Steinitz – Chigorin World Championship Match 1889

After his victory against Zukertort in 1886, Steinitz would enjoy the title of the World Chess Champion and the recognition of the chess world…

For a while… Due to the fact that he was formulating the basic principles of the chess strategy, Steinitz's style was simply ahead of his time. He played strategicaly and positionaly, often inviting his opponents to attack him and punishing their premature agression. On an occasion, he would try to demonstrate the correctnes of his philosophy by playing too passively and eccentricaly.

When you also consider that other players like Zukertort and Morphy   were considered as much more charismatic, it is not surprising that many people disputed Steinitz's rule on the throne. Many claimed he won his match against Zukertort due to Zukertort's bad health condition. Chess public remembered the days of Morphy an Anderssen, when dashing attacks and dazzling sacrifices prevailed.

In the 1880s, a new generation of players started to appear that would throw the gauntlet to Steinitz. The leader of the generation was definitely Mikhail Chigorin, a strong Russian player from Sankt Petersburg. He was known for his creative and attacking style and was often labeled as the last great player of the Romantic era.

However, he was much more than an „ordinary“ attacker. Chigorin was familiar with Steinitz's teachings and although he didn't agree with them, he respected them. He was always on the edge of the chess thought and a number of opening variations bears his name. He was the first to start playing King's Indian Attack with the White pieces and was also very much ahead of his time.

Chigorin first introduced himself after beating Schiffers and Alapin in matches, and then played a number of strong tournaments in the 80s rather successfully:

  • Berlin, 1881 – his first international tournament, third place, behind Blackburne and Zukertort
  • London 1883 – fourth place, behind Steinitz, Zukertort an Blackburne
  • New York 1889 – shared first, with Max Weiss

After his success in New York, he issued a formal challenge to Steinitz, and latter accepted. Thus stage was set for the Chigorin – Steinitz match. The match once again took place in Havana in 1889 and is famous for the lowest prize fund in the history of World Championship matches – only 1150 dollars. The first player to reach 10.5 points would be declared the winner.

As customary for those times, the match was incredibly bloodthirsty – out of 17 games, 16 ended with a decisive result. The play was uneven; the players kept exchanging blows in games 1-7. However, in the games 8-10 Steinitz scored three wins in a row and gained a commanding lead. In games 14-16 he repeated this feat and with the draw in the final, 17th game, he won the match 10.5-6.5 and retained his title.

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