AskDefine | Define alekhine

Extensive Definition

Alexander Alexandrovich Alekhine (; Russian Алекса́ндр Алекса́ндрович Але́хин) (October 19, 1892March 24, 1946) was a Russian-born naturalised French chess champion. At the age of twenty-two he was already among the best chess players in the world and was one of the five to whom, according to legend, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia awarded the title "chess grandmaster" in 1914. 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 one of the longest matches ever held up until that time.
In the early 1930s, Alekhine dominated tournament play and won two top-class tournaments by large margins. He also played as top board for France in four Chess Olympiads, winning individual prizes in each one. His tournament record became more erratic from the mid-1930s onwards, and alcoholism is often blamed for his decline. 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 against Bogoljubov in 1929 and 1934. He was defeated by Euwe in 1935, but regained his crown in his 1937 rematch with Euwe. His tournament record, however, remained erratic, and rising young stars like Keres, Fine, and Botvinnik threatened his title. No further title matches occurred, however, after World War II broke out in Europe in 1939.
Alekhine stayed in Nazi-occupied Europe during the War, where he played in chess tournaments the Nazis organized. During the War, anti-Semitic articles appeared under Alekhine's name, although he later claimed they were forged by the Nazis. Alekhine had good relationships with several Jewish chess players, and his fourth wife was Jewish. After the War, Alekhine was ostracized by players and tournament organizers because of the anti-Semitic articles. 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. Statistical rating systems differ about his strength relative to other players, giving him rankings between fourth and eighteenth in their "all-time" lists. Although Alekhine was declared an "enemy of the Soviet Union" after making anti-Bolshevik statements in 1927, in the 1950s he was posthumously rehabilitated and 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 theoretician (giving his name to Alekhine's Defence and several other opening variations) and as a chess writer. He also composed a few endgame studies. There is strong evidence that Alekhine "improved" the published scores of some of his games, although in one case he may not have been responsible for the misrepresentation.


Early life

Alekhine was born into a wealthy family in Moscow, Russia. 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'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, 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 eleventh–thirteenth in the club's Autumn Tournament; his older brother, Alexei, tied for fourth–sixth place. In 1908, Alexander won the club's Spring Tournament, at the age of fourteen. 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 tournament was held in Saint Petersburg 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. 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 chess 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 . 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. In 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) in the end of October 1914. Fifth player, Flamberg was allowed to return to Warsaw in 1916.
When Alekhine arrived back in Russia, he helped raise money to aid the Russian chess players who were still interned in Germany by giving simultaneous exhibitions. In 1915–16, Alekhine won a tournament in Moscow. In May 1916, Alekhine 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 the same year Alekhine won a mini-match against Alexander Evensohn with two wins and one loss at Kiev. 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 Bolesheviks. 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, 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. Alekhine never returned to Russia. In June 1921, Alekhine abandoned his second wife in Paris and went to Berlin. In 1923, he won against André Muffang (+2 –0 =0) in Paris. Technically, Alekhine's play was mostly better than his competitors', even Capablanca's, but he lacked confidence when playing his major rivals.). 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)

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 September and November 1927 at Buenos Aires, Alekhine won the title of World Chess Champion, scoring six wins, three losses, and twenty-five draws. Alekhine's victory surprised almost the entire chess world, since he had never previously won a single game from Capablanca. Alekhine prepared thoroughly for the title match and even changed his playing style to resemble Capablanca's most of the time, attacking rarely and only when he was certain that he had the advantage. This was also the first contest in which Capablanca had no easy wins. As a result, the match was the longest since the series between Labourdonnais and McDonnell in 1834.
Immediately after winning the match, Alekhine announced that he was willing to give Capablanca a return match, on the same terms that Capablance 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. 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.
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 Alekhine, 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.
After defeating Capablanca, Alekhine dominated chess into the mid-1930s. The first match was held at Wiesbaden, Heidelberg, Berlin, The Hague, and Amsterdam from September through November 1929. Alekhine won with eleven wins, nine draws, and five losses.
Between 1930 and 1935, Alekhine played on board one for France at four Chess Olympiads, winning: the first brilliancy prize at Hamburg in 1930; Shanghai, Hong Kong, and the Dutch East Indies. In July 1933, Alekhine played thirty-two people blindfold (a new world record) simultaneously 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. This was the first world championship match that officially had seconds: Alekhine had the services of Salo Landau, and Euwe had Geza Maroczy. Euwe's win was a major upset and is sometimes attributed to Alekhine's alcoholism. 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 Vassily 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 behind Salo Flohr at Poděbrady 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)


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.
Paul 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 by the USSR again. 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). he enlisted in the French army as a sanitation officer. Alekhine took part in chess tournaments in Munich, Salzburg, Krakow/Warsaw, and Prague, organised by Ehrhardt Post, President of the Nazi-controlled Grossdeutscher Schachbund ("Greater Germany Chess Federation") - Paul Keres, Efim Bogoljubow, 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 Munich (Europa-Turnier in September, won by Gösta Stoltz), tied for first with Paul Felix Schmidt at Krakow/Warsaw (2nd GG Tournament, in October) and won in Madrid (in December). That same year he also won a mini-match with Lopez Esnaola in Vitoria. The following year he won in Salzburg (June 1942) and in Munich (September 1942; the Nazis named this the Europameisterschaft, which means "1st European Championship"). Later in 1942 he won at Warsaw/Lublin/Krakow (3rd GG Tournament; October 1942) and tied for first with Klaus Junge in Prague (Duras Memorial; December 1942). In 1943, he drew a mini-match (+1 –1 =0) with Bogoljubow in Warsaw (March 1943), he won in Prague (April 1943) and tied for first with Paul Keres in Salzburg (June 1943).
By late 1943, Alekhine was spending all of 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 Lopez Nunez in Almeria (August 1945), won in Melilla (September 1945) and took second in Caceres, behind Francisco Lupi (Autumn 1945). Alekhine's last chess 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 last year

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.


Playing strength and style

Statistical ranking systems differ sharply in their views of Alekhine. "Warriors of the Mind" rates him only the eighteenth strongest of player all time and comments that victories over players like Efim Bogoljubov and Max 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 Jose Raul Capablanca, although a little weaker than Mikhail Botvinnik. Jeff Sonas, the author of the website "Chessmetrics", rates Alekhine as the sixth best player 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.
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. Rudolf Spielmann, a master tactician who produced many brilliancies, said this ability to create positions in which brilliancies were possible was Alekhine's great strength. 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." 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."
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'. Alekhine's 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. 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.

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 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).
Alekhine also composed a few endgame studies. One of them is shown on the right, a miniature (a study with a maximum of seven pieces). Solution: 1.g5! Kc6 2.Ke5 Kd7 3.Kd5! (3.Kf6? Kxd6 4.Kxf7 Ke5) 3. ...Kd8 4.Kc6 and White wins.
Alekine wrote over twenty books on chess, mostly annotated editions of the games in a major match or tournament, plus collections of his best games between 1908 and 1937. His books appeal to expert players rather than beginners: led to a Soviet series of Alekhine Memorial tournaments, with the first being at Moscow 1956, won jointly by Mikhail Botvinnik and Vasily Smyslov. In their book The Soviet School of Chess Kotov and Yudovich devoted a chapter to Alekhine and called him "Russia's greatest player" and praised his capacity for seizing the initiative by concrete tactical play in the opening. Botvinnik wrote that the Soviet School of chess learned from Alekhine's fighting qualities, capacity for self-criticism and combinative vision. Alekhine had written that success in chess required "Firstly, self-knowledge; secondly, a firm comprehension of my opponent’s strength and weakness; thirdly, a higher aim – ... artistic and scientific accomplishments which accord our chess equal rank with other arts."

Accusations of "improving" games

"He allegedly made up games against fictitious opponents in which he came out the victor and had these games published in various chess magazines." In a recent book Andy Soltis lists "Alekhine’s 15 Improvements". The most famous example is his game with five queens in Moscow in 1915. In the actual game, Alekhine, playing as Black, beat Grigoriev in the Moscow 1915 tournament; but in one of his books he presented the "five Queens" variation (starting with a move he rejected as Black in the original game) as an actual game won by the White player in Moscow in 1915 (he did not say in who was who in this version, nor that it was in the tournament).
Chess historian Edward Winter investigated a game Alekhine allegedly won in fifteen moves via a Queen sacrifice at Sabadell in 1945. Some photos of the game in progress were discovered that showed the players during the game and their chessboard. Based on the position that the chess pieces had taken on the chessboard in this photo, the game could never have taken the course that was stated in the published version. This raised suspicions that the published version was made up. Even if the published version is a fake, however, there is no doubt that Alekhine did defeat his opponent in the actual game, and there is no evidence that Alekhine was the source of the spectacular fifteen-move win whose authenticity is doubted.

Accusations of anti-Semitism

During World War II, Alekhine played in several tournaments held in Germany or German-occupied territory, as did many strong players in occupied and neutral countries.
There is evidence that Alekhine was not anti-Semitic in his personal or chess relationships with Jews. In June 1919, he was arrested by the Cheka, imprisoned in Odessa and sentenced to death. Yakov Vilner, a Jewish master, saved him by sending a telegram to the chairman of the Ukrainian Council of People's Commissars, who knew of Alekhine and ordered his release. Alekhine accepted and apparently used chess analysis from Charles Jaffe in his World Championship match against Capablanca. Jaffe was a Jewish master who lived in New York, where Alekhine often visited, and upon his return to New York after defeating Capablanca, Alekhine played a short match as a favour to Jaffe, without financial remuneration. Alekhine also married an American Jew, Grace Wishard, as his fourth wife (Mrs. Grace Alekhine was the women’s champion of Paris in 1944).

Notable chess games


Alekine wrote over 20 books on chess. Some of the best-known are:
  • Originally published in two volumes as My Best Games of Chess 1908-1923 and My Best Games of Chess 1924-1937

Summary of results in competitions

Tournament results

Here are Alekhine's placings and scores in tournaments:
  • Under Score, + games won, = games drawn, − games lost

Match results

Here are Alekhine's results in matches:
  • Under Score, + games won, = games drawn, − games lost

Chess Olympiad results

Here are Alekhine's results in Chess Olympiads. He played top board for France in all these events.
  • Under Score, + games won, = games drawn, − games lost



alekhine in Arabic: ألكسندر أليخين
alekhine in Bengali: আলেকসান্দর আলেখিন
alekhine in Breton: Aleksandr Alec'hin
alekhine in Bulgarian: Александър Алехин
alekhine in Catalan: Alexander Alekhine
alekhine in Czech: Alexandr Alexandrovič Aljechin
alekhine in Danish: Alexander Aljechin
alekhine in German: Alexander Alexandrowitsch Aljechin
alekhine in Estonian: Aleksandr Alehhin
alekhine in Modern Greek (1453-): Αλεξάντερ Αλιέχιν
alekhine in Spanish: Alexander Alekhine
alekhine in Persian: الکساندر آلخین
alekhine in French: Alexandre Alekhine
alekhine in Galician: Alexander Alekhine
alekhine in Ido: Aleksandr Alehine
alekhine in Indonesian: Alexander Alekhine
alekhine in Italian: Aleksandr Aleksandrovič Alechin
alekhine in Hebrew: אלכסנדר אליוכין
alekhine in Hungarian: Alekszandr Alekszandrovics Aljehin
alekhine in Dutch: Aleksandr Aljechin
alekhine in Japanese: アレクサンドル・アレヒン
alekhine in Norwegian: Aleksandr Alekhin
alekhine in Polish: Aleksander Alechin
alekhine in Portuguese: Alexander Alekhine
alekhine in Romanian: Alexandr Alehin
alekhine in Russian: Алехин, Александр Александрович
alekhine in Slovak: Alexandr Alexandrovič Alechin
alekhine in Slovenian: Aleksander Aleksandrovič Aljehin
alekhine in Serbian: Александар Аљехин
alekhine in Finnish: Aleksandr Alehin
alekhine in Swedish: Aleksandr Alechin
alekhine in Turkish: Aleksandr Alekhine
alekhine in Ukrainian: Алехін Олександр Олександрович
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