There is room for only one champion at the time. In this series of articles, I focus on top chess masters that never set foot on a throne to become a world champion, although they were either very close to winning a championship or at least somehow set a new milestone in our beautiful game. The first article presents Chigorin, the last great player of the Romantic chess style. 

1. Mihail Ivanovich Chigorin -  the creative genius (12th November 1850 - 25 January 1908)

mikhail chigorin

Chigorin was a Russian chess player, who served as an icon inspiring famous Soviet chess school, which dominated most of the 20th century. Chigorin became serious about chess relatively late; at the age of 16 he learned how to play chess, but only at the age of 24 he got into chess as a professional. Before that, he finished his studies and worked as a government officer in tsar Russia. In 1876, two years after leaving his day to day job, he started issuing a chess newspaper called “Sahmatni listok” – Chess sheet. Soon after that he proved himself as the best chessplayer not only in his home city Saint Petersburg but also in entire tsar Russia and so remained for a quarter of the century. It is also believed that he was among the top 3 or 4 best players in the world at that time. Chigorin was distinguished by his extra sharp style and for that time completely unusual way of play. There is even a non-standard opening named after him against Queen’s gambit 1.d4-d5 2.c4-Nc6!? – Chigorin defense.

The First Challenger

In 1889 Chigorin was Steinitz’s first (later in 1892 also second) challenger for a world chess champion in Havana. They played until the first player reaches 10.5 points and the match was very exciting. Only one game finished with a draw and that was in the last, bloodthirsty round.

(1) Chigorin,Mikhail – Steinitz,William [C52]

Wch-Habana Havana (Round 7), 1889


Steinitz against Zukertort World Championship Match (1886)

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.b4!

Opening that perfectly suits Chigorin’s crazy playing style. White is giving a b-pawn to lure a bishop (the same as if the knight captures) to b4, after which c3 comes with a tempo and that also supports pushing central d2-d4.

Chess moves

4…Bxb4 5.c3 Ba5 6.0–0 Qf6?! [6…d6 7.d4 Bb6 8.dxe5 dxe5 is commonly played]

7.d4 Nge7 8.Bg5 Qd6 9.d5! Nd8 10.Qa4 Bb6? [10…b6! was better! Bishop on a5 is safe, while black can prepare a development of his other bishop and knight]

11.Na3 Qg6? [World Champion spent too much time walking around with his queen and being passive.]

[11…a6 12.Bb3 intending 13.Nc4± Chigorin; 11…Ng6 12.Nb5 Qf8 13.Be3 c6 14.Bxb6 cxb5 15.Bxb5±; 11…c6]

12.Bxe7 Kxe7 13.Nxe5 [now black cannot castle and he lost one pawn back]

13…Qf6 14.Nf3 Qxc3 [14…d6 15.e5 dxe5 16.Nxe5 intending 17.Re1 Bogoljubow]

15.e5 c6 [15…d6? 16.exd6+ intending 17.Re1]

16.d6+ Kf8

Chess moves

17.Bb3! [The best move! White is preparing Qh4! trying to enter on e7 and also knight Na4–c4 can come back into the game.]

17…h6 18.Qh4 g5 19.Qh5 [19.Nxg5! was also good 19…Qxe5 20.Ne4 Ne6 21.Bxe6 Qxe6 (21…dxe6 22.Nc4 Qg7 (22…Qb5 23.Qe7+) 23.Qe7+ Kg8 24.Nf6+) 22.Rae1]

19…Qd3 20.Rad1! [20.Nxg5? Qf5]

20…Qh7 [20…Qg6 21.Qxg6 fxg6 22.e6!+– Steinitz 22…Kg7 23.Rfe1! Chigorin]

21.Nc2 [21.e6! 21…Nxe6 22.Bxe6 fxe6 23.Ne5 intending 24.Rd3–> +– Steinitz 23…Rg8 24.Rd3 g4! intending 25….Rg5 Bogoljubow]

21…Kg7? [21…Ne6!]

22.Ncd4 [intending 23.Bc2]

22…Qg6 [22…Bxd4 23.Nxd4 intending 24.f4 Chigorin] 

23.Qg4 h5 [23…Ne6 –> 24.Bc2 (24.Nf5+ intending 25.Ne7+/-Bogoljubow)  24…h5 25.Qg3 h4 26.Qg4 Qh5 =/+] 

24.Nf5+ Kf8 25.Qxg5

Chess moves

Qxg5 26.Nxg5+– [white is winning. After winning back a second pawn, black is in a hopeless endgame playing without too many pieces]

26…h4 [26…Ne6 27.Nxe6+ fxe6 28.Ne7 Rh7 29.Kh1 Bd8 30.Nxc8 Rxc8 31.f4 Rf7 32.f5 Rxf5 33.Rxf5+ exf5 34.Rf1+–]

27.Kh1 Rh5 28.f4 Ne6 29.g4! hxg3 30.Nxg3 Rh6 31.Nxf7 Kxf7 32.f5 Ke8 33.fxe6 dxe6 34.Ne4 [where black resigned.]

[34.Ne4 intending 35.Nf6+ +– 34…Bd7 (34…Bd8 35.d7+ Bxd7 36.Nd6+ Ke7 37.Rf7#) 35.Nf6+ Kd8 36.Ng8 Rh8 37.Rf8+ Be8 38.d7+–]


Read more about other glorious losers in the series: Anderssen, Stauton (coming soon), Shirov (coming soon), Morphy (coming soon), Nimyowitsch (coming soon), Tarrasch (coming soon), and Vidmar (coming soon). 
Sources: Wikipedia, Gary Kasparov: My great predecessors, vol.1, Chessbase: Mega database


Young and active FIDE certified chess trainer, devoted to teaching children and adults and promoting the value of the game, with 10 years+ of experience worldwide. Founder of Mustachess brand, and accomplished chess player with FM title and IM norm.

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