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Steinitz,W. – Chigorin,M. 1892

An Original Plan in the Spanish Opening

In this and the forthcoming articles, I will focus on the classical and instructive games of the first official World Champion William Steinitz, and his contemporaries.

Wilhelm (later William) Steinitz (May 14, 1836 – August 12, 1900) was born in Prague, then an Austrian Empire, and later became an American citizen. He was the first undisputed world chess champion from 1886 to 1894, losing his title to Emanuel Lasker. He was a highly influential writer and chess theoretician, discussing chess history from the 1850s onwards. He also lost a rematch in 1896–97. Following his defeat by Lasker, Steinitz suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized in Moscow.  He recovered for a time but fell ill again and died a pauper.

Steinitz was unbeaten in match play for 32 years, from 1862 to 1894, a proof why he was one of the most dominant players in the history of the game. Although Steinitz became “world number one” by winning in the all-out attacking style that was common in the 1860s, he unveiled in 1873 a new positional style of play, which was to become the basis of modern chess and demonstrated that it was superior to the previous romantic style. Even though, many of Steinitz’s games showed that it could also set up attacks as ferocious as those of the old school.

He improved rapidly in chess during the late 1850s. During this period he was nicknamed “the Austrian Morphy”. In the 1860s, he beat in matches several UK top players, Blackburne included. Beating Adolf Anderssen in a match (8 wins – 6 losses, with no draws) was regarded as one of his peaks in Steinitz career, as the former was considered the world’s strongest active player, as Morphy has retired from competitive chess. After this victory, he was generally regarded as world’s best player.

In the years following his victory over Anderssen, he beat Henry Bird in 1866 (seven wins, five losses, five draws) Zukertort in 1872 (seven wins, four draws, one loss). His first victory in a strong tournament was London 1872, ahead of Blackburne and Zukertort.

Between 1873 and 1882 Steinitz played no tournaments and only one match (a 7–0 win against Blackburne in 1876). His other games during this period were in simultaneous and blindfold exhibitions, which contributed an important part of a professional chess-player’s income in those days.

Zukertort’s victory in the strong London 1883 chess tournament (ahead of Steinitz by 3 points) led some commentators to suggest that Zukertort should be regarded as the world chess champion, while others said the issue could only be resolved by a match between Steinitz and Zukertort.

Eventually it was agreed that in 1886 Steinitz and Zukertort would play a match in New York, St. Louis and New Orleans, and that the victor would be the player who first won 10 games. At Steinitz’s insistence the contract said it would be “for the Championship of the World”. After the five games played in New York, Zukertort led by 4–1, but in the end Steinitz won decisively by 12½–7½ (ten wins, five draws, five losses). The collapse by Zukertort, who won only one of the last 15 games, has been described as “perhaps the most thoroughgoing reversal of fortune in the history of world championship play.”

Though not yet officially an American citizen, Steinitz wanted the United States flag to be placed next to him during the match. He became a U.S. citizen on November 23, 1888, having resided for five years in New York, and changed his first name from Wilhelm to William.

From January to February 1889, in Havana, A match for the world chess championship title was won by Steinitz against Mikhail Chigorin (ten wins, one draw, six losses).

In 1891 the Saint Petersburg Chess Society and the Havana Chess Club offered to organize another Steinitz–Chigorin match for the world championship. Steinitz played against Chigorin in Havana in 1892, and won narrowly (ten wins, five draws, eight losses).

Around this time Steinitz publicly spoke of retiring, but changed his mind when Emanuel Lasker, 32 years younger and comparatively untested at the top level, challenged him, as Steinitz may have desperately needed the money (the final stake of $4,000 would be worth more than $495,500 today’s values).

The match was played in 1894, at venues in New York, Philadelphia and Montreal. The 32-year age difference between the combatants was the largest in the history of world championship play, and remains so today. Lasker won with ten wins, five losses and four draws. Some commentators thought Steinitz’s habit of playing “experimental” moves in serious competition was a major factor in his downfall.

After losing the title, Steinitz played in tournaments more frequently than he had previously. He won at New York 1894, and was fifth at Hastings 1895 (winning the first brilliancy prize for his game with Curt von Bardeleben). At Saint Petersburg 1895, a super-strong four player, multi-round-robin event, with Lasker, Chigorin and Pillsbury, he took second place. Later his results began to decline: 6th in Nuremberg 1896, 5th in Cologne 1898, 10th in London 1899.

In early 1896, Steinitz defeated the Russian Emanuel Schiffers in a match (winning 6 games, drawing 1, losing 4).

In November, 1896 to January, 1897 Steinitz played a return match with Lasker in Moscow, but won only 2 games, drawing 5, and losing 10. Steinitz had a mental breakdown and was confined for 40 days in a Moscow sanatorium, where he played chess with the inmates. He died a pauper in the Manhattan State Hospital (Ward Island) of a heart attack on August 12, 1900. Steinitz is buried in the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn, New York.

Steinitz won all his “normal” matches, sometimes by wide margins; and his worst tournament performance in that 28-year period was third place in Paris (1867). He also lost two handicap matches and a match by telegraph in 1890 against Mikhail Chigorin, where Chigorin was allowed to choose the openings in both games and won both.

Initially Steinitz played in the all-out attacking style of contemporaries like Anderssen, and then changed to the positional style with which he dominated competitive chess in the 1870s and 1880s. However, he retained his capacity for brilliant attacks right to the end of his career; for example in the 1895 Hastings tournament (when he was 59) he beat von Bardeleben in a spectacular game  (my next article – CK) in which in the closing stages Steinitz deliberately exposed all his pieces to attack simultaneously (except his king, of course). His most significant weaknesses were his habits of playing “experimental” moves and getting into unnecessarily difficult defensive positions in top-class competitive games.

Mikhail Ivanovich Chigorin (31October 1850 – 12 January1908) 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.

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 officer.

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 Emanual 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 Russia.

His first international tournament was Berlin 1881, where he was equal third (+10−5=1) with Winawer, behind Zukertort and Blackburne.

At the great London tournament of 1883, he finished fourth (+16−10=0) behind Zukertort, Steinitz and Blackburne.

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 also at Havana in 1892, but he narrowly lost 12½–10½ (+8−10=5).

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 record versus David Janowski (+4−17=4). Most of his losses to Janowski occurred late in Chigorin’s life, when he was past his best. . 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 Gambit-themed Vienna Tournament of 1903 and defeated Lasker (+2−1=3) in a sponsored Rice Gambit tournament in Brighton. 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 Lodz 1906, in a four-person event, he finished second to Akiba Rubinstein.

Alongside these international events, he also organized, 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 winner Gersz Salwe to a match and came out the victor (+7−5=3).

In all likelihood, his best performance occurred at the Hastings 1895 tournament, where he placed second, ahead of reigning world champion Emanuel Lasker, Tarrasch and former world champion Steinitz.

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.

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 (or the Spanish Opening). He also pioneered some variations of the Slave Defence. Although a large bearded man, Chigorin was also described as ‘decidedly handsome’.

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 his death.


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.

Through his original talent, lively games and prolific teachings, many Russians regard Mikhail Chigorin as the founder of their “School of Chess”. Overshadowed to some extent in the 1920s by the exciting new theories of the hypermodern movement (led by Reti, Breyer, and Nimzowitsch), Chigorin’s influence nevertheless demands a prominent and permanent place in the Soviet chess hegemony of the 20th century.

Chigorin has several openings or variations of openings named after him, the two most important being the Chigorin Variation of the Ruz 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 of the Queen’s Gambit (1.d4 d5 2.c4 Nc6) (even Morozevich wrote a book about it) . 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 Indiansetups, but Chigorin also played it with other ideas (such as b2–b3) in mind. May I say that he introduced into play the King’s Indian and the semi-Slav defenses?

Steinitz,W. – Chigorin,M.

World Championship, Havana (4), 1892

1.e4 e5

2.Nf3 Nc6

3.Bb5 Nf6

The Berlin defence was also trendy as it is now.


This modern treatment of the 21st century was played in the 19th one!


5.c3 g6

Chigorin’s contributions to the Spanish Opening and the King’s Indian defense are welcome by every player through time. The Zaitsev or the Smyslov variations are just a few proof of the influence of the great Chigorin’s thinking on modern theory.

6.Nbd2 Bg7


White is profiting from the clearance of the f1-square in order to maneuver the knight to a better square in the center, a theme that is very common now in the modern approach of the Italian Game.



Steinitz is keeping the bishop on the board.

In case of 8.Ne3, Black is ready to strike with d5! Forcing White to play  9.Qc2.

After 8.Qe2 Black can play 8…Bd7 so if 9.Ba4?! Nd4! 10.cxd4 Bxa4 11.dxe5 dxe5 12.Nxe5 Bb5 obtaining a nice position.


It was better to play 8…d5 9.Qe2 Qd6 10.Bc2 b6 11.Ng3 Ba6 12.0–0 dxe4 13.Nxe4 Nxe4 14.Qxe4 Bb7 with equal chances.

With the move played, Chigorin intended to post his knight on e6, via c5, preventing the d3-d4 push, and, if the situation permitted, push f7-f5. It looks like Chigorin studied the games of the modern masters!

9.Ne3 Nc5

9…f5 was still possible, with a complicated struggle ahead.

10.Bc2 Ne6

Now 10…f5 is not precise on account of 11.exf5 gxf5 12.d4! As mentioned above, after his Ne6 preparatory move, pushing the f-pawn is again on Black’s agenda.


A chocking and strong move. It is that type of moves that proves for for every player why she must study the games of the legends.

Did you notice that the White’s king is still in the center black can’t do anything to open any venue towards him?


If 11…h6  then 12.h5 g5 13.Nf5 and d3–d4 with a clear advantage for White.

The intended 11…f5 is refuted not by 12 h5 f4 13.Nd5 g5 14.h6 Bf6 15.Bb3 Kh8, bBut by 12.exf5 gxf5 13.d4! providing excellent attacking chances.

12.h5 d5

If 12…g5?!  then 13.h6!

13.hxg6 fxg6?

After this serious mistake, the opponent’s ‘Spanish’ bishop becomes active for free.

The correct recapture was 13…hxg6 with a more safety for his king, as demonstrated by the following variation: 14.exd5 Nxd5 15.Nxd5 Qxd5 16.Bh6 Bxh6 17.Rxh6 Kg7 18.Qd2 Nf4. But White’s play can be improved by the much stronger 14 Qe2 followed by Bd2 and 0–0–0 with a strong the initiative, but at least Black can profit from the sharpness of the issuing position to complicate the matters.

14.exd5! Nxd5

15.Nxd5 Qxd5


The Spanish bishop becomes an Italian one, influencing the light squares in the center and around the Black’s king side squares.



Preventing …e5–e4, and preparing to castle long, profiting from the weaknesses around the Black’s king.


In case of 17…a5, White will play 18.a4! Qb6 19. Qc2 (or 19.Bc4) with a clear advantage, but not 19.Bxe6+ ? due to  19…Bxe6 20.Ng5 Bf5 21.Nxh7 Rfd8.


A mistake would be: 18.Nxe5? Qxg2 19.Nxd7 Qxh1+ 20.Kd2 Kh8 21.Bxe6 Qh2 22.Nxf8 Rxf8 with equal chances.



How many times (queenside castling) occurs in your Spanish games?



Steinitz is preparing the central break d3–d4, after which the attack on the Black’s king will become irresistible.

If you study carefully the games of Fischer, I am sure that you noticed how many times he used the f1-square for his queen in the construction of his attack.


Black is trying to make some confusion in the position.

In case of:20…Nf4 then comes 21.Ng5 h6 22.Nf7+ Kh7 23.d4! Qxg2 24.Qxg2 Nxg2 25.Nxh6!

21.d4! exd4

This is the only move, due to threat of d4-d5.

22.Nxd4 Bxd4

This exchange of the bishop is a proof of Black’s desperation.

22…Nxd4? was bad: 23.Rxh7+! Kxh7 24.Qh1+;

Or 22…Qe4 23.Nf3! Qc6 24.Qd3 with a winning attack


The culmination of White’s strategy.


This very bad move comes from desperation of his position.

if 23…Re7 then 24.Rdh4 Rff7 25.g3 , with the threat of 26.Bd4+ Kg8 27.Qd3 and 28 Qg6



Bang Bang.

Aagaard said in his (Attacking Manual) books: A revolution after evolution.


25.Qh1+ Kg7

26.Bh6+ Kf6

27.Qh4+ Ke5


Black resigned before being checkmating in one move.

The final position deserves a diagram.