Jozsef Szen

by Bill Wall


Jozsef Szen (pronounced SANE) was born in Pest, Hungary on July 9, 1805 (Pest merged with Buda in 1873 to become Budapest).  He learned chess from his uncle.


He wanted to study mathematics, but his father, a notary, wanted him to study law. 

He obtained a law degree and worked in his father’s office.  He later became the municipal archivist in the Department of Archives for the city of Pest .

He often played in the café Worm of Pest (Magyar Café de la Regence), playing with any opponent for a stake of 20 Kreuzers (zwanzigers = sevenpence).

His nickname was the Hungarian Philidor.

In 1830, he game chess lessons to John Jacob Lowenthal, who lived in Pest.

At Paris in 1836, he went daily to the Café de la Regence.  He always wore a conspicuous hat, and the locals called him ‘L’Hongrois au chapeau blanc’.

In 1836, Szen played a match in Paris with Louis-Charled Mahe de La Bordonnais in which La Bourdonnais gave him odds of pawn and two moves.  Szen won 13, lost 12, and no draws.  Szen asked to play a match of 21 even games for 200 francs, but La Bordonnais declined.

In 1836, he drew a match with Boncourt.

In 1838, Szen founded the Budapest Chess Club (Pesti Sakk-kor).

In 1838, he lost a match to Karl Mayet in Berlin, winning 2, losing 3, and drawing 1.

In 1839, he lost to Bledow at Berlin.

Between 1842 and 1846, he headed a Pest (Budapest) team of correspondence players that beat a Paris team with 2 wins and 0 losses.  The Hungarian team introduced the Hungarian Defense (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Be7).

In 1851, he took 5th at the first international chess tournament, London 1851 (behind Anderssen, Wyvill, Williams, and Staunton).  In the first round, he defeated  Samuel Newham (1796-1875), England’s leading provincial player, with two wins.  He played Adolf Anderssen in the 2nd round, in which they shared a hotel room.

After the third game of the Anderssen-Szen match in the 2nd round, Szen was leading with 2 wins and 1 loss.  He and Adolf Anderssen then agreed that if either one won the tournament, they would give 1/3 of his winnings to the loser.  Anderssen beat Szen with 4 wins and 2 losses.

Szen defeated Bernhard Horwitz in the 3rd round with 4 wins.  In the 4th round, Szen defeated Hugh Alexander Kennedy with 4 wins and 1 draw.

Anderssen won the event   and gave 1/3 of his winnings (183 sterling pounds or $294, which is $7,600 in today’s currency) to Szen.  Szen won 20 pounds for 5th place.

The 1851 knockout system wasn’t fair to Szen.  He only lost to Anderssen, and in the 2nd round.  Szen had the best overall winning percentage (+12 -4 =1) of 73.53% was better than Anderssen (+14 -5 =1) of 72.5%.  2nd place Marmaduke had a winning percentage of 54.35% (+12 -10 =1).  3rd place Elijah Williams had a winning percentage of 61.37% (+13 -8 =1).  4th place Staunton had a winning percentage of 50% (+10 -10 =1).

In 1853, he lost a match with Daniel Harrwitz in London, with 1 win, 3 losses, and 1 draw.

He died in Hungary on January 13, 1857, age 51.