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Modern Ideas in Chess by Richard Rèti

31. Alekhin

When Tschigorin died in 1908 chess activity in Russia had reached its highest point. Preeminent was Rubinstein whose distinction we have already sufficiently appraised in these pages. Quite a distinctive position was assumed by Niemzowitch. He had very exceptional talent for combinations, and besides endeavoured to build up still further chess strategy and technique. In that process he moved in the paths of Steinitz above described, and sought to expand his methods in detail. There was also at the time the gifted Dus-Chotimirski, who had but little training, and the less original but very methodical Znosko-Borovski, and many others.

In that year Alekhin came into prominence. He had then just reached his seventeenth year and was, at first, merely one of the many types of Russian masters. He is, even for the hustling times of to-day, an incredibly nervous man, always restless, even when playing chess. The dry methodical process, of which the chess technique then consisted, did not suit him. The positional consideration at that time was static not dynamic. Then it was that in every position the best move and not the deepest and most far-reaching plan was sought for. In such conditions his inner unrest could not be pent up. So he neglected strategy but produced something original in the realm of combination. In general in a combination the first surprising and beautiful move is the sacrifice.

With Alekhin, it is mostly the final move that takes his opponent’s breath away. He beats his opponents by analysing simple and apparently harmless sequences of moves in order to see whether at some time or another at the end of it an original possibility, and therefore one difficult to see, might be hidden. The striving not to allow himself to be deceived by the apparent simplicity of a position and by obvious moves led him slowly in the new direction, whilst his fellow-countrymen, Rubinstein and Niemzowitch, by treading the old well-known paths, tried to approach truth in chess. Therefore Rubinstein and Niemzowitch came to be held up as great strategists and nobody dared to compare Alekhin, the secessionist, with them. When Alekhin divided with Niemzowitch the first prize at the all-Russian tournament of 1914, everybody said that he had been lucky. Alekhin’s friendship with Capablanca, who went to Russia in 1914, marked a turning point in his chess career. During his intercourse with Capablanca he learnt the latter’s new technique, the lively dynamics of which suited Alekhin’s disposition, and added a methodical groundwork to his originality, whereon he was able to build still further.

The following game is very characteristic of the new style of dealing with the openings, showing, as it does, the neglect of development as opposed to the carrying out of a positional scheme conceived in the beginning. It was not only the deciding game for the first prize, but also a deciding one in the struggle between the old and the new methods.