Editor’s Preface “In playing through an Alekhine game, one suddenly meets a move which simply takes one’s breath away” – C.H.O’D. Alexander
When I first became seriously interested in chess, as a teenager in the mid-1960s, Alexander Alekhine quickly became one of my heroes. The record of his accomplishments – wresting the World Championship from the seemingly invincible Capablanca in 1927, his overwhelming tournament victories at San Remo 1930 and Bled 1931, his becoming (in 1937) the only man to regain the world title after having lost it, to mention only the brightest highlights – was at a level few if any could match. The authors I was then reading generally considered Alekhine to be the greatest player of all time (e.g., Reinfeld in The Human Side of Chess and The Golden Treasury of Chess), or nearly so (for example Chernev put him #2 in The Golden Dozen).
Beyond that, Alekhine’s games have a quality – or more accurately a combination of qualities – and a stylistic variety, that are striking and unique. There are scintillating tactical brilliancies, such as against Bogoljubow at Hastings 1922, Asztalos at Kecskemet 1927, and Pirc at Bled 1931. His restless striving for the initiative, and his willingness to enter complications – as against Vidmar at Carlsbad 1911, Levenfish at St. Petersburg 1914, or, most strikingly, Réti at Baden-Baden 1925 – give his games an energy that made other masters seem torpid. He could produce positional masterpieces that showed deep strategic understanding (e.g. against Nimzowitsch at San Remo 1930, Menchik at Podebrady 1936, or Fine at Kemeri 1937). When attacking and combinative play was not feasible, he produced endgames of indomitable persistence and lethal technical precision, such as against Vidmar at San Remo 1930 and Bled 1931, and (probably most clearly and famously) in the 34th match game against Capablanca, 1927. In 1964, no less an authority than Fischer wrote that Alekhine’s “play was fantastically complicated, more so than any player before or since ... He played gigantic conceptions, full of outrageous and unprecedented ideas.”
Alekhine’s command of opening theory was probably supreme in his time. He seemed at home in any kind of game: open, semi-open, closed openings, romantic gambits, either side of the Ruy Lopez, Queen’s Gambit, French Defense, Nimzo-Indian etc., and in both old classic lines such as the Scotch and Four Knights, and hypermodern lines such as the Queen’s Indian. He was an innovator. Besides introducing the eponymous Alekhine’s Defense to master practice, he is credited by The Oxford Companion to Chess with no fewer than 19 “Alekhine variations” in such varied lines as the Dutch, Sicilian, French, Ruy Lopez, Queens’s Gambit (both Declined and Accepted), Slav, Semi-Slav, and Vienna Game. And his willingness to experiment with perhaps dubious but psychologically potent variations, and to hit opponents with unexpected novelties, was legendary. For example, his use of the Blumenfeld Counter-Gambit against Tarrasch at Bad Pistyan 1922, the Benoni against Bogoljubow and Gygli in two 1934 games, and, most strikingly, his piece sacrifice at the sixth move (!) against Euwe in their 1937 title match.
All these elements combine to make Alekhine’s chess some of the most exciting, interesting, complex and beautiful ever played – and that is not just my opinion; for example GM Reuben Fine, in The World’s Great Chess Games, ranked him among the top three of all time in this respect, along with Lasker and Fischer. So, it was natural that among the first chess books I ever bought were his best games collections of 1908-23 and 1924-37, in the old descriptive-notation Tartan reprints. Now, decades later, it has been my privilege to edit this single-volume edition of those two classics, in modern figurine algebraic.
The original two volumes have been combined into one without any abridgment. Every move of every game is here, along with all the original notes and variations; all that has been altered is that a few obvious notational, spelling, and typographical errors have been corrected, and occasionally a phrase like “and White wins” has been changed to the appropriate Informant symbol to save space.
While nothing has been deleted, some (I hope) welcome additions have been made. Many diagrams have been added, especially at points with lengthy notes. Modern opening names and ECO codes have been supplied (in the early 20th century it was common to call anything that began 1.d4 Nf6 just “Indian Defense” or “Queen Pawn’s Game”). The indexes of players and openings now include games embedded in the notes. The “Summary of Results” has been expanded to include Alekhine’s entire career, not just the years 1908-37, and many corrections and additions have been made there using Leonard Skinner and Robert Verhoeven’s Alexander Alekhine’s Chess Games, 1902-1946, the most authoritative source available. With this marvelous reference, I was also able to correct some name and date errors in the original game and chapter headings.
As a bonus, the reader can obtain an appendix of computer-assisted analytical corrections, additions and enhancements, compiled while going through the games with the Rybka 3 analysis engine. This is provided at no charge as a PDF, which can be downloaded from http://russell-enterprises.com/excerptsanddownloads.html. Admittedly, this silicon-based scrutiny sometimes shows Alekhine to be wrong, but we feel, in the interests of objective chess truth, that such things should not be ignored. And, we like to think that Alekhine, whose success was based in part on thorough self-criticism, would approve.
Those looking for information and insights about Alekhine’s personal life, in particular his collaboration with the Nazis in WW II, will not find them here, other than the brief summary in Du Mont’s memoir. For that, interested readers may consult the aforementioned book by Skinner & Verhoeven, or Agony of a Genius by Pablo Morán, The Personality of Chess by Horowitz and Rothenberg, historical surveys such as Hartston’s The Kings of Chess, and various chess encyclopedias such as the Oxford Companion, among other works. A full personal biography of Alekhine has, alas, so far not been published, at least in English. This book deals with Alekhine the chess player only, as he explained himself in that role.
But, as a player, it is hardly a great exaggeration, if any at all, to say that in the 20th century, no one influenced the development and evolution of chess more than Alexander Alekhine. No less an authority than Garry Kasparov wrote, in the first volume of his series On My Great Predecessors, that Alekhine’s “fantastic combinative vision was based on a sound positional foundation, and was the fruit of strong, energetic strategy. Therefore, Alekhine can safely be called the pioneer of the universal style of play, based on a close interweaving of strategic and tactical motifs. Alekhine was clearly ahead of his time in his approach to chess.”
How did Alekhine do it? Information and insights on that, dear reader, is what you will find in these pages.