Tim's Tournament Book Blog XIV: Bled 1931
By Hans Kmoch
Translated from Russian by Jimmy Adams
Caissa Editions, 1987
Bled 1931, along with San Remo 1930, together constitute the crowing achievement of the career of the fourth chess champion of the world Alexander Alekhine. Alekhine again completely dominated his peers, both the older generation as well as the up and comers of the new. The double round robin event saw Alekhine score an amazing 11.5 out of 13 in the first half and then he coasted to victory in the second half scoring a further 9 points. So powerful was his performance that he had the tournament wrapped up with five rounds to go!
Along the way, the world champion brutally crushed Aron Nimzovich in their two games. The dominating performances (Alekhine crushed Nimzovich in 19 moves in the one game and had the second completely in hand in just 17 moves!) makes one wonder the impression these games made on potential backers Nimzovich hoped to support him for a title challenge. These two heavy blows could well have convinced those men that the My System author had little or no chance against the Russian. They certainly left that impression on the author of this blog!
For this tournament, I mainly focused on the games of Alekhine and Nimzovich with some occasional plays of the games of Bogoljubow as well.
Games of Note
Asztalos-Alekhine Round 3: This game was very interesting in that it is a rare example of Alekhine being thoroughly outplayed combination wise. The endgame that followed all the chaos is very instructive.
Alekhine-Vidmar Round 4: Dominating game by the world champion as he took control from the start and never let up, converting his advantage easily and instructively.
Asztalos-Nimzovich Round 10: Good example of steady defense followed by sharp counterattack. Nimzovich saw all of whites attacks and thwarted them in turn.
Nimzovich-Flohr Round 15: Good example of converting advantages in a game especially the exploitation of the white squares.
Kashdan-Bogoljubov Round 20: Beautiful maneuvering of pieces by Bogoljubov in a very unusual manner to bring home the full point.
As usual, I have chosen two games to highlight. The notes are my own.
First from Round 13 we have the battle between Kashdan and Tartakover which Kmoch described as "...one of the most spectacular of the tournament.
Next from the 16th round we have Bogoljubov and Nimzovich.
Story of the Tournament
Once you finish reading the book, you will feel like you were at Bled 1931.
The article by Salo Flohr sharing his memories opens the book with a wonderful overview from one of the participants. This is followed by an article by Kmoch and both men do a good job especially explaining the controversy over the absence of Rubinstein.
Kmoch’s round by round notes are written in a flowing narrative making the action from each round come alive. There are the best notes I have seen in any book to date giving the total flavor of the tournament without a hint of being technical. Informative, witty, insightful, and amusing they truly transport the reader back to this memorable tournament.
Kmoch’s annotations are, overall, very good. At times, he can be very uneven. Sometimes, he does not give much explanation about the “why” of a situation just a lot of variations while at other times he almost gets too detailed in both variations and explanations. That being said, when his analysis is good, it is really, really good. Kmoch also adds judicious amounts of humor and criticism. One of his most frequent topics is the lack of technique displayed by Bogoljubow citing this failing as the reason the Ukrainian grandmaster was not as successful as he could’ve been. His honesty is also refreshing in that he frankly describes some drawn games as “dull” and “boring.” Kmoch’s interest in the opening of the game comes across clearly in his annotations as well. In the end, there is plenty of good information to be found but some games feel like jumping into the deep end of a swimming pool while others feel more like the kiddy area and there is not much in between.
While there is no organized section regarding the players (there is a nice section on the organization of the tournament) there is a lot that can be learned about the players by merely reading the round introductions and even more information can be unearthed among the annotations. A lot of what Kmoch talks about is focused on the style of the players which is helpful not only to learn about these past masters but the reader can use the information to discern which players he would like to follow since they play his style of chess.
Coverage of Games
All 182 games are included in the book.
To put it succinctly, there are some major production issues with this book.
For starters, the type is very light. This can be difficult especially on older readers. The number of diagrams is very small but if I was betting I would say that reflects the original manuscript so that can chalked up to being faithful to the source.
The biggest issue which is brutally annoying and endlessly vexing is the distinction between the actual moves of the game and the analysis. Unlike most tournament books the actual moves are the game are not highlighted with bold type or even slightly larger than the rest of the text. The only thing that offsets actual moves from annotations is parenthesis and, in some cases brackets. I cannot tell you how many times I lost my place looking over a game.
My advice for playing over the games of this book: keep your finger firmly on the page at all times!!!! Quite frankly, the vexing nature of this problem took away some of the enjoyment I had in going over these games.
This book earned the aficionado rating for several reasons.
First, Alekhine was so dominate that it makes the other games look really bad. And it also takes away from the drama of the event as well.
Second, the lack of distinction between moves and annotations in the text is annoying beyond belief. It couldn’t have been that hard to make the actual game moves bold faced. Of all the tournament books I have ever owned, this one has the poorest type. Seriously, losing my place so often made me want to throw the book across the room at times!!!!
Third, the Queens Gambit still ruled supreme at this time so it does make for some very positional (and often very boring) chess. It is a tribute to the genius of Alekhine that he was able to create such wonderful attacking games even in this staid opening.
Finally, the tournament itself feels a bit overrated. Most chess players have heard the Bled 1931 is legendary and it clearly is in so far as Alekhines performance is concerned. However, the over all feeling of the chess played there feels a bit stoic and musty.
Bottom Line: If you like tournament books you should have this book simply because it is a wonderful piece of literature regarding a sensationally dominating performance by Alekhine. Kmoch’s annotations are excellent and for those players who use the openings used in this tournament I would actually recommend the book as Kmoch’s explanations about the ideas in the openings are top notch.