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Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Vsevolod Rauzer

     Just about everybody knows his name, but not his story or his games.  That's a shame. 
     Vsevolod Alfredovich Rauzer (October 16, 1908 – 1941, Leningrad) was a Soviet Ukrainian master known for his contributions to opening theory, especially of the Sicilian Defense. The Richter-Rauzer Attack is best known, but he was also an early pioneer of what is known today as the Yugoslav Attack. He also composed chess problems and studies. One of Russia's most creative masters in his day, during the ten-year period from 1927-1937 he was one of the country's strongest players, but his career was a tragic one. 
     At the age of 15 his first problem was published and after moving to Kiev he gained attention nationally after writing a K+B+wrong colored RP vs a lone K that appeared in Shakhmatny Listok. The article was attacked in print by Alexey Troitsky. Troitsky was one of the greatest composers of endgame studies and is regarded as the founder of the modern art of composing chess studies. He died of starvation during WW2 at the siege of Leningrad and unfortunately his notes were destroyed during the siege. 
     Concerning the article, Troitsky wrote that Rauzer was all wrong: not only was his analysis wrong, but his assertion that the ending had never been analyzed before was also wrong. Naturally Rauzer was devastated and for several months he analyzed the ending with Alexander Konstaninopolsky, a then 18-year old player. What Rauzer discovered was that players like Teichman, Kling and Horwitz had indeed analyzed the ending before him, but he stood by his conclusions. Troitsky eventually replied in another article admitting that the analysis was correct. 
     Rauzer was a strange man. In appearance he had gray eyes, fair hair and was so light skinned that according to one Russian writer he was so pale he appeared to be almost an albino. Rauzer worked as a messenger for a state financial department and found dealing with the problems of everyday life difficult; he was absent minded and careless about everything except chess. Konstantinoplosky wrote of him, "Everything else, food, sleep, personal contact with people, literature and so on, he considered unnecessary." Rauzer often got up at 6:00am and analyzed until dark, stopping only for short breaks and snacks. He commented that, unfortunately, he could not make himself work on theory more than 16 hours a day because his head couldn't take it. He loved opening theory and went his own way. 
     In those days almost all of the best players lived in either Moscow or Leningrad, but Rauzer lived with his mother in Kiev in a one room apartment which also served as a chess club for young players. They held a lot of blitz tournaments...no clocks, which were scarce...somebody would call out the seconds until it was time to move.
     Rauzer learned chess on his own from a book by Dufresne at the age of ten and studied the games of Lasker and Tarrasch. In fact in 1934 he wrote an article for Shakhmay v SSSR in which he defended Tarrasch's teaching, claiming that (the then) modern players did not understand or appreciate Tarrasch. Like Tarrasch Rauzer had little respect for the fianchetto of the KB by either white or black and he tried to refute the Nimzo-Indian because he believed the idea of black's playing ...Bxc3 in the Nimzo was completely anti-positional.
     While Rauzer made some important endgame discoveries, particularly in R and P vs. R endings, it's his opening analysis that is best known. He began as a 1.d4 player, but after reviewing his games in the 1931 Soviet Championship, which was won by Botvinnik with Rauzer finishing in a very respectable tie for 8th and 9th out of 17 places with a score of 9-8, he determined that 1.d4 lead to too many draws and so it was an error; the best move was 1.e4. 
     He was determined to refute the Sicilian and, also, to prove that the French wasn't quite sound and the result was that he became one of the leading Soviet opening theoreticians. It was his opinion that after 1.e4 black should be immediately on the defensive and that belief lead him to discover new strategies in the Ruy Lopez, Four Knights Games and the move 6.Bg5 against the Sicilian which avoided the then dreaded Dragon. He also discovered the idea of meeting the Dragon with castling Q-side, playing f2-f3 and then advancing the h-Pawn...eventually this came to be known as the Yugoslav Attack. Like American master Weaver Adams, Rauzer tried to prove that after 1.e4 white should, if not win, at least always get an advantage. 
     Rauzer played in ten USSR Finals Championships and finished in the top ten four times. Not only was Rauzer known for his weird behavior away from chess, he also exhibited it at the board. Botvinnik once told how he had tried to get Rauzer to play well against the eventual second place finisher, Ruimin, near the end of the 1931 championship tournament and Rauzer told him, "I can't play chess well. I have irregular facial features."  In 1935 at one tournament Rauzer lost a game as white and was so upset that he said he couldn't come to dinner and had caviar sandwiches sent to his room. When he didn't show up for breakfast or lunch the next day his trainer, Batuyev, checked on him and found him asleep, the sandwiches untouched and chess pieces scattered all over the place; Rauzer had studied all night. 
     Rauzer finally moved to Leningrad in 1934 which is when he reached his peak, finishing tied for first with Chekhover in the 1936 All Union Tournament of Young Masters. That's when Levenfish, writing in 64 magazine, claimed that Rauzer had transformed from a talented master to a "dry dogmatic" because of his opening opinions. This infuriated Rauzer who replied the tournament really showed how skilled he was in the middlegame thanks to having read Tarrasch's The Modern Game of Chess. In fact, in early 1934, Rauzer had written a letter to Tarrasch with his thoughts on the latter's theories, but Tarrasch died shortly after receiving the letter so never answered. 
     In the late 1930s Rauzer's health and mental status began to worsen and he never played after 1937. Late 1940 found him in a psychiatric hospital and he died late in 1941 at the age of 33, perhaps as Botvinnik suggested, during the siege of Leningrad. 
     Here is one of his early games when he was a 1.d4 player that features a stunning Q-sac that may or may not have been the best, but the play is fascinating. 

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