At the height of his career: Alekhine wins San Remo 1930 with 14 out of 15

by Johannes Fischer
1/15/2024 – On 15 January 1930 one of the strongest chess tournaments of the time began in the Italian resort of San Remo. 16 players took part, including the reigning world champion Alexander Alekhine and chess legends such as Aron Nimzowitsch, Akiba Rubinstein and Efim Bogoljubow. Alekhine won comfortably with 14 points from 15 games, achieving one of the greatest successes of his career. His third wife, Nadasha Vasilyev, probably played a major role in this and other Alekhine successes. | Photo: Alekhine and Nadascha in San Remo 1930 | Photo: https://audiovis.nac.gov.pl/

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1927 was a good year for Alexander Alekhine: with a surprising victory in the world championship match in Buenos Aires against José Raúl Capablanca, Alekhine became the fourth world champion in chess history and in the same year, Alekhine was also granted French citizenship, which he had already applied for in 1924. Alekhine was born on 31 October 1892 in Moscow to a wealthy Russian family, but fled the newly founded Soviet Union in 1921 to settle in Paris after a brief stopover in Berlin. In Paris he studied law at the Sorbonne, where, according to his own account, he submitted a doctoral thesis on "The Prison System in China" in 1925. However, this dissertation was never found and in all probability Alekhine was wrongly awarded the doctorate he liked to adorn himself with.

From September to November 1929 Alekhine defended his World Championship title in a match against Efim Bogoljubow with a clear 15.5-9.5 (+11, =9, -5) victory. Alekhine avoided a rematch with Capablanca. Alekhine also had no financial worries in the early 1930s. The matches against Capablanca and Bogolyubov had brought him handsome prize money and as world champion he was able to live very well from the fees he received for playing simultaneous events and from his articles and books. His third wife, Nadasha Vasilyev, an admiral's widow whom he had met in 1925 and married in 1927, probably played a large part in Alekhine's successes during these years. Like Alekhine's later fourth and final wife, Grace Wishaar, and his first two wives, Nadasha was older than Alekhine.

In the essay "Aljechin und sein Glück" (Alekhine and his luck"), which appeared in the Deutsche Schachzeitung in September 1971, the Austrian master, arbiter and author Hans Kmoch, who finished 11th to 12th in San Remo with 6.5 out of 15, gossiped about Alekhine's preference for older women and alcohol, although he described Nadasha, who was 19 years older than Alekhine, as cultured and educated.

"[She] stood out because of her clothes and her heavy war paint, but even more because of all the artificial jewellery with which she was overloaded... [But her almost ridiculous appearance was in stark contrast to her valuable qualities. She came from a wealthy family, had obviously been well brought up, had cultivated manners and spoke German, French and English as well as her native Russian. She was always quiet and self-controlled. In general, she was very concerned about anything that could help to honour Alekhine, especially in a social context. ... So it can be said of this woman that she carried Alekhine and his happiness through the years of his wonderful victories." (Hans Kmoch, "Aljechin und sein Glück", Deutsche Schachzeitung 9/1971, p. 300).

Hans Kmoch (left) during his game against Carl Ahues in San Remo 1930 | Photo: audiovis.nac.gov.pl/

Perhaps this stability in Alekhine's previously unsettled life was one of the reasons why he played more successfully than ever in the early 1930s. In 1930 and 1931 Alekhine took part in a total of four tournaments (San Remo 1930, the Chess Olympiad in Hamburg 1930, the Chess Olympiad in Prague 1931 and the tournament in Bled 1931) in which he achieved an overall score of 57-11 (+47, =20, -1). In San Remo, where some of the world's strongest players of the time competed, Alekhine won with 14 points from 15 games (+13, =2) and finished 3.5 points ahead of Aron Nimzowitsch, who came second with 10.5 from 15. Akiba Rubinstein followed in third place with 10 from 15, while fourth place went to Efim Bogoljubow with 9.5 from 15.

Final standings San Remo 1930

# Player 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Total
1  Alexander Alekhine x 1 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 14
2  Aron Nimzowitsch 0 x 0 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 1 1 10½
3  Akiba Rubinstein 0 1 x 0 1 ½ 0 1 ½ 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 10
4  Efim Bogoljubow ½ 0 1 x ½ 0 1 ½ 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 1
5  Fred Yates 0 0 ½ ½ x ½ 1 1 ½ 0 0 1 1 1 1 1 9
6  Carl Ahues 0 0 ½ 1 ½ x 1 ½ 1 0 0 ½ 1 1 ½ 1
7-8  Rudolf Spielmann ½ ½ 1 0 0 0 x ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 1 0 8
7-8  Milan Vidmar 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ x ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 8
9-10  Géza Maróczy 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ x ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1
9-10  Savielly Tartakower 0 ½ 0 0 1 1 ½ ½ ½ x 0 0 1 ½ 1 1
11-12  Edgard Colle 0 0 0 1 1 1 0 0 ½ 1 x 0 ½ 1 0 ½
11-12  Hans Kmoch 0 0 1 0 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 1 1 x ½ 0 1 1
13  José Joaquín Araiza 0 0 0 0 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ x ½ ½ 1
14  Mario Monticelli 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 1 ½ x ½ ½ 4
15  Roberto Grau 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 0 1 0 ½ ½ x ½
16  Massimiliano Romi 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 ½ 0 0 ½ ½ x

Games

Aron Nimzowitsch (left, with Black) during his game against Roberto Grau | Photo: audiovis.nac.gov.pl/

Max Euwe, who would go on to win the world title from Alekhine five years after the San Remo tournament, considers it the best tournament of Alekhine's entire career. He writes in his book Meet the Masters:

"At the beginning of 1930, he registered the most imposing success of his life from the point of view of technique, scoring an overwhelming victory in the very strong tournament of San Remo. He drew two games only, winning every other game against opponents who included the best players at that time, and finishing far ahead of the field. His wins in this tournament exhibited, one and all, the art of chess at its most perfect yet. A year later at Bled he scored a hardly less imposing success - from the point of view of figures alone. But here the luck was with him, and his won games were by no means so convincing as at San Remo." (Max Euwe, Meet the Masters, London, Pitman 1945, p. 18.)

The participants of the tournament in San Remo 1930 | Photo: Wikipedia

The tournament began on 15 January 1930 and Alekhine dominated from the start. He began with five straight wins before drawing with Rudolf Spielmann. This was followed by four more wins and a draw against Efim Bogoljubow. After this draw, Alekhine finished the tournament with 4 wins.

Alekhine (left) against Bogoljubow, San Remo 1930 | Photo: audiovis.nac.gov.pl/

Alekhine himself seems to have been impressed by his play at San Remo - he has included seven of the 15 games he played there in his collection of his best games. Perhaps Alekhine's most famous game from San Remo is his victory over Nimzowitsch in round 3, in which Alekhine forced his opponent to resign because of "zugzwang" in the middlegame.

But after his great successes in the early 1930s, Alekhine's career gradually went downhill, probably because he drank more and more. Kmoch writes:

"Sometime between Bled in 1931 and the match against Bogolyubov in 1934, Alexander and Nadasha parted ways. A fourth Madame had taken on the task of carrying Alekhine's happiness, but she only carried his misfortune ... because his new wife was just as addicted to alcohol as he was." (Kmoch, Deutsche Schachzeitung, 9/1971, p. 301)

In 1935, Alekhine lost his World Championship title to Max Euwe, and although he regained it two years later, he was never able to repeat his old successes. This was partly due to the Second World War, which began in 1939. During the war, Alekhine collaborated with the Nazis, which brought him into disrepute when the war ended. Still the reigning world champion, he died alone and impoverished in a hotel in Estoril, Portugal, in 1946.

Master Class Vol.3: Alexander Alekhine

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Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".
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