Master Class Vol.3: Alexander Alekhine

by Albert Silver
7/26/2014 – Following up on the popular new Master Class series, after covering Bobby Fischer in volume one, and Mikhail Tal in volume two, here is the next with one of the most creative attackers of all time: Alexander Alekhine. Each phase of his play is scrutinized by a grandmaster, providing thorough and often insightful analysis, with numerous games and excerpts to enjoy. Here is a review.

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After having thoroughly enjoyed the first volumes in the Master Class series on both Bobby Fischer and Mikhail Tal, both of whom are guaranteed crowdpleasers, I was quite curious as to whom volume three would cover, and the answer was a very appropriate: Alexander Alekhine. Though Garry Kasparov has often professed his personal preference for the fourth world champion, seeing a bit of himself in his play, Alexander Alekhine's fantastic attacking skills and universal ability are legend. Once more the formula of the Master Class series is kept, with a grandmaster commenting each part of the champion's play: one on the openings, one on the middlegame, another on tactics, and finally an examination of his endgame play. Allow me to share a bit of what to expect and what I thought.

Contrary to the previous editions covering Bobby Fischer and Mikhail Tal, in this DVD, Rogozenco only presents a single video on the fourth world champion's openings, albeit a full hour in length. At first I was somewhat critical of this, preferring the logic of two or three videos, each on the player's choices as white or black, but as the presentation unfolded, the reasons became clear.

Compared to players such as Bobby Fischer, who had well-defined opening preferences, as in always 1.e4, and almost exclusively the King's Indian or the Najdorf, Alekhine was a player with incessant opening wanderlust, unable to stay put, and wanting to see the vistas they all had to offer. This curiosity led to many great innovations, whether the very defense named after him, to entire new systems to combat well-trodden paths (helping put an end to the announced 'death of chess'), and even lines he himself knew were dubious and good only for a game so long as his opponent was blindsided.

In this example, Alekhine unleashed this piece sacrifice against Max Euwe in their 1937 rematch

Dorian Rogozenco does a good job trying to share the expanse of Alekhine's contributions, and ultimately showing how he used his immense creativity and hard-work to demonstrate time and time again just how much there was still left to uncover and discover. He takes the opportunity to highlight the importance of studying the classics, of whom Alekhine by sharing a remarkable anecdote.

After sharing a particularly sharp and destructive opening played by Alekhine against Max Euwe, he notes that recently two grandmasters rated 2600 had repeated all the moves from that game, without any magical improvement along the way, and the player following Euwe's moves had found himself just as lost as the great Dutch player! He adds, with a certain irony, that this shows that studying classics also has another value, and that is to help avoid such a catastrophe in the opening. He is quick to add that studying classics is a neverending process since each study or revisitation leads to new ideas and revelations, and likens it to the study of a foreign language.

Mihail Marin presents five videos dedicated to the 'Strategy' analysis of Alekhine, and I personally found these to be the best part of the DVD. When one thinks of Alekhine, creativity and timeless combinations definitely come to mind, and deservedly so. As Marin notes, when given the choice between a technical win and a tactical one, Alekhine invariably chose the tactical one. This is nothing new, and though Alekhine admitted as much, it would be easy to dismiss this as a stylistic preference, nothing more. Marin explains that this is too simplistic an explanation for a player who had such an arsenal of choices at his disposition. Alekhine was the consummate professional, and noted this many times over the course of his career. He spent considerable time selecting and annotating his games for publications, but for this to work, there must be something worth annotating in the first place. Therefore it is not unreasonable to conclude that Alekhine's showmanship was not just a matter of style, but a part of a grander plan for his career. The fourth world champion was known for his very long-sighted vision of things, having foreseen Capablanca's ascension to the title, and studying the Cuban's play before he was world champion, preparing for his own assault on the chess throne.

Marin's choices of games for each video are carefully done to display an important part of
the grandmaster's commentary on Alekhine, and show considerable thought went into this
process as well as the anecdotes he shares with the viewer

Oliver Reeh does his usual commendable job of selecting combinations for the viewer, each presented in video format, with recorded comments in the event of a mistake or an attractive side-variation that fails to win. Though there are twenty four of these combinations, there are a further 102 training questions for added study and pleasure. Even if you lack the skill to solve some of them, they continue to be a joy to see unfold.

Karsten Mueller brings up the rear guard with his endgame section in which he selects some choice endgames from the champion that either serve as instructive pieces for the student, or that are important milestones in Alekhine's career. In the first endgame, the reason is the former, and Mueller makes no effort to disguise this as he quickly asks you what you would do in the position, and promptly stops speaking for a few seconds, giving you the time to pause and try to work it out on your own.

GM Karsten Mueller opens the endgame section with this video. Be sure to pause if you want
to try to solve it on your own first. The good doctor will make it clear when to pause.

In endgame eight, the most famous endgame of Alekhine's career is analysed in detail: the 34th game of the 1927 world championship, a rook endgame that was to crown Alekhine as the new and fourth world champion.

It would be easy to now conclude by noting that there is a collection of all of Alekhine's games, many of which are commented, and of course there is and there are, but hidden within this is an unexpected pearl: small illustrated summaries by André Schulz of the tournaments played by Alekhine, including his results, a crosstable, and many times old photos. There are many here and if you get the DVD, be sure to take the time to go over them.  

In the list of games, there are many tournament summaries such as
this, with pictures and anecdotes. Not to be missed!

If you liked either of the first volumes, or are just a fan of Alekhine wishing for something a bit different than just some randomly chosen commented games, then you will be well served here. The standard is not only maintained, but the thoroughness and insight of some of the material, as well as some unexpected extra perks, such as the illustrated tournament summaries, make this a deserved addition to the series.

Master Class Vol.3: Alexander Alekhine can be purchased in the ChessBase Shop



Born in the US, he grew up in Paris, France, where he completed his Baccalaureat, and after college moved to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He had a peak rating of 2240 FIDE, and was a key designer of Chess Assistant 6. In 2010 he joined the ChessBase family as an editor and writer at ChessBase News. He is also a passionate photographer with work appearing in numerous publications.
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