The Contest Between Messrs. Steinitz and Tchigorin

by William Steinitz

It would be an unfair disparagement of the reputation of our celebrated antagonist in the contest treated in the following pages, if we were to offer any apology for introducing the series of games played between the author and Mr. Tchigorin at Havana in the beginning of the year 1889. But we may state that the games of the last championship match, between Messrs. Steinitz and Zukertort, played at New York, Saint Louis and New Orleans in 1886, were published shortly after the conclusion of the contest in separate collections by two rival German authors and by two different publishers. The author, therefore, felt justified in entertaining the expectation that the addition of the games of the latest contest would form an attractive feature of this volume, more especially as the play of the two opponents represents two different schools, which in many respects are almost antagonistic in their respective styles and in their leading view about the general conduct of the game. On this subject we reserve some further remarks, and proceed to give a brief history of the inauguration of the contest, which we believe will not be out of place.

In the early part of 1888 Mr. Steinitz visited Havana, in consequence of an invitation from the hospitable Chess Club of that city to give some Chess exhibitions and to play matches and off-hand games against the Cuban Champion, Judge Golmayo; the Mexican Champion, Senor Vazquez, Consul General of Mexico; Senores Carvajal, Ponce and other prominent players. The members of the Havana Chess Club, who are most enthusiastic and liberal patrons of the game, made on this occasion the offer to Mr. Steinitz to provide the stakes and to defray all the expenses of a match for the championship of the world to be held under the auspices of that society against any opponent whom the visitor would accept. Mr. Steinitz accepted the handsome offer on condition that the contest should consist of a limited number of games, as he could not be sure whether his various engagements would allow him to stay at Havana for an indefinite time, which would have been necessary in case many draws occurred. He selected for his opponent the Russian master, Mr. Tchigorin with whom he had played on two previous occasions. The first time in the Vienna International Tournament of 1882 Mr. Steinitz had tied for first and second prizes with Herr Winawer, while Mr. Tchigorin did not secure any prize, but in the personal encounter with Mr. Steinitz each won a game. On the second occasion in the London International Tournament of 1883, the two players came closer together, for Mr. Steinitz won the second prize and Mr. Tchigorin the fourth; but the latter won both games in the personal encounter between the two players. Mr. Tchigorin was already universally recognized as a first class master, but more especially on account of his style being characterized by the rarest dash and brilliancy of combination in the conduct of the King's side attack as well as by exactitude of calculations in the ending. His selection for the championship contest was warmly approved of by most connoisseurs, and the choice of Mr. Steinitz has been since fully verified by the fact that Mr. Tchigorin tied for chief honors with Herr Max Weiss of Vienna among twenty competitors in the Grand International Tournament of the Sixth American Chess Congress held in New York in the spring of 1889.

[Tchigorin's later successes showed his merit. As a writer and a player he dominated Russian chess for years. He took second place at Hastings in 1895, equal first at Budapest in 1896 and first in the Vienna Gambit Tournament of 1903. He tied a match with Gunsberg in 1890 and another, with Tarrasch, in 1893. In 1892 he lost a match with Steinitz by the close score of 12 to 10. In the London 1883 Tournament mentioned above the first prize went to Zukertort and the third to Blackburne. Tchigorin was the leading contender in 1889 since both Zukertort and Blackburne had lost two matches to Steinitz.]

The preliminaries were easily and most amicably settled between the two players by correspondence. It was arranged that the contest should be limited to twenty games including draws, and that the winner of the majority should be declared the victor. The stakes were fixed at a minimum of $600, but were afterward increased by liberal subscriptions of the members of the Havana Chess Club to very nearly double that sum. The Havana Chess Club also provided for each player fees of $250, free passages from and to New York, and prizes of $20 for the winner of each game and $10 for the loser. In case of draws each player was to receive $10. In other respects the rules of the championship match between Messrs. Steinitz and Zukertort played in 1886 were adopted, and it will hardly be necessary to repeat those rules, excepting to state that the time limit was fixed at 15 moves per hour.

[One point should be mentioned. The modern rule, that calls for a draw when the game position is repeated three times with the same player having the move each time, was then set at six. Thus in the thirteenth game Black repeats the position three times to gain clock time and then goes on to lose the game, while in the nineteenth game Black secures a draw by demonstrating that he can force repetitions ad infinitum.]

The contest duly commenced on January 20th, 1889 at Havana, and was brought to a close on the 24th of February. Mr. Tchigorin obtained the lead over his opponent by one game three times during the contest, namely after the first, the third and the seventh game. Mr. Steinitz scored one ahead after the fifth game and then again after the ninth. He then kept the lead up to the end of the contest, at the finish of the 17th game, which resulted in a draw. As the score stood at that time Steinitz 10, Tchigorin 6, the additional draw made Steinitz the victor of the contest, for only three more games remained to be played and Mr. Tchigorin was bound to be one game minus even if he won them all.

It was then arranged that the last three games should be played in consultation between Mr. Steinitz and Dr. Gavilan on the one side, against Mr. Tchigorin and Senor Ponce on the other side. The result was that each party scored a game and one was drawn. It was, however, distinctly stipulated that the Tchigorin party should have the move twice (though it would have been the turn of Mr. Steinitz to have the first move if the main contest had proceeded), in order to test further the new defence adopted throughout the contest by Mr. Steinitz; on the other hand, it was also agreed that the Steinitz party should again play the Zukertort Opening for the purpose of giving the opponents an opportunity of trying a new line of play.

First class masters when engaged in such serious contests generally select for the attack and defence such openings as in their own respective opinions will yield them the best prospects of success, and then persist in adopting the same line of play unless they become convinced of its unsoundness. Messrs. Steinitz and Tchigorin pursued the same plan in their series of games and consequently only the Evans Gambit and the irregular debut 1. Nf3,which is sometimes named the Zukertort Opening, were played throughout the contest with the exception of the third game in which Mr. Tchigorin opened with the Ruy Lopez. But we wish to make some special remarks on the new defence adopted by the author in the Evans Gambit, as it affords striking examples of the application of, and the selection between, some of the different maxims laid down in our chapter on "The Modern School." It may be said of the Evans Gambit that it puts the modern theories to a crucial test, for a pawn is given up on the extreme Queen's wing for a remote attack in the center and against the adverse King. For the ending the defence ought to have a winning superiority, as his being a Pawn ahead is also greatly strengthened by his having the majority of Pawns far away from the hostile King, which invariably has to castle on the King's side early in this opening. But the chief difficulty for the defence is the formation of White's two centre Pawns at d4 and e4, and the powerful ranges which White's two Bishops obtain against Black's King's side after castling, more especially that of White's QB at b2.

It was chiefly with the view of obviating those difficulties that the author after the moves 1. e4, e5; 2. Nf3, Nc3; 3. Bc4, Bc5; 4. b4, Bxb4; 5. c3, Ba5; 6. O-O, introduced the move 6... Qf6; and we now propose the following continuation: 7. d4, Nh6 (in the games of the contest the author played 7... Nge7; which on further analytical examination we find to be much inferior to the move now proposed). There are now several lines of attack, but anyhow the most interesting is the one based on Mr. Tchigorin's idea applied in actual play against the other defence (7... Nge7) namely 8. d5, Ne7; 9. Qa4, Bb6; 10. Bg5, Qd6; 11. Na3, c6; 12. Rad1. At this juncture Black has to take the choice between retarding his development for a long time or allowing two "holes" to be formed in the centre. As will be seen the two holes are more dangerous to his game than the block that White will create. If, for instance, 12... f6; 13. dxc6, Qxc6; 14. Nb5, fxg5; (or 14... Bc5; 15. Be3 etc. Or 14... Bc7; 15. Bd5, Qb6; 16. Be3, Qa5; 17. Nd6+, Kf8; 18. Qxa5 Bxa5 19. Bxa7 etc.); 15. Nxe5, Qc5; 16. Nd6+, Kf8; 17. Nxc8 (not the tempting Qxd7 on account of 17... Qc6!), 17... Qxe5; 18. Nxb6 and wins. The defence has therefore to resort to the line of play that actually occurred in the contest in a similar position and the game would continue 12... Qb8; 13. BXe7, KXe7, 14. d6+, Kf8; 15. Qb4. This is no doubt much superior to 15. Nxe5 to which Black would reply 15...Bc5. And now Black's pieces are certainly shut out uncomfortably for the present, but our theory is that White's d Pawn being too far advanced will require the protection of Queen and Rook for some time, and if Black's King can only be guarded against any attacking surprises the defence ought gradually to obtain the best of the game with the majority of Pawns on the Queen's side and the two Bishops. For that purpose we would advise even to give up the Pawn gained and to proceed with 15... Bd8 at once, if only for the reason that if 15... f6 White might have some good sacrificing opportunities by 16. Kh1, Bd8; 17. Nxe5 and if 17... fxe5; 18. f4 However after 15... Bd8; 16. Nxe5, a5 (not 16... b5; on account of the rejoinder Nxc6, etc.); 17. Qb2 (if 17. Qc5, Qa7; and after the exchange of Queens Black has the superior game with three combined Pawns available for advance on the Queen's side, as against two separated ones of the opponent, besides that White's QP will be weak), 17... b5; and we believe that Black ought to be able to extricate himself with the superior game. In reference to the Irregular (Zukertort) Opening which was invariably adopted by the author in this contest, we may state that we had never previously tried this debut in actual play. But we essayed it on this occasion for the purpose of testing our theory as regards the inadvisability of pinning a Knight early in the opening (especially the KN), against that of Mr. Tchigorin who was evidently not of the same opinion. For in the celebrated match by Telegraph and correspondence which was won by Saint Petersburg against London in 1888, and in which Mr. Tchigorin was the leader for the Russian side, Black (Saint Petersburg), in one of the two games of the match, after the moves 1. Nf3, d5; 2. d4, answered 2... Bg4. It was naturally to be expected that the Russian master would try the same experiment against the author, and we believe that not alone our actual score in this opening, but also the most stringent analytical examination of the play on both sides will now verify our view that 2... Bg4 ought to place the defence at a disadvantage. The fact that Black was enabled to double the f Pawn in now way militated against White's game, and on the contrary at this early stage, before the exchange of Queens, it strengthened White's centre for the attack, which was greatly supported by the combination of two Bishops that White had obtained in the opening. Some very interesting situations favorable to lively King's side attacks occurred for White, notably in the 4th, the 8th and the 10th games, in consequence of the Russian master having early attempted to convert the debut, which is of a close character, into an open game. In that connection we consider it due to mention with special gratification and thanks that a prize of 300 Francs, offered by his Serene Highness Prince Dadian of Mingrelia for the game of the contest he would adjudicate as the most brilliant, was awarded to the author of the 8th game. It may also be fairly claimed that the result of the contest affords a strong confirmation of the correctness of our modern theories in general. For Mr. Tchigorin is undoubtedly one of the most skilled and ingenious experts in the King's side attack that ever lived, and naturally, therefore, shows in his style a marked preference for the aims and tendencies of the old school. We have already explained our own views on that subject as far as possible within the scope of this treatise, and we may only add that in the games of this contest, as well as in previous ones against other great masters, we have always tried to conform with those ideas to the best of our ability for the time, and as much as was practicable under peculiar conditions of match play, such as pressure of time limit or the difficulty of calculation in original positions in which the judgment could not be assisted by previous experience. We now submit to our readers the games with our own annotations, revised and amended from the "International Chess Magazine."