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Friday, November 4, 2011

AVRO 1938

      The AVRO tournament was the last major chess event before the Second World War. The older players were pitted against the up-and-coming youth. Youth triumphed and a new era of chess players was to dominate the chess world for many years to come. The AVRO tournament belongs to history and few of today’s players remember it, but it still stands as one of the greatest tournaments ever.  The final standings were: Keres and Fine 8½ (14), Botvinnik 7½, Alekhine, Euwe and Reshevsky 7, Capablanca 6, Flohr 4½.  Keres won on tiebreaks by virtue of his 1½-½ score against Fine in their individual games.
        An indicator of how strong these new generation was, Capablanca had only lost 26 tournament games over a span of 29 years but lost four games in this event. He suffered a mild stroke during this tournament which was largely responsible for his poor performance.
       The tournament was organized in the hope that it would provide a challenger to Alekhine, but it was not an official Candidates Tournament and the outbreak of World War II put an end to any thought of a match until the FIDE organizedthe 1948 match tournament after Alekhine's death in 1946.  In that event the six surviving AVRO participants (Capablanca had also died) were invited but by that time Vasily Smyslov had eclipsed Flohr, so Smyslov replaced him.  Fine refused his invitation and for the rest of his life, felt he should have been granted  the special privilege of a match based on his AVRO results.  It was clear to everyone except Fine that he was no longer among the world elite.
       Salo Flohr, then of Czechoslovakia, had been nominated the year before AVRO as FIDE's official challenger for the World Title. Samuel Reshevsky and Reuben Fine achieved brilliant results in various competitions in the mid-thirties and the twenty-two-year-old Paul Keres who had made a name for himself in several strong tournaments and the olympiads.
       Alekhine had won the rematch against Euwe and  there were some other players who had laid claim to the World Championship title. Capablanca, who had lost to Alekhine in 1927, was still planning on a rematch against Alekhine so the Dutch radio company (Allgemeene Vereenigung Radio-Omroep) decided to organize the tournament in the belief that the winner of the tournament, if it wasn’t Alekhine himself, would earn the right to challenge him in the next World Championship match.
      There was some political turmoil at the time the tournament was held and it was apparent to most people that a second world war was about to take place.  As a result of the political situation, Salo Flohr, who had previously accepted his invitation asked to withdraw because Czechoslovakia had already been occupied and his family devastated. He request was denied and so he played but this took its toll on his play.
      Reuben Fine, who later abandoned chess,  was considering pursuing his career and he also asked to withdraw, but his request was also refused. Years later, in his book Lessons from My Games, he explained his success in AVRO. "Perhaps it was as a result of the decision to give up chess that I played with a new determination there."  Arnold Denker writing in The Bobby Fischer I Knew wrote, "Doubts are always the enemy of blind dedication, which is so essential for aspiring world champions. Unemployed from 1939 to 1941Fine saw that a future dedicated to chess was bleak at best, and he obeyed the dictates of common sense, returning to school in the mid-1940s..."
       Fine lead from start scoring 5½ out of the first six games, winning against Botvinnik, Reshevsky, Euwe, Flohr and Alekhine. Then in the 7th round he lost to Keres who finished the first half of the tournament only a half point behind Fine. In the second half Keres drew all of his games while Fine lost two.  Fine did beat Alekhine twice, thus winning his mini-match against the World Champion.
       It was the worst showing in his career for Capablanca. Capablanca and Alekhine, the oldest participants of the tournament ,complained that each round was played in a new town which made it difficult for the older players.
      As a result of his victory on tiebreaks, Keres was supposed to have gained the right to challenge Alekhine to a match for the World Championship, but before the tournament in his speech to the participants and organizers Alekhine stated that, although the tournament was conceived as a candidates' competition, he was not obliged to play a match with the winner of the tournament unless the met his usual conditions.
       The result was Botvinnik challenged Alekhine to a match shortly after the end of the AVRO tournament but the outbreak of World War II ended chess activity.  Botvinnik considered his third place in this tournament a serious failure because his victories in Moscow and Nottingham had made him feel confident that he could win AVRO also.  In this event Botvinnik won two games (against Alekhine and Capablanca)  that have been considered  his most outstanding masterpieces.

You can download all of the games in Chessbase format HERE.  You don’t have to study the games; just watching them play is rewarding.


  1. Reuben Fine had pretty much given up chess after the war, but he did play in an pretty strong international tournament in New York in 1948. The field included Euwe, Najdorf, Pilnik, Kashdan, Denker, and a young, ambitious Arthur Bisguier. Not a world-class field, but not a bunch of pushovers either. Fine score 8/9 with no losses, indicating that he still remembered how the pieces moved!

  2. He also played in the Wertheim Memorial in New York, 1951. The standings were: 1.Reshevsky 2-3.Najdorf and Euwe 4.Fine 5.Evans 6-7.Horowitz and R. Byrne 8.Guimard 9.O’Kelly 10.Bisguier 11.Kramer 12.Shainswit. Fine drew with Reshevsky, Evans, Byrne and Kramer and lost to Najdorf and Euwe. I am not sure but I think this may have been his last tournament.

  3. That decline in results sure looks consistent with Fine's gradually withdrawing from competitive chess, doesn't it?

    It's hard for modern chess fans to visualize how terribly bleak the financial prospects were for American players in the immediate post-war era. International travel was difficult, slow, and expensive. Most of the European economies were in tatters after the war, so there very money available for lucrative tournaments. The Russians also had a strong interest in keeping the purses low, because it gave their subsidized players a tremendous advantage. Fine probably made a rational decision to give it up, although he was still relatively young