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30 Oct

Black Magic

FM3

But aside from his addiction to chess, he had a similar affinity for alcohol that led to cirrhosis of the liver and also the unexpected loss of his title to Dr. Max Euwe in 1935. A revitalised Alekhine then went on the wagon, reputedly only drinking milk, and recaptured the chess crown from Euwe in a 1937 rematch. But not long thereafter, his reputation was to reach its nadir when he was commissioned by the Nazis to write anti-Semitic articles on the game at the beginning of World War II.

During the war years he lived in Spain and Portugal. After the war, Alekhine was shunned by the chess world, not invited to tournaments outside the Iberian Peninsula, because of his alleged Nazi affiliations. His original invitation to the London 1946 tournament was withdrawn when the other competitors protested and threatened not to take part. Later that same year, a tragic shadow of his former self, the official line is that he died a lonely and broken man by choking on a piece of meat while slumped in an armchair in his sparsely furnished small hotel room in Estoril, Portugal.

There’s a controversial theory put forward - supported by Boris Spassky and Canadian GM Kevin Spraggett, who has resided for many years in Portugal, nearby to Estoril - that the French government formed death squads after the war to liquidate Nazi collaborators, and a certain Alexander Alekhine would have been top of an alphabetical list of liable victims.  I also once met Alexander Alekhine’s son, Alexander Jnr., during the Dortmund 2003 tournament - and he certainly subscribes to this conspiracy theory over his death by claiming that “the hand of Moscow reached his father”. 

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Despite what you may think of Alekhine the man; he was undoubtedly a great player nonetheless, and his genius for the game can never be questioned. And for someone who was born on Halloween, he certainly knew how to dabble in ‘Black Magic’ - such as today’s game that is almost one relentless combination, as Alekhine unleashes tactic after tactic that overwhelms his opponent.

Richard Reti - Alexander Alekhine
Baden-Baden, 1925
Alekhine’s Defence Reversed
1.g3 e5 2.Nf3 A sort of Alekhine's Defence reversed, where the the extra move g3 plays little relevance. 2...e4 3.Nd4 d5 4.d3 exd3 5.Qxd3 Nf6 6.Bg2 Bb4+ 7.Bd2 Bxd2+ 8.Nxd2 0-0 9.c4 Na6 10.cxd5 Nb4 11.Qc4 Nbxd5 12.N2b3 c6 13.0-0 Re8 14.Rfd1 Bg4 15.Rd2 Qc8 16.Nc5 Bh3 17.Bf3 Bg4 18.Bg2 Bh3 19.Bf3 Bg4 20.Bh1?! Ultimately the decisive move of the game. Had Reti played 20.Bg2 the game would likely have ended in a draw, and the coming historical sacrificial attack would sadly have been lost to the annals of the game. 20...h5! I would have imagined Alekhine didn't even have to think twice here about this thematic weakening of the White kingiside defences. 21.b4 a6 22.Rc1 h4 23.a4 hxg3 24.hxg3 Qc7! The alarm bells really had to be going off in Reti's head by now, as Alekhine clearly makes his intent known with this move. 25.b5? Reti is oblivious to the dangers in the position; not to mention those ever-ringing alarm bells! 25...axb5 26.axb5 Re3!! (See Diagram) From the World Champion who was born on Halloween, fittingly there comes some 'Black Magic' - this stunning move was the reason behind Alekhine's 24...Qc7, and the game concludes now with a truly historic, combinational bombardment. 27.Nf3? Probably in a state of shock, Reti offers up this as a defence - but can you blame him, after having his world rocked (or should that be 'rooked'?) by 26...Re3? Of course, taking the rook is deadly: 27.fxe3 Qxg3+ 28.Bg2 Nxe3 mating. But with the benefit of hindsight and some silicon-certainty, Dr. John Nunn found that White was not without a saving resource here: 27.Kh2! Raa3 28.Nd3 Nh5 29.Qxd5! Nxg3 30.Kg1 Nxe2+ 31.Nxe2 Rxe2 32.Qc5 where he assessed White has having the better end of a likely draw. But can you imaging Reti - or anyone, for that matter - trying to fathom all this out over the board? 27...cxb5 28.Qxb5 Nc3! 29.Qxb7 Alekhine takes full advantage of the fact that his opponent can't play 29.Qc4 as 29...b5! wins. 29...Qxb7 30.Nxb7 Nxe2+ The amazing thing is that, despite the queens now being off the board, Alekhine continues relentlessly with his attack. 31.Kh2 Ne4!! Trick or Treat? Now we reach the start of a second phase of tactical combinations. 32.Rc4 What else? If 32.fxe3 Nxd2 33.Nxd2 Nxc1 and Black's easily winning. 32...Nxf2 All the planets nicely align for Alekhine: The threat is ...Nxh1 followed by ...Bxf3+ picking up the knight on b7. 33.Bg2 Be6! The key to the new phase of combinations. 34.Rcc2 Ng4+ 35.Kh3 If 35.Kh1 Ra1+ was mating. 35...Ne5+ 36.Kh2 Rxf3! 37.Rxe2 Ng4+ 38.Kh3 Ne3+ 39.Kh2 Nxc2 40.Bxf3 Nd4 41.Rf2 Nxf3+ 42.Rxf3 Bd5! 0-1 The point to 33...Be6 - now White must lose the knight on b7, as the bishop deprives the rook of the b3 square.

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