The Childhood of Russian Chess, Pt. V

Apr 8, 2012, 2:57 PM |

              Part I                           Part II                           Part III                         Part IV

Related Posting(s):     Petroff


Emmanuel Schiffers

     The tournament book for Hastings 1895 by Horace F. Cheshire gave the following short biography for Schiffers:      

                      Schiffers, Emanuel G. A., forty-five at the time of the Tournament,
                 was born of German parents on May 4, 1850, at St. Petersburg, where
                 he was educated, attending there the Classical Gymnasium till 1867,
                 and, continuing his studies in the Physical and Mathematical faculty
                 till 1871, became private tutor. In appearance he is rather formidable,
                 tall and somewhat massive framed, with a fine crop of curly iron-grey
                 hair surmounting a massive well-set head, an intelligent but kindly
                 countenance, and a general appearance of stability and robust manhood.
                 And with all this he is in manner both gentle and refined, with plenty
                 of true wit.
                      Chess seems to have been taken up at about fifteen, and at twenty
                 he played with decided success against Tschoumoff [Shumov] and others,
                 whilst about 1875 he made good practice with Winawer. He came to      
             know Tchigorin in 1873 and used to play him at the odds of a Knight,
          but two years later the latter attained first-class strength, and in 1880
                 he beat Schiffers, depriving him of his proud position as the leading player
                 of Russia, though he may justly still claim the second place.
                      He has won matches against Tchigorin, Mitropolsky, Wainstein,
                 Jankowitsch, Chardin, and Alapin, two against each of the last three.
                 Since 1880 however he has lost two or three matches against Tchigorin,
                 but has otherwise held his own against all comers and has won many
                 prizes in handicaps.

     At the time of his death, Rhoda A. Bowles wrote in her chess column In Womanhood magazine  in Feb., 1905:
                 M. Emanuel Schiffers. whose death recently took place in St. Petersburg,
                 was once the leading player of All the Russians. His pupil. M. Tchigorin,
                 wrested the title from him, but could seldom succeed in beating his own
                 master in serious tournament or match play.  At Hastings, in the noted                                           tournament of 1895, Tchigorin instead of Pillsbury might have been the
                 first prize-winner but for the fact that Schiffers beat him. Schiffers himself
                 took sixth, and I well remember what a striking figure he looked (standing
                 quite six feet high as he walked up, with a tremendously long cheroot
                 (I'm not sure if this is the correct term) in his mouth, and smoking furiously
                 what time he received his prize at the hands of Mrs. Sayer-Milward, who
                 with the audience present, was highly amused at his forgetfulness to
                 remove that smoking firebrand before ascending the platform.
     Although Schiffers won his share against Tschigorin, Tschigorin completely out-classed him ( contains 72 games between the two with the result of +39=15-18 in Tschigorin's favor).  Schiffers did win a game with Tschigorin at Hastings 1895 that helped give Pillsbury the victory that made him famous. Schiffers came in 6th behind Pillsbury, Tschigorin, Lasker, Tarrasch and Steinitz.

The game below, extracted from, was annotated by Pillsbury himself.

     Emanuel George Karl Schiffers was born on May 4, 1850 in St. Petersburg.  His parents were Prussians who immigrated to St. Petersburg in 1819.  Since his father's name was Johann Stefan Schiffers, Emanuel's name often takes the Russia form of Emanuel Stepanovich Schiffers
He was educated at in  St. Petersburg's Larin Gymnasium or high school where he graduated in 1867 and was accepted into the St. Petersburg University law department where his older brother, Edward, taught, but soon transferred to the department of Physics and Mathematics.  Upon graduating on March 28, 1871, he received his certficate for tutoring. 
     Schiffers, who learned chess at age 15, took up playing at the Café  Dominique [Dominik, Dominic] during his college years.

                         The above painting, U Dominika, by Vladimir Egorovich Makovsky,
                 a contmporary of Schiffers, depicts the Café Dominique in 1910.
     St. Petersburg had many cafés styled after the Western coffehouses in Paris. Most of these places offered breakfast lunch and dinner meals, coffee, of course, as well as alcoholic beverages.  They also rented billiard tables and tables for checkers, chess and dominoes.  Café food was generally higher priced than other similar establishments, such as taverns and confectioners, that didn't offer games, but of all the coffehouses in St. Petersburg, the Café Dominique, located on the popular street, the Nevsky Prospect (building 24), was among the cheapest. Possibly because of its lower prices which made it a favorite of the students, the Dominique became the chess café of St. Petersburg for over 30 years.  It's there where Schiffers, already considered a master in 1873, met his most famous pupil, Mikhail Tschigorin. The Café Dominique, which had been opened by a Swiss gentelman named Dominic, closed in 1917 (although it re-opened, it was never the same).

   The same year he graduated from the University, Schiffers was granted Russian citizenship. On his new passport he was listed as Emanuel Ivanovich Schiffers to expedite his movement in and out of Russia.  Shiffers was a heavy drinker and spent time in an asylum several times for treatment.  Even Tarrasch lamented the fact, believing that alcohol kept Schiffers from attaining the highest level.  Alcohol, in fact, contributed to his early death.  Inebriated, he fell out a window early in 1904 and though he survived the fall itself,  he died later that year and was buried in the German Cemetery in Smolensk.

   From 1873 to 1878 Schiffers was thought to be the premier Russian chess player. There doesn't seem to be much hard data to establish Schiffers as the strongest player other than a couple wins against relatively unknowns (Friedrich Amelung and Andrey Chardin - his match with Chardin, which Schiffers won with the slight margin of 5-4, was considered one for the Russian championship). Tschigorin, who started off his chess career accepting knight-odds from Schiffers in 1873, surpassed his teacher by 1878 by winning one match with the uneven score of  +7-3 and losing a second match with the narrow score of  +6 =1 -7.  The following year, Tschigorin beat Schiffers +7 =2 -4 for what was considered to be the Russian championship and in 1880 won again most decisively with a score of +7 =3 -1. 

Even by his contemporaries Schiffers was called the Teacher of Russian Chess. He lectured and gave chess lesssons as well as playing to support himelf.  He wrote a book, Pravila priličija v šahmatnoj igre [Правила приличия в шахматной игре], discussing the morals and decency of chess.  He published a series of articles in the Shakhmatnyi Zhurnal, a periodical he edited from 1894 to 1898. These articles comprised part of a book he was planing on publishing in 1904.  Unfortunately, he died that year and the book, Samouchitel Shakhmatnoi Igry (Chess Tutorial), the first Russian chess primer,  consisting of 675 games, was published posthumously in 1906.

Schiffers participated in 8 international tournaments, all with mediocre results. But in 1887 Frankfort, where Schiffers placed 10th out of 21 (Capt. Mackenzie won), he played a game against the last place participant, a new-comer named Max Harmonist (Schiffers also won his games against Isodor Gunsberg, JH Blackburn, Jean Taubenhaus and Emil Schallopp) and won in brilliant fashion.

A final tribute to Schiffers is the following game in his close match with Steinitz (+4 =1 -6, Steinitz'  favor) at Rostov-on-don (about 500 miles south of Moscow).