"Why," asks our longtime problem solver, Eugene Wagstaff of Gunnison, "didn't you include the name of Howard Staunton on the list of world champions you published a few weeks ago? How did he figure he was champion in the first place, besides proclaiming himself champion?"
Staunton, the British chess player, was generally considered the world's best player from 1843 to 1851.He was believed to be the out-of-wedlock son of Frederick Howard, fifth Earl of Carlisle, and was brought up in poverty with little education. Eventually Staunton established himself as an eminent Shakespearean scholar.
He learned to play chess in his early 20s and became London's strongest player within a few years. In 1836 he lost some games to Saint-Amant, France's strongest player, on a visit by the latter to London. He had his revenge in 1843.
Staunton was then recognized as the world's best player, but he was at his peak form for a very brief time. Within a year he suffered an attack of pneumonia that permanently weakened his health.
Nevertheless, Staunton still managed to play. In 1846 he defeated Bernhard Horwitz and Daniel Harrwitz - the top German players.
Staunton's style of play seems curiously modern in that he preferred closed games, as shown by his preference for the English Opening and Sicilian Defense.
In 1840 he founded and edited the monthly Chess Players' Chronicle and used this and his chess column in the Illustrated London News (which he wrote from 1844 until his death) to indulge in heated polemics with his contemporaries.
In 1847 his book "The Chess Players' Handbook" (based on the "Handbuch des Schachspiels") was published and became the standard English guide to chess for several generations.
It was followed in 1849 by the "Chess Players' Companion" and in 1860 by "Chess Praxis."
Staunton dominated and enlivened the British chess scene. His irascibility constantly led to disputes with his fellow chess players, while his vanity led to new ventures, such as the first telegraph chess match.
He organized the first modern chess tournament, known in history asthe "Great Exhibition Tournament."
Staunton, naturally, expected to win. But he was knocked out in the semifinals by Adolf Anderssen of Germany, who won the tournament and became recognized as the world's strongest player.
From this point Staunton played less chess. In 1854 he sold the Chess Players Chronicle to concentrate on his Shakespearean researches.
He was working on these when he was challenged to a match by America's great Paul Morphy. Staunton gave the impression that he was willing to play the match eventually but constantly delayed meeting Morphy and finally backed out. He should undoubtedly have stated earlier (as all biographers have written) that he was unwilling to play.
Throughout the balance of his life Staunton continued in this manner, engaging in bitter feuds and promoting chess. By the time of his death, Britain was the leading chess nation, and this must largely have been due to him. He died on June 22, 1874.
The chess title of "World Champion" was not considered to be official prior to Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900) although there is no doubt that several players before him (notably Staunton, Anderssen and Morphy) were, in fact, the leading players of their day and most certainly deserve to be considered world champions.
Staunton's name will live on, of course, by his name being attached to the only style of chess pieces officially permitted for use in International Chess Federation (FIDE) events.
They were designed in 1835 by Nathaniel Cook, who, in 1852, persuaded Staunton that they should be called "Staunton" chess pieces and sold with a facsimile of his signature on the box of each set. In 1900 Cook's firm was taken over by John Jacques & Son Ltd., which still markets Staunton sets.
Contemporary Staunton chess pieces are essentially unchanged from the original sets.
- CONGRATULATIONS TO THE SOLVERS! - Jim Reed, Stanley Hunt, Alison Hermance, Edwin O. Smith, Hal Knight, Hal Harmon, David Moody, Ashley Ann Graves, Kay Lundstrom, Ardean Watts, Ted Pathakis, Kim Barney, William DeVroom, Raeburn Kennard, Nathan Kennard, Aaron T. Kennard, Gordon Green, Eugene Wagstaff, Ramon E. Bassett, Jack Crandall, Russell Anderson, Camrie Copier, Robert W. Lee and Richard Schow.