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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Alekhine's Mystery Opponents

     Alekhine was not above publishing fake games, his involvement in political controversies is well known and even the exact details of his death are something of a mystery. In 1945 he won a small event in Sabadell, Spain that also created something of a mystery. 
     After his match with Capablanca Alekhine returned to Paris and began speaking out against Bolshevism, the communist form of government adopted by Russia following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. 
     Nikolai Krylenko, a Bolshevik revolutionary and politician who participated in the political purges of the 1920s and 1930s, was known as the Father of Russian Chess, and at that time president of the Soviet Chess Federation. Krylenko published an official memorandum stating that Alekhine should be regarded as an enemy of the State and the Soviet Chess Federation broke all contact with him until the end of the 1930s. Whether by choice or not, Alekhine's older brother Alexei, with whom he had a close relationship, publicly repudiated him and his anti-Soviet stance. But then in 1939 Alexei is reputed to have been murdered, possibly because of his open support of the Nazis. As a side note, Alexei himself was also a chess player of some reputation. Justice finally caught up with Krylenko; he ended up getting arrested himself, confessed to numerous crimes under torture and after a trial lasting 20 minutes, was found guilty and immediately taken out and shot.  Kevin Spraggett has a great article on Krylenko.
     In the 1930s Alekhine was dominating the chess world, but in1933 Reuben Fine noticed that he was drinking heavily. Hans Kmoch wrote that his heavy drinking started during Bled in 1931 and continued through his 1934 match with Bogoljubow. He was also drinking heavily during his 1935 match with Euwe. In 1934 Alekhine married his fourth wife, Grace Freeman (nee Wishaar), sixteen years his senior. She was an American-born widow of a British tea-planter in Ceylon and retained her British citizenship to the end of her life and was Alekhine's wife until his death. 
     After the 1939 Chess Olympiad in Buenos Aries many participants decided to stay in Argentina or moved elsewhere in South America rather than face an uncertain future by returning to a Europe in the midst of a war. Alekhine stayed in Argentina for several months after the Olympiad, winning in a couple of tournaments and he could have remained there or even gone to the United States with his American-born wife. Instead, in January 1940 he returned to Europe and after a short stay in Portugal he enlisted in the French army as a non-commissioned sanitation officer. Owing to his knowledge of foreign languages, he was soon transferred to intelligence work as a lieutenant and became an interpreter. 
     After France fell in June 1940, he was demobilized and ended up in Marseille where he made several attempts to go to Cuba claiming he wanted to play a match with Capablanca. The request was denied because it was felt he wasn't serious about the match and only wanted a visa to get out of the country. That left him trapped in Europe and to protect his Jewish wife and her French assets (a castle at Saint Aubin-le-Cauf which the Nazis looted), he agreed to cooperate with the Nazis by writing several articles critical of Jewish chess players. Along with several other strong masters he also participated in several tournaments sponsored by the Nazis. 
     By late 1943, Alekhine was spending all his time in Spain and Portugal because economic conditions in Germeny were such that they were no longer sponsoring tournaments and book sales were almost non-existent. By this time his chess had badly deteriorated. In 1944, he narrowly defeated Rey Ardid in a match and won a small tournament in Gijon. In 1945 he scored first in Madrid, tied for second at Gijón, won at Sabadell, tied for first in Almeria, finished first in Melilla and took second in Caceres. Alekhine's last match, which he barely won (+2 -1=2), was against Francisco Lupi in 1945. 
     After World War II his invitation to the London 1946 victory tournament was withdrawn when the other competitors protested. While planning for a world championship match against Botvinnik, Alekhine died at the age of 53 in his hotel room in Estoril, Portugal on March 24, 1946 under strange circumstances. Was it a heart attack, or as the autopsy stated, he choked to death on a three-inch long piece of unchewed meat that was blocking his windpipe, or was he murdered by a French death squad as his son claimed? Much has been written about this and Kevin Spraggett, a long time resident of Portugal, makes the case for murder claiming the crime scene was tampered with and the autopsy faked. You can read Spraggett's excellent coverage of Alekhine's death HERE
     The question has been asked why Alekhine's wife didn't offer him any help during his last days when he was living in poverty and suffering from health issues. No one knows, but it is speculated that he was separated, but not divorced, from her and she wanted nothing to do with him. 
     So, what were the mysteries at Sabadell? It concerned the 15-move game Alekhine vs. Munoz and some photographs of the tournament that didn't match up. You can read all about it in Edward Winter's excellent article HERE. Winter's article also brings up the question of exactly who was Alekhine's opponent the following game from Sabadell. Was it the local adult player Teodoro Terrazas Elizando or the 11-year-old Filiberto Terrazas? Although years later Filiberto Terrazas claimed he was Alekhine's opponent, it appears that it was actually the local player Teodoro Terrazas Elizando. 

1) Alekhine 7.5 
2) Vilardebom 6.5 
3-4) Perez and Lupi 6 
5-6) Valles and Medina 5.5 
7) Ros 3.5 
8) Mena 2.5 
9) Munoz 2 
10) Terrazas 0 

For more Soviet chess history you can download in pdf format the 400-plus page PhD dissertation by Michael A. Hudson that I posted about HERE Reader Alejandro supplied a link to an excellent article (in Spanish) on this tournament HERE.



  1. At the begining of the article, ... Sabadell is IN Spain ( close to Barcelona ), NOT in Portugal. A friend of mine wrote a long article of that Tournament http://www.ajedrez365.com/2012/11/torneo-internacional-de-ajedrez-de-sabadell-1945-victoria-alexander-alekhine.html

  2. Thank you for the correction on the location AND the link to the excellent article.