Introduction: By the mid-19th century, the center of gravity for chess had shifted from Paris to London. The Game of Kings became the game for everyone. Its popularity was augmented by the creation of chess clubs, the distribution of introductory books, columns in the general press, and magazines dedicated to the game. Interest in the game was also stirring in other countries — Germany and Hungary — whose players would eventually surpass the best English players.
Early English Players – Parsloe’s, Sarratt, Lewis: The shift from France to England started in 1772 at Parsloe’s, a chess club in London, where the Frenchman Philidor, the greatest player of the 18th century, visited annually until 1793. There he dazzled the public with exhibitions of 2-3 simultaneous blindfold games. The London Chess Club, founded in 1807, saw the greatest of the early English players : Jacob Henry Sarratt (1772-1819), who studied with Philidor’s successor Verdoni (d.1804), and Sarratt’s star pupil William Lewis (1787-1870).
The Turk: During the period 1818-19, Lewis was one of the hidden operators of The Turk, a chess playing machine also known as the Automaton Chessplayer. The Turk was built in 1769 at Vienna by Wolfgang von Kempelen (1734-1804). After von Kempelen’s death, it was bought by Johann Maelzel (1772-1838). He toured the capitals of Europe with it, including London from 1818 to 1820. In 1825 Maelzel took the Turk to New York and toured North America. It was eventually destroyed by fire in 1854.
Later English Players – Cochrane, McDonnell, George Walker: After Lewis, the strongest player in London was Scottish barrister John Cochrane (1798-1878). He lived in India from 1824 to 1969, except for the period 1841-43, when he returned to London. His successors were Belfast born Alexander McDonnell (1798-1835) and George Walker (1803-1879). Walker founded the Westminster Chess Club in 1831 and the St. George’s Club in 1843, edited England’s first chess magazine The Philidorian in 1837-38, and published numerous articles about the game.
Howard Staunton (1810-1874): The greatest of the early English players was Howard Staunton. Little is known about him before 1836, when he took up chess. He was likely born with a different name. As a young man he worked as an actor and later in life gained a reputation as a Shakespearean scholar. By 1843 he had become England’s best player. In 1847 he published ‘The Chess-Player’s Handbook’, one of the most popular chess books ever. His name was attached to the style of pieces designed by Cook and made by Jacques in 1849.
Matches between the English and the French: In 1821 Lewis travelled with Cochrane to Paris. Lewis won a 3 game match with Deschapelles, who gave odds of Pawn and move. The London players also played a triangular match with La Bourdonnais, which the Frenchman won. In 1834 McDonnell played a series of six matches against La Bourdonnais. The Frenchman won the majority of matches and of games. In 1843 Staunton lost a short match to Saint-Amant in London, but later in the year won a longer match in Paris. England now ruled the chess world.
Correspondence Matches: Around the same time the leading players were engaging in head-to-head competition — the La Bourdonnais – McDonnell and Staunton – St.Amant are now considered unofficial World Championships — the leading clubs were playing correspondence matches. Although Dutch clubs played the first such matches, Edinburgh won the most famous early match against London by +2-1=2 between 1824 and 1828. Paris won a two game match against Westminster +2-0=0 between 1834 and 1836.
The First Clubs, Magazines, Columns: Parsloe’s and the London Chess Club were among the first chess clubs to be established, eventually replacing establishments like Café de la Régence (Paris) and Slaughter’s Coffee House (London). In 1813 the first chess column appeared in a newspaper (Liverpool Mercury), and in 1823 in a periodical (Walker, Lancet). In 1836 La Bourdonnais edited La Palamède, the world’s first chess magazine. The first great libraries (J.G. White, van der Linde) were assembled 50 years later.
German Players – The Pleiades: France and England had no exclusive right to chess, and interest was gathering steam elsewhere. The Berliner Schachgesellschaft was founded in the late 1820s. Within 10 years a group of Berlin players known as the Pleiades — Ludwig Bledow (1795-1846), Wilhelm Hanstein (1811-1850), Karl Mayet (1810-1868), Bernhard Horwitz (1807-1885), Karl Schorn (1803-1850), Tassilo von Heydebrand und der Lasa (1818-1899), Paul Rudolf von Bilguer (1815-1840) — were demonstrating real talent.
Chess in other countries: America : In 1786 the first chess writing, the Morals of Chess by Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), was published in America. From 1777 to 1785, Franklin lived in Passy, just outside Paris. • The U.S. State Department considers that Franklin was the first American diplomat: ‘He served from 1776 to 1778 on a three-man commission to France charged with the critical task of gaining French support for American independence. He convinced France to recognize American independence and conclude an alliance with the 13 states in 1778. He presented his credentials to the French court in 1779, becoming the first American Minister (the 18th century equivalent of American ambassador) to be received by a foreign government.’ • While in Paris he was a keen player, appeared frequently at the Café de la Régence, and once played The Turk. Despite Franklin’s stature and support, American chess remained a backwater until Paul Morphy (1837-1884) appeared.
Eastern Europe : Other strong players appeared in Eastern Europe. • Jozsef Szen (Hungary, 1805-1857) beat La Bourdonnais in a match (1836, receiving odds of Pawn and two moves), founded the Budapest Chess Club (1839), and led a Hungarian team that beat Paris in a correspondence match (1842-1846). • Lionel Kieseritzky [Kieseritsky] (Estonia, 1806-1853) travelled to Paris (1839) where he lost a match at odds to La Bourdonnais, gave lessons at la Régence, and later beat Horwitz in a match at London (1846). • Johann Löwenthal [Loewenthal] (Hungary, 1810-1876) played on the same Hungarian team that beat Paris. Forced to flee Hungary in 1849, he sailed to New York. He met the strongest American players, played Morphy, and settled in Cincinnati.
London 1851: In 1851, these three strong European players were joined by Adolf Anderssen (Germany, 1818-1879), Mayet, Horwitz, Staunton, and other leading English players at the first international tournament, organized by Staunton in London. By the mid-19th century, the center of gravity for chess had shifted from Paris to London!