Sarah's Chess Journal

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         The History and The Culture of Chess

July 2007

Yet another truly remarkable contribution from WilhelmThe2nd 


                                 The players in the 3rd All-Russian Championship held in Kiev in Sept. 1903 from the tournament book.

backrow: Rabinovich,Izbinsky, Kylomzin, Lebedev, Znosko-Borovsky, Levitsky, Kalinsky, Ben'ko, Lowtzky
frontrow: Rubinstein, Vengerov, Salwe, Chigorin, Loxting, Count Plater, Yurevich, Bernstein, Schiffers, Duz-Chotimirsky
Plater was the tournament patron, Loxting and Vengerov were tournament  officials.


by M.S. Evenson 

[From Grekov, Nikolai Ivanovich, M.I. Chigorin : velikii russkii shakhmatist. 350 izbrannykh partii, biograficheskie materialy, statii, vospominani´i`a (M.I. Tschigorin: The Great Russian Chessplayer. 350 Selected Games, Biographical material, Articles, Reminiscences). Moscow: Fizkul’tura i Sport, 1949. Pgs.529-533
Note that
Tschigorin is often referred to in the text as “M.I.”; the initials of his given name (Mikhail) & patronymic (Ivanovich).]

     In 1903, returning to Kiev after a trip abroad, I was passing through Berlin. There I met with a group of chess players; Teichmann, Мieses and Cohn. After a countless number of blitz-games, we struck up, over mugs of beer, a conversation the subject of which became M. I. Tschigorin - obviously in consideration to me, as a Russian. All of the masters expressed indebtedness to the genius of Tschigorin, who had struggled with honour against such glorious champions as Gunsberg, Tarrasch and Steinitz himself.
Teichmann proved to be an especially fervent admirer of Tschigorin, challenging Mieses's opinion that " Tschigorin lacks the evenness and endurance necessary for the highest achievements in the field of chess."
     - “True”, Mieses declared in the end with a witty smile, - “I recognize this deficiency in myself also.”
Teichmann asserted that Tschigorin was one of the most brilliant chess players in the world, that his talent was not inferior to "even Lasker's" and that the only thing that interfered with his practical successes was this tendency "to create in each of his games an immortal monument of chess art", not taking into account either his position in the tournament or match, or the psychologies of his much more sober, calculating opponents.
     -“This feature of Tschigorin's has cost him a large number of points and still many more half points!” - exclaimed Teichmann towards the end. – “In fact, your Tschigorin”, he said addressing me, “completely does not recognize a game as a draw at all, which, however, brings him together with another brilliant master, his compatriot Janowski.”
On returning to Kiev I found out about the upcoming tournament with Tschigorin and Schiffers participating.
Tschigorin kept himself aloof during the time of the tournament, was uncommunicative and was apparently depressed. Few chose to talk with him, although on the free days he would, now and then, yield to the requests of some amateurs to play casual games against all-comers. And in these games, where, naturally, his opponents made more or less serious errors, he manifested so much brilliance in the exploitation of these mistakes, that the ensuing series of stupendous sacrifices and, especially, "quiet" pawn moves, that culminated in the formation of mating nets, caused an indescribable admiration by the spectators.
     Play took place at the "Bicycle" club, which had no relation to either cycling - then yet to be conceived as a sport, nor to chess. A spacious room was allotted for play; which was sufficiently convenient, aside from the noise from the adjoining rooms where there was conducted gambling over card games, the main source of the club’s income and the purpose of its existence. The spectators gathered at the tournament were ridiculously few: I tried to count them up over the first rounds and seldom achieved a figure exceeding 30-35 people.
     Tschigorin, evidently, felt himself indifferent the whole time. Having played a game, during which he invariable drank from a bottle of red wine placed on a special little table, he would pass by the boards of the other participants of the tournament, silently stopping sometimes for some minutes near those of Bernstein, Rubinstein, Salwe, less often at Yurevich’s and then he would depart together with Schiffers.
     However, on the first Sunday, during the free day, the chairman of the Kiev chess society, Plater, arranged a dinner in Tschigorin’s honour. Among the participants in the tournament who were invited to the dinner there was, besides Schiffers, if I am not mistaken, only Breev, the former secretary of chess society; then M. A. Shabelsky, a great chess amateur, and Ya. Shabelsky who was a medical officer at a frontier zone and had with difficulty obtained short-term leave in order to be able to come to Kiev to the tournament, though mainly, as he acknowledged, in order to see Tschigorin.
     Shabelsky began to ask M. I. about his impressions from his encounters with world celebrities at tournaments and in matches.  M. I. dwelled especially on his meetings with Steinitz.
     -“He is, undoubtedly, a brilliant chess player and, what I respect most of all in him, he highly esteemed chess as an art. But at the same time he personally, when sitting down at a board or writing about chess, is diverted to its scientific treatment. He himself accepts this duality, explaining it by the fact that any art should have a scientific foundation.  Well, perhaps, he is right and that’s it, but in fact if a chess player appearing in competitions, is constantly distracted by thoughts about these foundations then when exactly will he give the same knowledge? The struggles with him across the chessboard forced me endure minutes of the greatest enjoyment, and periods of depression, Steinitz is, undoubtedly, one of greatest chess players who has appeared until now; but I personally do not like his exaggerated dogmatism.  I wanted to demonstrate in my struggles against him that it is possible to oppose his exaggeratedly solid positions with elements more characteristic of art: the personal treatment of a position, intuition,-fantasy, ultimately. This did not succeed for me, at least, it did not succeed completely. Our three matches gave Steinitz 20 points against my 16. But is the whole matter really about points? I consider that Steinitz and I represent simply two different directions in our art. And if it did not sound like an exaggeration, I would have said that he reminds me of Salieri, whereas I would like to be Mozart.”
     - “Well, and the others? Tarrasch, Janowski, Lasker?” - asked Shabelsky.
     - “Tarrasch – He is a follower of Steinitz, however he is more flexible, less persisting in the once-and-for-all mastered dogmas. And he is therefore a more dangerous opponent in practical play. Janowski is closer to me: he is more often guided by intuition. I rate Janowski very highly and I am enraptured by many of his games. His talent is luminous, brilliant, but, unfortunately, his play sometimes, as if suddenly, becomes colourless and grows dim… Perhaps it is simply fatigue or weakness of nerves... However, as far as Lasker is concerned, he, in my opinion, represents a third direction: he considers chess mainly as a fight. And his weapons are diverse. Lasker will still be a terror for the most talented opponents for a long time. Here Tarrasch, who does not care for Lasker, found the time somehow to calculate how many games he [Lasker] had won which were "presented" to him by his opponents. At one Nuremberg tournament, by Tarrasch’s calculation, Lasker was obliged to "Luck" for no more and no less than five whole points! True, from these five won games he really stood to lose in three of them. In particular, I had a won game against Lasker, which I spoiled, after moving my queen away out of play. But who, besides Lasker, could have planned a dangerous attack on my kingside with such small means as remained at his disposal? … No, all this is nonsense. Neither luck nor hypnotism explain Lasker’s strength. He has the temperament of a champion and enormous talent. Steinitz wants to make from chess a science, I – an art, Lasker – a fight or, if you like, a sport...”
     Then the conversation passed to the participants in the tournament. We wanted to know M.I.’s  opinion of the Russian chess players present. Tschigorin expressed himself in very flattering terms about Rubinstein. He briefly spoke about Bernstein, that he promised much. About Yurevich he answered that as a chess player he undoubtedly had talent, but "I sense from him”, said M. I.,  “that he will not love chess".
     He especially noted Duz-Chotimirsky as a talented, but still unbalanced chess player, from whom much could be developed, "if he does not go crazy"...
     I do not consider it superfluous to give one episode, which occurred several days before the dinner at Plater’s. I went to the club prior to the beginning of the next round and, having passed through the buffet of the club, I saw Tschigorin in a corner behind a small table and bent toward him and speaking of something in lively undertones was one of the participants in the tournament, NN. Suddenly M. I. jumped up and almost yelled:
     -“So then, tell your Maecenas 1, not to send such offers to Tschigorin”.*

[* In order to make this small episode intelligible, it is necessary to explain that the "Maecenas" who is spoken of here is "His Highness the Prince" Dadian of Mingrelia, who sold his “ancestral land” of Mingrelia to the Tsar for a lump sum and a lifetime pension of 12.000 rubles, he coveted the glory of the great chess players by preserving many dozens of games, won by him from or drawn with very important European and Russian chess players. He never lost at all (according to him). I had been told then, and earlier, that very many of these games had simply been “bought”. NN played for Dadian, obviously, the role of an adjutant, who had ventured, apparently to make some dirty proposal to M. I. Tschigorin and received the proper rebuff, which explains M.I.’s  last sentence. It should be added that Dadian of Mingrelia, who had made himself into a chess Maecenas, in reality he limited his bounties to fattening up corrupt chessplayers like NN, but when Plater attempted to obtain from him even a comparatively small sum as a donation to the tournament, he encountered a flat refusal. - M. E.
(The incident described is of considerable interest, since protagonist is the same "His Highness” Prince Dadian of Mingrelia, who gained for himself notoriety by causing the greatest indignation of all chess world by his disgraceful actions against Tschigorin at the international tournament at Monte Carlo in the beginning of 1902(sic) (see pg. 309)-N.G.]

     What remains in my memory still is the statement by M.I. Tschigorin in the presence of Shabelsky, Kulomzin, Nikolayev and some more, it appears, of the participants of the tournament about the position of chess art in Russia. M.I. bitterly lamented the fact that it was not possible to find the means for the publication of a genuine, special chess periodical. With unconcealed contempt he talked about our Maecenas’s, who were ready "to condescend" and slap you on the arm, but became deaf when it was necessary to give several hundred rubles to a chess publication. Neither the column in "Niva" nor the one in "Novoye Vremya" satisfied Tschigorin:
They are assigned little space (advertising brings in the income, and chess is only an excess expenditure...); the publisher of "Niva", Marx, seriously demonstrated to Tchigorin, that the rebus occupied a higher place than chess: the former interested tens of thousands of readers, and the latter - hundreds (certainly, not a thousand...). "Here is a pile of reader's letters concerning the rebus!" - the publisher triumphantly pointed out.
      - “Under such circumstances it is difficult to make something for our art”- concluded Tschigorin. – “All right, I already cannot personally achieve the aims of my striving, but even if it is possible for me to leave after myself ten others absorbed by our art today, from them will come hundreds and thousands.”
     Everything that I could recall in connection with Tschigorin, whose name is dear to me, ends at this. It is insulting that this great talent had to live all his life in conditions when communication between the hundreds and thousands of chess players was a Utopia, and the present chess periodical was an inaccessible ideal. And it was necessary for the Great October Socialist Revolution, so that, among other arts, chess could also become one of the levers of culture, covering not hundreds nor thousands, but millions of organized chess players. How happy Tschigorin would be if he could see the Post-Revolutionary blossoming of our fine art!


1. Gaius Maecenas (Maecēnas, Mæcenas) was a wealthy Roman diplomat whom some classicists believe was either the father or grandfather of that greatest of Roman orators, Marcus Tulius Cicero. Although he had been criticized by some of his contemporaries for his extravagant lifestyle,  he is chiefly remembered today for his support of the poets Propertius, Horace and Virgil. As such, his name is synonymous with "Patron of the Arts."

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