Mikhail Chigorin, the lover of chess problems #2
Mikhail Chigorin, Emanuel Lasker, Harry Nelson Pillsbury and Wilhelm Steinitz at their four-master tournament in St. Petersburg in 1895-96

Mikhail Chigorin, the lover of chess problems #2


As we discussed in my first post in this series, Mikhail Chigorin loved chess problems. 

As editor of Shakhmatny Listok, Chigorin selected the best chess problems for his readers. In my first post, we looked at the first study published in his chess magazine. In this post, we'll examine the second problem Chigorin selected for the magazine's inaugural issue in September 1876.

Joseph Steele (left) with H. F. L. Meyer (right)
(John G. White Collection of Chess Player Portraits at the Cleveland Public Library)

Problem no. 2

White to move and mate in 2

Chigorin credits this problem to МЕЙЕРА (Cyrillic for Meyer), who is Heinrich Friedrich Ludwig Meyer, a noted 19th century German chess composer.  While I can't track down a source and so am not vouching for this story, Meyer reputedly once remarked, "It is often said that problem composers are bad players, but it might be more correct to say that great players are bad composers."  For those who might wish to learn more about Meyer, @luksowa did a good blog post, H.F.L. Meyer's Great Problem, introducing Meyer and looking at several of his compositions. Meyer also wrote a treatise on chess and chess problems, A Complete Guide to the Game of Chess: From the Alphabet to the Solution and Construction of Problems (1882).

This problem was originally printed in January 1864 in Schachzeitung, the predecessor of today's Schach magazine. It looks like the last time it saw the light of day was when Chigorin reprinted the problem in Shakhmatny Listok in September 1876. Now that you're reading this post, you're one of the very few living chess players who have ever seen this problem.  

So why did Chigorin pick out this problem for us? And I think it's fair to say that Chigorin did select the problem for us. While he included the problem for the readers of Shakhmatny Listok in September 1876, Chigorin had a deeper sense of history than perhaps any other chess player ever. Everything he did was motivated by a love of the game. I'm confident he understood and intended that future players would find and look back at his work in his magazines just as we analyze his games.

In this problem White is up in material 30 to 21 and clearly holds a winning advantage. While Black has connected pawns on the sixth and seventh rank, White will issue mate before the pawns get a chance to promote.

If this position popped up in a blitz game, I probably would sacrifice both rooks to get rid of Black's queen with the game likely playing out something like this for mate in 6.

Even if it were Black's move, White would still possess mate in 3.

Given that White can easily mate Black, what's the purpose of this particular problem? I believe that Chigorin picked it because he wants his readers to see the chessboard as he sees it. Chigorin isn't asking us to look at the fleeting arrangement of the pieces as they happen to be at this moment. He wants us to envision how the pieces could be positioned in the future.

In particular, Chigorin wants us to think deeper about Black's king and queen being on the same rank. It's easy to see that Black's two most important pieces are on the same row. That's the whole reason why I was able to exchange White's rooks for Black's queen in my imaginary blitz game. Without telling us that it's there, Chigorin wants us to see how we could win the game by pinning Black's queen. The purpose of this etude isn't to win in 2, rather than in 3 or 6, in a particular position that we'll never see again. It's to get us to imagine the tactical possibilities at play in similar positions.

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