photo of Adolf Anderssen (July 6, 1818 – March 13, 1879)
During the 19th century (especially from 1851-1870), the style of chess was marked by tactical play and daring sacrifices. Indeed, it was considered ungentlemanly to refuse a gambit. One of the most popular opening moves was the King’s Gambit accepted. In this, white offers a pawn in exchange for establishing firmer control of the center of the board.
Chessmasters often met in coffeehouses, where their matches were not methodical and defensive, but fast-paced, filled with fearless, bold attacks. Winning did not matter as much as winning with style.
Some of the leading Romantic chess players included such notables as Paul Murphy and Henry Blackburne. But it was Adolf Anderssen whose “Evergreen Game” and “Immortal Game” have gone down in history as two of the most beautiful chess games ever seen.
The latter was played on June 21st, 1851 against Lionel Kieseritzky at the Simpson’s-in-the-Strand divan in London, England. During the match, Anderssen sacrificed his queen, both rooks, and a bishop. At the end, Kieseritzky was greatly ahead in both material and points-still possessing his queen, two rooks, and a bishop. However, Anderssen’s seemingly insane gambits had forced his opponent into a corner unable to defend. Thus, Anderssen declared, “checkmate” using his three remaining, weaker pieces.
The Romantic style of chess fell out of favor when Wilhelm Steinitz (the first Chess World Champion) embraced positional play over tactical.
Yet, the exhilarating rapid attacks and brash heroics of the Romantics remain forever in lore.