Dr. Alexander Alexanderovich Alekhine was born on October 31, 1892 (Halloween) in Moscow. He is recognized as one of the most brilliant attacking players that ever lived. His combinative chess is something of legend.
His father was a wealthy landowner, a Marshall of the Nobility and a member of the Duma. His mother was an heiress of an industrial fortune. His older brother, Alexei, played chess and was able to draw Harry Nelson Pillsbury when the latter gave a simultaneous blindfold display in Moscow on 22 boards. Until World War II, Alexander spelled his last name Aljechin. We have evidence of this, especially during his tournaments in the early 30's and his World Championship matches with Dr. Max Euwe in the mid-30's.
Alexander learned chess from his mother and brother around 1903 when he was 11. By 1904 he was playing correspondence chess, that is, chess by mail, the same way the great Paul Keres developed into a chess giant. At age 16 he was at the Imperial High School for Law in Moscow and played lots of chess.
He played a match with Benjamin Blumenfeld in 1908 and won with 7 wins out of 10 games. In early 1909, Alekhine won the Russian Master title in St. Petersburg. In the summer of 1910 Alekhine played in the 17th German Congress in Hamburg and ended up in 7th place. In 1911 and 1912, Alekhine did not have many good results, for lack of play, but he did win a minor tournament in Stockholm, Sweden in 1912.
He didn't win his first major chess tournament until 1914 in St. Petersburg, Russia, when he tied for first place with Aron Niemzowitsch. This was his "coup de grace", a term he used so profusely in his chess writings. A few months later, after tying with Nimzo, he played in the famous 1914 St. Petersburg Tournament of the same year (1914) where the 5 finalists would be bestowed the title of "Grandmaster of Chess" by Czar Nicholas II of Russia. These would be the very first Grandmasters of Chess. Alekhine came in third, behind Dr. Lasker and Capablanca, but ahead of Dr. Tarrasch and Marshall. This was a great accomplishment, since the field contained stellar chess players, including Akiba Rubinstein.
In the tournament of Mannheim, Germany in 1914, Alekhine was leading an International Tournament with 9 wins, 1 loss and 1 draw, when World War I broke out. Being a Russian, he was captured as a prisoner of war. They released him a month later. During the war, after his release from prison, he served the Russian Red Cross in Austria.
While he was hospitalized after being wounded (a contusion of the spine), he became the strongest blindfold chess player in the world. That's how great this guy was. I mean, when normal people go to the hospital, they are totally sad and in pain. Instead, he devoted himself to blindfold chess and became the best in the world in an extremely short period of time. You have to love this guy.
After the war, he served as a magistrate for the Moscow Criminal Investigation Department. He was a lawyer at heart, but would become one of the greatest chess players that has ever lived.
In 1919 he traveled to Odessa and was briefly imprisoned in their death cell suspected of being a spy.
In 1920 Alekhine returned to Moscow and married a Russian baroness several years older than he. He had already fathered an illegitimate daughter in 1913.
Alekhine started working in a film studio intending to be an actor. In October 1920 Alekhine won the first USSR chess championship in Moscow, ahead of Niemzowitch.
In 1921 Alekhine joined the Communist Party and became a translator for the Communist International and the secretary of the Communist Education Department. He then left his wife and the Soviet Union and settled in Paris where he married a Swiss common intern delegate, Anneliese Ruegg. A few months later he abandoned his older second wife and went to Berlin. He won three straight tournaments in Triberg, Budapest, and The Hague. In Budapest he popularized what is now called the Alekhine's defense.
In 1922 he took second in London, behind Capablanca, and first at Hastings. In 1923 he tied for first at Carlsbad with Bogoljubov and Maroczy. In 1924 he took 3rd place in New York, behind Lasker and Capablanca. In 1925 Alekhine won a tournament in Baden-Baden. This was the first international tournament in Germany since World War I.
In 1925 Alekhine became a naturalized French citizen, entered the Sorbonne Law School, and wrote a thesis on the Chinese prison system, becoming Dr. Alekhine.
In February 1925 Dr. Alekhine broke the world blindfold record by playing 28 games blindfold simultaneously, winning 22, drawing 3 and losing 3. He then took first place at Baden-Baden with 12 wins and 8 draws.
In 1926 Dr. Alekhine beat Dr. Max Euwe in a match and challenged Capablanca for the world championship. Dr. Alekhine had just married for the third time to another person much older than him, Nadezda Vasiliev. She was the widow of a high-ranking Russian officer.
In March 1927 Dr. Alekhine took second place, behind Capablanca, in New York, with 5 wins, 13 draws, and 2 losses. In July he won at Kecskemet 1927. He was now ready to meet Capablanca for the world championship after putting up $10,000 in gold. Jose Capablanca accepted the challenge and began their world championship match in Buenos Aires on September 16, 1927. By November 29, 1927 Dr. Alekhine beat Capablanca with 6 wins, 25 draws, and 3 losses. The only time-out was when Dr. Alekhine had 6 teeth extracted during the match. Dr. Alekhine became the 4th official world champion of chess after Steinitz, Dr. Lasker, and Capablanca. All the games in Buenos Aires took place behind closed doors. There were no spectators or photographs.
Dr. Alekhine avoided Capablanca's challenge of a re-match and took on Bogoljubov at Weisbaden in September 1929. Dr. Alekhine won with 11 wins, 9 draws, and 5 losses. He avoided Capablanca by insisting that the winner get $10,000 in gold, just as he got in Buenos Aires. But after the stock market crash, there were no backers.
At the 1930 Chess Olympiad he scored his first 100% score when he won all 9 games as board one for France. From 1929 to 1932 Dr. Alekhine took first place at San Remo (performance rating of 2812), Bled, London, and Pasadena. Dr. Alekhine was also giving large simultaneous exhibitions. In 1932 he was playing up to 300 opponents simultaneously from New York to Paris. In 1933 he played 32 people blindfold simultaneously in Chicago, winning 19, drawing 9, and losing 4 games. He traveled the world giving simultaneous exhibitions, including Shanghai. He was made an honorary Colonel in the Mexican army and appointed as chess instructor for the Mexican army.
In 1934 Dr. Alekhine married for the 4th time to a lady, Grace Wishart, 16 years older than he. She was the widow of an Englishman and retained her British nationality. He had met her at a minor chess tournament which she had won. Her prize was one of Dr. Alekhine's books. She asked him to sign the book and their relationship developed from that moment.
In 1934 Dr. Alekhine defeated Eufim Bogoljubov for the world championship in Baden-Baden with the score of 8 wins, 15 draws and 3 losses. He then accepted a challenge from Dr. Max Euwe. On October 3, 1935 the world championship match between Dr. Alekhine and Dr. Euwe began in Zandvoort for $10,000 to the winner. On December 15, 1935 Dr. Euwe had won with 9 wins, 13 draws, and 8 losses. This was the first world championship match to officially have seconds (a second was an assistant who stayed up all night analyzing an adjourned chess position and who gave advice to the champion as to the next move).
In 1936 Dr. Alekhine played in Nottingham, England which was won by Capablanca and Dr. Botvinnik. Dr. Alekhine ended up in 6th place. His game with Capablanca was the first time they had met since the world championship match in 1927. Dr. Alekhine asked for a rematch and got it in 1937 where Dr. Alekhine defeated Dr. Euwe in Holland with 10 wins, 11 draws and 4 losses. The story is that Dr. Alekhine quit drinking and smoking and really practiced for the rematch. A review of the games of that match support that theory.
At the 1938 AVRO tournament in Holland, the top eight players in the world participated. This was the strongest tournament ever held. First place was $550. Dr. Alekhine, for the first time in his life, came ahead of Capablanca. Capablanca, for the first time in his life, scored below 50%. Flohr, the official challenger to Dr. Alekhine in the next world championship match (called off because of World War II) came in last place without a single win in 14 rounds.
Dr. Alekhine was representing France on board 1 at the Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aires when World War II broke out. As team captain of the French team, he refused to allow his team to play Germany. He returned to France to enlist in the army and became an interpreter. When France was over-run he tried to go to America by traveling to Lisbon and applying for an American visa. To protect his wife and their French assets, he agreed to cooperate with the Nazis. He wrote six articles critical of Jewish chess players and participated in a Nazi chess tournaments in Munich, Salzburg, Warsaw, and Prague. When asked about the German siege on his apartment, he said, "The Germans have scientifically ransacked my apartment."
By 1943 Dr. Alekhine was spending all his time in Spain and Portugal as the German representative to chess events. After World War II he was not invited to chess tournaments because of his Nazi affiliation.
In 1946 he was about to accept a match title with Botvinnik. On the evening of March 23 or early March 24, 1946 Dr. Alekhine died in his hotel room in Estoril, Portugal. Some say he died of a heart attack. Others say he choked on a piece of meat. The body was not buried for three weeks as no one claimed the body. Finally, the Portuguese Chess Federation took charge of the funeral. Less than a dozen folks showed up for his burial.
In 1947 the FIDE Congress voted for Dr. Euwe to be the world champion since Dr. Alekhine died. However, the Soviet delegation was late for this vote. The next day, after protest from the Soviet delegation, the title was rescinded in favor of a match-tournament which Dr. Botvinnik won.
In 1956 the USSR and French Chess Federation agreed to transfer his remains to the cemetery in Montparnasse, Paris. FIDE provided the tombstone. It is in the shape of a chessboard made out of red granite and there is a bust of him made out of marble. The birth and death dates on Dr. Alekhine's tombstone are wrong, however.
The tombstone reads:
In world championship play, Dr. Alekhine won 43 games, drew 73 games, and lost 24 games for a total of 140 games, with a 56.8% win ratio. He was world champion for 17 years, playing in 5 world championship matches. Dr. Alekhine played over 1000 tournament games, scoring 73 percent in his games. His historical ELO rating has been calculated to be 2690.
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