Mikhail Ivanovich Chigorin (also Tchigorin; Russian: Михаи́л
Ива́нович Чиго́рин; 12 November [O.S. 31
October] 1850 – 25 January [O.S. 12 January] 1908)
was a leading Russian chess player. He played two World Championship
matches against Wilhelm Steinitz, losing both times. The last great
player of the
Romantic chess style, he also served as a major source
of inspiration for the "Soviet
Chess School", which dominated the
chess world in the middle and latter parts of the 20th century.
2 Style and demeanour
3 Later life
5 In popular culture
7 External links
Chigorin was born in
Gatchina but moved to nearby Saint Petersburg
some time later. His father worked in the Okhtensk gunpowder works.
Chigorin's parents died young and Chigorin entered the Gatchinsk
Orphans' Institute at the age of 10. He became serious about chess
uncommonly late in life; his schoolteacher taught him the moves at the
age of 16, but he did not take to the game until around 1874, having
first finished his studies before commencing a career as a government
Once smitten with the game, he terminated his employment and started
life as a chess professional. In 1876, he started a chess magazine,
Chess Sheet, which he edited until 1881 (only 250 subscribers in all
of Russia). He played a series of matches with established masters
Emanuel Schiffers (1878–1880) and
Semyon Alapin (1880) and notched
up a large plus score against each. It was not long after that he was
regarded as the best player in the city and possibly the whole of
His first international tournament was Berlin 1881, where he was equal
third (+10−5=1) with Szymon Winawer, behind
Johannes Zukertort and
Joseph Henry Blackburne. This event included 17 master competitors.
At the great London tournament of 1883, he finished fourth
(+16−10=0) behind Zukertort,
Wilhelm Steinitz and Blackburne. The 14
competitors in this double round robin event included practically all
of the best chessplayers in the world.
At the very strong tournament of New York 1889 he was equal first with
Max Weiss. Following this great success he challenged the world
champion Steinitz for a match with the World Championship at stake.
The World Championship match was played at
Havana in 1889, but he lost
10½–6½ (+6−10=1). A second World Championship match was played
Havana in 1892, but he narrowly lost 12½–10½ (+8−10=5).
His overall record against Steinitz was very close (+24−27=8). He
also played a much publicised 'telegraph match' against Steinitz in
1890, devised to settle a theoretical argument. Chigorin had the
slight advantage of choosing the openings in advance from a list
supplied by Steinitz and duly won both games.
Towards the end of the century, his standing at home and abroad
continued to rise, and he was in the world's top four or five players.
His reputation as a match player too, continued to grow. He drew an
1893 match with
Siegbert Tarrasch in
Saint Petersburg (+9−9=4) and
in his lifetime, maintained a narrow plus score against Tarrasch
(+14−13=8), who was a fearsome player in his own right. He had a
strong plus score against
Richard Teichmann (+8−3=1), but a poor
David Janowski (+4−17=4). Most of his losses to
Janowski occurred late in Chigorin's life, when he was past his best.
In all likelihood, his best performance occurred at the Hastings 1895
chess tournament, where he placed second, ahead of reigning world
champion Emanuel Lasker, Tarrasch and former world champion Steinitz.
All of the greatest players of the time participated in the event and
Chigorin's outstanding result included winning his individual
encounter with tournament victor, Harry Nelson Pillsbury. Pillsbury
had great respect for Chigorin's ability and for good reason, as
Chigorin had a marginal lifetime plus score against him (+8−7=6).
Although Chigorin had a poor record against Lasker in serious play
(+1−8=4), he was victorious with the black pieces in their first
game of this 1895 tournament, in which he outplayed Lasker in a
classic two knights versus two bishops ending.
In other major competitions, he was joint winner at
Budapest 1896, and
Rudolf Charousek (+3−1) in the playoff. At
Cologne in 1898, he
was equal second with Charousek and
Wilhelm Cohn after Amos Burn. His
7th-place finish at London 1899 was disappointing in comparison, but
this was another tournament notable for its impressive list of
participants. At Monte Carlo 1901, he placed equal third after
Janowski and Carl Schlecter.
A highly skilled exponent of gambit lines, he won the King's
Vienna Tournament of 1903 and defeated Lasker (+2−1=3)
in a sponsored Rice
Gambit tournament in Brighton. The latter was
however something of a hollow victory, as it was emerging that the
Gambit was unsound and so, playing the black side in each game
gave him a distinct advantage. He was also perhaps the most skilled
19th century practitioner of the Evans Gambit, which featured in many
of his great duels with Steinitz. At
Łódź 1906, in a four-person
event, he finished second to Akiba Rubinstein.
Alongside these international events, he also entered and won the
first three All-Russia Tournaments of 1899, 1900/01 and 1903. These
prestigious successes further cemented his reputation as Russia's best
player. Upon losing the fourth such event in 1906, he challenged the
Gersz Salwe to a match and came out the victor (+7−5=3).
Style and demeanour
His playing style featured a well honed tactical ability and an
imaginative approach to the opening. He rejected many of the
inflexible doctrines put forward by Tarrasch and Steinitz, but
accepted Steinitz' teachings about the soundness of the defensive
centre. Indeed, he went on to add to the development of the concept
through the work he carried out with closed variations of the Ruy
Lopez. He also pioneered some variations of the Slav Defence. Although
a large bearded man, Chigorin was also described as 'decidedly
Frank Marshall once commented on the highly agitated state that would
possess Chigorin when faced with difficult positions. Aside from the
usual frantic foot-tapping and crossing of legs, he would occasionally
become "a bundle of nerves", at which point his temperament could turn
"quite fierce".
Mikhail Chigorin shortly before his death in 1908
As an ambassador for Russian chess, Chigorin was a shining example; he
gave many lectures, wrote magazine articles and chess columns and
subsidised or otherwise supported a number of periodicals to keep them
afloat despite low readership levels. He also founded a chess club in
Saint Petersburg and tried for many years to establish a chess
association, an attempt that finally succeeded just a few years after
According to the Canadian International Master Lawrence Day, Chigorin
travelled with the young
Fedor Bogatyrchuk to Russian events in the
1905–1907 period, helping to train him. After moving to Canada
following World War II, Bogatyrchuk then trained Day.
In 1907, Chigorin failed badly in a chess tournament. He was clearly
not in good health and was diagnosed by doctors in Carlsbad with an
advanced and untreatable case of diabetes. This prompted a prediction
that he had only months to live, whereupon he returned to his
estranged wife and daughter in
Lublin and died the following January.
In 1909, a
Chigorin Memorial tournament was played in St. Petersburg.
After that many more followed: from 1947 onwards mainly in
from 1990 back in Saint Petersburg.
Mikhail Chigorin on a 1958 Soviet postage stamp
Through his original talent, lively games and prolific teachings, many
Mikhail Chigorin as the founder of their "School of
chess", later to become known as the Soviet School of Chess.
Overshadowed to some extent in the 1920s by the exciting new theories
of the hypermodern movement, Chigorin's influence nevertheless demands
a prominent and permanent place in the Soviet chess hegemony of the
This section uses algebraic notation to describe chess moves.
Chigorin has several chess openings or variations of openings named
after him, the two most important being the Chigorin Variation of the
Ruy Lopez (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Be7 6.Re1 b5
7.Bb3 d6 8.c3 0-0 9.h3 Na5 10.Bc2 c5 11.d4 Qc7) and the Chigorin
Defence to the Queen's
Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6). Whilst the former
has remained popular through the 1900s, the latter struggled to
attract a great many devotees until relatively recently. Igor
Miladinović has used the
Chigorin Defence with great regularity, but
its current revival owes much to the efforts of Alexander Morozevich,
who has championed the opening both in play and in his book – The
Chigorin Defence According To Morozevich (published 2007).
Another opening line invented by Chigorin is 1.e4 e6 2.Qe2 in the
French Defence. It is now generally regarded as a forerunner of King's
Indian setups, but Chigorin also played it with other ideas (such as
b2–b3) in mind.
In popular culture
A famous Chigorin game played against Steinitz in 1892 is used as the
base for the plot of The Squares of the City, a 1965 science-fiction
novel by John Brunner.
Emanuel Lasker vs
Mikhail Chigorin (1895) at www.chessgames.com
^  Arne Moll, Chigorin's Queen Move (2009) at ChessVibes.com
Adams, Jimmy (1987). Mikhail Chigorin: The Creative
Caissa Editions. ISBN 0-939433-05-2.
Hooper, David and
Kenneth Whyld (1996). The Oxford Companion To Chess.
Oxford University. ISBN 0-19-280049-3.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mikhail Chigorin.
Mikhail Chigorin player profile and games at Chessgames.com
Mikhail Chigorin download 171 of his games in pgn format.
ISNI: 0000 0000 7982 0917
BNF: cb14976128t (data)