Friday, October 15, 2010

Bird vs Chigorin, Vienna 1882, Part One

The Russian master Mikhail Chigorin compiled an amazing record on the Black side of the Two Knights Defence. Over the course of his career he employed this counterattacking system in a total of 17 games, mostly against the world's elite. He scored 13 wins, 1 draw, and only 3 losses for a winning percentage of 79%, far in excess of the standard 45% that Black can expect from the starting position. In particular his great rival Wilhelm Steinitz was bested by a score of four games to one.

Why was Chigorin so successful with the Two Knights Defence? In the first place, he was a fine attacking player with a strikingly modern feel for the initiative and the importance of piece activity. He was also aided by the generally low reputation enjoyed by the Two Knights Defence in those days. This reputation was based in large part on the writings of his rival Steinitz, who famously believed that “a pawn is worth a little trouble.” In particular, Steinitz believed that Black did not have the right to sacrifice a pawn in the opening. For his part, Chigorin didn't care what Steinitz (or anyone else) thought was right or wrong. He saw the assets in Black's position and worked hard to make them count.

Today we present a lesser-known but particularly fine example of Chigorin's play in the Two Knights Defence – his game with the English master Henry Bird from the great Vienna tournament of 1882. This event, by the way, was won by Steinitz after a playoff match with Simon Winawer. Chigorin finished 12th and Bird 15th out of 18 participants.

The Bird-Chigorin encounter did not go unnoticed by the contemporary chess press. It appeared in the Russian magazine Shakhmatny Vestnik in 1885, and later in The Chess-Player's Manual by Gossip and Lipschutz (1888). It also came to the attention of Wilhelm Steinitz, who included it in Part 1 of his two-volume opus The Modern Chess Instructor (1889).

While preparing his 1950 commemorative book on Chigorin, Nikolai Grekov gained access to the Russian master's archives, including a copy of The Modern Chess Instructor. There he found some pencilled comments to the Bird-Chigorin game in which Chigorin expressed disdain for aspects of Steinitz's analysis. Needless to say, these comments were included in Grekov's book in order to demonstrate that, even in analysis, Chigorin could hold his own against his rival.

In preparing this article I had occasion to refer directly to The Modern Chess Instructor, where I found the following caveat by Steinitz, which had been conveniently omitted from Grekov's book: “Our notes to this game are chiefly quoted from the Appendix to Gossip's Manual by S. Lipschutz.” Chigorin would have known this, so his disdain would have been largely directed at Lipschutz instead of Steinitz. However, Steinitz was ultimately responsible for the content of his book. In our article today, the comments by Steinitz/Lipschutz have been slightly edited for clarity. Chigorin's pencilled comments appear in italics, and there are two further comments of his from Shakhmatny Vestnik.

Bird-Chigorin, Vienna 1882 Two Knights Defence C59

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ c6 7.dxc6 bxc6 8.Be2 h6 9.Nf3 e4 10.Ne5 Qc7 11.Ng4

11.d4 exd3 (and if one does not capture en passant?) 12.Nxd3 Bd6 13.Nd2 followed by Nf3 would give White an excellent game with a pawn ahead. For should Black then attempt 13...Bxh2, then would follow 14.g3 Bxg3 15.fxg3 Qxg3+ 16.Nf2 and should win.

11...Bxg4 12.Bxg4 Bd6 13.h3 O-O 14.Nc3

White would have done better first to prevent the entrance of the hostile knight by 14.b3. Rubbish; then comes 14...Be5 15.Nc3 e3 16.fxe3 Bxc3, etc.

14...Nc4 15.b3 Ne5 16.Bb2 Rfe8 17.O-O

17.Be2 Nd3+ (or 17...Nf3+ 18.Kf1, etc.) (Just so: “et cetera.” And how will things turn out for White after 18...Nh4?) 18.cxd3 exd3 19.0-0 was far more favourable for White.

17...Nexg4 18.hxg4 Qd7 19.Qe2

If 19.f3 Bc5+ 20.Kh1 Qe7 with a winning attack.

19...Nxg4 20.g3

20.Nxe4 Qf5 21.f3 Qh5 22.fxg4 Qh2+ 23.Kf2 Qf4+ (or 23...Qh4+ 24.g3 Bxg3+ 25.Kg2 and should win; if here 24...Qh2+ 25.Kf3 Qxe2+ 26.Kxe2 Rxe4+ 27.Kf3 with a pawn ahead) 24.Kg1 was by far better play, for Black's best plan would be now to draw by perpetual check. What on earth for? After 24...Rxe4 25.Rxf4 Rxe2 26.Rf2 Re4! Black's position is better – perhaps significantly so.

20...Qf5 21.Kg2 Re6 22.Rae1

Ill-judged. 22.Rh1 followed by 23.Raf1 was much better.

22...Rae8 23.Rh1 h5!

Black could win the exchange by playing 23...Qf3+ but after 24.Qxf3 (24.Kg1 Bxg3!) exf3+ 25.Kxf3 Rxe1 26.Rxe1 Rxe1 27.Kxg4 play would continue for quite some time. Now, having defended his knight, Black threatens 24...Qf3+ (Chigorin, Shakhmatny Vestnik, 1885).

24.Ref1 Qg6 25.Nd1

Premature. 25.Rh3 was necessary for the defence. Black was threatening 25...e3 26.dxe3 Nxe3 (Chigorin, Shakhmatny Vestnik, 1885).



A real master coup which forces the victory in elegant style.


If 26.dxe3 Nxe3+ 27.Nxe3 Rxe3 threatening 28...Rxg3+ and wins.

26...Nxf2 27.Rxf2 Qxg3+ 28.Kf1 exf2 29.Ne3 c5 30.Bc3 Rxe3

Beautiful play, which finishes off the quickest way.

31.dxe3 Rxe3 32.Qd1 h4

32...Rxc3 followed by 33...Kf8 (if White reply 33.Qxh5) was also good enough.

33.Bd2 h3

White resigned (0-1)

Next time we will present this game with more modern annotations. Stay tuned!

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Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
National master (Canada) since 1984. B.C. Champion 1977 and 1984. Runner-up 1991 and 2002. B.C. Open Champion 1972 and 1982. B.C. U/14 Champion 1964-65-66. Mikhail Botvinnik once wrote that publishing your analytical work forces you to be accurate because it exposes you to criticism. Hence this blog.