Chess History: The London 1851 Chess Tournament

Chess in London: The International Tournament

Being London’s premier chess club, it’s about time we talk about the rich history of London’s chess scene. Although this history by no means started in 1851, there was a pivotal event that we are feeling the ripples of even today; the London 1851, the very first international chess tournament. Chess in London, and the world, would be changed forever.


Chess in London

London’s chess scene was robust well before 1851. In May of that year however, the Great Exhibition was hosted in London, and the chess enthusiasts of the city decided they needed to bring chess to the forefront of society. Howard Staunton, being widely thought of as the best chess player in the world, took it upon himself to lead the organization of the world’s first international chess tournament. Not only was his goal to make London a nexus for the advancement of chess, he and his fellow enthusiasts wanted to standardize chess across Europe, creating a “Chess Parliament” to agree on a range of rules that varied across the world.

Not everyone was on board, however. Chess in London was ripe with rivalries. As the tournament preparation was underway, it was clear the Staunton’s own chess club would play a huge role, as many of the players enrolled were of his club. This led to one of London’s most powerful chess associations, the London Chess Club, to boycott the tournament altogether.


The London 1851 Tournament 

Before the tournament began chess enthusiasts began to suggest that the winner would be known as “The World’s Chess Champion”, something that was a fascinating new idea to the community. Although many of the invitees were unable to attend the event due to the constraints of those times, sixteen chess powerhouses from across Europe attended. Although the format of the tournament left something to be desired, the games that arose from it were something special. In fact, one of the most famous games of chess ever played, the Immortal Game, was played during a break in the tournament itself.

Through the four rounds, Adolf Anderssen and Marmaduke Wyvill made it to the finals, leaving Staunton in a disappointing third place. Adolf Anderssen ended up winning the London chess tournament, and thus becoming the iteration of a chess “World Champion”.


Keeping London’s Chess History Alive Today

The effects of this tournament are undeniable. The coming together of chess enthusiasts around the world in this way was inevitable, but we are lucky that it happened in our home of London. Perhaps it’s because of this tournament that we have the pleasure of teaching chess in London today! If you would like to keep this history alive and enroll in your own chess lessons, we would be happy to have you. Enroll at