If you happen to be Alexander Alekhine your Alekhine Number is 0. If you’ve played Alekhine your Alekhine number is 1. If you’ve played someone with an Alekhine Number of 1, your Alekhine Number is 2.
You can maintain a hardline view and only include serious competitive games, or you can take a more lax approach and include simul games, casual games and online games.
I wonder how many people still alive have an Alekhine Number of 1. Arturo Pomar, a child prodigy in Spain in the 1940s, who died two years ago, was a pupil of Alekhine and played him three times in tournaments, drawing one of the games. He may well have been Alekhine’s last surviving opponent from competitive games. However, there’s still at least one active player who faced Alekhine over the board: Dimitrij Mathon. Mathon was born in 1927, claims to have played Alekhine in a simul in 1943, and is currently playing in the Czech 60+ Championship. (Thanks to John Saunders and Roger Emerson for this information.)
If you know anyone else still alive who played Alekhine I’d love to know: please get in touch.
My Alekhine Number is 2. Over the next two articles I’ll show you the games.
For the first game we travel back in time to Devon, to the city of Plymouth, famous for its naval base, and for Sir Francis Drake’s game of bowls. It’s 5 September 1938. The local chess club has organised a small all-play-all tournament of eight players to celebrate its golden jubilee. They’ve invited the world champion, Alexander Alekhine, and the Women’s World Champion, Vera Menchik to take part. The most interesting of the other competitors is Paul List, who was born in Odessa in 1887, moved to Germany in the 1920s and then settled in England in 1937. There were also three English internationals, Sir George Thomas from the older generation, and, representing the younger generation, Stuart Milner-Barry and George Wheatcroft. The field was completed by two local players, Ronald MacKay Bruce and Harold Vincent Mallison. Can you imagine Magnus Carlsen, or any other top grandmaster, agreeing to take part in such an event today?
Alekhine conceded two draws, to List and Thomas, which was only enough for a share of first place with the veteran Baronet, who scored one of his greatest successes. The other players finished well in arrears: List and Milner-Barry on 3½, Menchik on 3, Wheatcroft on 2½ along with Mallison, making a highly creditable score in such company. Ron Bruce was somewhat out of his depth, only managing two draws and losing to the world champion in just 12 moves.
1. e4 c6
2. Nc3 d5
The World Champion chooses the Two Knights variation against Bruce’s Caro-Kann Defence. 3.. Bg4 is the most popular move here, but there’s not a lot wrong with just taking the pawn.
4. Nxe4 Bf5
4.. Nf6 is the usual choice. In the main line Caro-Kann Bf5 is excellent, but here it’s slightly inferior.
5. Ng3 Bg6
There’s a big difference between the Two Knights and the main line, as you’ll see on move 7. Instead Black should play Bg4 here.
6. h4 h6
7. Ne5 Bh7
This position has been reached over 400 times on my database, with White scoring 86%. I’d have thought it was, by now, common knowledge that this position is close to winning for White, but apparently not. Quite a lot of 2200+ players have reached this with Black.
Now White has two very strong continuations. Alekhine chooses the flash move, but the alternative might be even better. After the simple 9. Qf3 several games have concluded 9.. Nf6 10. Qb3 Qd5 11. Qxb7 Qxe5+ 12. Be2 Bg7 (or 12.. Nd5) 13. Qc8#
9. Bc4 e6
With a Big Threat, which Bruce overlooks. The best chance is 10.. Qe7 when Black’s still in the game, even though his king-side looks extremely ugly.
This position occurs in 11 games in my database. There are also 28 games with 10.. Bg7 11. Nxf7 and 17 games with 10.. Nd7 11. Nxf7.
12. Qxe6+ 1-0
A trap which is well worth knowing, especially if you play the Caro-Kann. You might also like to try this variation with White.
The tournament schedule was pretty tight: seven games had to be fitted into six days, along with adjournments. This game was played on the Tuesday morning, and later the same day Ron Bruce found himself facing Vera Menchik. He wrote himself into the history books by becoming probably the only player to lose to two reigning world champions in a tournament on the same day.
(ChessBase mistakenly assigns the black pieces in this game to Rowena Mary Bruce. Rowena was Ron’s pupil and, from 1940, wife, as well as many times British Ladies Champion. At the time this game was played she was still Rowena Mary Dew.)