On a site like this with active forums, one question comes up more than any other. Who is the greatest chess player of all time? There are many factors that influence people's opinions, including longevity and dominance, but one I like to use is called the clutch factor. Basically, it's the ability to get the result when it really counts. Some people had it, and some people didn't, in fact, I believe it is what seperated some of the very best players from becoming World Champion. In this article, we'll examine a great player who did not have this trait.
His name is Mikhail Chigorin. Born in 1850, he learned chess at the late age of 16. He was a rising star in the 80s, with many creditable finishes and a loss in a bloody match to Steinitz in 1889, 10.5-6.5. He also sparkled the world with pretty play.
3 years later was the return match between these 2 players, and our first stop on heartbreak train. The match was to be first to win 10 games. However, if it is tied 9-9, 3 more games were to be played. Game 1-
Clearly, Chigorin was in good form. However, the 56 year old champion roared back by winning games 4 and 6 to take a 2-1 lead. However, Chigorin was not disheartened and won the next 2 games, and in a heavy back and forth struggle where blows were traded, Chigorin maintained an 8-7 lead. However, he characteristically collapsed, by losing 2 games, in the second of which, he literally commited suicide by moving his bishop deep into his opponent's position! With the score at 9-8 in favor of the champ, Chigorin had to be the next winner to send the match into overtime.
Chigorin achieved absolutely nothing from a King's Gambit, but Steinitz then strangely jettisoned his knight for illusionary counterplay, and soon Chigorin was completely winning...
Tragedy! Imagine how history could have been changed if Chigorin had won this game...
Now do you see what I meant when I said that the clutch factor seperated the best from becoming the very best?
Now, Chigorin was still considered the main challenger, along with the rising star Tarrasch. So, the 2 played a "candidates match" in 1893 to determine who had the right to play for the crown. It was still the first to 10 games, but it would be a draw if the match was at 9-9.
With the score standing at 5-4 in Tarrasch's favor Chigorin has a dominating position...
However, amazingly enough, through heroic efforts in the end Chigorin managed to level the scores and draw the match.
In 1894, the 26 year old Emanuel Lasker took the chess crown away from the old Steinitz, and it appeared that the 45 year old Chigorin's days as a challenger were over. The great Hastings 1895 tournament, assembling all the best players, including the "big 4" (Lasker, Steinitz, Tarrasch, Chigorin) would prove to be his last chance. Chigorin played simply splendidly and with 2 rounds to go he was half a point ahead of Lasker and his unexpected rival Pillsbury.
Chigorin's play here is simply horrid. See how Janowsky finished him off.
Even though Chigorin won his last game, he finished half a point behind the winner, Pillsbury, who broke into the circle of contenders. At the duel at St.Petersburg later that year with the 4 stars (Lasker, Steinitz, Pillsbury, Chigorin), Mikhail was beneath criticism and finished in solid last place. Before this, Lasker was of the opinion that he would have to play a World Championship Match with Chigorin, but after this he never again contended for the world crown, eventually dying in 1908.
That's all for today! Stay tuned for part 2, where we peek into the life of another great who lacked the clutch factor.