AVRO 1938, Round 1: Fine beats Botvinnik

by André Schulz
6/3/2020 – The first round of the AVRO Tournament 1938 brought the first surprise: Reuben Fine outplayed and defeated Mikhail Botvinnik. The games Euwe vs Keres, Flohr vs Capablanca and Alekhine vs Reshevsky were all drawn but Euwe and Alekhine missed good chances. | Photo: The first official move of the tournament

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AVRO 1938 starts

Ten cities will host the AVRO tournament in which the eight best players of the world compete  in a double round-robin tournament. Before the players start to travel, the first round was played at Amsterdam's Amstel Hotel. This glamorous hotel, the first Grand Hotel in Amsterdam, built in 1866/67 according to the plans of Cornelis Outshoorn, is a worthy venue for one of the strongest, if not the strongest, tournament in the history of chess.

As the name suggests, the hotel is situated directly on the Amstel river in the centre of Amsterdam. From here you can reach the sights of the city very quickly.

If you don't want to walk, take tram no. 9, which runs along the banks of the Amstel.

A few meters further on is the Circus Theater Carré, a permanent circus building. It was built in 1887 by the German circus director Oscar Carré. It is also used as a music hall or for variety shows. A few years ago Josephine Baker, among others, performed here.

The players feel very comfortable in the Amstel Hotel, the best hotel in town, and would like to stay here for the whole tournament. But the plan is different. Over the next three weeks, the players will visit a total of ten cities and play their games in the largest hall each city has to offer.

The interest in the tournament is huge and many journalists came to write about the event. One of them is Savielly Tartakower who writes for the Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf. Tartakower is a top player himself and famous for his witticisms, his original play and his language skills.

Another dazzling character is Emil Josef Diemer from Germany. He is 30 years old, comes from Baden-Baden and is quite a good chess player who has already won a few tournaments. He loves gambits and sacrifices and usually attacks at all costs which probably prevents him from being even more successful. Diemer plans to write a book about the tournament.

The big question many spectators and the journalists asked themselves was: How would the players approach this strong tournament with its gruelling schedule? But those who feared that the players would begin carefully to save energy were pleasantly disappointed.

Only the encounter between Flohr and Capablanca had a somewhat anaemic character but the other three games were interesting and full of fight.

Another question was: how would World Champion Alexander Alekhine present himself?

Alexander Aljechin

Though far from his best the World Champion seemed to be in good shape, at least in round 1. With an unusual line (4.g3) in the Nimzo-Indian Alekhine invited his opponent Reshevsky, a well-known time-trouble addict, to spend oceans of time to explore the intricacies of the unusual opening. Reshevsky indeed drifted into time-trouble and when the critical position arrived he had no time to think about his move. Alekhine had the time to think about his move but preferred not to do so. As a result both blundered.


Reshevsky played 36... Kg7??

Correct was 36...Nxg4 37.fxg4 Qd4 and White cannot win, e.g. 38.Qe8+ Kg7 39.d7 Qd2+ 40.Kh3 Qd3! 41.Kg2 (But not 41.d8Q? Qf1+ 42.Kh4 g5+ 43.Qxg5+ hxg5+ 44.Kxg5 Qf6+ 45.Kh5 Qh6#) with a perpetual.

The game now continued with 37.Nxf6 Qxf6 


38.Qd1 38.d7 wins immediately. 38...Qd8 39.d7 c4


40.Qxa4? White still could have tried 40.Qd5 f6 (40...c3 41.Qe5+ Kf8 42.Qc5+ Kg8 43.Qc8) 41.Qc6 Kf8 42.Qc5+ Kf7 43.Qxc4+ Ke7 44.Qe4+ Kxd7 45.Qxg6 with very good winning chances.

40...c3 41.Qc6 c2 42.Qc3+ Kh7 43.Qxc2 Qxd7 44.Qa2 Kg8 45.a4 Qc6 46.a5 Qa6 47.g4 g5 White can no longer make progress.

48.Kf2 Qd6 49.Kf1 Qa6+ 50.Kg2 Kg7 51.Qb2+ Kg8 52.Qb8+ Kg7 53.Qe5+ Kg8 54.Kf2 Qa7+ 55.Ke2 Qa6+ 56.Kd2 Qc4 57.Qf5 Qd4+ 58.Ke2 Qb2+ 59.Kd3 Qb3+ 60.Ke2 Qb2+ and the players agreed to a draw.

Max Euwe had strategically overplayed the young Estonian Paul Keres, who is always friendly but says very little and almost always shows a pokerface, but then Keres found a way to free himself from Euwe's grip.


White is much better. The Nd5 is really tied down. However, the young Keres managed to stir the waters: 35...f4!? 36.exf4? Better was 36.Qc2 fxg3 37.fxg3 Qg4 (37...Nxe3 38.Rxd7 Nxc2 39.Bxe6 doesn't work.) 38.Kh2 Qf3 39.Qe2.

36...e3! Black suddenly threatens ...Qe4 followed by a discovery of the knight. 37.Bxd5 e2! Another powerful move. 38.Re1 Qxd5 39.Qxd5 Rxd5 40.f3 Rd1 and in this endgame with opposite-coloured bishops the players agreed to a draw.

The only decisive game of the round was the encounter between Reuben Fine and Mikhail Botvinnik.

Fine convincingly outplayed Botvinnik, who did not have much luck with the French Defence.


After 31.Qg3 Black resigned. White threatens 32.Rd7 and 32.Rf3.

Results of round 1

Max Euwe ½ - ½ Paul Keres
Reuben Fine 1 - 0 Mikhail Botvinnik
Alexander Alekhine ½ - ½ Samuel Herman Reshevsky
Salo Flohr ½ - ½ Jose Raul Capablanca

Standings after round 1

Rg. Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Pts.
1 Reuben Fine               1 1.0
2 Paul Keres           ½     0.5
3 Samuel Herman Reshevsky         ½       0.5
4 Salo Flohr             ½   0.5
5 Alexander Alekhine     ½           0.5
6 Max Euwe   ½             0.5
7 Jose Raul Capablanca       ½         0.5
8 Mikhail Botvinnik 0               0.0




The eight best players in the world meet at the AVRO Tournament

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer

André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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