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Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Unknown (Alexei) Alekhine

     World Champion Alexander Alekhine's father, Alexander Ivanovich Alekhine (1856-1917) was a Marshal of the Nobility in the Voronezhsky region of Russia which lies roughly 300 miles south of Moscow. A Marshal of Nobility was an elected position in Russian local self-government prior to the Russian Revolution of 1917. His mother, Anisia Ivanovna Alekhina (1861-1915), was from a rich family of manufacturers. 
     Alexander was a wealthy landowner and member of the Duma, an assembly with advisory or legislative functions, who liked to gamble in Monaco where he is reputed to have lost 15 million rubles in one night. 
     On November 7, 1917, Russia's Bolshevik Revolution took place when forces led by Vladimir Lenin overthrew the provisional government.  Alexander was killed by the Bolesheviks and the family fortune was confiscated. 
     Alekhine (the World Champion) had a brother and sister. His sister, Varvara Alekhina (1889-1944), was a Russian film actress whose career ran from 1925 until 1932. Brother Alexei (1888-1939) was a very strong amateur player who once drew Pillsbury in a 22-board simultaneous exhibition and was a champion of Kharkov, a city in the Ukraine. 
     Alexander (World Champion) learned chess from his mother and it's believed Alexei, who was four years older, early on was the only coach he ever had. The two brothers were inseparable and family chess tournaments were common. Alexei also did a great deal in promoting the chess movement in Russia through his work as a chess journalist, writer and organizer. 
     Chess historian and author Victor Charushin wrote that beginning in 1902 Alexei took part in correspondence tournaments and the two brothers analyzed together. Soon Alexander was also entering correspondence tournaments. 
     As a member of the Moscow chess clubs Alexei managed to advance to a first category rating (around 2000 Elo). Alexei edited the chess journal Shakhmatny Vyestnik from 1913 until 1916. The two brothers last played together in the All-Russian Chess Olympiad in Moscow 1920 which was the first Soviet Championship. Alexander won the master group and Alexei finished third in the amateur tournament. 
     After that they went separate ways when Alexander met Annelise Ruegg, an older woman who was an activist in the workers’ movement, during her visit to Moscow. In order to advance his chess career he believed he had to leave Moscow and she was his ticket out. 
     Alexei did not reach a high enough level to play in strong tournaments, but living in Kharkov in the Ukraine he participated in local events and was the city champion. As an organizer he served as an Executive Board member of the Soviet Chess Federation and was Secretary of the Ukrainian Chess Federation. He was good enough to give numerous simultaneous exhibitions and lessons. He was also an editor of the first Soviet chess magazine Shakhmaty and edited a book on the Alekhine-Capablanca match. 
     Shortly after Capablanca was defeated, Alexander's links to Russia were severed for political reasons because of his social background even though he personally had little interest in politics. Alekhine was living in Paris for several years after he left Russia and the leadership of Soviet Sports had no reason to classify him as an enemy of the Revolution. 
     Things changes after he won the world championship. He was was a guest at a meeting held by the emigrant Russian Club in Paris and in his speech he stated that like the myth of Capablanca's invincibility, the myth of the invincibility of Bolshevism should be blown away.  As a result, Nikolai Krylenko, a high level Party leader and the president of the Soviet Chess Federation published an official memorandum stating they had “finished with citizen Alekhine. He is our enemy and henceforth we shall treat him solely as an enemy.” However, in The Soviet School of Chess by Kotov and Yudovich that was first published in Moscow in 1951, Alexander Alekhine was proclaimed to be “Russia's Greatest Player.” 
     Krylenko's pronouncement put Alexei in a difficult situation. In the Soviet Union at that time having a foreign sounding name, receiving a letter from abroad or having a family member in the West would get you a late night arrest and condemned as a spy. 
     Consequently, in order to avoid reprisals against himself, his family and his friends, newspapers in Russsia published a letter signed by Alexei in which he stated, “I reject every anti-Soviet pronouncement, irrespective from whom it originates, even if, as in this case, the speaker is my brother, let alone anyone else. I am finished with Alexander Alekhine forever.” 
     Hans Kmoch's story about Alexei can probably be considered spurious. Writing in a series of articles titled Grandmasters I Have Known, Kmoch said he met Alexei in Moscow during the tournament held there in 1925 and that he was murdered shortly afterwards in connection with a love affair. That seems unlikely given his date of death is 1939. 
     Almost none of Alexei's games survive. The following correspondence game was played in a tournament of the Schweizerische Schachzeitung (Swiss Chess Newspaper) in which he scored +16 =8 -0. 

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