Zukertort, Johannes

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ZUKERTORT, JOHANNES (1842–1888), chess grandmaster, chiefly in Britain. Zukertort was born in Lublin in 1842. He shrouded his early life in obscurity, but he was probably the son of a Jew who had been converted to Protestantism and acted as a conversionist missionary to the Jews. Zukertort spent some time at a German university, but almost certainly did not take a degree. By the late 1860s he was one of the strongest players in Germany and, in 1872, came to Britain, where he spent the rest of his life, making a living as a chess player and writer. In 1878 he won a big tournament in Paris, and his other performances marked him out as one of the world's leading players. His greatest triumph came in the very big London tournament of 1883 in which the unofficial World Champion Wilhelm *Steinitz and most of the world's best players participated. Zukertort won his first 22 games, one of the greatest feats in chess history. His win against J.H. Blackburne is among the most famous games in chess history. At this point Zukertort suffered a mysterious breakdown, possibly a stroke, and lost three games in a row, although he still easily won first prize. Thereafter his results were mediocre and, in 1886, he lost a match against Steinitz, regarded as the first official match for the World Championship. He died of a stroke at the age of 45. Zukertort was renowned for his phenomenal memory and also for the Munchausen-like accounts he gave of his early life. He stated that he was the son of Baroness Krzyzanovska (sic), that he received a medical degree from Berlin University, that he fought in the Austro-Prussian war of 1866 and was left for dead on the battlefield, and that he was a noted tiger hunter in India. No evidence has been found for any of these claims.


odnb online; D. Hooper and K. Whyld, The Oxford Companion to Chess (1993), 458–59; H. Golombek (ed.), Penguin Encyclopedia of Chess (1981), 522–24; J. Adams, Johannes Zukertort: Artist of the Chessboard (1989).

[William D. Rubinstein (2nd ed.)]