Person of day - 12 NOVEMBER 2023
Mikhail’s childhood was full of hardship and deprivation- he lost his parents at an early age and was raised in a Gatchino Orphanage Institute, where he learned to play chess thanks to his teacher, Augustus Schuman. It is interesting to note that, according to Sargin’s surviving publications, Mikhail’s mother was a gypsy. The orphanage raised junior government officials, but Mikhail did not finish it- he was expelled as a senior student who performed badly in his studies, along with the real perpetrators of the rebellion in the institution. However, Chigorin was lucky; despite his unfinished education, he became a clerk in the local police station and received an income of 50 roubles, a respectable salary in that time.
Chigorin entered the police force at 20 and worked there from 1871 to 1883, but the atmosphere of Café Dominique captivated him and eventually changed his life. Soon, Chigorin won the title of the café’s strongest player and later on, after a decade, he left his secure job to pursue the passion of his life. One day, Emanuel Schiffers- a regular visitor of Dominique and Russia’s strongest chess player- invited Chigorin to compete in an open tournament of a German chess convention. The debutant took third place, behind Schiffers and Ilya Shumov, another master, which brought him success and fame. His superiors treated his voyages abroad with leniency, however, after his third trip, Mikhail handed in his resignation.
Chigorin swiftly began to gather strength- soon he dared to challenge Schiffers to a match. The contest took place in 1878 and its result shocked the public; the recognised favourite lost with a score of 3:7. A revenge match soon followed; Schiffers was behind for a long time, but he regained the balance close to the end and took victory in the final round, winning with a score of 7,5:6,5. But that was Emanuel Stepanovich’s last success and in the three subsequent matches Russia’s new leader won convincingly, proving that he was indeed the best.
One year later, there was an all-play-all tournament which brought together Russia’s 10 strongest chess players. Chigorin beat Schiffers here as well and split first place with Semyon Alapin, whom he then beat in an additional competition. The subsequent relationship between Alapin and Chigorin was difficult, and several years later Alapin was castigated by the Soviet chess school. It is though that he even burned the archive of his opponent.
Soon, Mikhail Chigorin won world recognition. He took first place in the largest tournament of the American Congress in 1889, where he thrice beat William Steinitz, who won the world championship in 1886. The new king of the chess world first defended his title in 1889, and named Chigorin his opponent, characterising the Russian master as the worthiest of the worthy on the pages of the “International Chess Magazine”.
The clash of the titans took place in the capital of Cuba, Havana. Mikhail led after 7 matches, but eventually lost 6,5:10,5. Chigorin’s defeat temporarily removed him from the list of competitors for the crown and Steinitz’s next challenger was Isidor Gunsberg. However, Steinitz’s and Chigarin’s competition began to transcend the chess board. The champion used his published his postulated on the new school of positioning, which the recent contender excoriated on the pages of St Petersburg’s “Chess Paper”. The reason for the renewed debate was the analysis of William I, devoted to the defence of two knights and Evans’ gambit. Chigorin criticised the ideas of his vis-à-vis in relation to the positioning of the knights on the edge of the board (9.Kh3 and 7…Kh6), claiming that these variants are variants are incorrect. A bet was made for 750 dollars and the opponents competed over telegraph over two matches. Steinitz was defeated comprehensively.
Wounded by this fiasco, the world champion decided to defend his title in a match against the inconvenient opponent, and another match between Steinitz and Chigorin took place in Havana in 1892. As before, the competitors played to 10 victories and, with the score at 9:9, to another three, discounting draws. Before the 23rd match, the Russian maestro managed to equal the score and take the match to tie-breaker, but lost concentration and was checkmated by a rudimentary move while possessing an extra figure.
In subsequent years Chigorin remained one of the planet’s strongest chess players; his matches with other candidates - Isidor Gunsberg and Siegbert Tarrasch - finished with draws, and in 1903 Mikhail Chigorin won in the thematic match of the new world champion, Emanuel Lasker. However, the significance of this victory cannot be overestimated, since the rules of the march dictated that the world champion play the fatal Rice Gambit only with whites… the Russian chess-player triumphed in competitions in Budapest in 1896, Vienna in 1903 and several all-Russian tournaments consecutively.
Mikhail Chigorin made a huge contribution to the popularisation of chess in our country; he wrote articles, published a magazine, have séances for simultaneous and blind chess and constantly travelled the Russian Empire with lectures and performances. He is known as a master of brilliant combinatory play, and is rightly considered as one of the forefathers of our national chess school. A debut is named after him, which is started with moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 Ksb (as we know, Chigorin preferred knights to bishops) and various combinations of Spanish play, as well as French and Slavic defences.
He died unexpectedly in Lublin in 1908, where he was buried. In the last years of his life, the maestro suffered with sugar diabetes and gout. Shortly before World War I, his ashes were transferred to the Novodevichy Cemetery of St. Petersburg.
The founder of Russian chess married twice, and he had one daughter, Olga. Later, his daughter fled from the Russian Revolution with her new family to Yugoslavia. Mikhail Ivanovich’s only grandson died in the USA in 2011.