Howard Staunton[ edit ]

Howard Staunton (April 1810 - June 22 1874) was an English chess master and unofficial World Chess Champion. He was also a newspaper columnist, author, and Shakespeare an scholar. His name is remembered most today for the style of chess figures he endorsed, the Staunton pattern of chess pieces.

Little is known about the life of Staunton before his appearance on the chess scene. He said he was born in Westmorland and his fatherīs name was William. He said he was an actor as a young man, that he once played the role of Lorenzo in The Merchant of Venice and he had acted with the famous English actor Edmund Kean.

It is documented that in 1836, Staunton was in London, and he made a subscription to William Walkerīs book Games at Chess, actually played in London, by the late Alexander McDonnell Esq. Staunton was apparently twenty-six years old when he began to take a interest in the game. He said that at that time, he was a "rook player."

From age twenty-six on, he began a serious pursuit of the game. In 1838 he played many games with Captain William Evans, inventor of the Evans Gambit. He also played a match against the German chess writer Aaron Alexandre, losing.

In 1840 he began writing, doing a chess column for the New Court Gazette from May to the end of the year. He had improved sufficiently by 1840 to play and win a match with the German master Popert, which he won by a single game. He also began writing for British Miscellany which in 1841 led to his founding the chess magazine known as the Chess Playerīs Chronicle. Staunton edited the magazine until 1854, when he was succeeded by Robert Barnett Brien.

In 1842 he played hundreds of games with John Cochrane. Cochrane was a strong player, and Staunton had a good warm-up for what was to be his greatest chess achievement the following year. In 1843, Staunton played a short match with Franceīs champion, Pierre St. Amant, who was visiting London. Staunton lost the match, 3.5-2.5, but later arrangements where made for a second match, to be held in Paris. Staunton went to Paris, where from November 14 to December 20, 1843, he played a match at the Cafe de la Regence against St. Amant, beating him decisively, 13-8. After St. Amantīs defeat, no other Frenchmen arose to continue the tradition of French chess supremacy started with Philidor, and London became the chess capital of the world.

Staunton was now recognized as the worldīs strongest chess player. He went to Paris the next year to again play St. Amant, but fell ill and the match was cancelled. They never played again.

In 1845 Staunton began a chess column for the Illustrated London News, which he continued the rest of his life. According to The Oxford Companion to Chess, Stauntonīs column was the most influential chess column in the world.

Staunton played matches with lesser players at pawn and move odds now, but played even with the masters Horwitz and Harrwitz in 1846, beating each in matches.

In 1847 Staunton wrote his most famous work, The Chess-Playerīs Handbook, which didnīt go out of print until 1993. Another book, The Chess-Playerīs Companion followed in 1849.

In 1849, a chess set designed by Nathaniel Cook was registered, and manufacturing rights obtained by John Jaques. Staunton advertised the new set in his chess column in the Illustrated London News. Each set was sold with a pamphlet written by Staunton, and Staunton received a royalty on each set sold. The design was very attractive, became popular, and Staunton men have become the standard set for both professional and amateur chess players ever since.

In 1851, London was to be the host of the Great Exhibition, and Londonīs thriving chess community, the worldīs most active, felt obligated to do something similar for chess. Staunton then took it upon himself to organise the worldīs first chess tournament, to be held in London along with the Great Exhibition. The idea was to invite the worldīs leading masters to compete, and showcase chess the way the Great Exhibition was showcasing the worldīs technology and culture.

London 1851 was a success, though Staunton perhaps was disappointed, as he was knocked out of the battle for first place by the eventual winner, Adolf Anderssen, then beaten for the runner-up prize by his former pupil Elijah Williams. It is clear that Stauntonīs best playing days were now over, but his reputation as the worldīs leading chess authority was bolstered among amateurs by his books and his self-promotion in his chess columns. Still, Staunton had some fight left in him, as later that year he took revenge on Williams by beating him, six wins to four with one draw, as well as crushing Karl Jaenisch in a match, seven wins to two, with one draw.

In 1852 Staunton wrote a book about London 1851 titled, The Chess Tournament.
The title page to that book read, "By H. Staunton, Esq., author of The Handbook of Chess, Chess-players Companion, &c.&c.&c" to which in 1853 a fifteen or sixteen-year-old lad named Paul Morphy scribbled in his copy, "and some devilish bad games". In 1874 Morphy was more polite, and gave his estimate that Stauntonīs best gift was not in playing chess, but as a theoretician and analyst.

In 1853 Staunton made a trip to Brussels to meet with Baron Tassilo von Heydebrand und der Lasa. They discussed the standardization of the rules of chess, and played a short match, which ended in the baronīs favor, five wins to four with three draws.

By 1856 Staunton was beginning to withdraw from chess and turn to writing about Shakespeare as his main occupation. He secured a contract with a publisher to create an annotated edition of the great bardīs works. Unfortunately, Stauntonīs ego would not allow him to let go of his desire to be in the top ranks of chess mastery, but privately he must have sensed that the standard of play of the top masters was rapidly improving, and his was not. Staunton entered the fray again by playing in a tournament held in Birmingham in 1858, under the auspices of the new British Chess Association. Staunton didnīt get far, being knocked out by Johann Löwenthal in two straight games.

Birmingham 1858 was to be Stauntonīs last public chess competition. Staunton refused to play Paul Morphy in public during the latterīs visit to England in 1858, saying he was too busy working on his Shakespeare annotations. True to his word, he now concentrated on writing on Shakespeare and chess. By 1860 his edition of Shakespeare had been published. Staunton considered it a great work, but modern day critics do not agree, and Staunton is an obscure name in modern Shakespearean scholarship. Staunton also published in 1860 a book titled Chess Praxis, which to take advantage of the publicīs desire for Morphy material had over 168 pages of the Americanīs games annotated by Staunton.

Staunton published many articles on Shakespeare in 1864 and 1865. His final book was Great Schools of England published in 1865. He was working on yet another chess book, when his life came to an end. He died at his desk in his library. His final book was published posthumously in 1876 under the editorship of R.B. Wormald, and titled Chess: Theory and Practice.

A memorial plaque now hangs at his old residence of 117 Lansdowne Road, London W11. In 1997 a memorial stone bearing an engraving of a chess knight was raised to mark his grave at Kensal Green Cemetery in London. Prior to this his grave had been unmarked.


Further reading
  • The Worldīs Great Chess Games by Reuben Fine; Dover; 1983. ISBN 0486245128

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