After his defeat by Steinitz in 1866, Anderssen became the most successful tournament player in Europe, winning over half the events he entered—including the Baden-Baden 1870 chess tournament, one of the strongest tournaments of the era. He achieved most of these successes when he was over the age of 50.
Anderssen is famous even today for his brilliant sacrificial attacking play, particularly in the "Immortal Game" (1851) and the "Evergreen Game" (1852). He was a very important figure in the development of chess problems, driving forward the transition from the "Old School" of problem composition to the elegance and complexity of modern compositions.
He was also one of the most likeable of chess masters and became an "elder statesman" of the game, to whom others turned for advice or arbitration.
Anderssen was born in Breslau (now called Wrocław), in the Prussian Province of Silesia, in 1818. He lived there for most of his life, sharing a house with and supporting his widowed mother and his unmarried sister. Anderssen never married. He graduated from the public gymnasium (high school) in Breslau and then attended university, where he studied mathematics and philosophy. After graduating in 1847 at the age of 29, he took a position at the Friedrichs-Gymnasium as an instructor and later as Professor of Mathematics. Anderssen lived a quiet, stable, responsible, respectable middle-class life. His career was teaching mathematics, while his hobby and passion was playing chess.
When Anderssen was nine years old, his father taught him how to play chess. Anderssen said that as a boy, he learned the strategy of the game from a copy of William Lewis' book Fifty Games between Labourdonnais and McDonnell (1835).
Anderssen first came to the attention of the chess world when he published Aufgabe für Schachspieler ("Task for chess players"), a collection of 60 chess problems, in 1842. He continued to publish problems for many years, both in magazines and as a second collection in 1852. These brought him to the attention of the "Berlin Pleiades" group, which included some of the strongest players of the time, and he played matches against some of them. Anderssen's development as a player was relatively slow, largely because he could spare neither the time nor the money to play many matches against strong players. Nevertheless, by 1846 he was able to put up a good fight against another Pleiades member, Tassilo von Heydebrand und der Lasa, who may have been the world's strongest player at the time. In 1846, he became the editor of the magazine Schachzeitung der Berliner Schachgesellschaft (later called Deutsche Schachzeitung) when its founder Ludwig Bledow, one of the "Berlin Pleiades", died. Anderssen held this post until 1865.
In 1848 Anderssen drew a match with the professional player Daniel Harrwitz. On the basis of this match and his general chess reputation, he was invited to represent German chess at the first international chess tournament, to be held in London in 1851. Anderssen was reluctant to accept the invitation, as he was deterred by the travel costs. However the tournament's principal organizer, Howard Staunton, offered to pay Anderssen's travel expenses out of his own pocket if necessary, should Anderssen fail to win a tournament prize. Anderssen accepted this generous offer.
Anderssen's preparations for the 1851 London International Tournament produced a surge in his playing strength: he played over 100 games in early 1851 against strong opponents including Carl Mayet, Ernst Falkbeer, Max Lange and Jean Dufresne. The 1851 International Tournament was a knock-out event in which pairs of competitors played short matches, and Anderssen won it by beating Lionel Kieseritzky, József Szén, Staunton, and Marmaduke Wyvill – by margins of at least two games in every case. His prize was two-thirds of the total prize fund of £500, i.e. about £335; that is equivalent to about £240,000 ($370,200) in 2006's money. When Anderssen and Szén found they were to play each other, they agreed that, if either won the tournament, the other would receive one-third of the prize; this does not appear to have been considered in any way unethical.
Although most chess books regard Wilhelm Steinitz as the first true world champion, one of the organizers of the 1851 London International tournament had said the contest was for "the baton of the World’s Chess Champion". In fact Anderssen was not described as "the world champion", but the tournament established Anderssen as the world's leading chess player, at the time it had same meaning. The London Chess Club, which had fallen out with Staunton and his colleagues, organized a tournament that was played a month later and included several players who had competed in the International Tournament. The result was the same – Anderssen won.
Opportunities for tournament play remained rare, and Anderssen was reluctant to travel far because of the expense. In his one recorded tournament between 1851 and 1862, a one-game-per-round knock-out tournament at Manchester in 1857, he was eliminated in the second round. Then in late 1858 he was beaten 8–3 by the American champion Paul Morphy in a famous match held in Paris, France (two wins, two draws, seven losses). Although Anderssen knew as well as anyone how to attack, Morphy understood much better when to attack and how to prepare an attack. Morphy had recently scored equally convincing wins in matches against other top-class players: Johann Löwenthal, the Rev. John Owen and Daniel Harrwitz. However Morphy returned to the USA in 1859 and soon afterwards announced his retirement from serious chess. Hence Anderssen was once again the strongest active player.
Anderssen played the curious opening move 1. a3 in three games of his match against Morphy, and broke even with it (one loss, one draw, one win). This opening move, now referred to as "Anderssen's Opening", has never been popular in serious competition.
Shortly after the 1851 London International tournament, Anderssen played his two most famous games, both casual encounters which he won by combinations that involved several sacrifices. In the first, as Black, but moving first, against Lionel Kieseritzky in London just after the International tournament (1851) and now called the "Immortal Game", he sacrificed a bishop, both rooks and finally his queen. In the second, played in Berlin in 1852 as white against Jean Dufresne and now called the "Evergreen Game", the total sacrifice was more modest, but still exceeded a queen and a minor piece.
After the match with Morphy, Anderssen played two matches against Ignác Kolisch, one of the leading players of the time, who later became a wealthy banker and patron of chess. Anderssen drew their match in 1860 and narrowly won in 1861 (5/9; won four, drew two, lost three; Kolisch was ahead at the half-way stage).
Anderssen won the London 1862 chess tournament, the first international round-robin tournament (in which each participant plays a game against each of the others) with a score of twelve wins out of thirteen games. He lost only one game, to the Rev. John Owen and finished two points ahead of Louis Paulsen, who had the best playing record in the early 1860s. Morphy had retired from chess at this time, so Anderssen was again generally regarded as the world's leading active player.
Anderssen's only known competitive chess between 1862 and 1866 was a drawn match (three wins, three losses, and two draws) in 1864 against Berthold Suhle, who was a strong player and respected chess writer.
In 1866 Anderssen lost a close match with 30-year-old Wilhelm Steinitz (six wins, eight losses, and no draws; Steinitz won the last two games). Although Steinitz is now known for inventing the positional approach to chess and demonstrating its superiority, the 1866 match was played in the attack-at-all-costs style of the 1850s and 1860s. This is generally seen as the point at which Steinitz succeeded Anderssen as the world's leading active player. Although ideas of a contest for the world championship had been floating around since the 1840s, the 1866 Anderssen–Steinitz match was not defined as being for the world championship, and many were opposed to the claim of such a title while Morphy was retired from chess and still alive. Furthermore, Anderssen remained dominant both in top tournaments and in personal matches against Zukertort until 1871.
By this time tournaments were becoming more frequent, and the round-robin format was adopted. At the same time, Anderssen, after losing the match to Morphy in 1858 and to Steinitz in 1866, re-dedicated himself to chess, particularly studying both endgames and positional play. The result was that Anderssen, in his early fifties, was playing the finest chess of his career. As a result, Anderssen compiled a very successful tournament record in the late stages of his career: five first places, two second places, two third places; and a sixth place in the final year of his life, when his health was failing. One of his first places was ahead of Steinitz, Gustav Neumann, Joseph Henry Blackburne, Louis Paulsen and several other very strong players at the Baden-Baden 1870 chess tournament. This is regarded as one of the top 20 strongest tournaments ever despite the proliferation of "super tournaments" since 1990. One of Anderssen's third places was at the strong Vienna 1873 tournament, when he was 55. About half of Anderssen's tournament successes came at championships of the different regional German Chess Federations; but these were open to all nationalities, and most of them had a few "top ten" or even "top five" competitors. Anderssen usually beat Zukertort in matches but his dominance came to an end came 1871.
The Leipzig 1877 tournament, in which Anderssen came second behind Louis Paulsen, was organized to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Anderssen's learning the chess moves. The initiative sprang from the Central German Chess Federation. It is the only tournament ever organized to commemorate a competitor.
Still at Leipzig, Anderssen lost a match against tournament winner Louis Paulsen (three wins, one draw, and five losses). Matches were Anderssen's relative weakness; his only match win in this period was in 1868, against the 26-year-old Johann Zukertort (eight wins, one draw, and three losses).
Anderssen was very successful in European tournaments from 1851 to early 1878, taking first prize in over half of the events in which he played. His only recorded tournament failures were a one-game-per-round knock-out event in 1857 and sixth place at Paris 1878 when his health was failing and he had only about a year to live. His match record was much weaker: out of the 12 that he played, he won only two, drew four and lost six.
Arpad Elo, inventor of the Elo rating system, retroactively calculated ratings through history, and estimated that Anderssen was the first player with a rating over 2600. Chessmetrics ranks Anderssen as one of the top five players for most of the period from 1851 to shortly before his death in 1879.
Steinitz rated Anderssen as one of the two greatest attacking players of his time: "We all may learn from Morphy and Anderssen how to conduct a king’s-side attack, and perhaps I myself may not have learnt enough." Although Anderssen is regarded as a member of the "heroic" attacking school, he was not in favor of mindless aggression, for example he said: "Move that one of your pieces, which is in the worst plight, unless you can satisfy yourself that you can derive immediate advantage by an attack", a principle more recently labelled "Makogonov's rule". According to Fine, his approach to development was haphazard and he totally failed to understand why Morphy won.
Anderssen's home town was so proud of him that in 1865 Breslau University awarded him an honorary doctorate.
The "heroic" attacking school of play to which Anderssen belonged was eclipsed by Steinitz' positional approach – by 1894 it was generally acknowledged that the only way to beat Steinitz was to apply Steinitz' principles.
Anderssen has had a more enduring influence on chess problem composition. He started composing in the last years of the "Old School", whose compositions were fairly similar to realistic over-the-board positions and featured spectacular "key" moves, multiple sacrifices and few variations. He was one of the most skilful composers of his time, and his work forms an early stage of the "Transition Period", between the mid-1840s and the early 1860s, when many of the basic problem ideas were discovered, the requirement for game-like positions was abandoned and the introduction of composing competitions (the first of which was in 1854) forced judges to decide on what features were the most desirable in a problem.
Outside the field of chess problems Anderssen was not a prolific author. However he edited the magazine Schachzeitung der Berliner Schachgesellschaft (later called Deutsche Schachzeitung) from 1846 to 1865, and was co-editor with Gustav Neumann of Neue Berliner Schachzeitung from 1864 to 1867.
Steinitz wrote: "Anderssen was honest and honourable to the core. Without fear or favour he straightforwardly gave his opinion, and his sincere disinterestedness became so patent....that his word alone was usually sufficient to quell disputes...for he had often given his decision in favour of a rival..." On the other hand, Reuben Fine, a 20th-century player, wrote, "There is a curious contrast between his over-the-board brilliance and his uninspired safety-first attitude in everyday affairs."
Anderssen died on March 13, 1879, in his hometown. The Deutsche Schachzeitung noted his death in 1879 with a nineteen-page obituary. Bombing raids during World War II damaged his grave in Breslau. After the war, the city became part of Poland and is now known under its Polish name Wrocław. In 1957, the Polish Chess Federation decided to re-bury Anderssen in a new grave at the Osobowicki Cemetery.Adolf Anderssen vs Lionel Kieseritsky, 1851, King's Gambit: Accepted. Bishop's Gambit Bryan Countergambit (C33), 1–0 The "Immortal Game". Anderssen sacrifices his queen and both rooks in order to win
Adolf Anderssen vs Jean Dufresne, Berlin 1852, Italian Game: Evans Gambit. Pierce Defense (C52), 1–0 The "Evergreen Game". Another short game full of sacrifices and ending with a nice two-bishops checkmate
Adolf Anderssen vs Paul Morphy, Match, Paris 1858, Anderssen Opening. 1–0 Anderssen beats Morphy after opening 1. a3
Adolf Anderssen vs Johannes Zukertort, Barmen 1869, Italian Game: Evans Gambit. Paulsen Variation (C51), 1–0 Black resigned before allowing Anderssen to finish the combination: 29. Qxh7+ Kxh7 30. f6+ Kg8 31. Bh7+ Kxh7 32. g8Q+ Rxg8 33. Rh3#