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Steiner, Lajos (1903–1975)

by John S. Purdy

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Lajos Steiner (1903-1975), by Len Leslie

Lajos Steiner (1903-1975), by Len Leslie

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an22910928

Lajos Steiner (1903-1975), engineer and international chess master, was born on 14 June 1903 at Nagyvárad (Oradea), Hungary (Romania), one of four children of Bernat Steiner, mathematics teacher, and his wife Cecilia, née Schwarz, both of whom were Jewish. Lajos was educated at the Technical High School, Budapest, and gained a diploma in mechanical engineering (1926) from the Technikum Mittweida, Germany. Both he and his elder brother Endre started playing in master chess events in Budapest while they were schoolboys. Lajos was granted the title of master at the age of 19. At the Kecskemet tournament in 1927 he tied for second with Aron Nimzovich (Nimzowitsch) behind Alexander Alekhine, a future world champion. In the late 1920s Steiner spent two years working as an engineer in the United States of America. Back in Europe, he turned professional, but made a precarious living from tournaments. Apart from two Hungarian championship wins (1931 and 1936), his best performances were at Mährisch Ostrau, Germany (1933, tied for second), Maribor, Yugoslavia (1934, tied for first), and Vienna (1935, tied for first).

In 1936 Steiner toured Australia. Although he played in the 1936-37 Australian championship in Perth, and won every game, he was ineligible for the title. He returned to Western Australia in the Charon on 11 March 1939, en route to settle in Sydney. His father and brother were to die in Nazi concentration camps. At the district registrar's office, Burwood, on 19 October 1939 Steiner married Augusta Edna Kingston, who had won the New South Wales women's chess championship six times; they were to remain childless. Unable to earn a living from tournament chess, he found work as a mechanical draughtsman, first with International Combustion Australasia Pty Ltd and then with Electricity Meter and Allied Industries Ltd. He was naturalized in 1944. In 1949 he was appointed a designing draughtsman at the Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd's chemical factory at Lane Cove.

As a European chess master, Steiner greatly improved the standard of Australian chess simply by playing in tournaments over the next twenty-five years. He competed in six Australian championships and won four (1945, 1946-47, 1952-53 and 1958-59); he also won nine of his ten attempts at the New South Wales title (1940-41, 1943, 1944, 1945-46, 1953, 1955, 1958). Possessing total powers of concentration and a remarkable knowledge of uncommon variations of opening play, he impressed Cecil Purdy 'as one of the few thinking chess masters'. Fellow players appreciated his unruffled, courteous and cheerful demeanour.

A tower of strength in the Metropolitan Social Chess Club, Steiner contributed numerous articles to Purdy's chess magazine. He wrote an account, Kings of the Chess Board, 1948 (1949), of his only return to Europe where he played in three tournaments, at Karlsbad (Karlovy Vary), Czechoslovakia, Budapest and Saltsjöbaden, Sweden. Due to his extended absence from the main chess centres of the world, the Fédération Internationale des Echecs never awarded him the title of grand master.

Steiner lived at Neutral Bay. Looking 'like a well-trained athlete', he was a keen amateur wrestler, and a good swimmer, tennis player and sculler. He stopped competing in major tournaments in the early 1960s, but continued to play A-grade for Chatswood Chess Club and willingly helped young players. He died on 22 April 1975 at Castlecrag and was cremated. His wife survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • W. A. Foldeak, Lajos Steiner (Carlton, Eng, 1997)
  • C. Chua, Australian Chess at the Top (Adel, 1998)
  • Chess World, 1 Mar 1948, p 50, July 1954, p 157, May 1959, p 116
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 31 July 1936, 29 May 1945, 25 Apr 1975
  • Smith's Weekly (Sydney), 4 May 1946
  • naturalisation file, A435, item 1944/4/3763 (National Archives of Australia).

Citation details

John S. Purdy, 'Steiner, Lajos (1903–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/steiner-lajos-11758/text21029, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 29 August 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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