Chigorin's talent came to the fore in the time when Steinitz and Tarrasch were the main chess teachers. The “Modern School”, as Steinitz and Tarrasch liked to call it, attempted to establish unchanging laws that applied in every situation. They attempted to make every move conform to their established laws.
Chigorin rebelled against such laws because he believed their dogmatic views restricted creative thinking and he was willing to stand up for his views both in theory and in practice. According to Chigorin it was necessary to take into the account the features and peculiarities of each position and to make a dynamic appraisal of each position and all its tactical possibilities. He believed his method would overturn many long held concepts. Steinitz and Tarrasch believed Chigorin views were outdated and old school.
Even though Chigorin held Steinitz' skills in high esteem the two carried on a dispute for a number of years. Chigorin played two World Championship matches against Steinitz, losing both times, but his overall record against Steinitz was very close (+24−27=8). He also played a telegraph match against Steinitz in 1890 that was to settle a theoretical argument. Chigorin had the slight advantage of choosing the openings in advance from a list supplied by Steinitz and duly won both games.
As an indication of Chigorin's strength, Chessmetrics ranks him number 2 in the world 17 different months between October 1889 and September 1897 with his highest rating being estimated at 2797 in 1895. This puts him in the same group as Lasker, Tarrasch, Steinitz and Pillsbury.
In 1899, the format of the championship was changed to a round-robin tournament known as the All-Russian Masters' Tournament and the first tournament was held in Moscow. Chigorin won hands down with ten wins and only one loss (Lebedev).
In this tournament for unknown reasons the player named Jankowicz actually played under the name of Alexejev. Also, the game between Henika and Falk was left unfinished and was not counted in the final score. A few of the players in that first championship became rather well known: Schiffers, Levitsky, Lebedev and Nenarokov.
1) Chigorin 10.0-1.0
2) Schiffers 7.5-3.5
3) Levitski 7.0-4.0
4) Lebedev 6.5-4.5
5) Jankowicz 6.0-5.0
6-7) Hellbach and Nenarokov 5.5-5.5
8) Kulomsin 5.0-6.0
9) Henika 4.0-6.0
10) Abasa 3.5-7.5
11) Bojarkov 3.0-8.0
12) Falk 1.5-8.5
Emanuel Schiffers (1850 – 1904), known as “Russia's Chess Teacher” was a chess writer and for many years he was the second leading Russian player after Chigorin. Schiffers parents emigrated from Germany and he was born in Saint Petersburg and also died there.
In 1874, Emanuel Schiffers defeated Andrey Chardin in a match held in St. Petersburg with five wins and four losses and so was considered the first Russian champion.
Schiffers held the title of Russian champion for 10 years before finally being defeated by his student, Mikhail Chigorin. At their first meeting in 1873, Schiffers was able to offer Chigorin Knight odds. By 1878 they were playing on even terms. Schiffers lost the first of two matches 7-3, but won the second 7.5-6.5, thus establishing himself as the second strongest player in Russia after Chigorin himself. They later played two more matches with Chigorin winning both. At Rostov on Don in 1896 he played a match against former World Champion Steinitz and lost 6.5–4.5.
Schiffers played in eight major foreign tournaments from 1887 to 1898. His best tournament result was at Hastings 1895 where he finished 6th out of 22 players.
It was against Levitsky in Breslau 1912 that Marshall played his famous game where legend has it that spectators threw gold coins on the board when Marshall played 23…Qg3. Whether it's true or not has been disputed, but in My Fifty Years of Chess, Marshall wrote, “Perhaps you have heard about this game, which so excited the spectators that they showered me with gold pieces! I have often been asked whether this really happened. The answer is – yes, that is what happened, literally!” Some claim spectators were paying off their lost bets. Al Horowitz reported that, Marshall's wife Caroline, whom he knew personally, denied there was even a “shower of pennies.”
Sergey Lebedev (1868 – 1942) lived in Saint Petersburg and appeared in many Soviet championship tournament finishing mostly in the middle of the standings.
Vladimir Nenarokov (1880 – 1953) was a theoretician. Born in Moscow, by about 1900 he was one of the strongest masters in the city. In 1905, he drew a match with Savielly Tartakower (+2 –2 =0). In 1907 he defeated Fyodor Duz-Khotimirsky in a match (+5 –3 =1) and in 1908 he won the Moscow Championship and defeated the sixteen-year-old Alekhine (+3 –0 =0) in a match. In 1916, he took 2nd, behind Alekhine, in Moscow and again he finished behind Alekhine in a triangular tournament in Moscow in 1918.
Nenarokov participated in several USSR and Moscow City Championships and was awarded the IM title in 1950. He was author of many chess books, mostly on opening, aimed at average players; in 1932 he published a more advanced book on the Ruy Lopez that was later published in German.
A word on the opening used in this game, Chigorin's 2.Qe2. Chigorin wrote that the origin of this move was attributed, to a considerable extent, to chance, stating he pointed it out half in jest during a private conversation with a group of players. Analyzing the move later, he saw that it was a viable move and recalled a similar position from one of his games with Steinitz: 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nf6 4.d3 d6 5.c3 g6 6.Nbd2 Bg7 7.Nf1 0-0 8.Ba4 d5 9.Qe2
With 9.Qe2 Steinitz avoided having to play exd5. This gave Chigorin the idea of the moves g3, Bg2, d3, a plan which he later elaborated upon. He pointed out that evaluation of the move 2.Qe2 can only be made in conjunction with the whole plan arising from it and not in isolation as did the chess critics.
GM Alexei Suetin, in his 1982 mongraph on the French, wrote that 2.Qe2 could be looked upon as the forerunner of the modern openings strategy which in semi-open systems aims at achieving a K-Indian position with opposite colors and in their book The French Defense, Gligoric, Uhlmann and Botvinnik noted that 2.Qe2, can transpose to the K-Indian Attack in which White's Q is often placed on e2, but by playing his moves in a different order black can bypass the KIA and take a more aggressive stance.
Kasparov wrote that Chigorin demonstrated all the basic ideas of the set-up with: the X-ray bishop at g2 and symmetrical pawns on e4 and e5: restriction of the knight at c6 by c2-c3, maneuver of the N to c4. Kasparov states, “This was the style of the future! Many decades later the K-Indian Attack became fashionable.”