Tim's Tournament Book Blog XI: New York 1927

Jun 3, 2016, 8:53 AM |

New York 1927
by Alexander Alekhine
Foreward by Andy Soltis
Russell Enterprises, Inc. 2011
168 pages

New York 1927 was a quadruple round robin event featuring a most of the strongest players of the first third of the 20th Century.  The tournament, viewed by many as a de facto candidates tournament to see who would challenge world champion Jose Raul Capablanca, was a grueling 20 round affair that featured Capablanca, Alekhine, and Nimzovich.  While the tournament itself was won by Capablanca it was, quite frankly, was very anti-climatic.  What the tournament itself lacked in drama the Alekhine’s book on the event more than makes up for.

Alekhine wrote the book after defeating Capablanca in their marathon 34 game championship match and his visceral feelings for the Cuban are brazenly obvious.  The introduction Alekhine wrote, together with his typically biting, blunt notes on Capablanca’s games, have given this book a reputation that, upon closer examination, makes one feel there is “much ado about nothing” when one considers the actual chess played.

Alekhine’s introduction is bluntly brutal and at times savage.  In reading over this section, I did begin to wonder about Alekhine’s motivations.  While I know that the two men did not like each other in reading carefully I was left questioning how much of Alekhine’s anger was directed not at Capablanca but instead at the experts who lauded the Cuban’s abilities.  At time it seems that the future world champion is deconstructing his predecessor more from his need to punish the experts who thought Capablanca superhuman (“a machine”) and who gave the Russian no chance to win the match that occurred later that same year.  This also begs the question that, if the experts were so enamored of  Capablanca before Alekhine defeated him, why not just roll with all this as it would make Alekhine’s achievement all the more impressive.  After all, if one soundly defeats the man who is considered the best, then doesn’t that make the winner’s victory all the more impressive?  In baseball people still talk about the miracle New York Mets of 1969 mainly because they won when no one but their fans gave them any chance to win it all. 

Puzzling too is who were these experts?  After reading all the accolades that Alekhine was showered with from the 1925 Baden Baden tournament, and noting the names of the men who praised him, I am left wondering just exactly who were these experts?

Another theme that comes through from Alekhine’s writing is his need to tear down the perceived  superiority of the  “natural” player Capablanca and one is left feeling that this was done because Alekhine worked so hard at his game and did not receive anywhere near the accolades that the “lazy” Cuban received.  This would also explain his general criticism of Capablanca’s style when he describes the strategy of second best moves and how the play “hurts the art”.

One final thought before moving on to the breakdown of the book.  The story related by Soltis in the foreward about Capablanca offering draws to all opponents toward the end of the tournament once it was clear he had won in some ways vindicates Alekhine’s views.  If the Cuban was so great, why not win by the biggest margin possible?  It is impossible to imagine Fischer or Kasparov taking such actions and they are, generally speaking, considered the two greatest players ever.


For this book I decided that, given the nature of the event, I would look over all the decisive games and check out the drawn ones for anything that looked interesting. 

The task of choosing two games to highlight for this tournament was rather Herculean.  For the most part, I found the games boring and many of the interesting games with good combinations or attacks resulted more from very poor play by the opponent rather than the victor taking advantage of smaller mistakes to execute the decisive assaults.  So it took a lot of time and effort but I did finally settle on two games.  However, I do not feel there are any other games that really grabbed my attention so this time there will be no games of note section.

As always, notes are my own.  =)

The first game comes from Round 8 and is a good lesson on understanding the needs of the position rather than just doing what one wants.

Next we have the Round 9 clash between Spielmann and Nimzovich.  In this game, calculation takes center stage but also the consideration of how to correctly use your pieces  to launch an attack before one blows things open with a piece sac (unless you are Tal; then you just sac whenever it feels "right" )

Story of the Tournament.
This is mostly found in the foreward and editor’s note sections.  The information is general in nature and a lot of time is spent on Alekhine’s attitude toward Capablanca. 
In the introduction written by Alekhine there is some very detailed information about the tournament even if it is agenda driven.  The descriptions by Alekhine are excellent and his analysis is intriguing if nothing else.

Alekhine’s annotations are once again very detailed and, in general, excellent.  His comments cover all aspects of the game and there are a number of positional observations that students of the game will enjoy.  The Russian also makes interesting observations about each game in terms of what the player was thinking mainly focusing on how flawed the reasoning of that individual was in the end.  As always, Alekhine is frank and biting.   Witness his final comments in game number three between Marshall and Nimzovich: “ Marshall could easily have spared himself the next fifteen moves.”
The fourth world champion spares no one not even himself when he says in game five about his endgame play “But his next, indifferent move, seriously imperils the win.”  Or about his move 27….a3 “To his regret the author has to state that this, his brain child…in no way merits the exclamation mark awarded it by most critics.”  Or again look at game thirteen where he plays against Capablanca.  His scathing remarks over his weak fourteenth move is both entertaining and educational. 
In summary, the annotations contain the educational, bluntly entertaining style one expects from Alekhine.

Biographical Information
There is no organized section covering the players but you can find a lot of information in both the Soltis foreward and Alekhine’s introduction.  Not surprisingly given the nature of the book most of the information focuses on Capablanca.  There is also a two page spread showing individual pictures of the participants.

Coverage of Games
All 60 of the games are included and each and every one has notes.  Each game also has the ECO included.  There are also indexes covering the games played by each player and an opening index organized by name only.

Production Value
Not to sound like a broken record but this is another good quality paperback from Russell Enterprises (nice print, diagrams).

Final Evaluation


In spite of the rather exalted praise this tournament garners, I decided to go with  aficionado. 

First, despite the names associated with this tournament, the games themselves are, quite frankly, mostly boring.  There are very few truly exciting games.   In fact, 35 of the 60 games were drawn a whopping 58%!!!  And many of the drawn games were, to use Alekhine’s phrase, of the wood chopping variety.  And many of the decisive games hinged on a gross mistake by the loser which does have value but is not as entertaining or exciting as watching a player pounce on some smaller mistakes with an elaborate combination. 

Second, there was very little drama in the tournament itself.  Capablanca had the whole thing wrapped up with several rounds to go.  When you spend the end of the tournament telegraphing your opponents that you have no intention to beat them and even Alekhine remarks on Capablanca’s seemingly inexplicable moves.  Inexplicable, that is, unless you know he had no intention of winning the games.Combine this with Alekhine’s own play which gives the impression he did not play in his usual manner because he was worried about what might happen if he finished third, the wind seems to go out of the sails of the ship before it is even launched.

Third, Marshall was clearly a ghost of his former self and Spielmann seemed outclassed as well (his sole win was against Marshall).  So one wonders how this tournament gained so much accolade when it was missing Lasker, Rubinstein, and Bogoljubow.  Would Capablanca had that easy of a time if two of those men had been there in place of Marshall and Spielmann?

Fourth, quadruple round robins, in my humbles opinion, can stretch things to the point where you cross the line between finding out who is the best and beating a dead horse, especially when there is nothing concrete at stake.  The candidates tournaments of 1959 and 1962 both had a good degree of drama but both of those had the ultimate prize at stake and thus cannot be compared with New York 1927.

Fifth, the annotations are once again excellent.  There are a lot of insights from Alekhine especially positional ones.  So if a student is looking for positional insights to up their game, the book is very helpful.

Bottom Line: I have to say that I feel this tournament and book are very overrated.  Perhaps at the time New York 1927 was seen as a huge event but in the hindsight of history one has to question its exalted status. After reading through the book it seems that a lot of the mystique of this tournament revolves around Alekhine’s bitter attacks on Capablanca and his excellent annotations.  So if you are looking for history on the feud between these two men or want to learn from Alekhine’s excellent analysis then I recommended buying this book.  But if this volume never graces the shelf of your chess library, I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.  As a collector this book is important to me, but as a player I seriously doubt I will ever crack the cover again.