Caro, Kann and Chigorin - Openings Players

Caro, Kann and Chigorin - Openings Players

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As we saw in previous installments of this series that discuss the players behind the named openings, the Caro-Kann Opening (1. e4  c6) draws its name not from its inventor.  Rather, the opening is named after Englishman Horatio Caro (1862—1920) and Austrian Marcus Kann (1820 – 1886), who published an analysis of the opening in the German magazine Brüderschaft in 1886, although the German language Wikipedia site reports the publication as being the Täglichen Rundschau.   However, the opening itself was mentioned far earlier in an anonymous work that may have been written by Giulio Cesare Polerio around 1590.  The Caro-Kann has been played by no less than Capablanca, Karpov and Botvinnik, who played it in his 1958 world championship match.

Neither Caro nor Kann achieved particular fame aside from their namesake opening, yet both were quality players.  Caro, who spent most of his playing life in Berlin, became champion of that city in 1904. lists Caro as achieving the position of 7th in the world in 1893 with an estimated rating of 2676.  Perhaps Caro’s most notable win was a 14 move victory in 1890 over Emanuel Lasker, although the opening played in that game was the queen’s pawn. 

While the opening bears two player’s names, Georg Marco, in his annotations on the 1907 International Chess Tournament in Karlsbad, instructs us that “the name Kann's Opening is the only correct way of speaking,” since it was the Viennese master who introduced the opening into high-level play, citing Kann’s very nice win against Mieses, which is shown below.

I find this game to be of interest not only because it illustrates Kann winning with the Caro-Kann, but also because the game essentially becomes a French Opening right after Kann trades off his bad white-square bishop for Mieses’ good bishop, giving him a significant advantage!


 Before moving on, I feel compelled to add that about a year ago I had the honor of being defeated by Grandmaster Rogelio Antonio of the Philippines in a 12-board simul, while he played the Caro-Kann, an opening in which he’s a noted expert.  Before the game began I entreated him not to be nervous while playing me.

My kindly comment must have calmed him because I could detect no agitation whatsoever in the Grandmaster during our game, which he won in 28 moves.

Chigorin’s Defense is the slightly unusual counter to the Queen’s Gambit, 1.  d4  d5  2. c4  Nc6,  and is named after Mikhail Ivanovich Chigorin (1850 – 1908), often Romanized with the spelling Tschigorin, who was the first ever Russian Grandmaster. 

Chigorin was infected by chess in his mid-twenties, and he quit his government job to become a full-time chess player, which has never exactly been a financially rewarding career.  He actually learned chess from his teacher, who was a friend of Kieseritsky, at the age of 16, which is a ripe old age for someone who eventually became a world-class player.

Chigorin played Steinitz twice for the World Championship, losing both times.  One of his greatest triumphs was his second place finish in the famous Hastings tournament of 1895, ahead of not only Steinitz, but also Lasker and Tarrasch, and behind only Pillsbury, although Chigorin won his individual encounter with the tournament champion.  Chigorin, noted for his skill in gambit openings, also won the first three All-Russia tournaments that began in 1899, which led to his being credited by many as the founding father some decades later of the Soviet School of Chess.

Chigorin would apparently become very animated and nervous when faced by a difficult position over the board, engaging in fierce foot tapping as well as crossing and virogously swinging his legs.  One of many top chess players who seem to have a partiality to liquor, Chigorin enjoyed free brandy from a board-side bottle during his championship matches with Steinitz, who himself drank champagne on doctor’s orders for his nerves!

In 1907 Chigorin was diagnosed with terminal diabetes, whereupon he ceased playing to spend his final days with his estranged wife and daughter.  He died in January 1908 in only his 58th year at life’s board.

Here is Chigorin playing Pillsbury with the Chigorin Defense in 1896.  Chigorin wins the game resoundingly after chasing the latter’s king half way around the board.


This blog is one of a continuing series that discusses the players whose names grace many openings.  Here are the links to these blogs published to date:

The Names behind the Openings, Part 1

Bird to Bogo

Caro, Kann and Chigorin – Openings Players

Evans and Göring: Gambiteers

Who was Giuoco Piano?