The First Great Mikhail

  • GM Julio_Becerra
  • | Feb 17, 2010

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:















  • 7 years ago


    So very good positions to practice, thanx for sharing...

  • 7 years ago


    The problem with comparing chess players of any era to try to call someone "the greatest" is that each great player conquered the chess world under different historical circumstances than every other one.  Fischer had a great challenge that he overcame in the Soviets, but who is to say that another chess player from a different epoch couldn't've done it?  Maybe another player could have, but even then they would have done it in a different way making comparison, again, futile.  The only real way to compare 2 chess players is to have them play, which is frustrating as hell seeing as though that'll never happen.  An Alekhine v. Fischer match would have been sweet.

  • 7 years ago


    @DougMosteller.. True that Fischer didn't defend his title. But, has any other chess champian defeated a whole country as Fischer did? Fischer pretty much dominated all the Soviet players of his day. The Soviet Union was the greatest country, chess strength-wise, during his time. So, until anyone else can do what he did(and at as young of an age too!!), he'll always be the best.

  • 7 years ago


    Mikhail Chigorin is one of my favourite old school bombastic battler. What an imagination!

  • 7 years ago



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  • 7 years ago



    Bobby Fischer won a world championship.  Period.  No defences.

    There are numerous world champions with much, much more stellar credentials.

    Bobby was utterly great!  Bobby was a world champion.  Bobby was tied for the worst world champion.  Many more have won this title and numerously defended it.  Why is he the greatest?   Maybe he's the greatest and only US world champion, but....

  • 7 years ago

    FM BecomeanIM

    another chess great down due to diabetes. (Tony Miles)

  • 7 years ago


    The first puzzle was a thing of a beauty!!

  • 7 years ago


  • 7 years ago


    Nice, you don't hear much about this guy.  What about an article on Lasker, because he's one of my favorite players : ). Some other players you don't hear about might be more interesting though.

  • 7 years ago


    fjuuuuuu my brain is in pain, how many problems thnx

  • 7 years ago


    VassilisKafiris, I think rubygabby meant that there was no "Soviet school" as a major chess style-developing movement, such as Hypermodern school of the 1920s. Soviet masters and GMs played in a wide diversity of styles, and the "Soviet school" encouraged and supported their efforts rather than teaching them some unitary, similar style.

  • 7 years ago


    Oh yes! Tigran Petrosian, the Chess Master of defence and Mikhail Tal, the Chess Master of offence. If you try to combine these two giants, I believe the result would be Bobby Fischer.

  • 7 years ago


    There are errors in game 2. Theres a pawn wrongly placed.

  • 7 years ago


    very informative.

  • 7 years ago


    Thx a lot for this article. wow ! great endings.

  • 7 years ago


    "He served as a major source of inspiration and influence for the "Soviet school of chess".

    First of all, the Soviet school of chess is a historical fact; if chess was not encouraged the way that it was encouraged during the Soviet era, I doubt if players like Karpov and Kasparov would ever exist.

    Second, the sentence is clear: he inspired and influenced; he was not the establisher...

    Third and most important; the Soviet School of Chess existed... for you reference:

    Is this just another anti-communism speech? Why rubygabbi?

  • 7 years ago


    Very good article about one of the greatest player ever been.

  • 7 years ago


    Good write up on tacticals..

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