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Alexander Alekhine (Biography): A Chess Legend – 30 Interesting Facts

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Alexander Alekhine is a legendary chess player who had a complex personal life. After all, it’s not every day that somebody is accused of being a spy and threatened with execution. But that’s far from the man’s only interesting factoid. 

Alexander Alekhine is a World Chess Champion legend. His life includes many notable events, including being born on Halloween, serving in Russia’s Red Cross during World I, and breaking blindfolded chess records. However, his cozy relationship with the Nazis has stained his legacy.

Alekhine’s life reads like an engrossing novel with twists, turns, and danger. He was an imperfect man, terrible at marriage, and even worse when it came to choosing his associates. But people are a quilt of stories and experiences, and no singular square is a complete tale. But the squares of his life that shined the brightest was his mastery of chess. 

These are 30 interesting facts about Alekhine: 

1. Alexander Alekhine Was Born In Moscow On Halloween, 1892

On Halloween in 1892, in Moscow, Alexander Alekhine was born. However, according to the Russian calendar, his birthday was October 19th.

2. His Original Name Was Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Alyokhin

Alexander Alekhine is the French translation of his original name Aleksandr Aleksandrovich Alyokhin. 

3. Alekhine’s Brother Inspired His Passion For Chess

Alekhine is believed to have started playing chess with his mother and siblings around six or seven years old. But his passion for the game was sparked by his brother Alexey who drew with Harry Nelson Pillsbury in a 22-board blindfold simulation. Alexey was only 13. 

4. At 10, He Played His First Recorded Game

Alekhine’s first recorded chess game was in 1902 through a correspondence tournament sponsored by Shakhmatnoe Obozreni, a Russian chess magazine. He was 10.  

5. Alekhine Could Play Chess Blindfolded By 12

By 12, Alekhine could play chess blindfolded, just like his older brother. 

6. At 15, Alekhine Played His First In Person Tournament

In 1907, at 15, Alekhine and his brother entered the Spring Tournament run by the Moscow Chess Club. His brother placed higher.

7. Alekhine Won The All-Russian Amateur Tournament in 1909

At 16, Alekhine was the youngest player at the All-Russian Amateur Tournament. He won. 

8. He Played His First Simultaneous Exhibition in 1910

The event took place in Moscow, in what was then the Russian Empire. The results were:

  • 15 Wins
  • 1 Loss
  • 6 Draws

9. Alekhine Tied For First In The All-Russian Masters 

On January 1914, Alekhine took part in the All-Russian Masters Tournament. He tied with Aron Nimzowitsch. The win led both men to participate in the St. Petersburg Chess Tournament. Alekhine tied for fourth with Frank Marshall (US Chess Champion 1909-1936). 

10. World War I Began While Alekhine Was In Germany

Alekhine traveled to Mannheim, Germany, at the end of July 1914 to participate in a tournament. He was leading, with only six rounds left to play, when World War I broke out. He and other Russian players were sent to Rastatt and interned. 

11. He Raised Money In Aid Of Other Players

Alekhine was released from Germany after only a handful of weeks. He was even given his prize money from the cut-short tournament. However, not all the Russian players were so fortunate. Thus, to raise funds for their aid, he held simultaneous exhibitions. 

12. Alekhine Served In the Union Of Cities

At the end of 1915, Alekhine’s mother died. Shortly after, he was sent to the Austrian front to serve as a medical assistant in the Union of Cities (Red Cross). 

13. In 1918, Alekhine Embarked On A Legal Career

With his legal training finished, Alekhine became an examining magistrate at the Moscow Criminal Investigation Department. 

14. He Was Marked For Execution

In June 1919, Alekhine’s hotel room in Odesa, Ukraine, contained a trunk of a British officer. The documents inside the truck led to him being accused of being a spy for the White Russian Army. He was arrested, sentenced to death, and held for two weeks. 

15. In 1920, Alekhine Won A Championship But Didn’t

In early 1920, Alekhine won all eleven games at the Moscow City Chess championship. However, he wasn’t declared the champion because he wasn’t currently residing in Moscow. Thus, he turned around and won the All-Russia Chess Olympiad, and his brother took third. 

16. Alekhine Liked Getting Married, But Not Marriage

Alekhine seemed to like getting married but wasn’t terribly good at marriage. In 1920 he married for the first time to Alexandra Batayeva, the mother of his seven-year-old daughter. A year later, he married Anneliese Rüegg. However, it is unclear if he ever officially divorced Batayeva. 

17. In 1921, Alekhine Waved Good Bye To Russia

After getting hitched a second time, Alekhine and his new bride fled to Paris. Then he left her and went to Berlin.  

18. The Alekhine’s Defense Is Born In Budapest

From July to November of 1921, Alekhine won three tournaments: 

  • Triberg
  • Budapest
  • The Hauge

In Budapest, he utilized what is now known as the Alkeine’s Defense, where black responds to 1.e4 with Nf6. 

19. In 1922, Alekhine Signs On To The London Rules

In 1922, Alekhine traveled to London to take part in a tournament held by the British Chess Federation. He took second after World Champion José Raúl Capablanca. It is here that Capablanca set out conditions now called “The London Rules.”  

It would take Alekhine five years before he could meet the conditions of these rules so he could challenge Capablanca.

20. Alekhine Broke The Blindfolded Chess Record In 1924

New York, 1924, Alekhine broke the blindfolded chess record, playing against 26 other players. The following year, he’d break it again, playing 28 opponents. Then, in 1933, he’d improve his record, playing 32 simultaneous games.

21. He Got French Citizenship And A New Wife In 1927

1927 was a big year for Alekhine. The first two significant events were being granted French citizenship and marrying Nadiezda Vasiliev, his third wife. 

22. In 1927, Alekhine Became World Chess Champion

After buttering up several Argentinian businessmen, including the country’s president, Alekhine finally had the money to challenge Capablanca for the title. Over the course of three months, the two men played 34 games. In the end, Alekhine was the new World Chess Champion. 

The tournament’s 34 games resulted in Alekhine earning:

  • 6 Wins
  • 3 Losses
  • 25 Draws

23. Capablanca Never Met The London Rules Conditions

Capablanca wanted an attempt to regain his title from Alekhine. Alekhine was happy to do so if Capablanca met the same conditions he’d set for everyone else. Unfortunately, the financial conditions, which proved so difficult for Alekhine, proved impossible for Capablanca to meet. Thus, the rematch never occurred. 

24. Alekhine Defeats Efim Bogoljubov Twice

Alekhine did defend his World Championship title twice against Efim Bogoljubov in 1929 and 1934

25. Max Euwe Beats Alekhine, Then Loses

In 1935 Max Euwe beat Alekhine for the World Chess Championship title. In 1937, Alekhine reclaimed the title, beating Max Euwe. Alekhine would keep his title until his death. 

26. He May Have Drank Too Much

Alekhine had a reputation for having too much fondness for alcohol. It has been theorized that he wouldn’t have lost to Euwe the first time had he not been drinking for the match’s second half. 

27. Grace Freeman Takes Alekhine To The Alter

In 1934, Alekhine headed to the alter for a fourth time, marrying Grace Freeman. 

28. Alekhine Had Nazis Friends

In 1941, Alekhine played a tournament in occupied Poland. There he got close to some Nazis. Some say he did it to protect his wife. Nonetheless, one of his buddies was Hans Frank, who was executed in 1946 for war crimes. 

29. He Wasn’t Welcome in France

Alekhine was not welcomed back to France after his behavior during WWII. Thus, he ended up hanging out in Spain and Portugal.

30. Alekhine Chocked To Death Or Was Murdered 

In March of 1946, Alekhine, from his hotel room in Estoril, Portugal, finalized arrangements to play a world championship match with Mikhail Botvinnik. Hours later, Alekhine was dead. The official cause is choking on a piece of meat. However, there is great speculation he was murdered by either the French or the Soviets. 

All In All

Alekhine was a complex man who did not always find himself on the right side of history. But his chess genius is undeniable, regardless if he was playing blindfolded or face-to-face. Alekhine will always be remembered as one of the game’s most extraordinary minds.

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This article was co-authored by our team of in-house and freelance writers, and reviewed by our editors, who enjoy sharing their knowledge about their favorite games with others!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.