Mikhail Ivanovich Tchigorin
by Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik
Mikhail Ivanovich Tchigorin (1850-1908) was unusually gifted. We must not forget that he did not learn to play chess until he was sixteen, and that for seven years after he did not play at all, In the short period from 1873 onward he covered a remarkable creative road; he first became the finest player in Russia, and then one of the strongest players, if not the second best in the world.
Tchigorin came from the people. His grandfather was a soldier, and his father a skilled workman in the Okhtensk gunpowder works. He was orphaned when still a lad, and studied at the Gatchinsk orphans' institute, afterwards being compelled to work as a petty official in Petersburg.
He grew up in difficult conditions. He played his first game in 1873, in the Petersburg Cafe Dominic, a chess rendezvous. Here, playing sometimes for stakes, he took his first steps. (Certain foreign chess-players still experience this unenviable lot!)
In those days there were many professional chess-players abroad, but Tchigorin was the first Russian to decide to devote all his life to chess. He did so in order to bring fame to Russian chess, to make it a national game, to persuade his contemporaries to regard it differently and to treat it as it deserved.
At the very beginning of his career Tchigorin broke with old ideas and set out to realize very great aims, aims that Soviet players especially should value. They were, to ensure the world primacy of Russian chess, and to make it a national game; and, though he did not fully achieve either, he did a very great deal in both directions.
In order to make progress in the game, and in order to bring fame on Russian chess, he had to travel abroad and take part in international tournaments. He achieved outstanding successes. Among those successes must be reckoned his two matches with Steinitz; though he lost them both, it was not because he was lacking in talent, but because he did not possess the requisite sporting abilities, the qualities of a chess fighter. At the decisive moments of the struggle he lost the will to win, and so he went down. Yet his style of play, and the creative elements he brought to the game were so remarkable that one must consider these two matches as among the treasures of chess art.
Next one must mention his duel with Tarrasch in 1892. This match ended in a draw, but Tchigorin's achievement must be measures by the fact that at this date Tarrasch had won seven firsts in seven international tournaments. In Hastings tournament of 1895 Tchigorin achieved remarkable success: he took second place, being surpassed only by the young player Pillsbury, and surpassing all other outstanding masters of the time.
Russian playes always hoped he would become the world champion. Even after he lost his two matches to Steinitz they did not lose faith in him. But when, some months later, a four-round match-tournament took place in Petersburg, Tchigorin suffered several serious defeats in the first half, and it was obvious that he coud never become world champion. He was greatly disappointed.
Tchigorin played a foremost part in developing the chess movement in Russia. To him chiefly belongs the honour of organizing the firt all-Russian tournament. He was always agitating for the organization of tournaments and the opening of chess clubs; he wrote a great deal on the subject, he traveled all over the country to help in the organization of clubs; and in the difficult conditions of Tsarist Russia that was an ungrateful task. Before a club could be opened great obstacles raised by the police had to be overcome, for the government was highly suspicious of all clubs of a cultural and educational nature.
The first All-Russian tournament took place in Russia in 1899, and of course Tchigorin was the winner. He also won the second and third All-Russian tournaments; but by then he was coming up against stronger opposition - the players of the next generation, his pupils, were coming along.
What was Tchigorin's specific contribution to theory, to chess technique?
He took his work on the Chess Sheet with exceptional seriousness. He published many articles and theoretical analyses; he closely followed the work of Steinitz, subjected it to a thorough check, not infrequently found mistakes, and criticized those mistakes in the pages of his periodical. He was the first chess-player in Russia to occupy himself with analytical work. Yanisch (Jaenisch) had done so before him, but his analyses were concerned only with the opening game, and not the game as a whole.
Tchigorin was a considerable innovator in the opening game; he discovered much that was new in the Evans Gambit, the Italian Game, and the Two Knights' Defence; against the French Defence he produced his own continuation (2 Q-K2) after which one gets not the usual French Defence, but rather the King's Indian Defence with colours reversed. It was Tchigorin who first began to play the King's Indian Defence and worked out an opening scheme for it; he brought many new ideas into the King's Gambit and Ruy Lopez.
To get any idea of Tchigorin's creative style we must realize that he frequently looked not for the rules but the exceptions. When analysing he usually tried to refute established lines, and to introduce something of his own - an exceptionally valuable quality. Criticism of oneself and others is absolutely necessary in chess, for only the player who is critical of himself and his potential opponents can hope to achieve deep analysis and success. However, in Tchigorin this habit sometimes carried him into extremes. Thorough criticism is essential when preparing for tournaments or making analyses, but objective conclusions are vital when sitting at the board in the tournament hall.
Tchigorin's great weakness was that he did not always take his opponent's psychology into account, he was not sufficiently interested in the psychological factor in chess contests. When pursuing the strategic plans he had thought out he often went straight ahead quite unconscious of his opponent;s mood, taking no account of possible danger. This explains why at decisive moments he sometimes had creative disasters, such as we have referred to in his matches against Steinitz.
Sometimes, too, Tchigorin was subjective in his attitude to analytical work. Not infrequently he did not so much attempt to establish the truth against his opponents.
If we study his favourite openings we find that his choice is to be explained partly by his style, and partly by his spirit of contradiction, by an endeavour at all costs to violate the established canons. For instance, it had always been considered that in the Queen's Gambit the Black Knight is well posted at B3 when P-B4 has already been played. But Tchigorin revolted against such a dogma, and his defence in the Queen's Gambit violates this "rule."
This continual endeavour to introduce something new into chess and not simply to apply the well-known dogmas, this creative search for the new, the original, is characteristic of Tchigorin. It is a very difficult task, and he did not succeed, in the Queen's Gambit for instance, in completely solving problems he himself had raised. The idea of the Tchigorin Defence in the Queen's Gambit is essentially that Black should fight with his pieces. This problem was tackled more successfully later by Nimzovitch, Reti, Ragozin, Grunfeld, and other masters.
Tchigorin's creative work in the middle and endgames was of no less importance.
When I first saw the following position (it occurs in a game between Tchigorin and Tarrasch playing in Budapest in 1896) it made a tremendous impression on me. In this Rook endgame the two opponents are equal in material; on the K side White has three pawns against two, but on the Q side Black has a passed pawn. However, Black's defence is complicated by the circumstances that his King is cut off on the first rank. Looking at the position one would find it difficult to maintain that White could get a win, but Tchigorin set out to prove he could. We must take into account the circumstance that he had soundly estimated the latent possibilities of this position during the middlegame, and deliberately played for this ending.
position after 24...Ra6
He won the game by a subtle manoeuvre. Not only that, but in the final stage, when the Rook ending had left each opponent with a passed pawn, he succeeded in setting up a further interesting situation, demonstration the strength of his passed pawn. Whenever I play a Rook ending I always remember this ending of Tchigorin's, and I would not like to find myself in the tragic situation of Tarrasch. It is highly discomfiting to lose the game when you have an equal number of pawns with your opponent, as discomfiting as it is to fail to win when playing White in a similar position.
In his later years, when he was seriously ill, natually enough he was not very successful in tournament play. But if he happened to be playing in a thematic gambit tournament, in which the gambit openings are obligatory and everything is decided by sacrifice, by attack, by counter-attack, he remained invincible to the end.
Here is a position which will be familiar to everyone. (We cannot illustrate the characteristic features and peculiarities of our native school better than by quoting well-known examples,)
In this position, taken from the first game of a Steinitz-Tchigorin match, the striking 19 Kt x BP! sacrificed a piece; but after 19 . . . KxKt ; 20 P-K6 ch, KxP ; 21 Kt-K5! the Black King found himself in the middle of the board. By sacrificing a Knight wiithout compensation and forcing the Black King to move to the centre Tchigorin laid it bare to attack. Since then it has been proved that Tchigorin's combination was thoroughly sound, as the sacrifice is not based on exact calculation, but arises from an appreciation of general principles. But undoubtedly it was a beautiful sacrifice and you will find many such in Tchigorin.
Later, Lasker proved that this position could lead to a win by a different, quieter road; but the imaginative method Tchigorin chose was characteristic of him. It was a style which won him great popularity among chess players all over the world.
The next position is of great interest; it witnesses to Tchigorin's outstanding ability in counter-attack, It is interesting, too, because of the fact that no one had previously obtained such a position for Black from the Queen's Gambit. If we did not know that the position arose in one of Tchigorin's games we might well conclude that Black had been played by some modern master, by Ragozin, say; and I certainly would not mind playing Black in such a position. It aros in a game between Tchigorin and Teichman at Cambridge-Springs, in 1904.
With the move 15 . . . P-Kt4! Black had his central Knight entrenched at Q4. It is to be noted that some twenty-five years later Grand Master Nimzovitch also entrenched his Knight in the centre in analogous positions (with the aid of th two pawns at QKt4 and KB4). The position appears to be double-edged, as after 16 KR-Kt1 there is a threat of 17 P-Kt4, opening the Kt file and launching an attack on the Black King. The basic weakness of White;s position is the "strong" posting of his Bishop at K5, even though it is evident that White pinned all his hopes to it! For at K5 the Bishop is badly placed, as it cannot share in the defence of its King when Black begins an energetic counter-attack. Only four moves were necessary:
16 . . . Q-K2 ; 17 Qr-B1, Q-R6 ch ; 18 K-Q2, P-Kt5! ; 19 P-QB4, B-R5 ; and Black's attack is now irresistible.
I like this position even better than the previous one. It is a position of our own day. Although chess technique has made great strides, modern masters would not be ashamed to play such a game; on the contrary, they would be proud. Yet Tchigorin plaed it forty-five years ago!
Thus, summing up our analysi of Tchigorin's creative powers, we can say that he was one of the greatest of Russian players, an artist of chess thought, and perhaps the first player in the world to treat the game as it deserves. He did a great deal for the development of chess in Russia and had a powerful influence on world chess thought.
He was many years in advance of his tome, and his work will always be an inexhausible source for the development and perfection of chess ideas.
. . .
The representives of the older generation of Soviet masters, players like Romanovsky, Levenfish, Ilyn-Zhenevsky, Nenarokov, Rabinovich, and Grigoriev, have played a great part in passing on the experience of the Tchigorin school to our young masters. Troitsky and Kubbel also did much to form our artistic tastes.
What creative features have Soviet players inherited from such outstanding masters as Tchigorin and Alekhine? To avoid being misunderstood I must add that we have of course studied the creative art of such masters as Nimzovitch and Rubenstein, Lasker and Capablanca, to mention a few; but the two men who have had the greatest influence on the development of the Soviet school are Tchigorin and Alekhine.
From Tchigorin we took over a number of opening ideas, and in our own day the Soviet players are popularizing these openings all ove the chess world.
From Tchigorin also we inherited a fine technique; in this respect we still learn and shall go on learning from him. And we have inherited his passion for the initiative. All sorts of people play chess, some more actively, others more passively; but for some reason you never find completely "passive"players among Soviet masters. In the main we aim at the initiative, an attack, and, in our defence, at counter-attack.
- from: Botvinnik : 100 Selected Games