Vsevolod Rauzer: A fanatical researcher

by Johannes Fischer
10/16/2018 – 110 years ago, on October 16th, 1908, the Soviet Master and famous opening theoretician Vsevolod Rauzer was born in Kiev, Ukraine. Rauzer died in 1941 but during his short career, he discovered a number of new ideas in the opening and the endgame. Rauzer was convinced that 1.e4 is better than 1.d4 and wanted to prove that with all his might. | Diagram: The starting position of the Richter-Rauzer Attack

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From 1.d4 to 1.e4

In his fascinating and informative book about Soviet Chess Andrew Soltis writes the following about Rauzer: 

Rauzer often said that he got up at 6 A.M. and analysed at a a board until night with short breaks for snacks. 'Unfortunately,' he sighed, 'I can't make myself on theory more than 16 hours a day. My head can't bear it.'" (Andrew Soltis, Soviet Chess, McFarland 2000, p.92)

With his theoretical research Rauzer wanted to prove that 1.e4 is better than 1.d4. Rauzer had reached this conviction after analysing his games from the 7th Soviet Championship in Moscow 1931 where he had played 1.d4 in all his games with White, and after, as he said himself, "a painful series of draws" (quoted in Soltis, p. 93) decided to switch to 1.e4.

Statistically, however, there is no real reason for this change of heart. According to the Mega Database Rauzer won five of the ten games he played with White at the Soviet Championship 1931, three ended in a draw, and in two of them Rauzer lost.

But in 1932, at the city match Leningrad vs Kiev, Rauzer already tried 1.e4. His belief that 1.e4 is better than 1.d4 might have been deluded but it motivated Rauzer to pursue an enormously productive theoretical research and gave the chess world a number of new opening systems. The best known is the Richter-Rauzer Attack in the Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6 6.Lg5!?) but Rauzer also found a lot of new ideas against the French, the Spanish and other Sicilian set-ups. Thus, he was the first to try an early f3 against the Dragon, followed by castling queenside and attacking on the kingside.


Biographical information

Rauzer was born October 16th, 1908, in Kiev, Ukraine. He learned to play chess when he was ten years old, and five years later, at the age of 15, he published a problem composed by him in the Soviet daily Izvestia. In 1929 he played his first Soviet Championship, turning 19 during the tournament.

All in all, he played in six Soviet Championships and achieved his best result in 1933 when he finished sixth with a score of 11½/19. In 1934 Rauzer moved from Kiev to Leningrad, and in 1936 he won a strong tournament in his new hometown, finishing half a point ahead of Ragozin and two points ahead of Löwenfisch — one of Rauzer's biggest successes.

Rauzer must have been a peculiar person. Soltis writes:

Rauzer was, in a word, strange. He was grey-eyed, light-haired, with a high forehead — and so pale he was "almost an albino" according to writer Yefim Lazarev. Rauzer worked as a messenger for a state financial department and seemed to be unable to deal with many problems of everyday life. He was absent-minded and careless but monomanical about chess. "Everything else — food, sleep, personal contact with people, literature, and so on — he considered unnecessary," Konstantinopolsky wrote. (Soltis, p. 92)

Rauzer suffered from psychological problems which got stronger when he grew older. In 1940 he played his last tournament, the semifinals of the Soviet Championships in his old hometown Kiev. At the end of 1940, Rauzer was sent to a psychiatric hospital and one year later, on December 29, 1941 he died.

The following game shows a nice win by Rauzer against his long-time rival Vladimir Alatortsev.



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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