A Short Look At The Great Mikhail Chigorin
Gatchina, Russia, where Chigorin was born.

A Short Look At The Great Mikhail Chigorin

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The great Russian chess player Mikhail Chigorin (born 1850, died 1908) was put in the Gatchina orphanage at the age of 10 (his parents died young).

Here is a small bit of what that was like, written by a historian of the Gatchina Institute: “The brutal masters subjected the children only to fear and continuous punishment and in this way engendered in them, at a very early state of their life, deep hatred towards their whole environment and forever separated them from society.” (Source: Jimmy Adams, Mikhail Chigorin, The Creative Genius—see below for more information on this book.)

It’s clear that this was not a good way to start his (or anyone's) life. Yet, he became one of the most famous chess players in history.

Mikhail Chigorin
Mikhail Chigorin via Wikipedia. 

Chigorin learned how to play chess when he was 16 years old but didn’t fall in love with the game until 1874. I should add that when I said “love,” I really, really meant love; it became everything to him! As he was his training as a government officer, the chess-bug hit him so hard that he quit the job and devoted his life to Caissa.

He leaped into the game with verve, creating a chess magazine in 1876, playing matches against the best Russia had to offer (Chigorin usually dominated those matches against well-known players like Alapin and Schiffers), and by 1880 was clearly the country’s top player.

He had great imagination, great tactics and was probably the best gambit player in the world. His tremendous skills in the endgame made him hard to beat. He eventually had to challenge top players in other countries.

Here are some of his match and tournament results:

  • Berlin tournament, 1881: Blackburne 14, Zukertort 11, Chigorin and Winawer 10.5, etc.
  • London tournament, 1883: Zukertort 22, Steinitz 19, Blackburne 16.5, Chigorin 16, etc.
  • Havana world championship match, 1889: Steinitz won—10 to 6 with one draw.
  • New York tournament, 1889: Chigorin and Weiss tied for first with 29, Gunsberg 28.5, Blackburne 27, Burn 26, etc.
  • Havana match vs. Gunsberg, 1890: 9 to 9 with 5 draws.
  • Telegraph match vs. Steinitz, 1890/91: Chigorin won both games.
  • Havana world championship match vs. Steinitz, 1982: 10 to 8 with 5 draws. (Oddly, all the games Steinitz and Chigorin played together—tournaments and matches—ended with fairly close numbers: 27 wins for Steinitz, 24 for Chigorin, 8 draws.)
  • St. Petersburg match vs. Tarrasch, 1893: 9 to 9 with 4 draws.
  • Hastings tournament, 1895: Pillsbury 16.5, Chigorin 16, Lasker 15.5, Tarrasch 14, Steinitz 13, Schiffers 12, Von Bardeleben and Teichmann 11.5, Schlechter 11, etc.
  • St. Petersburg tournament, 1895/1896. First half: Pillsbury 6.5, Lasker 5.5, Steinitz 4.5, Chigorin 1.5. Second half: Lasker 6, Chigorin 5.5, Steinitz 5, Pillsbury 1.5. Overall: Lasker 11.5, Steinitz 9.5, Pillsbury 8, Chigorin 7. (Chigorin’s lifelong score against Pillsbury was 8 wins, 7 loses, and 6 draws.)
  • Budapest tournament, 1896: Chigorin 1st, Charousek 8.5, Pillsbury 7.5, Schlechter and Janowski 7, etc.

At this point, Chigorin was old and his results were not as good as they used to be. However, now and then, he still could put up some good numbers:

  • Moscow, first all-Russian tournament, 1899: Chigorin 12, Schiffers 9.5, Levitsky 8.5, etc.
  • Moscow, second all-Russian tournament, 1901: Chigorin 16.5, Schiffers 14, Janowski 13.5, etc.
  • Monte Carlo tournament, 1901: Janowski 10.5, Schlechter 9.5, Chigorin and Scheve 9, Alapin 8.5, Mieses 7, Blackburne and Gunsberg 6.5, Marco 6, Marshall 5.5, etc.
  • Vienna Gambit tournament, 1903: Chigorin 13, Marshall 11.5, Marco 11, Pillsbury 10, etc.
  • Kiev, third All-Russia tournament, 1903: Chigorin 15, Bernstein 14, Yurevich 13.5, Salwe 13, Rubinstein 11.5, etc.
Mikhail Chigorin
Mikhail Chigorin via Wikipedia.

No longer the powerhouse he used to be, he still thought of chess day and night. He played several tournaments (though no more first places). He was viewed as an ambassador for Russian chess, he continued to write chess articles, he gave blindfold simultaneous exhibitions and he was a fantastic speaker and gave many lectures.

He also created many new opening lines. My favorite is the Chigorin Defense in the Queen’s Gambit: 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6.

In 1905, Chigorin discovered that he had two serious diseases: One was cirrhosis of the liver, and the other a particularly bad kind of diabetes.

Before I get to the games, I would like to say that there is a magnificent book about every piece of Chigorin’s life: Mikhail Chigorin, The Creative Genius by Jimmy Adams.

Mikhail Chigorin, The Creative Genius

Adams wrote an earlier book about Chigorin, but in 2016 Adams did it over again, due to tons of new material (hardcover, 750 pages!). Amazon sells it for the insane price of $27.99.

First (before the puzzles): I will show you a mind-blowing game. No puzzle, just sit back and enjoy:


So, are you a Chigorin? See if you can solve these puzzles and find out!











For me, the most shocking discovery about Chigorin was an article written by Olga M. Kusakova-Chigorina in 1958, who turned out to be Chigorin’s daughter!

It’s called My Father, Mikhail Chigorin, On the 50th anniversary of his death (1908-1958).

I must admit that it floored me. The whole article is well worth reading, but I will just give a couple high points. First, a bit of humor:

My father was very picky about his food, and his greatest praise was the phrase: "Not bad, it’s edible."

And now Chigorin’s final moments:

Now we come to the last hours of his life: on the 12th of January, in the evening, the silence in the apartment was pierced by a soul-wrenching scream. We all rushed to the patient’s room. Mother calmed down father, while his eyes, frozen in horror, were fixed on he the open door leading to the dark drawing room. It seems that he’d dreamt something, and the dream was connected to the door. When mother, having give him water, laid him down I tried to calm him down, saying, "It’ll all pass now." But he responded in annoyance: "Yes, it’ll all pass when I die," and helplessly waved his hand. Closing his eyes he sighed three times and then fell silent for good.

Chigorin’s personal life didn’t work out for him: He was a loner, although it appeared that he had a family and a daughter. He died among people he didn’t know, almost completely alone, forgotten by the organization for which he’d worked so hard.

Olga said a lot more in her article. You can find it in Jimmy Adams' book.

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