Five years before Alekhine became World Champion, he was defeated so surprisingly that he resigned after 55 moves by throwing his king across the room. Alekhine was not exactly the most sanguine player as I have described in a previous blog, but what was it that caused him to display his temper like that?
The source of his frustration was that he had fallen victim to a new opening invented by Austrian master Ernst Grünfeld (1893—1962). This opening begins as a kind of feint by Black, suggesting that he will play the King’s Indian Defense: 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3. But the innovation Grünfeld came up with was to immediately squabble in the center with 3…d5 rather than the quieter 3…Bg7 of the KID.
The Grünfeld Defense has since been played by World Champions Fischer, Botvinnik and Kasparov and other chess celebrities such as Smyslov, Korchnoi, Leko and Godden. Even the mercurial Alekhine came around after losing to Grünfeld and by the end of the year was actually playing the Black side of the new opening. Before continuing with more about the Viennese inventor of the Grünfeld Defense, here is that famous game that resulted in Alekhine’s display of anger.
I do not want to give the impression that Ernst Grünfeld was some unknown upstart who scored a lucky victory over Alekhine. Grünfeld was regarded as one of the top players in the world following the First World War, winning or placing in several strong tournaments throughout the 1920’s. Between 1927 and 1935 he represented his native Austria in four Olympiads. He was awarded the title of Grandmaster in 1950.
According to the German language version of Wikipedia, Ernst Grünfeld (not to be confused with the American basketball player Ernie Grunfeld) became so enamored of the game as a teenager during the 1910 world championship match between Lasker and Schlechter that he decided to learn how to play the following year.
It is not clear to me exactly when Grünfeld introduced his new opening. In Aagard's book on the opening, he claims that it was in the game above against Alekhine, while Grünfeld’s entry in Wikipedia places it earlier in the same year in a game against Sämisch that ended in a draw. However, I have been unable to determine the exact dates of either game. The German Wikipedia places the introduction in a game against Albert Becker, also in 1922, but chessgames.com lists that particular game as having occurred in 1921.
In any case it is fitting that Grünfeld invented an opening that bears his name since he was highly regarded as an openings expert, publishing widely on the topic during the 1920s and 1930s. While the Grünfeld Defense is categorized as one of the hypermodern openings, he more frequently played more staid openings, and in 1924 authored a book entitled Die Damenbauereröffnung und das Damengambit (The Queen Pawn Opening and the Queen’s Gambit).
Not only was Grünfeld a respected openings author, but also an excellent annotator. In fact, he was described by Irving Chernev as a “perfect” annotator.
This is one of a series of blogs about the people behind the named openings. The other entries to date are:
The Names behind the Openings, Part 1
Bird to Bogo
Caro, Kann and Chigorin – Openings Players
Evans and Göring: Gambiteers
Who was Giuoco Piano?