Chigorin and Bronstein- Two Great Pioneers, Part I

Chigorin and Bronstein- Two Great Pioneers, Part I


When he was no. 2 in the world, Vladimir Kramnik said that he did not fully understand chess. This is a gigantic statement by one of the greatest players of our time! It is also a sign of great respect to chess, which is so deep and varied as to escape full comprehension by the greatest minds.

Taking that into consideration, it is humbling to even attempt to post a blog about great players. Yet the desire to share something beautiful or magnificent is still there, and although I feel like a firefly talking about the moon, I cannot help myself!

Leafing recently through Jimmy Adams's masterpiece, "Mikhail Chigorin, The Creative Genius", I came across a particular game between Chigorin and Paulsen, in which Jimmy Adams makes a precise statement:

Now, this statement made me curious, because Jimmy Adams does NOT provide the Bronstein games that prove his statement. Yet I knew that it must be true, because I trusted Mr. Adam's chess culture, and his thoroughness as a researcher.

Recently, a few years after first reading this statement by Jimmy Adams, I was inspired to try and find the Bronstein games to which he was referring. They must be out there!

So I took a look at a great book by Bronstein: "200 Open Games". This is a collection of games, all starting with the moves 1.e4 e5.

Sure enough, on pages 156 and 157 of this book (1973 edition), there are two games from the 1951 USSR Championship in which Bronstein uses this idea. The first game is a draw against Keres, while the second one is a victory against Geller! Here are the key positions that prove Mr. Adams' statement:


Chigorin is a giant in the chess world! Reading Jimmy Adams's masterpiece, "Mikhail Chigorin, The Creative Genius", specially at the beginning of the book, where the author details all the obstacles Chigorin faced in his life, and the player and promoter of the player he became, Chigorin grows taller in my eyes by the minute!

From being orphaned at age 10, surviving an abusive orphanage, to making his own future and eventually becoming a chess professional, Chigorin's life is nothing short of spectacular.

Add to that his numerous contributions to chess theory, and you can see why generations of Russian and Soviet players declared themselves followers of Chigorin (including Smyslov and Botvinnik). Like Smyslov decades later, Chigorin's love for chess resulted in numerous contributions.

Going back to the first game example in this blog post, we can also look at the position arising from the opening:

A year ago, I published a blog post about how the famous Marshall Attack was actually Chigorin's idea!

This is something that Jimmy Adams correctly points out. Take a look!

First, here is the prototype, from Ostend, 1905!

...and here is Marshall's attempt at implementing this idea against Capablanca:

and Jimmy Adams' comment:

"It is astonishing, but before us lies the prototype of the Marshall Attack, introduced into practice after the sensational encounter Capablanca-Marshall, played in 1918, 13 years after this game. Marshall also played in Ostende and it is very likely that it was there in particular that he took note of Chigorin's method of counterattack beginning with the move 11....d5."

Now, I know that, to some, I might sound like a broken record, always writing about how important it is to study the games of the great Masters of the past. One of these is Chigorin!

On this theme, let us quote Smyslov, who won the World Championship in 1957!

"The games of the great Russian chess master M. I. Chigorin made an indelible impression on me...."

"If Steinitz and his disciples introduced to chess ideas which limited the fantasy of the chessplayers by their severe laws based on strictly logical thinking, then M.I. Chigorin, as an artist, saw chess from another point of view- as an original art, impossible to encompass and express by any mathematical formula."

"In the many outstanding games of the founder of the Russian School, M.I. Chigorin, there are certain new ideas showing us an understanding much in advance of his time. For example in the famous game against Pillsbury (St. Petersburg, 1895), in which Chigorin was Black, we see running throughout the whole game an artistic idea distinct for its strategic novelty, which directly opposed the dogmatic and stereotyped thinking of Pillsbury (immediate seizure of the centre)."

Note: I offer you here this game, mentioned by Smyslov, and also a victory over Lasker, both played with the Chigorin Defense!


Now, one thing you guys might be aware of, or not, is the fact that the famous Berlin Defense, which Kramnik used to defeat Kasparov in the 2000 World Championship Match, was in vogue in the 1860's, and people were so tired of it, they started trying to avoid the main lines by using d3 systems, as Steinitz did. Sounds familiar? This is the method used today!

This is Steinitz and Potter, commenting on a Zukertort game from 1878, after 1.e4.e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6:

"Blackburne and Kolisch, no mean authorities it will be admitted, have come to the conclusion that 3...a6 is bad, and consequently that in the future 3....Nf6 must be looked upon as the only defence. I am afraid that this announcement will sorely grieve many an amateur, as he recalls the years during which he has studied and practised 3....a6. I sympathise with him deeply, and can only advise him to hold fast by the grand maxim 'there is nothing new, and nothing true, and it doesn't signify.'

Well, here is a game from 1877, in which Chigorin is already playing the Berlin Defense!

.....and here is the Zukertort game:

Chigorin's ideas were sometimes unconventional, but always based on a profound understanding of the essential characteristics of certain systems.

For example, in the 1.e4 e5 systems, specially in the Ruy Lopez, Black's pawn on e5 contains the White centre from expansion, and is therefore a central piece of Black's strategy. Chigorin did not like to follow "theory" blindly, but rather discover his own way. In the third game of his 1893 match with Tarrasch he played the move 5....Nd7, which would later become the seed idea for Kere's Variation in......The Chigorin Defense to the Ruy Lopez!

In the 15th game of that match, his variation again triumphed!

Now look at Keres, one of the greatest exponents of the Ruy Lopez, play the Keres Defense in the Chigorin Variation of the Ruy Lopez, for the first time, in 1947!

This is a concept that Bronstein shares in his book, "The Sorcerer's Apprentice". When a pawn from either side crosses the fourth rank, it crosses the Equator, so to speak. In some cases, this can be a significant positional achievement, which can lead to an attack.
I will make a small can see and feel the influence, not only of Chigorin, but also of all the great Masters of the past, in Bronstein's games.
Again, sometimes you can spot specific themes that are inspired by these great Masters.
First, I want to share with you a game in the Chigorin Defense, within the Two Knights Defense against the Giouco Piano. Notice how, at the cost of a pawn, Black obtains more space, spearheaded by a pawn at e4 that has crossed the "Equator".

Now look at these two early games by Bronstein, where the Black pawn at e4 spearheads Black's advantage!

and this one.....

When you look at the games of David Bronstein, there are a few things that strike the eye

1) The first one is the elasticity of his style; he can bend a position at will!

2) The second thing is the originality of his tactical ideas; they are incredibly unique and

3) The third thing that you notice is the world-class, organic way of play. By that I mean the
    capacity to isolate issues on the chessboard, to address issues of structure vs. tactics, in
    the proper order of importance and urgency, and also to alternate attack and defense as
    needed, along with imagination and great technique in all phases of the game. In this respect,
    his style parallels Chigorin's style.

As a preliminary example of Bronstein's play, and the last game of this Part I, this is the 22nd game of the World Championship match between Bronstein and Botvinnik in 1951.

Botvinnik plays his favorite Dutch Defense, and seems to obtain an advantage, as Bronstein ends up with a backward pawn on an open file (e3), and it seems that all Botvinnik has to do is apply pressure on it....then, Bronstein starts to maneuver, and probe weaknesses in Black's position, and gradually, very gradually, he starts to open the position, until...Botvinnik is completely lost!

The game is a masterpiece, in the style of Chigorin and Lasker; it is a triumph of energy vs. structure, where by sheer willpower Bronstein achieves victory!