June 27, 2012 9:47

Johannes Zukertort's grave rededicated in London

Zukertort's new gravestone | Photo Stuart Conquest

On Tuesday, June 26th the grave of Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888) was rededicated in London's Brompton Cemetery. The Polish-born chess player, who was one of the world's leading players in his time, died at the age of 45 in London, only two years after losing to Wilhelm Steinitz in the first official World Championship match in 1886. Last year GM Stuart Conquest had discovered that Zukertort's grave had fallen into a state of neglect. After a successful fund raising campaign, yesterday the grave was restored and rededicated.

Zukertort's new gravestone | Photo Stuart Conquest

Johannes Hermann Zukertort (7 September 1842 – 20 June 1888) is mainly remembered for his loss against Wilhelm Steinitz in the first World Championship match in 1886, but in fact he was really one of the world's leading players in the 1870s and 1880s. The Polish-born player, who in his short life was also a  soldier, musician, linguist, journalist and political activist, fell in love with chess after meeting Adolf Anderssen while studying medicine in Breslau (Wrocław). The two played numerous off-hand games, but also a number of matches.

In 1867, Zukertort moved to Berlin and in 1872 to London. In that year, he played Steinitz in London, losing 9-3. He did beat Anderssen and Blackburne in matches, and won many tournaments, such as Cologne 1877 and Paris 1878. His most significant success was his victory at the 1883 London tournament with a score of 22/26. He finished well ahead of the world's best players of the time, and 3 points ahead of Wilhelm Steinitz. After this tournament, Zukertort was widely regarded as the unofficial World Chess Champion and preparations for a match began.

The 1886 World Chess Championship match lasted from 11 January to 29 March 1886. After building up a 4-1 lead Zukertort wilted, lost four of the last five games and lost the match by 12.5-7.5. After this defeat, Zukertort's health suffered and he was a greatly weakened player for the remaining two years of his life. Diagnoses of his ailments include rheumatism, coronary heart disease, kidney problems, and arteriosclerosis.

Zukertort died 20 June 1888, in London from a cerebral hemorrhage after playing a game in a tournament Simpson's Divan, which he was leading at the time. He was buried in Brompton Cemetery in London.

GM Stuart Conquest, who did a lot of research on Zukertort, for instance at the Max Euwe Centre in Amsterdam, wrote in his article for CHESS magazine, October 2011:

In mid-March of this year a friend and I were walking in Brompton Cemetery, in south-west London. Curious to learn if any famous people were buried there, that day or the next I searched online, and quickly discovered that, according to Wikipedia, JH Zukertort was! This was a surprise. I naturally went back. I met Jay, the cemetery supervisor, who confirmed that Zukertort was indeed buried there, but at the spot indicated as being his grave there was nothing to be seen but grass.

Conquest later returned to the cemetery, and was given permission to dig up the area. He did so on Good Friday 2011, and found the gravestone a few centimetres below the grass. The stone showed Zukertort's birth and death details.

Together with Dr Marek Stella-Sawicki, Chairman of the Polish Heritage Society in the UK, Conquest started a project to return Zukertort’s grave to its proper state and fully restored. The Polish Embassy provided £2,000 to support the project, and with the help of many chess fans who donated money, Conquest succeeded. Yesterday a ceremony was held at Brompton Cemetery, and the grave was rededicated.

John Saunders, who attended the ceremony yesterday, writes on his blog:

Today, 26 June 2012, saw the culmination of their splendid efforts with the rededication of the grave, now resplendent with a beautiful new headstone. 31 people from the world of chess and from the Polish community in Britain gathered at the newly-restored grave to pay homage to one of the 19th century's greatest players with a moving religious ceremony and excellent speeches from Marek and Stuart.

It was heart-warming occasion and blessed by probably the best weather of the English summer so far. A huge debt of gratitude is owed to Stuart Conquest, the Polish Heritage Society, the staff of Brompton Cemetery and everybody who helped fund and support this fitting memorial to a great chessplayer.

Below are a few pictures of the ceremony taken by Ray Morris-Hill.

The ceremony, with two Polish priests, yesterday at Brompton Cemetery

A new gravestone with text in both English and Polish

A chess motif at the back side

GM Stuart Conquest posing at the gravestone

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers


muralidhara gk's picture

Yes, due respect is payed.

Zeblakob's picture

I bless those Polish priests.

PP (nl)'s picture

Great initiative!

Niima's picture

Zukertort was a great player and deserves to be remembered. Thank you GM Conquest.

PeterV's picture

Well done!

Mike Magnan's picture

I'm not sure how I feel about it. Sure..its a grand gesture.I guess that's what it is. I'm quite sure Zukertort doesn't care..but maybe it says something nice about us. Perhaps thats the point. Um..well done? Stuart.

Mike Magnan's picture

But its a nice thing to do ....I guess...

Hugh Jass's picture

Conquest is a class act.
He is sorely missed at Gibraltar commentary and under used at London Classic, its tragic really but not surprising.

Ronnie Burton's picture

Well done Stuart.

Anthony Boron's picture

Simply splendid !

Anon's picture

Bravo, Stuart Conquest !

Anon's picture

Bravo, Stuart Conquest !

Carlos Azinas's picture

I really liked your iniciativa. 28Db4 is absolutely brilliant. Thank you very much, Stuart Conquest.

James Plaskett's picture

Wish I had been there.

Alan's picture

Some scathing comments from http://www.chessgames.com/perl/chessplayer?pid=10427&kpage=9#reply210
"I have just seen a photo of his restored gravestone at http://www.chessvibes.pl/sites/defa.... and I am very disappointed.
The headstone reads, ""
There is a similar inscription underneath that in Polish.

The English version is not very good. The old inscription was much simpler: That is certainly the form that the dates should have taken, not some decimal/SI-unit-style of dates.

Also what is the point of telling the reader that Zukertort was and then informing us that he was, ?

Here is how it should have read:

Premium Chessgames Member offramp: It really is a terrible headstone. Very little thought has gone into it. They could not quite decide how to describe Zukertort so they thought they'd try a few things:
is attempt number one. But it seems someone thought either that Grandmaster was an anachronism or that it was not praise enough. So attempt number 2 was made: But some malcontent said, "Shouldn't we say he is notable? 'Notable' is a bit vague." After a bit of thought someone comes up with the vague: Contender LOL! Isn't that what they call the participants on TV hit Gladiator? It doesn't say how many contenders there were (there were two).

Better would have been:

Now someone realised that the Polish nation - who paid for this mess - have not been mentioned enough. So one last descriptive attempt is made:
That is waffle. It is a longueur as the French would say. Never mind that Zukertort was never a Grandmaster, and would not have needed the title even if it was around, just as one never says Grandmaster Fischer or Grandmaster Kortschnoi. And that annoying mish-mash . Why the Roman numerals? <19TH CENTURY> would be simple and correct, but the whole phrase is redundant.

So my own attempt, based on the original, would be far better. But if one wanted extra verbiage it could read in full:

But whether or not that any good, at least I put 10 minutes thought into it and didn't just scribble down the first things that popped into my head.

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