09 November 2008

Chigorin and Schiffers

Two of the most striking aspects of Chigorin's career (see Mikhail Ivanovich Chigorin (1850-1908)) were the relatively advanced age at which he started playing international chess, and the many matches against his compatriot Emanuel Schiffers. What place does Schiffers hold in the development of the Soviet School?

Both Chigorin and Schiffers played in the great 1895 Hastings tournament. Chigorin finished 2nd, a half point behind Pillsbury, whom he defeated in their individual game. Schiffers finished 6th in the 22 player field, behind Lasker, Tarrasch, and Steinitz, placing him in the ranks of the world's top players of the time. The tournament book provided verbal portraits of the competitors.

Tchigorin, Michael I., 44 at the time of the tournament, was born on 31 October 1850. He was educated at Gatchino, near St.Petersburg, and entered the government administration.
In his younger days chess was to him an amusement only, and it was not until he was nearly 30 years of age that we find him coming to the front, when, in 1880, he beat Schiffers his teacher, who was then the acknowledged champion of Russia, as also others of Russian chess fame. He founded the St.Petersburg Chess Club, and has worthily shone as its president.
His style of play is quite of 'the old school', brilliantly attacking and ever towards the King, perhaps best described by the simple word beautiful. He is probably the greatest master of the King's side attack and rarely plays dull games. His chief energy is thrown into the middle game rather than the opening, which he sometimes conducts with too much indifference. His analytical ability is of the very highest order, and blindfold play does not come amiss.
In difficult positions Tchigorin gets very excited, and at times seems quite fierce, sitting at the board with his black hair brushedback, splendid bright eyes, and flushed face looking as if he could see right through the table. When calm, however, he is decidedly handsome, and calculated to beget confidence.
We have spelt this expert's name as he spells it himself when using English characters.

The sketch goes on to mention his chief successes: 1881 Berlin, 1883 London, 1889 New York, 1895 Hastings, plus the drawn matches with Gunsberg (1890) and Tarrasch (1893). The judgement of his play belonging to 'the old school' is at odds with his standing as forerunner of the Soviet School.

Schiffers, Emanuel G.A., 45 at the time of the tournament, was born of German parents on 4 May 1850, at St.Petersburg, where he was educated, attending there the Classical Gymnasium till 1867, and, continuing his studies in the Physical and Mathematical faculty till 1871, became [a] private tutor. In appearance he is rather formidable, tall and somewhat massive framed, with a fine crop of curly iron-grey hair surmounting a massive well-set head, an intelligent but kindly countenance, and a general appearance of stability and robust manhood. And with all this he is in manner both gentle and refined, with plenty of true wit.
Chess seems to have been taken up at about fifteen, and at twenty he played with decided success against Tschournoff and others, whilst about 1875 he made good practice with Winawer. He came to know Tchigorin in 1873 and used to play him at the odds of a Knight, but two years later the latter attained first-class strength, and in 1880 he beat Schiffers, depriving him of his proud position as the leading player of Russia, though he may justly still claim the second place.
He has won matches against Tchigorin, Mitropolsky, Wainstein, Jankowitsch, Chardin, and Alapin, two against each of the last three. Since 1880 however he has lost two or three matches against Tchigorin, but has otherwise held his own against all comers and has won many prizes in handicaps.

For sketches on all 22 competitors in the event, plus photos from the book, see Hastings 1895 - The Contestants at blog.chess.com. In the pre-inflation era of ratings, Elo assigned Chigorin a peak five year rating of 2600, while pegging Schiffers at 2490. By comparison, Elo assigned 2725 to Capablanca and 2690 to Alekhine. I'll look at more material about Schiffers in my next article in this series.

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