The fourth World Champion Alexander Alekhine was one of the game’s greatest attacking players, known for his ability to find original tactical ideas in highly complex positions. He grew up in a wealthy and influential Russian family and developed steadily as a chess player until he emerged as a world star aged 21 on the eve of World War I. He tied for first place with Nimzowitsch at the 1914 Russian Championship and then took third place at the same year’s St. Petersburg tournament, behind Lasker and Capablanca but ahead of such players as Tarrasch, Marshall and Rubinstein.
He was leading a strong tournament in Mannheim, Germany when war broke out, and was interned for a time along with the other Russian participants. Chess activities were curtailed during the war, and the post-war period was a turbulent time for the future champion. In 1919 he was briefly arrested as a spy by what would become the KGB. In 1920-1 he married and separated from two women in the space of little over a year and left Russia for good. He later became a French citizen and married for a third time in 1927 and a fourth in 1934.
At the chessboard Alekhine was at his peak and he rarely failed to finish in either first or second place at the tournaments he played from 1921 until the end of his career. At times, as for instance in San Remo in 1930 or Bled in 1931, he utterly dominated a world-class field, but his focus soon switched to the World Championship. His main struggle during the 1920s was to find the prize fund Capablanca demanded for a title match, with Alekhine turning to playing simultaneous exhibitions. He set a record by playing blindfold against 28 people in Paris in 1925.
The long-awaited match against Capablanca finally took place in Buenos Aires in 1927. Capablanca was the favourite as his previous record against Alekhine was five wins and no losses, but Alekhine ultimately emerged the 18.5/15.5 victor after an epic 34-game battle. Sadly the chess world never got to see a rematch as Alekhine insisted on the same harsh terms Capablanca had himself demanded. Instead he won two straightforward matches against Efim Boguljubov in 1929 and 1934, before a shock loss to Max Euwe in 1935. Some put that down to Alekhine’s drinking, although it’s also been suggested that drinking was merely a consequence of the purely chess difficulties Alekhine encountered after clearly underestimating his opponent. Two years later Alekhine didn’t make the same mistake, regaining the title with six more wins than his opponent.
The end of Alekhine’s life was just as dramatic as the start of his career. He was playing in Argentina at the Olympiad when World War II began in 1939, but unlike many of his colleagues he returned, taking part in tournaments in German-occupied Europe and being named as the author of anti-Semitic articles (it’s still a subject of debate whether he actually wrote them). Negotiations were well underway for a match against Botvinnik when Alekhine was found dead in his Portuguese hotel room in 1946. The cause of death has variously been attributed to a heart attack, choking on his food and murder by the French or Soviet authorities.
Alekhine is buried at Montparnasse Cemetery, in Paris.
Lead Photo: Wikipedia
We respect your privacy and data protection guidelines. Some components of our site require cookies or local storage that handles personal information.