Howard Staunton (1810 – 22 June 1874) was an English chess master who is generally regarded as having been the world’s strongest player from 1843 to 1851, largely as a result of his 1843 victory over Pierre Charles Fournier de Saint-Amant. He promoted a chess set of clearly distinguishable pieces of standardised shape—the Staunton pattern promulgated by Nathaniel Cooke—that is still the style required for competitions. He was the principal organiser of the first international chess tournament in 1851, which made England the world’s leading chess centre and caused Adolf Anderssen to be recognised as the world’s strongest player.
From 1840 onwards he became a leading chess commentator, and won matches against top players of the 1840s. In 1847 he entered a parallel career as a Shakespearean scholar. Ill health and his two writing careers led him to give up competitive chess after 1851. In 1858 attempts were made to organise a match between Staunton and Paul Morphy, but they failed. It is often alleged that Staunton deliberately misled Morphy while trying to avoid the match, but it is also possible Staunton overestimated his chances of getting physically fit and of making time available for a match.
Modern commentators consider Staunton’s understanding of positional play to have been far ahead of his contemporaries’. Although not an all-out attacking player, he attacked when his preparations were complete. His chess articles and books were widely read and encouraged the development of chess in the United Kingdom, and his Chess-Player’s Handbook (1847) was a reference for decades. The chess openings the English Opening and Staunton Gambit were named for his advocacy of them. Staunton has been a controversial figure since his own time, and his chess writings could be spiteful. On the other hand, he maintained good working relationships with several strong players and influential chess enthusiasts, and demonstrated excellent management skills.