London 1851 was the first international chess tournament.  The tournament was conceived and organized by Howard Staunton (1810-1874).  It marked the first time that the best players in Europe would meet in a single event. 

In May 1851, London (Crystal Palace in Hyde Park) staged the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations to showcase British industry and technology.  Staunton proposed an international chess tournament to start on the same day as the opening of the Great Exhibition, May 26, 1851.  Staunton picked the date of the chess tournament to coincide with the Great Exhibition because passports would be more freely given abroad, leave of absence would be more easily obtained, and expenses of travel would be considerably reduced.

The games were played from May 27 to July 15, 1851 at the St. George’s Chess Club at 5 Cavendish Square in London.

A Committee of Management was created under the leadership of George Spencer Churchill, the Duke of Marlborough (1793-1857).  He was the great-grandfather of Sir Winston Churchill.  Howard Staunton was its Secretary and most of the members of the committee were members of Staunton’s chess club, St. George’s.   Staunton raised £551 (over $500,000 in today’s currency) for the prize fund.

The tournament was planned as a knock-out tournament (single elimination match) consisting of 16 of the best players in Europe.    The players that participated were Adolf Anderssen (Germany), Henry Bird (England), Alfred Brodie (England), Bernhard Horwitz (Germany), Edward Shirley Kennedy (England), Captain Hugh Alexander Kennedy (England), Lionel Kieseritzky (France), Eduard Lowe (England), Janos Loewenthal (Hungary), Carl Mayet (Germany), James Mucklow (England), Samuel Newham (England), Howard Staunton (England), Jozsef Szen (Hungary), Elijah Williams (England), and Marmaduke Wyvill (England).  Other players invited included Vincent Grimm of Hungary, von der Lasa of Germany, Saint-Amant of France, Carl Jaenisch, Alexander Petrov and Ilya Shumov of Russia, Thomas Buckle of England.  The invited players that didn’t make it to the tournament on time were replaced by the local players E.S. Kennedy, Lowe, Mucklow, and Brodie.

Each first-round match was a best-of-three games, draws not counting.  The eight losers of the first round were dropped from the tournament.  Subsequent rounds were the best-of-seven, and losers played consolation matches.  The pairings were made by chance using white and yellow tickets.  There were no chess clocks and no time limits.

In the first round, which started at 11 a.m. on May 27, 1851, Wyvill beat Lowe (2-0), Horwitz beat Bird (2.5-1.5), Staunton beat Brodie (2-0), Mucklow beat E.S. Kennedy (2-0), Anderssen beat Kieseritzky (2.5-0.5), Williams beat Loewenthal (2-1), Szen beat Newham (2-0), and Hugh Kennedy beat Mayet (2-0).

When it was known that Anderssen would be playing his friend Szen, the two agreed that if either player gained first prize, he should pay 1/3 of its amount to the other.

In Round 2, Anderssen beat Szen (4-2), Wyvill beat Hugh Kennedy (4.5-3.5), Staunton beat Horwitz (4.5-2.5), and Williams beat Mucklow (4-0).

In Round 3 (semi-final), Wyvill beat Williams (4-3), Anderssen beat Staunton (4-1), Hugh Kennedy beat Mucklow (4-0), and Szen beat Horwitz (4-0).

In the final round, Anderssen beat Wyvill (4.5-2.5) to take 1st prize (£183 and a silver cup).  Wyvill took 2nd prize (£55).  The victory earned Anderssen the unofficial world chess champion.

In the play offs, Williams beat Staunton (4.5-3.5) to take 3rd prize (£39).  Staunton took 4th prize (£27).

Szen beat Hugh Kennedy (4.5-0.5) to take 5th prize (£20).  Hugh Kennedy took 6th prize (£13).

Horwitz took 7th prize (£9) and Mucklow took 8th prize (£7).  There was no play-off match as Mucklow forfeited due to a misunderstanding about the play-off.

From June 3, 1851 to July 15, 1851, a Provincial Tournament was held for the local players.  10 English players participated.  Samuel Boden took 1st place (£27), followed by Charles Ranken, W. Hodges, and Robert Brien.

During the entire stay in London, Anderssen never visited the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park.  When asked why he did not go see the exhibition, Anderssen replied, “I came to London to play chess.”