In 1889, Wilhelm Steinitz published his famous opening guide, The Modern Chess Instructor. In this book, he published what he considered to be the best defence against the Evans Gambit. He also published a variation in the Two Knights Defence which featured the famous 9 Nh3!? retreat, later played successfully against Fischer.
Mikhail Chigorin, former Steinitz’s challenger in their 1889 World Championship match and one of the strongest players on the planet, didn’t agree with Steinitz’s assertions. He invited him to play a two game telegraph match with these opening variations. The time control was three days per move and it lasted for quite some time; during his World Championship Match against Gunsberg in 1891 (!) Steinitz even had to break from this match.
The games attracted immense public interest. Both games were won by Chigorin in spectacular fashion. The impact of these games on the broad chess public was immense. Two chess clubs, the St. Petersburg Chess Society and Havana Chess Club simulatenously made offers to organise another Steinitz-Chigorin match. Steinitz, never refusing a battle, accepted the challenged and once again chose Havana as the match venue.
The match began on 1st January in 1892. The winner was the first to win 10 games. This time, there was no „drawn match“ clause in the case of a 9-9 tie; the first player to win further three games would be proclaimed as a champion in that case.
Chigorin stick to his beloved Evans Gambit throughout the match, while Steinitz, believeing in his principles, upheld his Nh3 Two Knights variation.
Although the match was somewhat less bloodthirsty than their previous match, it was far more dramatic. After 19 games, Chigorin held the 8-7 lead. Then he somehow ran out of steam (some historians suggest he was less resilient to tropical Cuban heat than his opponent). By losing the 20th and 22nd game, he found himself in a desperate situation. The last, 23rd game of the match, to this day remains one of the most tragic games in the history of the World Chess Championship.
After the King’s Gambit has gone awfully wrong for Chigorin, Steinitz reached a much better queenless middlegame position. However, suddenly, he decided to give up his piece in order to install his rooks on the 2nd rank. However, Chigorin’s bishop held the position and it seemed that he has every chance of converting his extra piece. Suddenly, he decided to attack one rook and removed the defender of his h2 pawn, allowing Steinitz to checkmate his king in two moves.
The Cuban press described the final moments of the dramatic 23rd game:
„It is unlikely that we will ever forget that decisive moment. At the 23rd game more than a thousand people were present, and all were discussing Chigorin’s brilliant play. At any minute, Steinitz’s resignation was expected. Suddenly there was an extraordinary commotion: the spectators stood up, and they all saw how the Russian master, nervy, with a changed face, was holding his head in his hands: he had moved away the bishop that was defending him against mate. „What a pity!“ repeated hundreds of voices. What a vexatious and terrible ending to a wonderful match for the world championship! Chigorin can feel proud: never was Steinitz so close to defeat as now.“
(Source: Garry Kasparov on My Great Predecessors, Part One, Page 88)
Thus, Steinitz defended his title once again.