Attack and Defense from Steinitz and Chigorin

Attack and Defense from Steinitz and Chigorin‎

GM BryanSmith
20 | Middlegame

There is hardly a world championship match that illustrates the dichotomy of attack and defense more clearly than the two battles between Mikhail Chigorin and Wilhelm Steinitz. Therefore, I have decided to use a game from this match for the week’s column.

The game we will see today was the fifteenth game of their first match, which took place in Havana, in 1889. These were the new and innocent days of chess – while the players did not play at nearly the level of an average grandmaster of today, those were the days when the players put into practice their principles and theories. There were very few books on chess, obviously no computers, and very few among the world population had dreams of being a “chess artist”. Among those few that did – and who had the opportunity – you find the best players. Unlike nowadays, then you could see a top-ten player playing offhand games in the local café, to make a living.

In these matches between Steinitz and Chigorin we see a battle between Chigorin's aggressive, attacking spirit and Steinitz’s defensive, maneuvering play. In the eastern understanding, Chigorin would be the yang element – his play was active, aggressive, and bright. Steinitz’s play, on the other hand, fits into the yin element – his intentions are a little bit more hidden, his play more negative (he seeks to refute Chigorin’s intentions rather than promote his own). Generally you could see throughout the entire match that Chigorin was the one sacrificing material and Steinitz was the one accepting it and defending. Steinitz looked to build up long term advantages for later, while Chigorin sought victory in the bright, hot, and immediate attack. Let’s see how that played out in the following game. If you have seen some of the famous games from this match, do not fear - I have chosen one which is less well known.

Browsing through the games between Steinitz and Chigorin, trying to decide which game to use for the article, I noticed this game. The black position looked absolutely terrible after the opening. It would be hard to imagine him surviving another ten moves. But survive he did, and in the end his pieces dominated the board. Naturally White had his chance to take a draw, which he didn't want. Perhaps his biggest mistake was in sacrificing the bishop, rather than the knight. In the end, you can see that the black bishop dominates.

Earlier in the match, Chigorin's attack had broken through. Try to find how he took over the initiative in the following position, from their thirteenth game:

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