Random Posts

Thursday, July 23, 2015


     I have three favorite players, Alekhine, Botvinnik and Reshevky. I literally wore the covers off the books of their best games. Alekhine remains one of the greatest players who ever lived and many modern GM's have listed him as their favorite player. Even Garry Kasparov, another of the greatest players who ever lived, said that Alekhine's style was modern and he is considered to be one of the major influences in the "Russian" school of chess. Reuben Fine said his games are models of near perfect chess that everyone should study. Tartakower wrote, "...Alekhine plays the way that a world champion ought to play." 
     There was a lot of chess being played in the young Alekhine's home and his parents arranged for him to take lessons from Fedor Duz-Khotimirsky. Duz-K isn't exactly a household name among chess players these days, but when he arrived in Carlsbad in 1907, most experts predicted that he would do poorly...he didn't even have a title. He did get off to bad start, but ended up scoring 10-10 and tying with Frank Marshall for 11th place and becoming a recognized master. Not a bad achievement and he might have done better if it were not for “outside” factors. When the Soviet chess authorities sent him to Carlsbad, they didn't give him any pocket money and he was soon broke and practically starved. Chigorin and some of the other Russian masters noticed and helped him out financially. In his career he scored numerous victories over top flight players and earned the reputation as a brilliant and original player. No doubt his influence on Alekhine was considerable. 
     By the age of 10 Alekhine was also a correspondence chess but he was considered too young to be allowed membership in the local chess club and it wasn't until he was a teenager that he was accepted for membership. Things have changed, haven't they? It soon became apparent that he had enormous talent and within a year and a half he was good enough to win first prize with a score of 13–3 in a secondary tournament of the St. Petersburg Congress in 1909.
     World War I and the revolution in Russia interfered with his career and personal life. In 1914 he was leading the Manheim tournament when war broke out. Alekhine was interned, but later released, and ended up serving in the Russian medical corps. He suffered from shell shock. The term “shell shock” was coined during WWI. It was a reaction to the intensity of the bombardment and fighting that produced a helplessness that appeared as panic, being scared, an inability to reason, sleep, walk or talk. In World War II it was called “combat stress reaction.” 

     Some men suffering from shell shock were actually tried and some executed for desertion and cowardice and, while it was recognized that the stress of combat could cause men to break down, it was sometimes also seen as symptomatic of an underlying lack of character. 
     In U.S. military history there were two famous slapping incidents involving the colorful General George Patton. In August 1943 Patton caused a big brouhaha when he slapped two soldiers under his command during the Sicily Campaign. The soldiers were hospitalized for “battle fatigue,” something Patton didn't believe in. Patton slapped and berated them after discovering they were patients at evacuation hospitals and didn't have any apparent injuries. 
     Word of the incidents spread among troops and eventually Patton's superior, General Dwight Eisenhower heard about them and he compelled him to apologize. Patton's actions were initially suppressed in the news until journalist Drew Pearson publicized them. Eisenhower's superior, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall opted not to fire Patton as a commander. He was nonetheless sidelined from combat command for almost a year.
     Eisenhower was cagey. He took advantage of the predicament and used Patton as a decoy in Operation Fortitude by sending faulty intelligence to Nazi German agents that Patton was leading the Invasion of Europe. Patton eventually returned to combat command in mid-1944, but because of his brashness and impulsiveness his career was halted as former subordinates such as Omar Bradley became his superiors. 
     These days its called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and it can develop after a person is exposed to one or more traumatic events, such as major stress, sexual assault, terrorism, or other threats on a person's life. 

     What was I talking about? Oh, yeah, Alekhine's shell shock. He was hospitalized and was later moved to Odessa. 
     In 1927, Alekhine finally got a shot at the title and surprised everybody by defeating Capablanca. There was never a rematch because Alekhine set a whole bunch of obstacles in the way which ultimately prevented a rematch from happening. He also took great pains to make sure he and Capa never met in a tournament by demanding high appearance fees or anything else he could think of. The only exception was Nottingham, 1936. Alekhine must have regretted the decision though because Capa walloped him in their individual game and tied for first with another guy who was making a name for himself, Mikhail Botvinnik.
     Alekhine's combinations were incredible and his tactical ability was legendary. In one interview Alekhine claimed that tactical ability could not be taught...you were either born with it, or not. His writings were some of the best of their time even though some games were “fudged” and sometimes he embellished his ability to foresee the consequences of a move, often leaving the impression that he foresaw everything from beginning to end.
     Alekhine's personal life was full of turmoil; he lost two fortunes, saw great upheavals in war, a depression and all the while suffering from alcoholism. He was also accused of collaborating with the Nazi's during WWII and of writing anti-Semitic articles which after the war lead to him being almost universally shunned. 
     Arnold Denker described the early Alekhine as being impressive in his bearing and having the attitude of royalty, wearing suits with striped pants and shirt with old fashioned wing collars and...almost always wearing a corset to help maintain his ramrod straight appearance! 
     In the late 1920's to early 1930's though Alekhine began to degenerate. Denker described how Alekhine was bent on self-destruction, being very unhappy, drinking prodigiously and constantly smoking, all of which lead to his complete collapse so that by late 1944 he barely defeated Spanish master Ramon Rey Ardid in a match and was routinely losing to obscure Portuguese masters. 
     After the war a Dutch federation official wrote that Alekhine was a small-minded drunkard with a lust for money and his anti-Jewish articles resulted in him being described as a miserable collaborator and a mean profiteer that breathed lies. 
     When Alekhine was in the United States he was quite friendly with both Denker and Arthur Dake and treated them quite well. And, despite all his flaws, Denker seemed to like Alekhine. Former Chess Life editor Larry Parr described a meeting with Denker where tears came to Denker's eyes over the feeling of abandonment that Alekhine must have experienced when his invitation to the London Victory Tournament in 1946 was withdrawn because of his war record. He died alone in a hotel room in Estoril, Portugal on March 24th, 1946 at the age of 53.

Jeremy Silman's articles on Alekhine on Chessdotcom are excellent: Part 1 and Part 2 
You will also enjoy Kevin Spraggett's two articles on Alekhine's death: Part 1 and Part 2

No comments:

Post a Comment