Neumann, Hirschfeld and Suhle: 19th Century Berlin Chess Biographies with 711
Games by Hans Renette and Fabrizio Zavatarelli is the most recent in McFarland’s coverage of
nineteenth century European chess players. Renette and Zavatarelli explicitly, and successfully,
set out to explore Berlin Chess through its players.

The book is broken into four sections: including mini-biographies and in-depth coverage
of Ludwig Neumann, Philipp Martin Hirschfeld, and Carl Friedrich Berthold Suhle. The book
opens with a short section of mini-biographies covering chess in Berlin until 1860. Descriptions
of the Berliner Schachgesellschaft starts with its founding in 1827. This small group of essays
leaves the reader with the feeling that the Berlin chess players were one of the strongest groups
in Europe, probably stronger than every city except London and Paris, and was a fairly close-knit
group that played regularly and even worked on openings and strategies together.

The first player to get solo coverage is that of Suhle. He was a teacher of philosophy
who lived with his wife and family in Berlin during the late 1850s to late 1860s. His games are
covered with detailed analysis, usually from German magazines of the time, such Neue Berliner
Schachzeitung especially with further author’s comments at the end. Many of Suhle’s games are
“off-hand” games that are not from tournaments or matches. However, Suhle’s best performance
was in an 8-game match with Adolf Anderssen that ended in a draw.

The focus then shifts to Hirschfield who, unlike the academic Suhle, came to Berlin as a
businessman representing his family’s trading company. His skill improved rapidly by playing
regularly at the clubs of Berlin. Because of his family’s business he often traveled and this
allowed him to face a wider variety of opponents than if he had remained in Berlin, but it also
means many more games are lost to history. His best results were drawn matches with Ignaz
Kolisch while they were in Paris.

Neumann’s coverage, the only section written by Renette, focuses primarily on the years
from 1860 – 1872. Newman’s family enjoyed the game, but he also learned from books, a far
less common practice in the nineteenth century than today, as his family was in the book trade.
The theme of this section is one of improvement and what might have been. The best example
of improvement can be seen during his time in medical school. Upon his arrival in Berlin to
begin training, he was initially weaker than Suhle and Hirschfield, but would eventually have a
much stronger career. He even finished tied for third with Joseph Blackburne in the 1870 Baden
– Baden tournament. During this event he twice defeated tournament champion Anderssen,
with whom he had played a long series of matches in 1863. He would have won the tournament
if not for his two losses to William Steinitz, who came in second and would eventually become
World Champion.

As for “what might have been,” for unknown reasons Neumann had suffered a mental
break in 1862 – 3 and had spend time in the mountains away from Berlin, for his health. Then,
while in Paris, where he had stayed after the 1867 International Paris Chess Tournament (he
came in 4th in the event), he had a psychotic episode. Renette is never able to provide a
conclusive argument for the break, but after some time in an asylum, Neumann’s mental health is
improved, and he is able to participate, and do well, in the aforementioned Baden-Baden tournament. Tragically, by late 1872 – early 1873, Neumann was again in an asylum and he
would be in and out of mental hospitals until his passing on February 16, 1881.

Unlike most McFarland publications, there is not a large set of Appendices. The first appendix is the only one of substance, being a mini-biography of Bernhard von Guretsky-Cornitz, who had played all three of the highlighted players. His other games and problems are included in this section. Though, there wasn’t enough material to add him as a section in the main part of the book, his games and life story are a great example of the author’s interest in the chess culture of the period. The additional back matter, such as bibliographies, are standard in quality and content but it lacks an index of opponents which would have helped the reader better understand the interactions of the players with each other and the other strong players in Berlin during this time.

The book does a nice job of combining the chess culture of the area and time with the
players who best represented that era. In this way, it is a nice continuation to the authors’
previous work, as well as Tim Harding’s Eminent Victorian Chess Players. The games, far from
perfect, are lively and engaging – full of fun, if not necessarily the most strategic, gambits and
sacrifices. All in all, an interesting and enjoyable read.

This book can be purchased on line at or by calling 800-