Chess Archaeology HomeChess is a scientific game and its literature ought to be placed on the basis of the strictest truthfulness, which is the foundation of all scientific research.W. Steinitz

Alexey, Brother of Alekhine
by Tomasz Lissowski

    How does one find a new subject for historical research?  What causes one problem to seem more tempting than another?  For me, what often works is what I call “red light.”  I read somewhere one or two sentences incompatible with my knowledge, or with my outlook on life.  It is then the “red light” goes on, and I’m tempted to look more closely at the discrepancy.  It’s a convenient starting point for further studies and articles.  Some months ago at the well known website, The Chess Cafe, one of my favorites, I found published from the serial Grandmasters I Have Known an interesting essay by Hans Kmoch entitled “Alexander Alekhine.”  There, deep within the essay, I found the following passage:
    His [Alexander’s -T.L.] brother, whom I met in Moscow during the 1925 tournament, was murdered shortly afterwards in connection with a love affair, according to newspaper reports outside Russia.  There was a great deal of tragedy in his family.
    Red light!  “Kmoch was mistaken,” I said to myself.  “Impossible!  The true story had to be different.”  And so began my search of a largely unknown brother.  A review of available Russian sources from the last hundred years revealed nothing.  Then I thought, “But what are friends for?!”   I wrote Victor Charushin from Nizhny Novgorod on the Volga, who has written a dozen chess books, including some known to American readers, such as Chess Comet Charousek and Mitrofanov’s Deflection, asking him what he knew of Alexey, Alekhine’s brother.  Soon I received a letter from abroad and am now able to share the results of this Russian historian’s work, with additions of my own and others.  In his letter Victor wrote that:
    Regarding Alexey Alekhine I would like to produce for you a page from one of my booklets.  I have several accounts of him.  I corresponded with the Kastorensky Regional Museum director, as Alekhine’s family estate was located in this area.  She [the director -T.L.] sent me a few records on Alexander’s youth, but, as I and Shaburov [another Russian chess historian -T.L.] have deduced, in reality she had in mind Alexey.  By the way, Alexey studied at your University [in Warsaw -T.L.] and there got married.
    A short explanation might be in order for those less knowledgeable about the complications of European “Geopolitik” in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  From 1795 until 1918 Poland was forcibly divided between three powerful neighbors: Russia, Austria and Prussia.  Central Poland, without Silesia (on the South-West) and Pomerania (on the North), belonged to the Russian Empire and was known under the name “Kingdom of Poland.”  Warsaw was a residence for hundreds of Russian military officers, policemen, teachers, officials, businessmen, and even clergymen.  Victor Charushin thinks Alexey Alekhine was, in modern standards, “the first and only coach of the future grandmaster.”  Alexey was older by four years, but the brothers understood each other very well and were practically inseparable.  They were taught the basic rules of chess by their mother, Anisya Ivanovna, and for a long time lively, almost endless, chess battles were fought in the family.  The world champion recalled later:
    I have played chess since I was seven, though I was not more seriously attracted to the game until I was twelve. [...
    Due to my young age I could not visit chess clubs, and therefore more ardently I participated in correspondence tournaments.  This is why I had to sacrifice a lot of time to chess analysis, including sometimes during my lessons in gymnasium.  Naturally, I could not use a chess board, so I used to draw certain chess positions on a piece of paper and I continued analyzing in my mind.  Soon I developed the talent of managing without a board.
    Charushin also wrote that:
    Since 1902 Alexey Alekhine took part in correspondence tournaments run by the journal Shakhmatnoye Obozren’ye.  The brothers passionately analyzed Alexey’s games, and soon the younger brother, Alexander, entered a correspondence event.
Alekhine,Alexey — Antushev
Spanish: Archangelsk
Shakhmatnoye Obozren’ye Tournament
Annotations by V. Charushin
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 b5 6.Bb3 Bc5 
** This variation, called “neo-Archangelsk” is nowadays quite popular in top level tournaments: for example 7.a4 Rb8 8.c3 d6 9.d4 Bb6 10.Na3 Bg4 11.axb5 axb5 12.Nxb5 0-0; Svidler-Shirov, Linares 1998.
** A modest continuation.  In the game Parma-Velimirovic, Yugoslavia 1963, White after 7.c3 0-0 8.d4 Bb6 9.dxe5 Nxe4 10.Bd5 gained an advantage.  Therefore, Kazakh GM Tkatchev, one of  the “neo-Archangelsk” backers, after 7.c3, plays 7...d6 8.d4 Bb6, as in his game with GM Bologan, Tilburg 1994.
7...d6 8.Bg5?!
** Allowing a pawn attack on kingside.
8...h6 9.Bh4 g5!? 10.Bg3 Bg4 11.h3 Nh5?!
** Interesting piece sacrifice, which could, however, be rejected by White.  Much stronger was 11...Be6! followed with 12...Nh5 13.Bh2 Nf4 and a clear advantage.
12.Kh1!? Nxg3+ 13.fxg3 Bh5?
** Instead of retreating Black should continue his attack according to the classic scheme: 13...h5! 14.hxg4 (perhaps 14.Nbd2 should be checked) 14...hxg4+ 15.Nh2 Qd7 16.Rxf7 (after 16.Bxf7+ Ke7 follows ...Rxh2+ winning) 16...0-0-0! 17.Rxd7 Rxh2+ and mate is inevitable.
** Surprising and nice.  The queen is taboo. If 14...Bxd1?, then 15.Bxf7+: 
A) 15...Ke7 16.Nxc6+ Kd7 17.Nxd8 Be2 (or 17...Bxc2 18.Ne6 [+-]) 18.Rf5 Raxd8 19.Nc3 and bishop is lost.
B) 15...Kf8 16.Bd5+ Kg7 (or 16...Ke8 17.Bxc6+ Ke7 18.Rf7+, etc.) 17.Rf7+ Kg8 18.Re7+ Kf8 19.Ng6#.
14...Nxe5 15.Qxh5
** The picture has rapidly changed.  White has one pawn more and a powerful attack.
15...Rh7 16.c3 Bb6 
** 16...Nxd3? 17.Rxf7!
17.d4 Nc4 18.Nd2 d5
** 18...Nxd2 19.Rxf7.
19.Nxc4 dxc4 20.Bc2 Qe7 21.e5! Rh8 22.e6! 0-0-0 23.Rxf7 Qd6 24.Qf3!
** Threatening mate at a8!
24...c6 25.Bf5 Rhe8?
** By 25...Kb8 Black could sustain resistance, for example 26.Rd7 Rxd7 27.exd7 Bc7 28.Re1 Rd8 29.Re8 Kb7 30.Re6! Qxd7 (useless is 30...Qxg3 31.Qxc6+ Kb8 32.Kg1 Qh2+ 33.Kf1 Qh1+ 34.Ke2 Rd7 35.Be4 [+-]) 31.Rxc6 Qxc6 (what else?) 32.Be4 Rd6 33.Bxc6 Rxc6 with some hope.
26.Rd7 Qb8 27.Qxc6+ Bc7 28.e7 1-0.
Gamescore supplied by V. Charushin
    Alexey’s best result in correspondence chess was his victory in the Schweizerische Schachzeitung tournament, scoring +16-0=8.  One of his wins follows:
Alekhine,Alexey — Duhm
Queen's Pawn: Stonewall (Gunsberg)
Schweizerische Schachzeitung Tournament
1.d4 d5 2.e3 e6 3.Bd3 Nf6 4.Nd2 c5 5.c3 Nc6 6.f4 cxd4 7.exd4 Bd6 8.Nh3 0-0 9.0-0 Bd7 10.Qe2 a6 11.Nf3 b5 12.Ne5 g6 13.Ng5 Qe7 14.Rf3 Be8 15.Rh3 Kg7 16.Bd2 Nd8 17.Rf1 Rh8 18.f5 exf5 19.Bxf5 gxf5 20.Rg3 Kf8 21.Rxf5 h6 22.Qe3 Qc7 23.Rxf6 Ke7 24.Rf5 f6 25.Ng4+ 1-0.
Gamescore supplied by V. Charushin
    Charushin continues:
    Alexey, an active member of the Moscow chess circle, had some fine efforts and was rewarded with advancement to the “first category” a rare event in those days.  Alexander, following in his brother’s footsteps, became a member of the Moscow circle in 1907.  Alexey edited the chess journal Shakhmatny Vyestnik from 1913 until 1916; Alexander, at the time a renowned master, was a frequent contributor.  Their last performance together was in the All-Russian Chess Olympiad in Moscow 1920, which in fact was the first Soviet Chess Championship.  Alexander easily won the master group while Alexey was third in the tournament for amateurs.
    Only a few games from both tournaments have been preserved.  Later, the brothers’ paths split.  Alexander was lucky to meet Swiss born Annelise Rüegg, who then was visiting in Russia.  His connection with this significantly older woman, an activist in the workers’ movement, despite its accidental and unendurable nature, offered Alexander a possibility to leave Russia.  His doing so was in fact necessary for his chess career to flourish.  Alexey, according to Mr. Shaburov’s research, did not reach a high enough level as a player to be a participant of the very rare international chess events in the Soviet Union or even in the country’s qualifying tournaments.  Living in Kharkov in the Ukraine, however, he often participated in local chess events, and was a champion of Kharkov.  He was also a notable organizer.  He served as an Executive Board member of the Soviet Chess Federation (called the “USSR Chess Section”) and was Secretary of the Ukrainian Chess Federation.  He gave numerous simultaneous displays and lessons in chess circles.  He was also an editor of the first Soviet chess annual, Shakhmaty: Isbrannye partye y kombinatsye za 1926 god and of the book Match na pervenstvo mira Alekhine-Capablanca, both published in Kharkov in the years 1927 and 1928.
    Alexander’s links with his homeland were suddenly broken shortly after Capablanca was defeated.  Taking into consideration Alekhine’s social prominence and views, we may guess he was not a warm enthusiast of the Moscow regime.  With his permanent address in Paris, wandering from one tournament to another, he plunged into chess and had no care for politics, at least to the extent politics did not interfere in chess world matters.  For several years after he left Russia, Alekhine maintained neutral relations with the Moscow authorities, and thus the leadership of Soviet Sports had no reason (concocted or true) to classify him among the “white Russians”, otherwise known as the “mortal enemies of the Revolution.”  Matters changed, however, after Alekhine returned from Buenos Aires, as A. Kotov’s book Alexander Alekhine, Moscow 1973, at page 140 makes clear.  The new world champion was a honorary guest at a meeting held by the emigrant Russian Club in Paris.  There, in his speech, according to the Russian emigrant press, he expressed his wish:
    Let the myth of invincible Bolshevism be blown away, just as has been the myth of an invincible Capablanca.
    Moscow’s reaction was immediate.  Nikolay Krylenko, the high level Party leader and the president of the Soviet Chess Federation published an official memorandum, in which he stated that:
    After his speech in the Russian Club we have finished with citizen Alekhine.  He is our enemy and henceforth we shall treat him solely as an enemy.
    The Soviet chess press broke all contacts with the grandmaster.  Newspapers in the USSR published a letter signed by Alexey Alekhine with the following key paragraph:
    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.
    Cruel, destructive words, coming from one brother to another.  But then, the times were more than cruel.  Only a person totally unaware of the realities of Soviet life would offhandedly consider the last public utterance of Alexey Alekhine as a sign of a weak character.  Not long ago I read a very unfair opinion of Alexey: “He lent his name to Communist Party denunciations of his brother.”  Critics of Alexey Alekhine ought to remember his fate was joined with a state where the so-called rule of law was frequently, and repeatedly, enforced late at night by the rule of gun and knife.  For those who doubt this, I can only recommend a reading of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago.  In the Soviet Union of the twenties or thirties, simply having a family member in the West could be (and often was) a reason to be condemned as a spy.  Equally damning was a foreign sounding name or even the reception of a single letter from abroad.
    This is why renouncing of a “compromised” brother was for Alexey the one and only chance to avoid brutal and baseless repression, aimed against him, his family, and his friends, both close and distant.  I do not know of Alexey Alekhine’s subsequent life until his premature death in 1939 (not shortly after 1925 in connection with a love affair, as suggested by Kmoch), but I suspect many of his nights were sleepless and anxious, while a phantom of a younger brother - “the merciless enemy” of Soviet power - haunted him until the last minute of his life.
© Tomasz Lissowski 1999
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