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Memorial plaque to William Steinitz in Prague's Old Town, photo: Pavla Horakova
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Hello and welcome to Mailbox. Today we reveal the correct answer to our August competition. As well as revealing the identity of our mystery man, we announce the names of the lucky four who will receive small gifts from Radio Prague for their correct answers. We quote from e-mails by Prasanta Kumar Padmapati, Keith A. Simmonds, Timothy Merkel, Zhu Guo-mei, Christine Takaguchi-Coates, David Eldridge, Omar Elkharadly, Marnix Barbiers, Charles Konecny, and Colin Law.

Memorial plaque to William Steinitz in Prague's Old Town, photo: Pavla Horakova
This time we have received answers from an unusual number of countries around the globe: Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, Bermuda, Cameroon, Canada, China, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Japan, Lithuania, Malaysia, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Sweden, Trinidad and Tobago, United Kingdom, United States, and Ukraine. It is wonderful that in all those countries you follow Radio Prague's programmes and, what's more, you let us know you are out there.

In last month's competition we asked you to tell us the name of the first official world chess champion. With one exception all the answers were correct and the first one to arrive was sent by Prasanta Kumar Padmapati from India:

"Wilhelm (later William) Steinitz was the first official world chess champion."

Keith A. Simmonds is writing from France:

"Steinitz was born on the 17th May 1836 in Prague and died on the 12th August 1900 in New York. He was Jewish; he learned to play the game at the age of twelve and began to play professional chess at the age of 26. He was well known for his original contributions to chess strategy and his ideas on positional play. He is considered to be the founder of modern chess."

Timothy Merkel follows Radio Prague in the United States:

"William Steinitz was a brilliant man who thought beyond the existing ideas about chess play to develop a cold and calculating strategy whereby he could defeat almost all the opponents of his day. In 1886 he defeated Johannes Zuckertort in what is considered the first World Chess Championship. Later in his life he emigrated to America, and in 1894 lost the title to Emanuel Lasker."

Zhu Guo-mei from China looks back at Wilhem's Steinitz's life before the first World Chess Championship:

"Born in a Jewish ghetto to a large family in Prague in 1836, Wilhelm Steinitz moved to Vienna in 1858, hoping to earn a living as a journalist. However, being quite a strong chess player, he tried his luck at the championship of Vienna in 1861 and won. In 1866 Steinitz faced the ultimate challenge, a match against German legend and world number one, Adolf Anderssen. Finally Wilhelm won this match and in many people's minds, became the unofficial champion of the world."

Henrik Klemetz listens to Radio Prague in Sweden:

"Wilhelm Steinitz is referred to as the first world champion in chess. Yet another genius born and raised in the Jewish community of Prague."

Christine Takaguchi-Coates writes on Steinitz's contribution to chess:

"It is said that what Steinitz gave to chess could be compared to what Newton gave to physics - he made it a true science. Together with American Paul Morphy, Steinitz is considered by many to be the founder of modern chess."

And she adds a few details concerning the final years of Steinitz's life:

"After losing the world title, he developed severe mental health problems and spent his final years in different institutions in New York, making increasingly strange claims, such as that he could move the chess pieces by emitting bolts of electricity from his fingertips! His chess activities had not brought him any great financial reward, and he died in poverty in New York in 1900."

David Eldridge from England also mentions William Steinitz's financial difficulties:

"He never made much money from professional chess and died penniless in New York on 12 August 1900. He is buried in the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn, New York."

Radiant Didla from Lithuania adds:

"Although he was a chess champion, he never made huge amounts of money (like the modern champions). But he was featured on a postal stamp."

Omar Elkharadly listens in Canada:

"The answer is, officially, Wilhelm Steinitz. Not only was he the first official world chess champion and Grand Master, but he is also the father of modern chess. Quite likely the most important figure in chess theory to this day. (Unofficially, the answer would probably be 15th century Spanish priest Ruy Lopez.)"

Marnix Barbiers writes from Belgium:

"When I was a child, chess was much talked about in my family as an older cousin of mine was one of the best Belgian players then. He was invited to competitions all over Europe and could tell us 'exotic' stories afterwards .... But I think he was still some levels away from being the world chess champion. But who was so the first official world chess champion? Wilhelm (or later William) Stenitz, born 1836 in Prague!"

Charles Konecny from the US included this thought in his answer:

"It is amazing that there are so many strategies that champion chess players come up with to capture or checkmate the opponent's king. It seems like all the moves would be known by now, but new ones keep coming up. It requires the most deep, deep, deep thinking compared to any other game."

And Colin Law from New Zealand attached a photo to his e-mail of a memorial plaque to William Steinitz - as a matter of fact, the exact one that made me choose Steinitz as the subject of our competition.

"In 2004 a plaque in honour of the first world chess champion was placed on the Charles University Faculty of Philosophy building in Prague, on the border between the Jewish Ghetto and Old Town where the Steinitz house used to stand. The plaque project was established in 2000, some 100 years after the death of Steinitz."


The amount of information in your answers and the research involved are once again impressive but, unfortunately, out of the 120 or so answers only four winners can be chosen. This time the prizes go to: Marnix Barbiers from Belgium, Zhu Guo-mei from China, Hans Verner Lollike from Denmark, and Timothy Merkel from the United States. Congratulations and well done everybody who took part. If you'd like to give it another try this month, here is our question:

The September mystery Czech was a child actor who was awarded an Academy Juvenile Award in 1948. Who was he?

Please tell us his name and some facts about this mystery person if you like at the usual address, english@radio.cz or Radio Prague, 12099 Prague. The deadline is September 30th. Until next week, thanks for listening.