real strength, such as it appeared in single combats with v. Heydebrand u. d. Lasa, and other prominent foreign masters.
Among From's excursions into the department of theory may be particularly noticed the strengthening of the defence against "the Muzio Gambit," analysed by friends of his in Deutsche Schachzeitung, 1862; the valuable variations which principally through his games have been won for our "Northern Gambit," but more especially the remarkable play in the counter gambit 1 P-K B 4, P-K4, which bears his name, and has rendered it celebrated far and wide in the chess world.* He died at Copenhagen, on the 6th of May, 1895, aged 67.
*See the thorough analysis, by G. Nielsen and S. A. Sørensen, in Nordisk Skaktidende, 1874." (1)
A modern perspective:
"From was one of the initiators who founded the "Københavns Skakforening" in 1865. How did this happen?
C. OLSEN: An old chess club, which had previously existed in Copenhagen, was forced to fold in 1847 because of a tax imposed by the authorities on the club. With the entry into force of the Grundlov of 1849, the free Danish constitution with its catalog of basic civil rights, freedom of association was also guaranteed. This created the basis for the establishment of a new chess club, but before 1865 nobody had sufficient authority and charisma to bring together the strongest chess players of the kingdom under the umbrella of a club.
Can From, who was elected as the first chairman of the "Københavns Skakforening", be named founder of modern chess in Denmark?
C. OLSEN: His role would probably be overrated. From was the leading Danish player in the 60s of the 19th century, so it was obvious to choose him as chairman. He held office until 1873." (2)
(1) British Chess Magazine, July 1885, pp. 304-305.
(2) Translated extract from: "Who invented From's Gambit?", an interview with Danish historian Claus Olsen, http://de.chessbase.com/post/wer-er...
(3) There is a Danish-language biography: "Skakspilleren Severin From 1828-95" by Claus Olsen (ISBN 87-986632-0-8)-
Wikipedia article: Martin Severin From