Alexander Alekhine (Part 4): His Prime Years

  • IM Silman
  • | Feb 11, 2014

I left Part 3 of this 7-part series with Alekhine beating Capablanca in their World Championship. Here’s how that article ended:

The match itself was a long, extremely tiring affair that covered 34 games before Alekhine achieved the necessary six wins (6-3 with 25 draws). How did Alekhine take down his powerful foe?

There are several reasons:

  • Alekhine had gotten better. And even here, Alekhine still hadn’t reached his prime!
  • Capablanca wasn’t aware of Alekhine’s leap in strength, and was overconfident.
  • Alekhine changed his style (just for this match), tossing out romantic leaps of fancy for a sturdier chess stance. Suddenly Capablanca was facing someone he never played before – a guy that was positionally as solid as a rock, tactically supreme, and technically not too far from Capablanca himself.
  • Alekhine was in fantastic physical shape, while Capablanca wasn’t.
  • Alekhine had discovered small weaknesses in his opponent’s games and was determined to make maximum use of that knowledge, while Capablanca made no such preparations since he expected an easy match victory.
  • Alekhine was completely focused on the match, while Capablanca explored the city every night, partied, and enjoyed the company of adoring female fans.

Personally, I think Capablanca was a slightly superior player in 1927, but the many factors above confused and ultimately overwhelmed the Cuban genius.

After the match Alekhine continued to improve, and by 1930 he was, without any doubt whatsoever, the strongest player on earth. In a way, Alekhine’s match victory was a form of “taking out the old and bringing in the new” since he created the blueprint that all modern chess pros follow today: Deep opening preparation, world class skills in every phase of the game, psychological preparation, physical preparation, and a deep study of the strengths and weaknesses of each of his opponents.

And this leads us into Part 4:

After winning the title in late 1927, Alekhine didn’t play again (leaving out blitz events and exhibitions) until June of 1929 (Bradley Beach in the United States). He easily won this event with 8 wins, 1 draw, no losses (Lajos Steiner came in 2nd, a point and a half behind. Marshall came in 6th).

Puzzle 1:

Puzzle 2:


 Puzzle 3:

In September of 1929 he defended his title, in a 25 game match for the World Championship, against his old foe Bogoljubov, winning decisively: 11 wins, 5 losses, 9 draws. Alekhine uncharacteristically turned several winning positions into draws, so the score could have been far worse for the challenger.

Efim Bogoljubov as a young man | Image Wikipedia

I’ll take a moment out to share a story about these two players. I don’t recall where or when it took place (and I’m too lazy to do a deep search), but it’s extremely funny and thus well worth sharing.

Both men (who were sometimes friends and sometimes not) had played in the same tournament, and during the award’s ceremony Alekhine found himself on the podium. Instead of doing the usual “thank you” routine, he said the following: “Last night I had a dream. I had died and found myself at the Pearly Gates, but when I tried to enter I was told by Saint Peter that chess players were not allowed into Heaven! I wandered along the endless fence, hoping to find some other entry point, but it was hopeless. Then, suddenly I saw Bogoljubov on the other side, having a great time! I rushed back to Saint Peter and said, ‘You told me that chess players aren’t allowed in Heaven. But if that is so, why was Bogoljubov allowed in?’ Saint Peter replied, ‘Oh, he only thinks he’s a chess player!’”

This shows that Alekhine had quite a sense of humor. Here’s another example of his biting wit:

“When asked, ‘How is that you pick better moves than your opponents?’ I responded: I’m very glad you asked that, because, as it happens, there is a very simple answer. I think up my own moves, and I make my opponent think up his.”

Puzzle 4:


Puzzle 5:


Puzzle 6:


Puzzle 7:


The years 1930 and 1931 showed Alekhine in his prime. An attacking/combinative genius, he was the world’s greatest opening theorist, had magnificent positional skills, and was extremely strong in the endgame. In other words, he could do everything at the highest level, had no weaknesses, and was clearly superior to every other player on earth (including Capablanca).

After winning his match against Bogoljubov, his next two events left the chess world (and his opponents!) in awe: 

San Remo 1930

Alekhine 1st – 13 wins, 2 draws, no losses.

Nimzowitsch 2nd3½ points behind Alekhine!

Others: Rubinstein, Bogoljubov, Yates, Ahues, Spielmann, Vidmar, Maroczy, Tartakower, Colle, Kmoch, etc.

Some thought that he would never improve on such a dominating performance, but he did just that in his very next event!


Alekhine playing Del Turco, San Remo 1930 | Image Wikipedia 


Puzzle 8:


Puzzle 9:


Puzzle 10:

Puzzle 11:


Bled 1931

Alekhine 1st – 15 wins, 11 draws, no losses.

Bogoljubov 2nd (5½ points behind Alekhine!)

Others: Nimzowitsch, Flohr, Kashdan, Stoltz, Vidmar, Tartakower, Kostic, Spielmann, Maroczy, Colle, Asztalos, Pirc.

It’s important to understand that Nimzowitsch was the 3rd best player on earth (Alekhine and Capablanca being the top two, of course) during the years 1927 – 1931. So imagine the impact it made on the world when the following game was played:

A 19-move rout vs. the great Nimzowitsch? How is this possible? After this game, Nimzowitsch said: “He deals with us like inexperienced fledglings.” 

Puzzle 12:

“In the whole history of chess there has been no other player who decided so many games by brilliant tactical blows as did Alexander Alekhine.” – Garry Kasparov.


Puzzle 13:


Puzzle 14:

Puzzle 15:

It’s clear that in this period, Alekhine was head and shoulders above everyone else. He simply overwhelmed anyone that dared sit across from him!

It’s well known that Levon Aronian, the present number 2 player in the world, considers Alekhine to be the greatest player of all time. But Kasparov is another admirer:

“Alexander Alekhine is the first luminary among the others who are still having the greatest influence on me. I like his universality, his approach to the game, his chess ideas. I am sure that the future belongs to Alekhine chess.”

It’s easy to understand why Kasparov (one of the most dynamic players in history) loved Alekhine’s style, but Fischer, who was more of a technician and sought clarity whenever possible, didn’t care for Alekhine’s chaos. Nevertheless, you don’t have to love it to respect it. Fischer:

“Alekhine has never been a hero of mine, and I’ve never cared for his style of play. There’s nothing light or breezy about it; it worked for him, but it could scarcely work for anyone else. He played gigantic conceptions, full of outrageous and unprecedented ideas. He had great imagination; he could see more deeply into a situation than any other player in chess history. It was in the most complicated positions that Alekhine found his grandest concepts.”

Alas, flesh and blood humans don’t live in fairyland, at least not permanently, and by 1932 his gifts slowly started to deteriorate – he was almost 40 and, more importantly, poor health started to whittle away his greatness. The decline was slow at first (he was still incredibly strong!), but the occasional loss found its way into his results as he embraced Bacchus more and more (according to Hans Kmoch, Alekhine was drinking at Bled in 1931, and drank heavily during his 1934 match with Bogoljubov).

We’ll continue to explore Alekhine’s life in Part 5, Singing the Middle-Aged Blues.



  • 3 years ago


    Did you know silman that 4 years ago the strongest computers at the time compared the play of all world champions?   Capablanca was 1st.  I repeat 1st.  He was the most accurate of all world champions.  Period. I love Alekhine too, but as far as accuracy and winning games and losing the least amount he was the best.   Look up his win loss draw ratio vs anybody.  He was number 1.   Even an authority like Fischer with his ego admitted that Capablanca was possibly the greatest natural talent in the entire history of chess.  Even in your endgame book he was top five greatest endgame player.  Alekhine was not even on  the list.  You can not only judge him from 1929-1934.   You have to look at his entire chess career.  Also remember Capablanca did raise the $10,000 for rematch but Alekhine conveniently changed the rules and now wanted it in gold.

  • 3 years ago


      Why do people say that Alekhine was a "patzer" compared to Capablanca? How could he be bad when he won their Championship match? And all of this about him not allowing a rematch; Well, I wonder what they would do if they had just realized their childhood dream! They would hold on to the well earned title as well as possible.

      Alexander Alekhine was a better player than Capablanca because he was not a prodigy! He worked hard, just like the rest of us, to become a truly great Chess player. He was not born with the skill; He was self-made. He 

      He legitamately defeated the World Champion(and one of the best players in the world, ever), held his title for several years, lost it, and won it back. Now how is he a "patzer" compared to Capablanca again?

  • 3 years ago


    Amazing Mr. Silman why is it that so many have chess heroes but criticize anyone who does not like their champion? While I am not a Capablanca fan I do have 4 books on him. I guess style is the determining factor
  • 3 years ago

    IM Silman

    @ Langrokade and varelse1, who wanted to know why 36.Rc4+ (in PUZZLE 6) wasn't the solution (I gave 36.a7). There are a couple reasons: 36.Rc4+ Kd7 leads to a forced mate in 8 (after 36...Kd7). 36.a7 Kd7 leads to a forced mate in 6 (after 36...Kd7).

    However, a more compelling reason, and the one that really made me pick 36.a7, was that the resulting positions with White having two Queens was more picturesque and fun.

    I would love to have the ability to give multiple "correct moves" in the puzzles, but the software only allows one move. Thus I have no choice in the matter.

    So gentlemen, yes! Your 36.Rc4+ is indeed a very strong move that forces mate. But 36.a7 is not only the most accurate (mates faster) but also the most interesting. If the software allowed, I would have made it an alternative "correct move", along with a few other moves that also force mate.

  • 3 years ago


    Why doesn't alekhine play Rc4+ in puzzle 6 move 36? Must be easier than the text move

  • 3 years ago


    In puzzle 6 I thought 36.Rc4+ was very strong move.

  • 3 years ago


    I find tactics puzzles easy. I just enter the last move I would ever consider in one of my own games. That's probably it.

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    wonderful, wonderful, wonderful...

    alekhine ranks in my top 5 all-time chessplayers extraordinaire, so I'm following the series with rabid interest. game 14 is particularly "dizzying", while games 12 and 11 aren't too far behind; the depth and clarity of his imagination is just 'other worldly' - thus fischer's comments. kasparov's comment (brilliant tactical blows) couldn't be more on point, as is nimzowitsch's (inexperienced fledglings).

    YOU brother Sillman are capable of some Herculean research; keep up the good work. 3 more installments coming and I'm on 'pins and needles' with anticipation!

  • 3 years ago


    Excellent article! Thanks

  • 3 years ago

    IM Silman

    @ novzki41, who wanted to know how to find the earlier links.

    Go to the end of the article and you'll find a box called RELATED STUDY MATERIAL. Links to the first 3 parts are there.

  • 3 years ago


    Remember Fischer-Spassky match? Fischer won with openings he had never played before! Showing he was really that good.

    Alekhine enjoyed playing baroque. If he had an easy win, and a complex one, he choosed the complex one. He just loved creating a piece of art on the board, on each and every game.

    But he won Capablanca playing in Capa's style, showing he really was that good!

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    thank you for this. any links on the first part? 

    pls post the links on earlier files in the next post. 


  • 3 years ago



  • 3 years ago


    Great Article Mr.Silman.And i Use my Real name.Cool

  • 3 years ago



    It's funny how you don't apply that same argument to Lasker and Capablanca!  After losing his world title to Capa in 1921, Lasker proceeded to finish ahead of Capablanca in several major international tournaments AND beat him head-to-head, most notably in New York 1924.  (One of the biggest and most important tournaments ever)  

    So by your own reasoning, does that mean Lasker was "much better" than Capablanca despite losing his championship to him in a match?  

  • 3 years ago


    Capablanca, amazing genius and world champion that he was, is nevertheless deeply, deeply overrated, and I'm not surprised by some of the silly comments in this topic.  I think even Silman is being slightly too kind in his article above.  

    Alekhine defeated Capa fair and square.  No excuses, no surprises; they played 34 games, one of the longest world championship matches in history, and Alekhine won.  

    If you want to mention Capa's slightly better tournament performances, be consistent; Lasker (who was past his prime) had significantly better tournament results from 1912-1930 than Capa (who was in his prime).  

    Nevertheless, there is no question that Capa proved he was better than Lasker in their match.  (And by the way, I don't buy all the excuses people made for Lasker, either) 

    Capa lost in part because he was "partying"?!  Alekhine was in better physical shape?  (Despite being a lifelong alcoholic, no less!)  

    Enough of these ridiculous excuses.  Alekhine was better and won.  

    And to answer an earlier comment, yes, there is a very good argument that Kramnik is better than Kasparov.  Not in terms of historical significance, or taking their relative eras into account, but in terms of pure playing strength, yes.  

    Then again, even a little-known, modern 2550-rated GM would destroy Steinitz, and yes, even Lasker, Capablanca, and Alekhine.  That's what happens with chess; top players get better and better.

  • 3 years ago


    Just read Mr. Silman's comment: 

    Capablanca made outrageous monetary demands that very few could match. Alekhine offered Capablanca a return match, but also stipulated a large sum that was similar to Capablanca’s. Capa refused and walked away, then whined about it for the rest of his life.

    Apologies for my little knowledge. Wink

  • 3 years ago



    I think the losing world champion had the right for a rematch if he lost by 2 points or less. 

    And secondly talking about Alekhine's performance against Lasker is like talking Carlsen's play against Kasparov. Both belong to different eras. 

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