Chess Romanticism Part II (Chigorin)

Chess Romanticism Part II (Chigorin)

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Hi all!

Chigorin was undoubtedly one of the romantics' school all-time great practitioners, invented the Chigorin Defense (1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6!?), the Chigorin Variation of the Ruy Lopez, and was among the first to try out the creative 1.e4 e6 2.Qe2 KIA. The unsound Rice gambit has obsolesced since Chigorin won a thematic Rice gambit tournament. Perhaps most endearingly, he was the exception to the rule "you need to begin chess really young in order to be a top player". His famous quip was "Even a bad plan is better than no plan at all." The Chigorin memorial was created in 1909 and still going strong until 2019. Fide Candidates Tournament Wildcard, Alekseenko won it 3 times in a row, by the way.

Early Years

Mikhail Ivanovich Chigorin was on the 12th of November, 1850, in Russia. Son of a gunpowder worker, his parents perished while he was a boy and was admitted to Gatchinsk Orphan's Institute. According to Chigorin, he was fed stale bread, soggy porridge, spoiled milk, and rancid butter. One day, he and a group other orphans rebelled and escaped the institute. Or so goes a historical article I read in New in Chess dedicated to Chigorin's life. He learned the rules at the age of 16 but allegedly only began his serious pursuit of the game in 1874! He was 23-24 years old at the time, markedly late to begin chess. He unsuccessfully began an extremely obscure chess magazine called Chess Sheets with an abysmally diminutive number of followers. He entered a strong tournament for himself in Berlin 1881, with a respectable score of shared 3rd place with Winawer, behind Zukertort and Blackburne. Chigorin's talent was so immense that he quickly compensated for the severity of his tardiness in learning the royal game. A mystery?  He crushed master Alapin (of Alapin Sicilian fame) and most astoundingly, Schiffers (The Father of Russian Chess) in matches in the late 1870's.


Mikhail Chigorin vs. Andrej Ascharin, Riga 1892

Prime Years

During Zukertort's heroic performance in the super-strong London tournament of 1883, Chigorin he finished 4th but played fighting chess and not drawing a single game out of 26!! Prior to his first clash for the world title against Steinitz, he tied for first with strong Austrian master Max Weiss at New York 1889. In the fierce battlegrounds of Hastings 1895, Chigorin began the tournament by beating the then unknown Harry Pillsbury. Of course we know that Pillsbury was the star of this tournament and won clear first ahead of Steinitz, Lasker and many others. Sadly, Pillsbury contracted a grave illness and died prematurely, age 33.  

In 1890, Chigorin crushed Steinitz in a telex match which Steinitz experimented a highly dubious variation of the Evans Gambit. The Evans Gambit was clearly in the spirit the romantic chess style. However, it's to be mentioned that in both world title matches against Steinitz, he wasn't Steinitz's equal in chess understanding and play. Due to the perilous Havana humidity, he's best known for blacking out by blundering mate in 2 in a totally won position.


Chigorin's last image while alive. He died later that year, 1908. Chess masters of old died unhealthy, mad, penniless and prematurely.

Chigorin's Last Decade

Chigorin edged out Hungarian meteorite Reszso Charusek in a playoff at Budapest 1896. (Charusek died of TB aged 26) In Cologne 1898 he had to settle sharing second with Charusek. He won 3 All-Russia tournaments in 1899, 1901, and 1903. When strong Polish master Gersz Salwe won in 1906, Chigorin won convincingly by 2 points in a 15 game match. Years of declining health swiftly deteriorated his play and he'd been diagnosed with diabetes. In the New in Chess Magazine memoriam, he started losing his mind by insisted his daughter to burn his pocket set pieces. His daughter merely hid them away and just told him that she burned it. Mikhail Chigorin passed away in 1908, still in his mid fifties. His legacy lives on in the brilliancy embodied in the following 3 games.


The Games

Black outplays Lasker's bishop pair and strong center with maneuvering knights. True chess artistry and upending the accepted beliefs on the advantage of the bishop pair in the endgame.

Next Chigorin annihilates Steinitz in the WCC match in a mere 31 moves! Sheer fireworks!
The final game may have not been against a strong player but it's chess romanticism at it's finest. This is my favorite Chigorin game.

For Further Reading...

For all of my chess history blogs I shall reference kamalakanta's blog, simaginfan's blog,and batgirl's blog. All of which require tedious research and an appetite for historical knowledge.

Jimmy Adam's terrific work on Mikhail Chigorin is profusely informative.

And as I recommended in my last blog, a great read for everyone regarding chess romanticism is The Great Romantics by Craig Pritchett. It's dazzling games matched only by the beautiful chronological organization of chess players from Andersson to Morozevich.

I hope you've enjoyed part II of Chess Romanticism as much as I did. Can't wait to see you in Part III, take care!