|Naissance||31 octobre 1892 Moscou, Russie impériale|
|Décès||24 mars 1946 (à 53 ans) Estoril, Portugal|
|Nationalité||Français Soviétique Russe|
|Distinctions||Champion du monde d’échecs|
Alexandre Aleksandrovitch Alekhine, né à Moscou le 31 octobre 1892 et mort à Estoril (Portugal) le 24 mars 1946, est un joueur d’ échecs russe, qui devint naturalisé français en 1927. Quatrième champion du monde des échecs, de 1927 à 1935 et de 1937 à sa mort, il fut le premier champion du monde d’échecs à reconquérir son titre et le seul à mourir en portant son titre. Il donna son nom à une ouverture, la défense Alekhine, qu’il employa à Budapest en 1921.
Biographie et carrière
Jeunesse (1892 – 1914)
Alekhine en 1909, photographie de Bulla
Alekhine est né le 31 octobre 1892 à Moscou. Il avait un frère ainé, nommé Alexeï et contre lequel il joua des parties, et une sœur, Varvara. Il apprit à jouer aux échecs à sept ans. Né dans une famille aisée de la Russie impériale (son père était propriétaire terrien et député à la Douma), Alekhine fit de brillantes études et apprit au lycée le français et l’allemand. Après quelques tournois par correspondance, il disputa son premier tournoi important à seize ans, à Düsseldorf, en 1908 (il termina quatrième). En 1909, il entra dans l’école de droit pour la noblesse de Saint-Pétersbourg, où les élèves internes portaient l’uniforme militaire. Il obtint ses premiers succès au championnat de Russie amateur disputé à Saint-Pétersbourg en 1909 et aux tournois internationaux de Stockholm 1912 et de Scheveningue 1913. En 1914, il remporta le championnat de Russie, ex æquo avec Nimzowitsch, puis termina troisième du très fort tournoi international de Saint-Pétersbourg, remporté par le champion du monde Emanuel Lasker devant son futur successeur José Raul Capablanca.
Ascension vers le championnat du monde (1918 – 1927)
Alexandre Alekhine au début des années 1920.
Après la guerre, Alekhine remporta le championnat de Moscou et le premier championnat de la RSFSR en 1919-1920, et quitta la Russie soviétique en 1921 pour la France. Par la suite, Alekhine refusa toujours de revenir en Union soviétique. En 1924, Alekhine termina troisième du tournoi de New York, derrière les champions du monde Lasker et Capablanca. Le premier février 1925, à Paris, Alekhine disputa une partie simultanée sur 28 échiquiers à l’aveugle (donc sans voir les échiquiers) avec un score de (+22 -3 =3). Le lendemain, il reconstitua précisément, de mémoire, les vingt-huit parties disputées. L’année précédente, Alekhine avait déjà disputé une autre séance record à l’aveugle, sur 26 échiquiers, à l’issue du tournoi de New York 1924. Son record fut porté à 32 parties lors d’une simultanée à l’aveugle disputée à Chicago en 1933. En 1927, Alekhine termina deuxième du tournoi de New York derrière le nouveau champion du monde Capablanca — Lasker avait refusé de participer au tournoi. Avec ce résultat, Alekhine devenait le challenger naturel du champion du monde qu’il rencontra à Buenos Aires en 1927.
Matchs pour le championnat du monde (1927 – 1938)
Alekhine (à gauche) face à Capablanca en 1927
Alekhine fut naturalisé officiellement français trois jours avant de devenir champion du monde en 1927 : à Buenos Aires, il battit le Cubain José Raúl Capablanca sur le score de 18,5 à 15,5 (+6, -3, =25), au terme d’un match marathon de plus de 2 mois et 34 parties. Il n’offrit jamais sa revanche, pourtant promise au Cubain. À l’époque, c’était encore les champions qui choisissaient les challengers. Alekhine domina le monde des échecs pendant toute la période entre 1929 et 1933 : il réalisa l’exploit de se classer premier sans interruption dans les 15 tournois auxquels il participa, cette série étant uniquement arrêtée par une deuxième place au tournoi d’Hastings, derrière Salo Flohr.
Alekhine face à Euwe, en 1937.
Après avoir conservé facilement son titre face à Efim Bogoljubov en 1929 (15,5 à 9,5 ; +11, -5, =9), puis en 1934 (15,5 à 10,5 ; +8, -3, =15), Alekhine perdit à la surprise générale son titre en 1935 face au Néerlandais Max Euwe (14,5 à 15,5 ; +8, -9, =13). Alekhine souffrait d’alcoolisme, et ne parvenait pas à contrôler sa dépendance. À la suite de sa défaite, il arrêta de boire et reprit le titre de champion du monde deux ans plus tard, en 1937, lors du match revanche (15,5 à 9,5 ; +10, -4, =11).
En 1938, le tournoi AVRO fut organisé pour départager les candidats éventuels à un match de championnat du monde contre Alekhine, qui conserva néanmoins la possibilité de désigner son challenger. Le tournoi fut remporté par l’estonien Paul Keres et l’américain Reuben Fine mais Alekhine entreprit des négociations avec le troisième du tournoi, Mikhaïl Botvinnik. Les pourparlers furent interrompus par la Seconde Guerre mondiale.
Activités pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale (1939 – 1943)
Pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale, le titre de champion du monde ne fut pas remis en jeu. En 1939, lorsque la Seconde Guerre mondiale éclata, Alekhine participait à l’Olympiade de Buenos Aires. Il arriva à Lisbonne en janvier 1940, puis il demanda à être mobilisé comme interprète dans l’armée française et arriva en février en France. En juillet 1940, démobilisé, il transmit à Capablanca, par l’intermédiaire du consulat de Cuba à Marseille, sa proposition de disputer un match. Les négociations se poursuivirent jusqu’en 1941 et l’entrée en guerre des États-Unis. À la fin de mars 1941, Alekhine fut autorisé à se rendre en Espagne. La femme d’Alekhine, Grace Alekhine, une juive américaine, resta dans leur château près de Dieppe pour sauver les biens du champion. Pour délivrer un visa à Alekhine et protéger sa femme, qui était juive, les autorités allemandes auraient alors demandé à Alekhine de rédiger plusieurs articles sur les échecs pour le quotidien allemand Pariser Zeitung qui parurent sous son nom en mars 1941. Quand Alekhine arriva à Lisbonne en avril 1941, les articles d’Alekhine étaient repris avec d’importantes variantes dans la Deutsche Schachzeitung et dans d’autres journaux nazis comme Deutsche Zeitung in der Niederlanden, d’avril à juillet 1941, sous le titre « Échecs juifs et aryens », sous-titré « Une étude psychologique fondée sur l’expérience échiquéenne, montrant le manque de force de conception et de courage des juifs, par le champion du monde des échecs, le Dr Alekhine. » Ils provoquèrent l’indignation dans le monde. Euwe refusa de participer dans les tournois avec Alekhine. Alekhine affirma par la suite, à plusieurs reprises, après la libération de la France, que « pas une ligne » n’était de sa main et que ses articles avaient été manipulés ; cependant, lors d’interviews données pendant son séjour en Espagne en 1941, il aurait ajouté qu’il avait été « le premier à traiter des échecs d’un point de vue racial », dans ces articles il écrivait que les « échecs aryens » étaient « des échecs agressifs » et considérait la défense comme la conséquence d’une erreur antérieure, et que le fait que l’on pouvait gagner avec la « défense pure » un « concept sémitique ». À Lisbonne, Alekhine fut malade et se remit à boire. De 1941 à 1943, Alekhine multiplia les tournois en Europe occupée et en Espagne. Quelques jours après la fin du tournoi de Prague, en décembre 1942, Alekhine donna quelques parties simultanées, puis tomba malade et fut hospitalisé pendant un mois ; les médecins diagnostiquèrent la scarlatine. En avril 1943, Alekhine remporta le tournoi de Prague avec le score de 17 / 19 (+15 =4) et 2,5 points d’avance sur Keres. En juin 1943, il gagna le tournoi de Salzbourg, ex æquo avec Keres et devant Bogolioubov.
Dernières années (1944 – 1946)
Tombe d’Alexandre Alekhine à Paris
À la fin de 1943, les bombardements des Alliés ne permettaient plus d’organiser des tournois dans l’Europe occupée par les allemands, et Keres déclina une proposition de match. Alekhine rentra en Espagne en octobre 1943. Il fut interné dans un sanatorium pour résoudre ses problèmes d’alcool. En 1944 et 1945, Alekhine, toujours sans sa femme, poursuivit son activité en Espagne et au Portugal. Un médecin diagnostiqua une dépression nerveuse. En 1945, Alekhine reçut une invitation pour disputer le tournoi d’échecs d’Hastings de 1945-1946 ; cette invitation fut retirée suite à la protestation des fédérations néerlandaise et américaine. Alekhine mourut le 24 mars 1946 à Estoril, au Portugal, dans des circonstances assez troubles et au moment même où un match contre Mikhail Botvinnik allait être organisé pour l’obtention du titre de champion du monde : début mars, Alekhine avait reçu la proposition de Botvinnik écrite en février 1946, et la veille de sa mort, le 23 mars, la fédération anglaise avait donné son accord pour patronner le match. Alekhine fut enterré au cimetière de Lisbonne le 16 avril 1946, et en 1956, ses cendres furent transférées au cimetière du Montparnasse, à Paris, dans la 8e division. Sur sa tombe, où son nom est gravé en caractères cyrilliques et romains, est représenté un échiquier. Un bas-relief représente Alekhine devant un jeu d’échecs. Il est inscrit : « Génie des échecs de Russie et de France, 1892-1946. Champion du monde des échecs de 1927 à 1935, et de 1937 à sa mort ».
Tournois par correspondance (1902–1910)
De 1902 à 1910, Alekhine disputa plusieurs tournois par correspondance. Ses principaux résultats furent les suivants :
- 1905-1906 : vainqueur du 16e tournoi par correspondance du magazine Chakhmatnoïé Obozrenié.
- 1906-1907 : 4e-5e du premier tournoi par correspondance du Prince F. M. Chakhovskoï (+6 -1 =1).
- 1909-1910 : premier du 17e tournoi inachevé du magazine Chakhmatnoïé Obozrenié qui cessa sa parution en 1910 alors que Alekhine menait (+8 =2).
1907 – 1915
Alekhine disputa son premier tournoi sur l’échiquier à Moscou (tournoi de printemps du club de Moscou) en juin 1907 ; le résultat ne nous est pas parvenu. Lors de son deuxième tournoi, le tournoi d’automne 1907-1908 remporté par Blumenfeld, il termina 11e-13e (+4 -9 =1) tandis que son frère Alekseï finissait 4e-6e.
Alekhine (à gauche) face à Romanovski en 1909
1918 – 1927 : prétendant au championnat du monde
De 1918 à 1921, Alekhine fut invaincu en tournoi.
Alekhine et Capablanca en 1927
1928 – 1936 : champion du monde
En janvier 1928, Alekhine était de retour en Europe. L’année 1928 fut consacrée à un tour d’Europe, où le champion du monde disputa de nombreuses parties en simultanée. Après sa défaite contre Nimzowitch lors du tournoi de New York 1927, Alekhine fut invaincu en tournoi jusqu’à l’olympiade de Prague en 1931 où il concéda une défaite, réalisant une série sans défaite de cinquante victoires et trente parties nulles (+50 =30). Après sa partie perdue contre Mattison à l’olympiade, il porta son score au total de (+74 -1 =38), jusqu’au tournoi de Londres 1932. De 1929 à 1933 (avant le tournoi d’Hastings 1933-1934), Alekhine termina premier (seul ou ex æquo) de tous les tournois auxquels il participa. En 1935 et 1936, après 1925, Alekhine refusa de participer aux tournois internationaux disputés à Moscou. Le tournoi de Nottingham 1936 fut le seul tournoi disputé après 1912 où Alekhine ne termina pas parmi les quatre premiers.
Alekhine donnant une simultanée à Berlin en 1930.
Max Euwe en 1956
1937 – 1946 : la reconquête du titre de champion du monde
Après avoir regagné le titre de champion du monde lors du long match contre Euwe (octobre – décembre 1937), Alekhine remporta tous les tournois importants auxquels il participa à l’exception du tournoi AVRO 1938, du tournoi de Munich 1941 et du tournoi de Gijon 1945 (Alekhine était déjà malade). De 1935 à 1943, le score de Alekhine contre Paul Keres, le vainqueur du tournoi AVRO, fut de 5 victoires, sept nulles et une seule défaite (à Margate en 1938) ; pendant la guerre (1940-1943), il marqua trois victoires et trois nulles contre Keres.
Alekhine joua à cinq reprises pour l’équipe de France. En 1930, Alekhine termina remporta toutes ses parties lors de l’Olympiade de Hambourg (9 points sur 9) mais la médaille d’or revint à Rubinstein sur la base du nombre de points marqués : 15 points sur 17 (+13 =4) ; Alekhine remporta le premier prix de beauté en 1930 pour sa victoire sur Gideon Ståhlberg. Lors des deux olympiades suivantes, en 1931 et 1933, il remporta la médaille d’or et il ne concéda qu’une défaite à chaque fois (contre Mattison, à Prague en 1931 et contre Tartakover, à Folkestone). En 1935 (à Varsovie) et 1939 (à Buenos Aires), il obtint la médaille d’argent sans perdre une partie.
Partie à l’aveugle Alekhine – Feldt (Tarnopol, 1916)
Alekhine, à la suite d’une blessure pendant la Première Guerre mondiale, est convalescent dans un hôpital. Pour passer le temps, il joue aux échecs avec les autres patients. Il y pratique l’une de ses spécialités : les parties à l’aveugle. Alors que tous ses adversaires voient l’échiquier, lui ne le voit que dans sa tête. Il doit donc non seulement calculer les coups possibles, mais doit aussi maintenir en mémoire la position actuelle des pièces.
Dans la partie à l’aveugle qui suit, il effectue un ballet au centre de l’échiquier qui matera le roi adverse. Jouant contre cinq adversaires à la fois, la combinaison qu’il joue est mondialement célèbre.
Alexandre Alekhine – Von Feldt, Tarnopol, 191616, Défense française
1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Cc3 Cf6 4. exd5 Cxd5 5. Ce4 f5
Les noirs jouent sans considérer les principes élémentaires de la stratégie. Alekhine est dorénavant certain de gagner, mais c’est la façon spectaculaire dont il s’y prend qui rend cette partie unique.
6. Cg5 Fe7 7. C5f3 c6 8. Ce5 0-0 9. Cgf3 b6 10. Fd3 Fb7 11. 0-0 Te8 12. c4 Cf6 13. Ff4 Cbd7 14. De2 c5
Les blancs contrôlent le centre et leurs pièces sont pointées vers le roque adverse. Les noirs ont ouvert leur roque et le pion en e6 est sans protection. Alekhine profite de ces deux facteurs pour mater son adversaire.
15. Cf7 !!
Un coup magnifique ! Les noirs doivent prendre le cavalier, car s’ils déplacent la dame, un mat étouffé suivra en commençant par 16. Dxe6.
15. … Rxf7 16. Dxe6 !!
La pointe ! Si les noirs prennent la dame, alors suit 17. Cg5 mat. s’ils jouent 16. … Rf8, alors 17. Cg5 décide de l’issue de la partie.
16. … Rg6
Alekhine annonce mat en deux coups.
17. g4 Fe4 18. Ch4 #
Alekhine – Marshall (Baden-Baden, 1925)
Alexandre Alekhine – Frank James Marshall, 4e ronde du tournoi de Baden-Baden, qu’Alekhine remporta sans perdre la moindre partie (+12, =8), 7 août 1925 (D06 : Gambit dame)17
1. d4 d5 2. c4 Cf6 3. cxd5 Cxd5 4. e4 Cf6 5. Fd3 e5 6. dxe5 Cg4 7. Cf3 Cc6 8. Fg5 Fe7 9. Fxe7 Dxe7 10. Cc3 Ccxe5 11. Cxe5 Dxe5 12. h3 Cf6 13. Dd2 Fd7 14. De3 Fc6 15. O-O-O O-O 16. f4 De6 17. e5 Tfe8 18. The1 Tad8 19. f5 De7 20. Dg5 Cd5 21. f6 Df8 22. Fc4 Cxc3 23. Txd8 Txd8 24. fxg7 Cxa2+ 25. Rb1 De8 26. e6 Fe4+ 27. Ra1 (Txe4 gagnait aussi, mais Alekhine préfère mettre son roi à l’abri) f5 (fxe6 perd également : 28. Fxe6 Dxe6 29. Dxd8 suivi de 30. Dd4 et 31. Txe4) 28. e7+ Td5 (Fd5 29. exd8=D) 29. Df6 (menace Df8+) Df7 30. e8=D+ 1-0 (…DxD 31. FxT+ FxF 32. TxD#)
Alekhine – Bogoljubov (Triberg, 1921)
1. d4 Cf6 2. Cf3 e6 3. c4 b6 4. g3 Fb7 5. Fg2 c5 6. dxc5 Fxc5 7. 0-0 0-0 8. Cc3 d5 9. Cd4 Fxd4 10. Dxd4 Cc6 11. Dh4 dxc4 12. Td1 Dc8 13. Fg5 Cd5 14. Cxd5 exd5 15. Txd5 Cb4 16. Fe4 f5 17. Fxf5 Txf5 18. Td8+ Dxd8 19. Fxd8 Tc8 20. Td1 Tf7 21. Dg4 Cd3 22. exd3 Txd8 23. dxc4 Tdf8 24. f4 Te7 25. Rf2 h6 26. Te1 Fc8 27. Df3 Tef7 28. Dd5 g5 29. Te7 gxf4 30. gxf4 1-0 (la position est sans espoir pour les Noirs).
« La finalité de la vie humaine et le sens du bonheur consistent à donner le maximum de ce qu’on peut donner. Et comme j’ai senti, pour ainsi dire inconsciemment, que c’était aux échecs que je pouvais obtenir les plus grandes réussites, je suis devenu maître d’échecs. »
|Full name||Alexander Alexandrovich Alekhine|
|Born||October 31, 1892 Moscow, Russian Empire|
|Died||March 24, 1946 (aged 53) Estoril, Portugal|
|World Champion||1927–1935 & 1937–1946|
Alexander Alexandrovich Alekhine ( Russian: ??????´??? ??????´??????? ???´???, pronounced [?l??k’sandr ?l??k’sandr?v??t? ?’l?ex??n]) was the fourth World Chess Champion. He is often considered one of the greatest chess players ever. By the age of twenty-two, he was already among the strongest chess players in the world. During the 1920s, he won most of the tournaments in which he played. In 1927, he became the fourth World Chess Champion by defeating Capablanca, widely considered invincible, in what would stand as the longest chess championship match held until 1985. In the early 1930s, Alekhine dominated tournament play and won two top-class tournaments by large margins. He also played first board for France in five Chess Olympiads, winning individual prizes in each (four medals and a brilliancy prize). Alekhine offered Capablanca a rematch on the same demanding terms that Capablanca had set for him, and negotiations dragged on for years without making much progress. Meanwhile, Alekhine defended his title with ease against Bogoljubov in 1929 and 1934. He was defeated by Euwe in 1935, but regained his crown in the 1937 rematch. Some writers say he lost in 1935 due to alcoholism, while others suggest he was over-confident. His tournament record from 1937 onward remained uneven, and rising young stars like Keres, Fine, and Botvinnik threatened his title. Negotiations for a title match with Keres or Botvinnik were halted by the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939. Negotiations with Mikhail Botvinnik for a world title match were proceeding in 1946 when Alekhine died in Portugal, in unclear circumstances. Alekhine is known for his fierce and imaginative attacking style, combined with great positional and endgame skill. He produced innovations in a wide range of chess openings. Statistical rating systems differ about his strength relative to other players, giving him rankings between fourth and eighteenth in their « all-time » lists. Alekhine was acclaimed as one of the founders of the « Soviet School of Chess », which dominated the game after World War II. He is highly regarded as a chess writer and theoretician, giving his name to Alekhine’s Defence and several other opening variations, and also composed a few endgame studies.
Alekhine was born into a wealthy family in Moscow, Russia on October 31, 1892. His father Alexander Ivanovich Alekhine was a landowner and Privy Councilor to the conservative legislative Fourth Duma. His mother, Anisya Ivanovna Alekhina (born Prokhorova), was the daughter of a rich industrialist. Alekhine was first introduced to chess by his mother, an older brother, Alexei, and an older sister, Varvara (Barbara).
Early chess career (1902–1914)
- The tables at the end of this article give details of Alekhine’s results.
Alekhine in 1909
Alekhine’s first known game was from a correspondence chess tournament that began on December 3, 1902, when he was ten years old. He participated in several correspondence tournaments, sponsored by the chess magazine Shakhmatnoe Obozrenie (« Chess Review »), in 1902–1911. In 1907, Alexander played his first over-the-board tournament, the Moscow chess club’s Spring Tournament. Later that year, Alexander tied for 11th–13th in the club’s Autumn Tournament; his older brother, Alexei, tied for 4th–6th place. In 1908, Alexander won the club’s Spring Tournament, at the age of fifteen. In 1909, he won All-Russian Amateur Tournament in Saint Petersburg. For the next few years, he played in increasingly stronger tournaments, some of them outside Russia. At first he had mixed results, but by the age of sixteen he had established himself as one of Russia’s top players. He played first board in two friendly team matches: St. Petersburg Chess Club vs. Moscow Chess Club in 1911 and Moscow vs. St. Petersburg in 1912 (both drew with Eugene Znosko-Borovsky). By the end of 1911, Alekhine moved to St. Petersburg, where he entered the Imperial Law School for Nobles. By 1912, he was the strongest chess player in the St. Petersburg Chess Society. In March 1912, he won the St. Petersburg Chess Club Winter Tournament. In April 1912, he won the 1st Category Tournament of the St. Petersburg Chess Club. In January 1914, Alekhine won his first major Russian tournament, when he tied for first place with Aron Nimzowitsch in the All-Russian Masters Tournament at St. Petersburg. Afterwards, they drew in a mini-match for first prize (they both won a game). Alekhine also played several matches in this period, and his results showed the same pattern: mixed at first but later consistently good.
Top-level grandmaster (1914–1927)
In April–May 1914, another major St. Petersburg 1914 chess tournament was held in the capital of the Russian Empire, in which Alekhine took third place behind Emanuel Lasker and Jose Raul Capablanca. By some accounts, Tsar Nicholas II conferred the title of » Grandmaster of Chess » on each of the five finalists (Lasker, Capablanca, Alekhine, Tarrasch, and Marshall). Chess historian Edward Winter has questioned this, stating that the earliest known sources that support this story are an article by Robert Lewis Taylor in the June 15, 1940 issue of The New Yorker and Marshall’s autobiography My 50 Years of Chess (1942). Alekhine’s surprising success made him a serious contender for the World Chess Championship. Whether or not the title was formally awarded to him, « Thanks to this performance, Alekhine became a grandmaster in his own right and in the eyes of the audience. » In July 1914, Alekhine tied for first with Marshall in Paris.
World War I and post-revolutionary Russia
In July–August 1914, Alekhine was leading an international Mannheim tournament, the 19th DSB Congress (German Chess Federation Congress) in Mannheim, Germany, with nine wins, one draw and one loss, when World War I broke out. Alekhine’s prize was 1,100 marks (worth about 11,000 euros in terms of purchasing power today). After the declaration of war against Russia, eleven « Russian » players (Alekhine, Bogoljubov, Bogatyrchuk, Flamberg, Koppelman, Maliutin, Rabinovich, Romanovsky, Saburov, Selezniev, Weinstein) were interned in Rastatt, Germany. On September 14, 17, and 29, 1914, four of them (Alekhine, Bogatyrchuk, Saburov, and Koppelman) were freed and allowed to return home. Alekhine made his way back to Russia (via Switzerland, Italy, London, Stockholm, and Finland) by the end of October 1914. A fifth player, Peter Romanovsky, was released in 1915, and a sixth, Flamberg, was allowed to return to Warsaw in 1916. When Alekhine returned to Russia, he helped raise money to aid the Russian chess players who remained interned in Germany by giving simultaneous exhibitions. In December 1915, he won the Moscow Chess Club Championship. In April 1916 Alekhine won a mini-match against Alexander Evensohn with two wins and one loss at Kiev, and in summer he served in the Union of Cities (Red Cross) on the Austrian front. In September, he played five people in a blindfold display at a Russian military hospital at Tarnopol. In 1918, Alekhine won a « Triangular tournament » in Moscow. In June of the following year, Alekhine was briefly imprisoned in Odessa’s death cell by the Odessa Cheka, suspected of being a spy. He was charged with links with White counter-intelligence, after the Russians liberated the Ukraine from German occupation. Rumors appeared in the West that Alekhine had been killed by the Bolsheviks.
- The table at the foot of this article gives details of Alekhine’s results.
When conditions in Russia became more settled, Alekhine proved he was among Russia’s strongest players. For example, in January 1920, he swept the Moscow City Chess Championship (11/11), but was not declared Moscow Champion because he was not a resident of the city. Also in October 1920, he won the All-Russian Championship in Moscow (+9 –0 =6); this tournament was retroactively defined as the first USSR Championship. His brother Alexei took third place in the tournament for amateurs.
Alex (son of Alekhine) with his wife, 2003 at Dortmund
In March 1920, Alekhine married Alexandra Batayeva. They divorced the next year. For a short time in 1920–1921, he worked as an interpreter for the Communist International ( Comintern) and was appointed secretary to the Education Department. In this capacity, he met a Swiss journalist and Comintern delegate, Anneliese Rüegg (Annalisa Ruegg), who was thirteen years older than he was, and they married on March 15, 1921. Shortly after, Alekhine was given permission to leave Russia for a visit to the West with his wife, from which he never returned. In June 1921, Alekhine abandoned his second wife in Paris and went to Berlin. In 1921–1923 Alekhine played seven mini-matches. In 1921, he won against Nikolay Grigoriev (+2 –0 =5) in Moscow, drew with Richard Teichmann (+2 –2 =2) and won against Friedrich Sämisch (+2 –0 =0), both in Berlin. In 1922, he won against Ossip Bernstein (+1 –0 =1) and Arnold Aurbach (+1 –0 =1), both in Paris, and Manuel Golmayo (+1 –0 =1) in Madrid. In 1923, he won against André Muffang (+2 –0 =0) in Paris. From 1921 to 1927, Alekhine won or shared first prize in about two-thirds of the many tournaments in which he played. His least successful efforts were: a tie for third place at Vienna 1922 behind Akiba Rubinstein and Richard Réti; and third place at the New York 1924 chess tournament behind ex-champion Emanuel Lasker and world champion José Raúl Capablanca (but ahead of Frank James Marshall, Richard Réti, Géza Maróczy, Efim Bogoljubov, Savielly Tartakower, Frederick Yates, Edward Lasker and David Janowski). Technically, Alekhine’s play was mostly better than his competitors’, even Capablanca’s, but he lacked confidence when playing his major rivals. Alekhine’s major goal throughout this period was to arrange a match with Capablanca. He thought the greatest obstacle was not Capablanca’s play, but the requirement under the 1922 « London rules » (at Capablanca’s insistence) that the challenger raise a purse of US $10,000, of which the defending champion would receive over half even if defeated (US $10,000 in 1927 would be worth about $391,000 in 2006 ). Alekhine in November 1921 and Rubinstein and Aaron Nimzowitsch in 1923 challenged Capablanca, but were unable to raise the $10,000. Raising the money was Alekhine’s preliminary objective; he even went on tour, playing simultaneous exhibitions for modest fees day after day. In New York on April 27, 1924, Alekhine broke the world record for blindfold play when he played twenty-six opponents (the previous record was twenty-five, set by Gyula Breyer), winning sixteen games, losing five, and drawing five after twelve hours of play. He broke his own world record on February 1, 1925 by playing twenty-eight games blindfold simultaneously in Paris, winning twenty-two, drawing three, and losing three. In 1925, he became a French citizen and entered the Sorbonne Faculty of law. Although sources differ about whether he completed his studies there, he was known as « Dr. Alekhine » in the 1930s. His thesis was on the Chinese prison system. « He received a degree in law in Saint Petersburg in 1914 but never practiced. » In October 1926, he won in Buenos Aires. From December 1926 to January 1927, Alekhine beat Max Euwe 5½–4½ in a match. In 1927, he married his third wife, Nadiezda Vasiliev (née Fabritzky) (Nadejda Fabritzky, Nadezhda Vasilieff), another older woman, the widow of the Russian general V. Vasiliev (Vassilieff).
World Chess Champion, first reign (1927–35)
1927 title match
Capablanca, from whom Alekhine won the World Chess Championship in 1927. Prolonged negotiations for a return match came to nothing.
In 1927, Alekhine’s challenge to Capablanca was backed by a group of Argentinian businessmen and the president of Argentina, who guaranteed the funds, and organized by the Club Argentino de Ajedrez (Argentine Chess Club) in Buenos Aires. In the World Chess Championship match played from September to November 1927 at Buenos Aires, Alekhine won the title, scoring +6 -3 =25. This was the longest formal World Championship match until the contest in 1984 between Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov. Alekhine’s victory surprised almost the entire chess world, since he had never previously won a single game from Capablanca. After Capablanca’s death Alekhine expressed surprise at his own victory, since in 1927 he did not think he was superior to Capablanca, and he suggested that Capablanca had been over-confident. Capablanca entered the match with no technical or physical preparation, while Alekhine got himself into good physical condition, and had thoroughly studied Capablanca’s play. According to Kasparov, Alekhine’s research uncovered many small inaccuracies, which occurred because Capablanca was unwilling to concentrate intensely. Vladimir Kramnik commented that this was the first contest in which Capablanca had no easy wins.
Rematch offered, never finalized
Immediately after winning the match, Alekhine announced that he was willing to give Capablanca a return match, on the same terms that Capablanca had required as champion — the challenger must provide a stake of US $10,000, of which more than half would go to the defending champion even if he was defeated. After Capablanca’s death, Alekhine wrote that Capablanca’s demand for a $10,000 stake was an attempt to avoid challenges. Negotiations dragged on for several years, often breaking down when agreement seemed in sight. Their relationship became bitter, and Alekhine demanded much higher appearance fees for tournaments in which Capablanca also played. Grandmaster Robert Byrne wrote that Alekhine consciously sought lesser opponents for his subsequent championship matches, rather than giving Capablanca another chance.
Defeats Bogolyubov twice in title matches
Alekhine (left) vs. Bogoljubow (right); Emanuel Lasker (sitting, center) and others looking on.
Although he never agreed terms for a rematch against Capablanca, Alekhine played two world title matches with Bogoljubow, an official « Challenger of FIDE », in 1929 and 1934, winning handily both times. The first was held at Wiesbaden, Heidelberg, Berlin, The Hague, and Amsterdam from September through November 1929. Alekhine retained his title, scoring +11 -5 =9. From April to June 1934, Alekhine faced Bogoljubow again in a title match held in twelve German cities, defeating him by five games (+8 -3 =15). In 1929, Bogoljubow was forty years old and perhaps already past his peak.
Anti-Bolshevik statements, controversy
After the world championship match, Alekhine returned to Paris and spoke against Bolshevism. Afterwards, Nikolai Krylenko, president of the Soviet Chess Federation, published an official memorandum stating that Alekhine should be regarded as an enemy of the Soviets. The Soviet Chess Federation broke all contact with Alexander Alekhine until the end of the 1930s. His older brother Alexei, with whom Alexander Alekhine had had a very close relationship, publicly repudiated him and his anti-Soviet utterances shortly after, but Alexei may have had little choice about this decision. In August 1939, Alexei Alekhine was murdered in Russia.
Alexander Alekhine dominated chess into the mid-1930s. His most famous tournament victories were at the San Remo 1930 chess tournament (+13 =2, 3½ points ahead of Nimzowitsch) and the Bled 1931 chess tournament (+15 =11, 5½ points ahead of Bogoljubov). He won most of his other tournaments outright, shared first place in two, and the first tournament in which he placed lower was Hastings 1933–34 (shared second place, ½ point behind Salo Flohr). In 1933, Alekhine also swept an exhibition match against Rafael Cintron in San Juan (+4 –0 =0), but only managed to draw another match with Ossip Bernstein in Paris (+1 –1 =2). From 1930 to 1935, Alekhine played on board one for France at four Chess Olympiads, winning: the first brilliancy prize at Hamburg in 1930; gold medals for board one at Prague in 1931 and Folkestone in 1933; and the silver medal for board one at Warsaw in 1935. His loss to Latvian master Hermanis Matisons at Prague in 1931 was his first loss in a serious chess event since winning the world championship.
In the early 1930s, Alekhine travelled the world giving simultaneous exhibitions, including Hawaii, Tokyo, Manila, Singapore, Shanghai, Hong Kong, and the Dutch East Indies. In July 1933, Alekhine played thirty-two people blindfold simultaneously (a new world record) in Chicago, winning nineteen, drawing nine and losing four games. In 1934 Alekhine married his fourth wife, Grace Freeman (née Wishard), sixteen years his senior. She was the American-born widow of a British tea-planter in Ceylon, who retained her British citizenship to the end of her life and remained Alekhine’s wife until his death.
Loss of the World title (1935–1937)
Max Euwe took Alekhine’s world title in 1935 but lost it in their 1937 return match.
In 1933, Alekhine challenged Max Euwe to a championship match. Euwe, in the early 1930s, was regarded as one of three credible challengers (the others were Capablanca and Salo Flohr). On October 3, 1935 the world championship match began in Zandvoort, the Netherlands. Although Alekhine took an early lead, from game thirteen onwards Euwe won twice as many games as Alekhine. The challenger became the new champion on December 15, 1935 with nine wins, thirteen draws, and eight losses. This was the first world championship match that officially had seconds: Alekhine had the services of Salo Landau, and Euwe had Géza Maróczy. Euwe’s win was a major upset. Flohr, who also assisted Euwe during the match, thought overconfidence caused more problems than alcohol for Alekhine in this match, and Alekhine himself had previously said he would win easily. Later World Champions Vasily Smyslov, Boris Spassky, Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov analyzed the match for their own benefit and concluded that Euwe deserved to win and that the standard of play was worthy of a world championship. In the eighteen months after losing the title, Alekhine played in ten tournaments, with uneven results: tied for first with Paul Keres at Bad Nauheim in May 1936; first place at Dresden in June 1936; second to Flohr at Podebrady in July 1936; sixth, behind Capablanca, Mikhail Botvinnik, Reuben Fine, Samuel Reshevsky, and Euwe at Nottingham in August 1936; third, behind Euwe and Fine, at Amsterdam in October 1936; tied for first with Salo Landau at Amsterdam (Quadrangular), also in October 1936; in 1936/37 he won at the Hastings New Year tournament, ahead of Fine and Erich Eliskases; first place at Nice (Quadrangular) in March 1937; third, behind Keres and Fine, at Margate in April 1937; tied for fourth with Keres, behind Flohr, Reshevsky and Vladimirs Petrovs, at Kemeri in June–July 1937; tied for second with Bogoljubow, behind Euwe, at Bad Nauheim (Quadrangular) in July 1937.
World Chess Champion, second reign (1937–46)
Alekhine around 1945
Max Euwe was quick to arrange a return match with Alekhine, something José Raúl Capablanca had been unable to obtain after Alekhine won the world title in 1927. Alekhine regained the title from Euwe in December 1937 by a large margin (+10 –4 =11). In this match, held in the Netherlands, Euwe was seconded by Reuben Fine, and Alekhine by Erich Eliskases. The match was a real contest initially, but Euwe collapsed near the end, losing four of the last five games. Fine attributed the collapse to nervous tension, possibly aggravated by Euwe’s attempts to maintain a calm appearance. Alekhine played no more title matches, and thus held the title until his death. 1938 began well for Alekhine, who won the Montevideo 1938 chess tournament at Carrasco (in March) and at Margate (in April), and tied for first with Sir George Alan Thomas at Plymouth (in September). In November, however, he only tied for 4th-6th with Euwe and Samuel Reshevsky, behind Paul Keres, Reuben Fine, and Mikhail Botvinnik, ahead of Capablanca and Flohr, at the AVRO tournament in the Netherlands. This tournament was played in each of several Dutch cities for a few days at a time; it was therefore perhaps not surprising that rising stars took the first three places, as the older players found the travel very tiring. Immediately after the AVRO tournament, Botvinnik, who had finished in third place, challenged Alekhine to a match for the world championship. They agreed on a prize fund of US $10,000 with two-thirds going to the winner, and that if the match were to take place in Moscow, Alekhine would be invited at least three months in advance so that he could play in a tournament to get ready for the match. Other details had not been agreed when World War II interrupted negotiations, which the two players resumed after the war. Keres, who had won the AVRO tournament on tiebreak over Fine, also challenged Alekhine to a world championship match. Negotiations were proceeding in 1939 when they were disrupted by World War II. During the war Keres’ home country, Estonia, was invaded first by the USSR, then by Germany, then again by the USSR. At the end of the war, the Soviet government prevented Keres from continuing the negotiations, on the grounds that he had collaborated with the Germans during their occupation of Estonia. Alekhine was representing France at first board in the 8th Chess Olympiad at Buenos Aires 1939 when World War II broke out in Europe. The assembly of all team captains, with leading roles played by Alekhine (France), Savielly Tartakower (Poland), and Albert Becker (Germany), plus the president of the Argentine Chess Federation, Augusto de Muro, decided to go on with the Olympiad. Alekhine won the individual silver medal (nine wins, no losses, seven draws), behind Capablanca (only results from finals A and B – separately for both sections – counted for best individual scores). Shortly after the Olympiad, Alekhine swept tournaments in Montevideo (7/7) and Caracas (10/10). At the end of August 1939, both Alekhine and Capablanca wrote to Augusto de Muro regarding a possible world championship rematch. Whereas the former spoke of a rematch as a virtual certainty, even stating that the Cuban was remaining in Buenos Aires until it came about, the latter referred at length to the financial burden in the aftermath of the Olympiad. Supported by Latin-American financial pledges, José R. Capablanca challenged Alexander Alekhine to a world title match in November. Tentative plans not, however, actually backed by a deposit of the required purse ($10,000 in gold), led to a virtual agreement to play at Buenos Aires, Argentina beginning April 14, 1940.
World War II (1939–1945)
Unlike many participants in the 1939 Chess Olympiad, Alekhine returned to Europe in January 1940. After a short stay in Portugal, he enlisted in the French army as a sanitation officer. After the fall of France (June 1940), he fled to Marseille. Alekhine tried to go to America by traveling to Lisbon and applying for an American visa. In October 1940, he sought permission to enter Cuba, promising to play a match with Capablanca. This request was denied. To protect his wife, Grace Alekhine, an American Jew, and her French assets (a castle at Saint Aubin-le-Cauf, near Dieppe, which the Nazis looted), he agreed to cooperate with the Nazis. Alekhine took part in chess tournaments in Munich, Salzburg, Kraków/ Warsaw, and Prague, organised by Ehrhardt Post, the Chief Executive of the Nazi-controlled Grossdeutscher Schachbund (« Greater Germany Chess Federation ») – Keres, Bogoljubov, Gösta Stoltz, and several other strong masters in Nazi-occupied Europe also played in such events. In 1941, he tied for second-third with Erik Lundin in the Munich 1941 chess tournament (Europaturnier in September, won by Stoltz), shared first with Paul Felix Schmidt at Kraków/Warsaw (the 2nd General Government-ch, in October) and won in Madrid (in December). The following year he won in the Salzburg 1942 chess tournament (June 1942) and in Munich (September 1942; the Nazis named this the Europameisterschaft, which means » European Championship »). Later in 1942 he won at Warsaw/Lublin/Kraków (the 3rd GG-ch; October 1942) and tied for first with Klaus Junge in Prague ( Duras Jubileé; December 1942). In 1943, he drew a mini-match (+1 –1) with Bogoljubov in Warsaw (March 1943), he won in Prague (April 1943) and tied for first with Keres in Salzburg (June 1943). By late 1943, Alekhine was spending all his time in Spain and Portugal, as the German representative to chess events. This also allowed him to get away from the onrushing Soviet invasion into eastern Europe. In 1944, he narrowly won a match against Ramón Rey Ardid in Zaragoza (+1 –0 =3; April 1944) and won in Gijon (July 1944). The following year, he won at Madrid (March 1945), tied for second place with Antonio Medina at Gijón (July 1945; the event was won by Antonio Rico), won at Sabadell (August 1945), he tied for first with F. López Núñez in Almeria (August 1945), won in Melilla (September 1945) and took second in Caceres, behind Francisco Lupi (Autumn 1945). Alekhine’s last match was with Lupi at Estoril near Lisbon, Portugal, in January 1946. Alekhine won two games, lost one, and drew one. Alekhine took an interest in the development of the chess prodigy Arturo Pomar and devoted a section of his last book (¡Legado! 1946) to him. They played at Gijon 1944, when Pomar, aged twelve, achieved a creditable draw with the champion.
His final year
Grave of Alexander Alekhine in Paris, France
After World War II, Alekhine was not invited to chess tournaments outside the Iberian Peninsula, because of his alleged Nazi affiliation. His original invitation to the London 1946 tournament was withdrawn when the other competitors protested. While planning for a World championship match against Botvinnik, he died in his hotel room in Estoril, Portugal on March 24, 1946. The circumstances of his death are still a matter of debate. It is usually attributed to a heart attack, but a letter in Chess Life magazine from a witness to the autopsy stated that choking on meat was the actual cause of death. Some have speculated that he was murdered by a French « Death Squad ». A few years later, Alekhine’s son, Alexander Alekhine Junior, said that « the hand of Moscow reached his father ». Canadian Grandmaster Kevin Spraggett, who has lived in Portugal since the late 1980s, and who has thoroughly investigated Alekhine’s death, favors this possibility. Spraggett makes a case for the manipulation of the crime scene and the autopsy by the Portuguese secret police PIDE. He believes that Alekhine was murdered outside his hotel room, probably by the Soviets. Alekhine’s burial was sponsored by FIDE, and the remains were transferred to the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris, France in 1956.
Playing strength and style
Statistical ranking systems differ sharply in their views of Alekhine. « Warriors of the Mind » rates him only the 18th strongest player of all time and comments that victories over players such as Bogoljubov and Euwe are not a strong basis for an « all time » ranking. But the website » Chessmetrics » ranks him between the fourth and eighth best of all time, depending on the lengths of the peak periods being compared, and concludes that at his absolute peak he was a little stronger than Emanuel Lasker and Capablanca, although a little weaker than Botvinnik. Jeff Sonas, the author of the website « Chessmetrics », rates Alekhine as the sixth highest peak strength, relative to other players of the same era, of all-time on the basis of comparable ratings. He also assesses Alekhine’s victory at the tournament of San Remo in 1930 as the sixth best performance ever in tournaments. In his 1978 book The Rating of Chessplayers, Past and Present, Arpad Elo gave retrospective ratings to players based on their performance over the best five-year span of their career. He concluded that Alekhine was the joint fifth strongest player of those surveyed (tied with Paul Morphy and Vasily Smyslov), behind Capablanca, Botvinnik, Emanuel Lasker and Mikhail Tal. Alekhine’s peak period was in the early 1930s, when he won almost every tournament he played, sometimes by huge margins. Afterward, his play declined, and he never won a top-class tournament after 1934. After Alekhine regained his world title in 1937, there were several new contenders, all of whom would have been serious challengers.
Alekhine was one of the greatest attacking players and could apparently produce combinations at will. What set him apart from most other attacking players was his ability to see the potential for an attack and prepare for it in positions where others saw nothing. Rudolf Spielmann, a master tactician who produced many brilliancies, said, « I can see the combinations as well as Alekhine, but I cannot get to the same positions. » Dr. Max Euwe said, « Alekhine is a poet who creates a work of art out of something that would hardly inspire another man to send home a picture post-card. » An explanation offered by Réti was, « he beats his opponents by analysing simple and apparently harmless sequences of moves in order to see whether at some time or another at the end of it an original possibility, and therefore one difficult to see, might be hidden. » John Nunn commented that « Alekhine had a special ability to provoke complications without taking excessive risks », and Edward Winter called him « the supreme genius of the complicated position. » Some of Alekhine’s combinations are so complex that even modern champions and contenders disagree in their analyses of them. Nevertheless, Garry Kasparov said that Alekhine’s attacking play was based on solid positional foundations, and Harry Golombek went further, saying that « Alekhine was the most versatile of all chess geniuses, being equally at home in every style of play and in all phases of the game. » Fine, a serious contender for the world championship in the late 1930s, wrote in the 1950s that Alekhine’s collection of best games was one of the three most beautiful that he knew, and Golombek was equally impressed. Alekhine’s games have a higher percentage of wins than those of any other World Champion, and his drawn games are on average among the longest of all champions’. His desire to win extended beyond formal chess competition. When Fine beat him in some casual games in 1933, Alekhine demanded a match for a small stake. And in table tennis, which Alekhine played enthusiastically but badly, he would often crush the ball when he lost. Bobby Fischer, in a 1964 article, ranked Alekhine as one of the ten greatest players in history. Fischer, who was famous for the clarity of his play, wrote of Alekhine, « Alekhine has never been a hero of mine, and I’ve never cared for his style of play. There’s nothing light or breezy about it; it worked for him, but it could scarcely work for anyone else. He played gigantic conceptions, full of outrageous and unprecedented ideas. … [H]e had great imagination; he could see more deeply into a situation than any other player in chess history. … It was in the most complicated positions that Alekhine found his grandest concepts. » Alekhine’s style had a profound influence on Kasparov, who said: « Alexander Alekhine is the first luminary among the others who are still having the greatest influence on me. I like his universality, his approach to the game, his chess ideas. I am sure that the future belongs to Alekhine chess. »
Influence on the game
Several openings and opening variations are named after Alekhine. In addition to the well-known Alekhine’s Defence (1.e4 Nf6) and the Albin-Chatard-Alekhine Attack in the « orthodox » Paulsen variation of the French Defense, there are Alekhine Variations in: the Budapest Gambit, the Vienna Game, the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez, the Winawer Variation of the French Defense; the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian Defense, the Queen’s Gambit Accepted, the Slav Defense, the Queen’s Pawn Game, the Catalan Opening and the Dutch Defense (where three different lines bear his name). Irving Chernev commented, « The openings consist of Alekhine’s games, with a few variations. »