Wilhelm Steinitz was the first official World Champion of chess.
The last of thirteen sons of a hardware retailer, he was born in Prague in what was then the Kingdom of Bohemia within the Austrian Empire and which is now within the Czech republic. Like his father he was a Talmudic scholar, but then he left to study mathematics in the Vienna Polytechnic. He eventually dropped out of the Polytechnic to play chess professionally. Soon after, he played in the London tournament of 1862, and then settled in London for over twenty years, making his living at the London Chess Club. He emigrated to the USA in 1883, taking out US citizenship, living in New York for the rest of his life, and changing his first name to “William”.
He was recognized as the world's leading player, and considered to be the world champion by many, after he defeated the then-acknowledged number one chess player in the world (now that Paul Morphy had retired), Adolf Anderssen, in a match in 1866 which he won by 8-6. However, it was not until his victory in the Steinitz - Zukertort World Championship Match (1886) – where he sat beside a US flag - that he was recognised as the first undisputed world chess champion. He successfully defended his title three times in the Steinitz - Chigorin World Championship Match (1889), the Steinitz - Gunsberg World Championship Match (1890), and in the Steinitz - Chigorin World Championship Rematch (1892). In 1894, Emanuel Lasker won the crown from Steinitz by winning the Lasker - Steinitz World Championship (1894) and retained it by winning the Lasker - Steinitz World Championship Rematch (1896).
Steinitz was an extremely successful match player. Between 1860 and 1897, he played 36 matches, winning every serious match with the exception of his two matches against Lasker. Some of the prominent players of the day that he defeated in match play other than in his world championship matches included Max Lange, Serafino Dubois, Frederic Deacon, Dionisio M Martinez, Joseph Henry Blackburne, Anderssen, Augustus Mongredien, Henry Edward Bird, Johannes Zukertort, George Henry Mackenzie, and Celso Golmayo Zupide.
Steinitz was more adept at winning matches than tournaments in his early years, a factor, which alongside his prolonged absences from competition chess after 1873, may have prevented more widespread recognition of his dominance of chess as world champion until the first “official” world championship match in 1886. Nevertheless, between 1859 and his death in 1900, the only tournament in which he did not win prize money was his final tournament in London in 1899. His wins include the Vienna Championship of 1861 which he won with 30/31 and earned him the nickname the “Austrian Morphy”, the London Championship of 1862, Dublin 1865 (equal first with George Alcock MacDonnell), London 1872, equal first at Vienna 1873 and 1882 (the latter was the strongest tournament to that time, and Steinitz had just returned from 9 years of absence from tournament chess), and first in the New York Championship of 1894. Other successes include 3rd and 2nd at the Vienna Championships of 1859 and 1860 respectively, 2nd at Dundee in 1867, 3rd in Paris in 1867, 2nd in Baden Baden in 1870, 2nd in London in 1883, 5th at the Hastings super tournament in 1895, 2nd at the sextuple round robin St Petersburg quadrangular tournament behind Lasker and ahead of Harry Nelson Pillsbury and Mikhail Chigorin, 6th at Nuremburg in 1896, and 4th at Vienna in 1898.
The extent of Steinitz’s dominance in world chess is evident from the fact that from 1866, when he beat Adolf Anderssen, to 1894, when he relinquished the world crown to Emanuel Lasker, Steinitz won all his matches, sometimes by wide margins. His worst tournament performance in that period was third place in Paris in 1867. This period of Steinitz’s career was closely examined by Chessmetrics exponent and advocate, Jeff Sonas, who wrote an article in 2005 in which he found that Steinitz was further ahead of his contemporaries in the 1870s than Robert James Fischer was in his peak period (1970–1972), that he had the third-highest total number of years as the world's top player, behind Emanuel Lasker and Garry Kasparov, and that he placed 7th in a comparison the length of time great players were ranked in the world's top three.
Despite his pre-eminence in chess for those decades in the late 19th century, Steinitz’s main contribution to chess was as its first true theoretician. He rose to prominence in the 1860s on the back of highly competent handling of the romantic attacking style of chess that had been popularised by Morphy and Anderssen and which characterised the style of the era. However, in the Vienna tournament of 1873, he introduced a new positional style of play which not only commenced his run of 25 consecutive high level victories, but profoundly transformed the way chess was played from shortly after that time, when its efficacy was embraced by the chess world. It enabled him to establish his complete dominance over his long time rival, Johannes Zukertort, and to easily win the first official match for the World Championship.
Lasker summarised Steinitz’s ideas as follows:
"In the beginning of the game ignore the search for combinations, abstain from violent moves, aim for small advantages, accumulate them, and only after having attained these ends search for the combination – and then with all the power of will and intellect, because then the combination must exist, however deeply hidden."
Although these ideas were controversial and fiercely debated for some years in what has become known as the <Ink Wars>, Lasker and the next generation of the world’s best players acknowledged their debt to him.
"He was a thinker worthy of a seat in the halls of a University. A player, as the world believed he was, he was not; his studious temperament made that impossible; and thus he was conquered by a player ..." - <Emanuel Lasker>.
"He understood more about the use of squares than did Morphy, and contributed a great deal more to chess theory.' - <Bobby Fischer>.
Sources: Wikipedia article: Wilhelm Steinitz and <jessicafischerqueen>'s YouTube documentary http://www.youtube.com/playlist?lis... - in turn sourced mainly from <Kurt Landsberger's> biography "Bohemian Caesar."
Steinitz played on the following consultation teams: Steinitz / Bird / Blackburne, Steinitz / Boden, Burn / Steinitz / Zukertort, Steinitz / Allies, Steinitz / Zukertort, Schiffers / Steinitz, Steinitz / Chigorin, Steinitz / Blackburne & Blackburne / Steinitz / De Vere.