The Top 10 Chess Games Of The 1940s (And 70+ Honorable Mentions)

The Top 10 Chess Games Of The 1940s (And 70+ Honorable Mentions)

| 20

The 1940s were unquestionably a chess decade interrupted. The cataclysm that was World War II consumed the first half of the decade, obviously precluding the possibility of major international tournaments, and entangling the lives of countless chess masters. The war also claimed the lives of many great chess masters. The reigning Women's World Chess Champion, Vera Menchik, was killed by a bomb in London. One of the most promising players of his generation, Klaus Junge, died a committed Nazi at the age of 21, refusing to surrender when the war was but three weeks from its end, a sad waste of a young, talented, and poisoned mind.

Vera Menchik was the Women's World Chess Champion for 17 years.

The second world champion Emanuel Lasker passed away in NY in Mount Sinai Hospital in 1941; the third world champion, Jose Capablanca, would pass away at the exact same hospital about one year later. At roughly the same time that Lasker passed, his sister was killed in a Nazi gas chamber. Many masters died similarly, including the Polish Champion Dawid Przepiorka, Salo Landau, Hungarian Champion Kornel Havasi, and the Paris Champion Leon Schwartzmann.

By far the largest number of people who died in World War II died on the Eastern front. The Russian masters Georgy Stepanov (falsely turned in as a spy by Pyotr Romanovsky), Alexander Ilyin-Zhenevsky, Sergey Belavenets, Leonid Kubbel, Ilya Rabinovich, Alexey Troitzky, and Vladimirs Petrovs (accused of disparaging the Soviets) all died on the Eastern front. Many died in the Siege of Leningrad, and many died at the hands of their own government. Bill Wall provides the best recounting of those chess masters who died in World War II here.

A chess player who survived World War II but who did not survive the decade was the reigning World Champion, Alexander Alekhine, who died in Portugal in 1946. Ostensibly, the cause of death was choking, but murder or assassination has also been proposed. Alekhine is the only World Chess Champion to have died while holding the title.

Out of the ashes of World War II, a new order arose in chess. With Alekhine's seat on the chess throne in need of filling, the International Chess Federation, FIDE, was for the first time given the rule of governing the World Chess Championship, a role that they hold to this day despite Kasparov's attempts to displace them in the mid-1990s. FIDE organized the first World Championship tournament in 1948 with Mikhail Botvinnik, Vassily Smyslov, Paul Keres, Samuel Reshevsky, and Max Euwe (who scored only 4/20). The playing field was based on the AVRO 1938 tournament which featured eight players. Those were reinvited with the exception that the Soviet federation replaced Salomon Flohr with Smyslov and Lasker and Capablanca had passed away. Reuben Fine declined to play. Botvinnik emerged the victor with an impressive three-point margin over his closest rival, Smyslov. Botvinnik's victory ushered in the impactful new Soviet era in chess.

The 1948 FIDE World Championship players: Euwe, Smyslov, Keres, Botvinnik, and Reshevsky. Photo: Dutch National Archive.

Despite the great suffering and change the decade wrought, there was still much beautiful chess worth celebrating. I've collected over 80 of my favorite games and analyzed the top ten games. I've also placed all the games in a collection here. I hope you enjoy these games and they give you some joy.

If you like the content and wish to support, subscribe on YouTube or Twitch!

See also: Top 10 of the 1950s, Top 10 of the 1960s, Top 10 of the 1970s, Top 10 of the 1980s, Top 10 of the 1990s, Top 10 of the 2000s, and Top 10 of the 2010s

Top 10 Games of the 1940s

#1: Molinari vs. Roux Cabral, 1943

#2: Gusev vs. Aurebach, 1948

#3: Tartakower vs. Euwe, 1948

#4: Ravinsky vs. Panov, 1943

#5: Wood vs. Wallis, 1945

#6: Reshevsky vs. Vasconcelos, 1948

#7: Euwe vs. Keres, 1940

#8: Liublinsky vs. Botvinnik, 1943

#9: Zita vs. Bronstein, 1946

#10: Siff vs. Kashdan, 1948

Honorable Mentions