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Meet Herr Löwenthal

One of the "Old Masters" from the pre-modern era of chess is Johann Jacob Löwenthal, a name largely forgotten today - or remembered if at all for losing a chess match against Paul Morphy. Recall that after young Morphy introduced himself by winning the First American Chess Congress (November, 1857) he followed up with a European tour, arriving June of 1858 in London. There Morphy was unable to arrange a match with Howard Staunton, and after some off-hand and exhibition games versus the local experts, a match with Löwenthal was begun in July. The end result of the contest was a convincing win for Morphy, who scored 9 wins with 3 losses and 2 draws.

After this Morphy-Löwenthal match the American's fame was established, partly because Löwenthal's own reputation was so great. Although he was Hungarian by birth, political circumstances forced Löwenthal to immigrate, and he arrived in America in 1849 before settling in London a couple years later. It is interesting that Löwenthal visited New Orleans in May of 1850 and played at least 2 games with the thirteen year old Paul Morphy, gaining one draw and losing the other game. Philip Sergeant, in his book "Morphy's Games of Chess", describes Löwenthal as "...the Hungarian master, who, if he still had to make his name as a tournament player and an analyst, was already known in chess circles as an expert."

Sergeant seems to be saying that in 1850 Löwenthal was not yet Löwenthal, and indeed his greatest successes lay ahead. But the Hungarian was already 40 years old, an experienced chess professional who had won a match against Carl Hamppe in Vienna (1846), scoring 5 wins to 4 loses. And by the time Löwenthal lost his London 1858 match with Morphy the older man was a respected chess journalist and current editor of the Era's chess column; indeed, it was only in August of the previous year that Löwenthal had defeated Adolf Anderssen in Manchester during the first meeting of the British Chess Association. Immediately following his loss at the hands of Morphy, the BCA Chess Congress met in Birmingham (August, 1858) resulting in victory for Löwenthal, who knocked out Howard Staunton and Ernst Falkbeer to win the tournament.

Löwenthal continued his literary efforts, and in 1860 he published "Morphy's Games of Chess, with Analytical and Critical Notes". This important work was followed by Löwenthal's most lasting legacy, for in 1862 London gathered all the top chess masters for a Grand International Chess Tournament, and the production of the official tournament book was entrusted to Löwenthal. A little-studied masterpiece, this tournament record amounts to a time capsule of chess life in the mid-nineteenth century, complete with problems and games from chess associations all over the continent. Below are three almost random games from this book, "The Chess Congress of 1862" (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1864), which illustrate Löwenthal's skill at chess analysis and commentary.

London 1862

[Event "Grand Tournament"] [Site "London"] [Date "1862.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Anderssen, Adolf"] [Black "Mongredien, Augustus"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B06"] [Annotator "Lowenthal, J."] [PlyCount "87"] [EventDate "1862.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [Source "Pickard & Son"] [SourceDate "2008.01.01"] 1. e4 g6 {[This move has until recently, been seldom adopted in actual play. We believe that it affords a safe defense, although it has received so little attention at the hands of the authors. In a work published not long ago ("Strategie Raisonnee"), the authors allude to it briefly; the game before us forms a good specimen of the debut.]} 2. d4 Bg7 3. f4 e6 4. Nf3 b6 5. c4 Bb7 6. Nc3 Ne7 7. Bd3 d6 8. O-O O-O 9. Be3 Nd7 10. f5 Qe8 {[A move well calculated to frustrate White's contemplated advance of Nf3-g5.]} 11. Ng5 {[The sacrifice of the pawn seems to us hazardous, seeing that no equivalent is obtained either in force or position.]} exf5 12. Qd2 ({White could not venture to take the pawn } 12. exf5 {as Black would in that case get a strong game by retaking with} Nxf5 {etc.}) 12... fxe4 13. Ngxe4 Nf5 {[Very well conceived. This move gives Black such a marked superiority in position, that, with ordinary care, the result could not be doubtful. Readers may examine the position, which we append on a diagram.]} 14. Rxf5 ({The force of Black's last move will now be more fully appreciated. White is compelled to give up the Exchange, and that only to relieve himself from immediate pressure. 14.Bf2 would have lost the d-pawn, and if} 14. Rf3 {then} Nxe3 15. Qxe3 f5 {and Black wins two pawns besides the Exchange.}) 14... gxf5 15. Ng3 f4 16. Bxf4 Bxd4+ 17. Kh1 Bxc3 18. bxc3 f6 19. Re1 Ne5 20. Nf5 Qh5 21. Nh6+ Kh8 22. Bc2 Rg8 ({We consider this a useless sacrifice.} 22... Rae8 {would have been the correct move.}) 23. Nxg8 Rxg8 24. Re2 Qg4 ({A weak move that totally changes the aspect of the game. We believe that Black might still have kept the advantage by taking} 24... Nxc4) ( {There are some highly interesting variations springing from Black's playing either 24...Qf3, or 24...Nf3, which deserves a careful study, and we accordingly append a diagram of the position. In the first place} 24... Qf3 25. gxf3 ({best; if} 25. Be3 Qf1+ 26. Bg1 Nf3 27. Qd1 Ne1 {winning without difficulty}) (25. Kg1 Nxc4 26. Bg3 Nxd2 27. gxf3 Nxf3+ {having three pawns ahead}) (25. Rf2 Rxg2 {and we cannot see how White could save the game}) 25... Nxf3 26. Qe3 {(But for this lucky resource White's game would be inevitably lost.)} Nd2+ 27. Be4 Bxe4+ 28. Qxe4 Nxe4 29. Rxe4 {etc.}) ({In the second place } 24... Nf3 25. Qe3 ({The only move to escape with a drawn battle, as we will shew in the variations} 25. Qd3 Ne1 26. Rxe1 Rxg2 27. Qxh7+ Qxh7 28. Bxh7 Kxh7 {and wins}) (25. Qd1 Nh4 26. Qd4 Rxg2 27. Qxf6+ Rg7+ 28. Be4 Bxe4+ 29. Rxe4 Qf3# {mate}) 25... Nh4 26. Qe7 Nxg2 {and White can only draw.}) 25. Bg3 Qh5 26. Kg1 Rxg3 {[A bold conception which might have succeeded against a less doughty antagonist.]} 27. hxg3 Ng4 28. Re7 {[The correct move, and one which at once decided the issue of the contest.]} Qh2+ 29. Kf1 Qh1+ 30. Ke2 Qxg2+ 31. Kd1 Qf1+ 32. Qe1 Bf3+ 33. Kd2 Qxe1+ 34. Kxe1 c6 35. Rxh7+ Kg8 36. Rxa7 Ne5 37. Bf5 Kf8 38. Be6 Be4 39. Kd2 f5 40. Ke3 Ke8 41. Kf4 Bd3 42. Bxf5 Bxc4 43. Kg5 Nf7+ 44. Kf6 {[And wins.]} 1-0 [Event "Grand Tournament"] [Site "London"] [Date "1862.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Barnes, Thomas Wilson"] [Black "Green, Valentine"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "C64"] [Annotator "Lowenthal, J."] [PlyCount "135"] [EventDate "1862.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [Source "Pickard & Son"] [SourceDate "2008.01.01"] 1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Bc5 {[We have repeatedly expressed our opinion of the inferiority of this move, and it is somewhat surprising to see it adopted by an amateur who is thoroughly conversant with the theory of the openings.]} 4. O-O Qf6 5. c3 Nge7 6. Bxc6 {[A good move, preparing for the advance of the d-pawn.]} Nxc6 7. d4 exd4 8. e5 Qg6 9. cxd4 Bb6 10. Nc3 Qh5 {[Looking after the safety of the Queen.]} 11. d5 Nd8 12. Ne4 O-O 13. Ng3 Qg4 14. Kh1 { [Preparatory to playing h2-h3.]} d6 15. h3 Qd7 16. Bf4 dxe5 17. Nxe5 Qe7 18. Qh5 f6 19. Ng4 Qf7 20. Qh4 {[There is a freshness and originality in the style of Mr. Barnes' games, which render their perusal highly entertaining.]} Qxd5 ( 20... g5 {would have been fatal, because White would have taken} 21. Bxg5 {and Black, in retaking} fxg5 {exposes himself to the terrible move of} 22. Nh6+) 21. Nh5 Bxg4 22. Qxg4 Qf7 23. Rae1 {[%csl Ye6] [White plays this game with decided ability, and maintains his advantage to the end. This move prevents Black's playing his Knight to e6, and enables White to play the Bishop to h6.]} Nc6 24. Bh6 {[The diagram that follows shows the position of the forces after White's 24th move.]} Ne5 25. Qxg7+ Qxg7 26. Bxg7 Rf7 27. Bxf6 Nd3 28. Re2 Raf8 29. Rd2 Nc5 30. Bh4 Ne4 31. Re2 Nxf2+ 32. Bxf2 Bxf2 ({Here Black missed a good chance of obtaining at least an even game: he should have taken} 32... Rxf2 { forcing the exchange of both Rooks, and then brought out his King.}) 33. g4 Bd4 34. Rxf7 Rxf7 35. Kg2 Kf8 36. Ng3 c5 37. Nf5 a6 38. Rd2 Rd7 39. Kf3 Ke8 40. Nxd4 cxd4 41. Ke4 Rg7 42. Rxd4 h5 43. Kf5 hxg4 44. hxg4 Rf7+ 45. Kg6 Rf2 46. Rb4 b5 47. g5 Kf8 48. Rb3 Rg2 49. Rf3+ Ke8 50. Rb3 Kf8 51. a3 Rf2 52. Rb4 Rg2 53. Rf4+ Ke8 54. b3 Rg3 55. Rb4 Kf8 56. a4 bxa4 57. bxa4 Ra3 58. Kf6 Rf3+ 59. Ke6 Re3+ 60. Kf5 Rf3+ 61. Rf4 {[The termination forms an instructive end game. White's play could hardly be improved.]} Rg3 62. Ke5+ Kg8 63. Rf5 Rg4 64. a5 Kg7 65. Kd6 Kg6 66. Rc5 Rxg5 67. Rxg5+ Kxg5 68. Kc6 1-0 [Event "Grand Tournament"] [Site "London"] [Date "1862.??.??"] [Round "?"] [White "Steinitz, Wilhelm"] [Black "Barnes, Thomas Wilson"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B40"] [Annotator "Lowenthal, J."] [PlyCount "65"] [EventDate "1862.??.??"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventCountry "ENG"] [Source "Pickard & Son"] [SourceDate "2008.01.01"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. Be2 ({[Mr. Steinitz preferred bringing out the Bishop to playing} 3. d4 {perhaps because he apprehended the Anderssen counter attack} Nf6) 3... g6 4. O-O Bg7 5. Nc3 a6 6. e5 f5 {[To prevent 7.Ne4.]} 7. b3 Nh6 8. Na4 Qc7 9. Ba3 Bf8 10. d4 b6 11. dxc5 {[The series of moves which follow show the correctness of Mr. Steinitz's play.]} bxc5 12. Qd2 Nf7 13. Qc3 Nc6 14. Rfe1 Nfxe5 15. Nxe5 Nxe5 16. Bc4 {[The sacrifice here was justified by the cramped position of Black's forces.]} Nxc4 17. Qxh8 Nxa3 18. Qxh7 {[The game has now reached a stage of remarkable interest, which is enhanced by the spirit with which the after-game is conducted by Mr. Steinitz.]} Qc6 ({Had Black taken} 18... Nxc2 {he would at least have lost the Queen, e.g.} 19. Rxe6+ dxe6 ({Best. If} 19... Kd8 {White mates in 8}) 20. Qxc7 Nxa1 21. Qc6+ {winning.}) 19. Rad1 d5 (19... d6 {would have been safer play.}) 20. Nb6 {[White prosecutes the attack with unabated vigour. We doubt, however, the soundness of this sacrifice, and suspect that Black with correct play might have turned the tables upon his opponent.]} Qxb6 21. Qxg6+ Kd8 22. Qf6+ Kc7 ({Let us suppose, instead of so playing, Black had interposed the Bishop} 22... Be7 23. Rxd5+ Bd7 ({if} 23... Ke8 24. Qh8+ Kf7 {[best]} 25. Qh7+ Ke8 26. Qg8+ Bf8 27. Rxf5 Qd6 28. Qf7+ {remaining with an equivalent for the lost piece}) 24. Qh8+ Kc7 { (best)} 25. Rxd7+ Kxd7 26. Qxa8 {etc.}) 23. Qxf8 Qd6 24. Qg7+ Bd7 25. c4 d4 ({ This step loses the game speedily. He should have played} 25... Nc2 {instead, having still the superior force.}) 26. b4 Nc2 27. bxc5 Qxc5 28. Rxe6 Qf8 29. Qe5+ Kc8 30. Rb1 {[Finely conceived, forcing the game in a few moves.]} Nb4 ({ The position merits a diagram, from which the following variation may be examined:} 30... Bxe6 31. Qxe6+ Kc7 ({best; if} 31... Kd8 32. Rb7 {and wins}) 32. Qb6+ Kd7 {(best)} 33. Qb7+ Kd6 34. Rb6+ Ke5 ({best; if} 34... Kc5 35. Qc7# {mate}) 35. Qd5+ Kf4 36. Rg6 {and mates next move.}) 31. Rf6 Qe8 32. Qc5+ Bc6 33. Rf8 {[And after a few more moves, Black resigns.]} 1-0

Any chess player today can benefit from exploring the life and times of "second tier" masters. The complete Löwenthal-Morphy match is annotated by Philip Sergent in "Morphy's Games of Chess", available from ChessCentral as a modern digital download.