Alexander Alekhine (October 31, 1892 - March 24, 1946) was a Russian grandmaster who became one of the biggest names in chess history. He was born in Moscow at the end of the 19th Century. Alekhine developed a love for chess that would see him overcome Jose Raul Capablanca to reach the summit of the game by the age of 35. Alekhine lived and breathed chess like no other master before him. Everything else in life took second place. All day every day he would analyze positions in his head, going through combinations always striving to strengthen his ideas and plans.
A story from his school days tells how once during an algebra test all the kids were concentrating hard trying to figure out the answer to a problem set by the teacher. All of a sudden the silence was broken when young Alekhine shouted, 'that's it!' and leapt out of his desk with his eyes shining, a look of euphoria on his face. 'Have you got the answer Alekhine?', asked the teacher. 'Yes', he cried, 'I sacrificed the knight and White wins'. The classroom erupted with laughter. But the young man was on a journey towards chess immortality. You can add articles and games of Alekhine if you wish.
Young Alexander was born into privilege in Moscow in 1892. His father was a wealthy landowner and a senior politician. His mother was the daughter of a rich industrialist.
When he was 7 his mother, his older brother Alexei and his sister Varvara taught him how to play chess. Alexei would be his main sparring partner in those early years. The family paid local chess masters to give Alekhine lessons. The boy, totally consumed, caught the chess bug.
At the age of 10, Alekhine was competing in correspondence chess leagues organized by magazines. He took part in his first over the board competition at the age of 15. It was the Moscow Chess Club Spring Tournament. He tied for 11th.
As the years rolled by Alekhine was playing in progressively stronger tournaments. He represented Moscow in schools competition against St Petersburg. He moved to St Petersburg in 1911 to study at the Imperial Law School of Nobles.
Within a year he was the strongest player in the St Petersburg Chess Society winning the 1st Category Tournament of the St. Petersburg Chess Club. He had won the St Petersburg Winter Chess Club Tournament a month earlier.
Alekhine was beginning to cast his eye further afield to bigger prizes. In 1914 his first major victory arrived. He shared first prize at the All-Russian Masters Tournament at St. Petersburg with rising Latvian star Aaron Nimzowitsch.
The 1914 St Petersburg Tournament was billed as the strongest ever with World Champion Lasker, Capablanca, Tarrasch, Marshall, Bernstein, Rubinstein, Nimzowitsch, Blackburne, Janowski and Gunsberg all in attendance. Alexander Alekhine also took part having earned his spot with his strong results before.
In the opening round each player played one game against the rest of the field with the top five in the league table to qualify. The shock of the first round was that Akiba Rubinstein did not make it through. His defeat to Alekhine proved critical. Alekhine instead joined Capablanca, Lasker, Tarrasch and Marshall in the final round.
In the end Lasker overtook Capablanca who had been leading from the first round with Alekhine finishing a highly commendable third. Tsar Nicholas II declared the five finalists as Grandmasters. Alekhine had laid down his marker for the future.
Alekhine was playing in Germany when World War I broke out. He and all the other Russian players there were arrested and held by the Germans. Alekhine was one of the few to be released relatively quickly. He eventually made it back to Russia where he raised money playing simuls for the ones left behind.
Russia was undergoing a period of political upheaval with the Bolsheviks attempting to wrest power from the Tsar. It was a dangerous time generally and it didn't take more than a hint of suspicion to get you shot. Alekhine actually found himself in a cell awaiting execution for a short spell in 1919. Fortunately he had contacts and was released.
He spent the 1920's chasing a World Championship match against the now champion Capablanca. Capablanca set the stakes at a punitive $10,000 for any challenger. Alekhine won tournaments, played simuls to raise cash and eventually got the financial backing of the Argentine government for a showdown with Capa in Buenos Aires in 1927. Capa was the hot favorite heading into the clash but Alekhine stunned him winning 6-3 with 25 draws.
Outwardly Alekhine held the position that he was willing to face Capablanca in a rematch. But his subsequent actions would suggest that he was not interested in ever playing Capablanca again. He said he would play Capablanca under the same terms that he had challenged the Cuban.
Namely that Capablanca would be required to raise $10,000 for match stakes. More than half of this would go to the champion regardless of the result. First to win 6 games would take the title and draws would not count.
Capa would try in vain to organize the rematch but always there were obstacles of one fashion or another. Apparently Alekhine was heard to remark to a friend that 'somehow the match will never take place'. It resulted in a complete breakdown in relations between the two. Other less dangerous opponents did not have the same difficulties in getting a shot at the title. The first of these was Bogoljubov.
The recently formed FIDE was promoting itself as the world governing body of chess. Players were gradually starting to recognize it in something along these terms. But it still had very little control over the World Championship.
It's official challenger was Efim Bogoljubov, a native of Kiev. Alekhine didn't necessarily recognize FIDE's authority to take charge of the World Championship. But he agreed to play Bogoljubov for the title. They met over the board in Berlin in 1929. Alekhine won with a score of 11-5 and 9 draws.
He played Bogoljubov for the title a second time five years later. The rematch was played in 12 German cities. The result was the same, this time on a score of 8-3 with 15 draws.
The Dutchman Max Euwe was the next challenger. Alekhine played him in 1935. Euwe was a strong player, positionally sound and would be a good test for the champion. Solid but unspectacular at the highest level was the perception.
Alekhine said that he would easily win and there were not many to argue with him. He did not really prepare for the match and drank heavily throughout. In contrast the Maths professor Euwe prepared meticulously and played diligently.
It seemed that Alekhine was falling into the same trap of complacency as Capablanca had eight years previously. Although he led 5-2 at one stage Euwe finished strong and beat him 9-8 with 13 draws to take the title.
Alekhine immediately gave up the alcohol and went back into serious training. He got a shot at regaining the title from Euwe two years later. The second match was keenly contested in the early stages. Alekhine found another gear as the match progressed and powered away to victory (10-4 with 11 draws). He was World Champion again.
Having regained the title, Alekhine would remain the champion until his death in 1946. He would play no further title matches. He continued to play in tournaments winning the Montevideo 1938 Chess Tournament.
New players were arriving on the horizon to join the still lurking Capablanca. Paul Keres, Reuben Fine, and Mikhail Botvinnik had emerged as the future of the game. Botvinnik challenged Alekhine for the World Championship in the winter of 1938.
Terms and conditions were for the most part agreed and the match seemed destined to proceed. But World War II broke out and put everything on ice. Keres had also held talks with Alekhine on a World Championship decider but again the War put a stop to it. He also agreed once again in principle to play Capablanca. But again nothing would come of it.
Alexander Alekhine was trying to get out of Europe to protect his Jewish wife from the Nazis. He tried to get a US visa but was unsuccessful. He even offered to finally play Capablanca for the title in exchange for passage to Cuba. This was also denied.
He agreed to play tournaments in Nazi occupied territory to ensure his wife's safety. He was later accused of collaboration with the Nazi's because of this and some literature that was attributed to him.
He spent much of the latter war years on the Iberian peninsula. Here he would be relatively safe from the Soviets who were not happy with his affiliations with the Germans. After the war the now penniless Alekhine was found dead in a dingy hotel room. The verdict was accidental choking on his food. However speculation was rife that the Russians had got their man.
Alekhine had an intense passion for the game from a young age. This gave him the uncanny ability to put together amazing combinations and stunning attacks from positions with little or no apparent potential.
His positional awareness and deep strategic nouse allowed him to live with Capablanca. His problem solving abilities gave him the edge in complicated positions against tricky customers like Nimzowitsch. His remarkable creativity meant he could go toe to toe with artists like Reti.
Alekhine made an enormous contribution to chess with multiple defensive systems and variations taking his name. He also wrote many books on chess containing detailed analyses of games in major tournaments and Alekhine's own greatest games over his career. He was working on a book of Capablanca's games when he died.
The problem with biographies is you must concentrate on breadth and can never go as deep as you would like. You can mention the major events in someone's life but can't allow yourself to indulge in intricate detail. Alexander Alekhine lived during a tumultuous period of Russian and World history. He was quite a controversial character both within chess and without. There must be countless anecdotes and interesting accounts of different episodes and incidents throughout his days. Many of these stories would have originated from among the great many people that he would have met in different parts of the world. Some of these accounts give us an insight into what kind of man he was, what made him tick. Or if you prefer you could annotate one of his games, reflecting his genius over the board. Do you know of an interesting story or game from the life of Alexander Alekhine? Share Your Alexander Alekhine Anecdotes or Games With Us.
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When Alexander Alekhine passed away he set a precedent. For the first time a current World Champion died while holding the title. There had been no changing of the guard.
In 1948 the World Championship was decided for the first time on a league basis between the top five players in the world. They would play 20 games, four against each of their rivals. The five strong field did not lack for quality.
They were former champion Max Euwe, future champion Vasily Smyslov, reigning USSR champion and eventual winner Mikhail Botvinnik, the Latvian Paul Keres (Soviet citizen) and the Pole Thomas Reshevsky (US citizen).
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