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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Howard Staunton

Staunton around 1850
     About all I knew about Staunton was: 1) he was famous for the Staunton chess pieces. I thought he invented them, but he didn't. In 1849 he endorsed the chess set designed by Nathaniel Cook and manufactured by his brother-in-law, John Jacques. Staunton recommended the sets in the Illustrated London News and it became known as the Staunton pattern. See the article The Conventional Chess Sets from 1700 to the introduction of the Staunton Design (1849) HERE
     I also knew he 2) refused to play Morphy and 3) he was a Shakespearean scholar and 4) he organized the first chess tournament in London in 1851. But, I admit it...I never played over any of his games...at least not until the last few days; I've been going over some of them. Along the way I also discovered that he was a pretty interesting guy! 
     I discovered there is a Howard Staunton Society in England. That shouldn't have surprised me. Over the course of my career in the working world I worked closely with the British for a number of years and they have a society for just about everything...that's not a criticism...they just do. 
     In addition to the above mentioned exploits Staunton also wrote a 517 page book on the history of English public schools. It was titled The Great Schools of England: An Account of the Foundation, Endowments, and Discipline of the Chief Seminaries of Learning in England; Including Eton, Winchester, Westminster, St. Paul's, Charter-House, Merchant Taylors', Harrow, Rugby, Shrewsbury, Etc., Etc. That one must have been a good read!
     Staunton (April 1810 – 22 June 1874) is regarded as having been the world's strongest player from 1843 to 1851, largely as a result of his 1843 victory over Saint-Amant. He may have been the illegitimate son of the Frederick Howard, fifth Earl of Carlisle. Also, it appears that Howard Staunton may not have been his real name. 
     From 1840 onward he became a leading chess commentator, and won matches against top players of the 1840s. In 1847 he entered a parallel career as a Shakespearean scholar. Ill health and his two writing careers led him to give up competitive chess after 1851. In 1858 attempts were made to organize a match between Staunton and Morphy, but they failed. It is alleged that Staunton deliberately misled Morphy while trying to avoid the match, but it is also possible his claims of other pressing obligations were true.
     Modern commentators consider Staunton's understanding of positional play to have been far ahead of his contemporaries. Although not an all-out attacking player, he attacked when his preparations were complete. His chess articles and books were widely read and encouraged the development of chess in the United Kingdom, and his Chess-Player's Handbook (1847) was a reference for decades. The English Opening and Staunton Gambit were named for his advocacy of them. 
     Staunton has been a controversial figure since his own time, and his chess writings could be spiteful. On the other hand, he maintained good working relationships with several strong players and influential chess enthusiasts, and demonstrated excellent management skills. Edward Winter has an interesting article titled Attacks on Howard Staunton.
     He was already a very strong player be 1836 when he arrived in London and in 1838 joined the Old Westminster Chess Club and lost matches to Captain W.D. Evans and Alexandre but two years later he defeated Popert in a match. From May to December he wrote a chess column in the New Court Gazette and was elected Secretary of the Westminster chess club. 
     In 1841 he became the editor of the British Miscellany which became the Chess Player's Chronicle, England's first successful chess magazine. He remained the editor until 1854. 
     In 1842 he played several hundred games with Cochrane and the following year he lost a match to France's leading player, Saint-Amant. In November, Staunton arrived in to Paris to begin another match with Saint-Amant which he won by a wide margin. The following year he was back in Paris for yet another match, but he caught pneumonia and the match was canceled. 
     In 1845 he became the chess columnist for the Illustrated London News, a position he held until his death: 29 years. In 1846 he defeated Horwitz and Harrwitz in matches. In 1847 he published the Chess-Player's Handbook and in 1849 he published the Chess-Player's Companion and Chess Player's Text Book. He also got married in 1849. 
     In 1851 he organized the world's first international tournament during the "Great Exhibition of Art and Industry" in London. Staunton was knocked out in the 3rd round by Anderssen, who won the 16-player knockout event. The following year Staunton published a book on the tournament. 
     In 1853 he went to Brussels to meet with v.d. Lasa, the German leading chess authority, to standardize the rules of chess. In 1856 he began work on an annotated edition of Shakespeare's plays that was published in monthly installments from November 1857 to May 1860. That was his reason why in 1858 he refused to play a match with Morphy; his publishers would consider it a breach of contract if he did not produce his regular articles.
     He was still working on chess though because in 1860 he published Chess Praxis, which included 168 pages devoted to Morphy's games as well as a code of chess rules. In 1865 he published Great Schools and edited another monthly chess magazine called The Chess World which he published until 1869. 
     Another little known fact about Staunton was that he also had an interest in correspondence chess and chess played by telegraph which was a fairly new invention at the time. 
     On June 22, 1874 Staunton was working on another chess book when he suffered a fatal heart attack and died in his library chair in London.


    Keene has written an interesting book on Staunton.  Here's a cute miniature that's a good lesson on how easy it is to miscalculate and overlook a simple tactic.

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