The First Great Mikhail
Mikhail Chigorin (12 November 1850–25 January 1908) was born in Gatchina, near Saint Petersburg, and was the founder of the Russian chess school as well as the first grandmaster from Russia. He served as a major source of inspiration and influence for the "Soviet school of chess," which dominated the chess world in the middle and latter parts of the 20th century. The activity of Chigorin resulted in the appearance of the new generation of Russian chess masters, led to the forming of the native chess traditions; to the constant search for new ways, connected with analytical work, and to the aspiration to the initiative.
The “Soviet School of Chess” and a further generation of chess master had in many of their ideas approached those of Chigorin and many openings in the repertoire of that great master; his defense of the Spanish (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.O-O Be7 6.Re1 b5 7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 O-O 9.h3 Na5) and of the Queen Gambit defense (1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6).
Chigorin started to play chess rather late in life, when his schoolteacher taught him the moves at the age of 16, but he did not take to the game until around 1874, playing in the well-known Dominic Café in St Petersburg, having already finished his studies before commencing a career as a government officer. He became acquainted with chess and quickly grew to become a powerful practical player. At the end of the 1870’s, after winning matches against the leading Russian masters Emanuel Schiffers (1878-1880) and Semyon Alapin (1880)- he already was the strongest player in Russia, and he rapidly obtained an international reputation.
Chigorin was a contender for the world championship at the end of the 19th century, an editor of the journal "Chess Sheet" (1876-1881), "Chess Herald" (1885-1887), "Chess" (1894), chess sections of the weekly "World illustration" (1881-90), newspaper "New time" (1890-1908) and Chess theorist and literate.
At the very strong tournament of New York 1889 he was equal first with Max Weiss. This was the longest tournament in chess history; a double round event with 20 players! Following this great success he challenged the world champion Steinitz for a match with the World Championship Title at stake.
He played two matches against Wilhelm Steinitz for the World Chess Championship in the rich Havana Chess Club with which Steinitz had good relations; the first in 1889 he lost 10.5-6.5; the second in 1892 he lost 12.5-10.5. He also played a much publicized 'telegraph match' against Steinitz in 1890, devised to settle a theoretical argument. Chigorin had the slight advantage of choosing the openings in advance from a list supplied by Steinitz and duly won both games.
He placed second, ahead of reigning world champion Lasker and former world champion Steinitz, in the Hastings 1895 chess tournament, in which all the greatest players of the time participated. The winner, Harry Nelson Pillsbury, lost their individual game and had great respect for Chigorin's ability. He also was victorious with the black pieces against Lasker in their first game of this 1895 tournament, in which he outplayed Lasker in a classic two knights versus two bishops ending.
The universal style is peculiar for Chigorin. He possessed outstanding combinational capacities. The game of Chigorin was differed from contemporaries, characterized by great attacking skills, original strategic intentions, and a constant aspiration to the initiative. He was a virtuoso and a highly skilled exponent of gambit lines; he won the King's Gambit-themed Vienna Tournament of 1903 and defeated Lasker (+2-1=3) in a sponsored Rice Gambit tournament in Brighton.
In 1907 Chigorin was diagnosed with an advanced and untreatable case of diabetes. This prompted a prediction that he had only months to live, whereupon he returned to his estranged wife and daughter in Lublin, Poland and died the following January 25.
Test yourself with some examples of Chigorin's combinational abilities: