Tactical Chigorin

Review: The Tactical Chigorin, by Simon Williams

Chessbase, 2017

By Davide Nastasio

Williams is one of the most notorious GMs and event commentators. He is not one of the top 10 players in the world, but he has a gift like the best players on the planet. He can convey chess ideas, especially opening repertoires, in a very funny and pragmatic way. He doesn’t give you stuff you won’t remember; he outlines the most important ideas one MUST remember and know in order to play the opening successfully. This is what we want from the finest teacher, to make the burden of learning the material bearable, and most of all to be able to use those ideas as soon as possible.




In the beginning of the DVD, Williams mentioned the one who has reinvigorated such an old opening first used over 100 years ago: Alexander Morozevich, one of the top Russian GMs.



GM Alexander Morozevich


Williams studied this opening for one month and created this DVD, which he divided in three parts for our better understanding.  How does the Chigorin Defense start? 1.d4,d5; 2.c4,Nc6;




The first part of the DVD is dedicated to positions which occur after White forces the Black queen out in the middle of the field with 1.d4,d5; 2.c4,Nc6; 3.cxd5,Qxd5;




Williams says this kind of line brings us to positions with big tactical fights, as we can witness in the next game played by GM Ben Finegold, one of the best GM in US.



GM Ben Finegold


Finegold just opened his own chess center in Atlanta, Georgia.  This is the link to the Chess center for those interested:





As always, Williams tries to teach openings that make our chess spicy, because chess can be romantic — even in the computer age! It is up to us to take this idea and make it happen, just as the hypermodern movement created a wealth of ideas in chess in the first years of the last century.

This is the reason why we need to study chess openings, not because we hope to win a game in 10 moves, but because chess openings will unlock our chess minds to a wealth of ideas which we didn’t have before. So what is the deal with the Chigorin Defense? Here Black is saying, “I’m giving up a pawn center, but in exchange I gain a quick development of my pieces, which I’ll use to attack!”




In order to learn quick development and bring out the pieces effectively, we can watch Morphy’s games. But can such a formative concept be taught in other ways? I believe so, and GM Williams also points it out. After the moves 1.d4,d5; 2.c4,Nc6; 3.cxd5,Qxd5; 4.Nf3, can you guess what should Black play?




4…e5!; a key move, which in Williams’ words is based on letting go of a pawn center for gaining a quick piece development, the quick piece development we witnessed in Morphy’s games.

What else can an opening teach us? Would you ever guess an opening can teach you mastery over some particular pieces? This is clearly the case with the Chigorin Defense played by who is considered the father of Russian chess: Mikhail Chigorin.




Chigorin was famous for preferring knights over bishops. Today we consider owning the bishop pair a good advantage which can help us to win the game, especially in the endgame. But as growing players, and if we are not GMs (as 99.7% of all players are not), shouldn’t we try to grow practicing openings which teach us how to use different piece combinations, and in this case the knight pair?

Here the movie spoiler: in the Chigorin Defense, Black gives up the light-square bishop for the Nf3, and generally the dark-square bishop for the Nc3.

By the way, in my Megabase 2017 (soon to become Megabase 2018, because I already acquired the update!) there are over 10,000 games with the Chigorin.

The second part of the DVD is dedicated to the positions coming out from 1.d4,d5; 2.c4,Nc6; 3.Nf3,




Also in this case there are beautiful and romantic games to show, and they can be used as an example of the mindset in which one should play:



The last part of the DVD is based on 1.d4,d5; 2.c4,Nc6; 3.Nc3, and other moves White could play.




The DVD comes with a database of 60 games for studying and a working database of 22 games.  This last database is composed of the games presented in the videos.  The DVD ends with 11 interactive videos where Williams presents some positions and asks us to find the right move, giving feedback when we don’t get it.

As a reviewer of this DVD, I must check if some of the data given by Williams are true. For example, in the introductory video he says, “Morozevich went through a phase in which he was playing the Chigorin against top players with fantastic results….”  Now, let me be clear: top players are difficult to beat, hence the statement “fantastic results” must be evaluated for truthfulness. In my Megabase 2017, I have 35 games played by Morozevich with the Chigorin Defense (also defined by ECO as D07.  D08 is the Albin Counter-Gambit, and Morozevich also played that opening), from 1994 to 2015, but the main period in which he used it often were the years 1994-1995.

Out of 35 games, Morozevich won 12, lost 12, and drew 11.  Now I don’t know if to lose as many games as one wins is “fantastic.” From what I saw against the top players such as Kortchnoi, Ivanchuk, Anand, Timman, Shirov, Topalov, Kramnik, etc., he drew or lost the game. But again, it would have probably happened with any other opening, as well.  However, Williams in many videos mentions Morozevich’s games and tells us where he thinks Morozevich went wrong, and how to avoid the problems Morozevich had. This shows that Williams truly did his homework, and he is giving us a NEW improved version of the opening used by Morozevich and other players.

Another player mentioned is Richard Rapport (there is also a Jovana Rapport who used the Chigorin often) who played this opening 8 times with the result of 1 win, 4 losses, and 3 draws. Again not impressive as a result, but how do we compare an opening used with Black against players rated 2700?? I never played a 2700, and I’m pretty sure I’d lose also with a 2400, so does it really make any difference if I use the Chigorin or the Slav against a 2400+? I’m sure it doesn’t. The problem is that Williams says “Rapport used the Chigorin to crush top players, recently against Aronian…” and that’s true, but that was the only win Rapport had out of 8 games.

Williams played this opening only 1 time as Black against a player 300 points less than him, and drew.  Here is the game:



But he must have been scared by this opening, because as White in 2010 he made a 3-move draw against another top UK GM, Nick Pert! (Pert is really dangerous.  He plays always for a win!)



Why did I check how many games he played in this opening? Because generally I tend to give more credit to those who actually play the opening and suffer with it, since all openings are source of suffering before mastering them — and even after!

What I found is that apart from one of the big guns in chess, Vassily Ivanchuk, not many top players make use of the Chigorin.  What does this mean? I think it means the Chigorin could be the perfect weapon at club level, because there are no top 10 players in the world using it, or fighting against it.  This means the majority of the chess amateurs are totally unaware of the ideas behind such opening, compared to the King’s Indian which is used a lot at top level, and then at every level.

Final thoughts: Williams over and over tries to teach us gambit play. He tries to teach us the importance of development over material, like giving the opponent one pawn advantage, and this is clearly the road to mastery. If we don’t master these positions and openings, which oblige us to think of the most sharp and fast move to win the opponent, we will never reach master level. Does this mean we must play the Chigorin all our lives? NO! But let’s play it for 6 months or 1 year, and see if after such an experience we have become better players. I will certainly add it to my repertoire and play it in tournaments.

Williams is really good in passing on the ideas behind the opening, and this is what I’m looking for in chess books, and often I don’t find it. For example, Williams explains the important squares one should occupy, or the diagonals one should control, and what is the plan in some pawn structures. Often toward the end of the video he reiterates the main points, which is definitely good!

One last thought: many of the lines chosen by Williams are tactically complicated, which means if one uses them in rapid play our opponents will likely blunder or use a huge amount of time calculating the correct moves.  This could be the advantage we need to win a game. Give this opening a try.  It is definitely worth it!



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