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Castling on death row - how chess glory saved Alexander Alekhin from being shot
Castling on death row - how chess glory saved Alexander Alekhin from being shot
Castling on death row - how chess glory saved Alexander Alekhin from being shot
Castling on death row - how chess glory saved Alexander Alekhin from being shot

The name of Alexander Alexandrovich Alekhin is familiar to everyone, regardless of whether he is fond of the game of chess or not. The first Russian world chess champion died undefeated. Alekhine's official biography is well known. But here are some episodes of his life, very interesting, bright, and sometimes just dramatic, remained behind the scenes.

Alexander Alekhin was born in 1892 in Moscow. His father, Alexander Ivanovich Alekhin, being a hereditary nobleman, was one of the directors and owners of the "Partnership of the Prokhorov Trekhgornaya Manufactory" - the largest textile enterprise. Somewhat later he was elected a deputy of the State Duma and the leader of the nobility of the Voronezh province. Mother, Anisya Ivanovna, was the textile magnate and founder of the famous "Trekhgorka" Ivan Prokhorov, his own daughter.

Young talent

After graduating from high school, Alexander Alekhin moved to St. Petersburg and began his studies at the School of Law. At the same time, he became seriously interested in the game of chess. The St. Petersburg Chess Club, the largest in Europe, was going through golden times at that time. Alekhine quickly became the strongest in his squad.

From the age of twenty, he began to actively participate and win at prestigious European tournaments. But the real triumph was Alekhine's performance at the St. Petersburg tournament in the spring of 1914. Having won the amateur competitions, he received the right to play with leading professionals - Emanuel Lasker, Jose Raul Capablanca, Siegbert Tarrasch.

For the first time Alekhine met Capablanca at the chessboard as a promising one. And in 1927 he already won the match for the world title
For the first time Alekhine met Capablanca at the chessboard as a promising one. And in 1927 he already won the match for the world title

At the tournament of stars, the young law student performed brilliantly, leaving behind only the great Lasker and Capablanca. The Russian and world press unanimously agreed that in the very near future Alekhine will be able to fight for the world chess crown. But all these plans were thwarted by the First World War.

For health reasons Alekhine was released from military service. But he could not sit at home with a chessboard when his comrades fought at the front. Alexander nevertheless achieved that he was drafted into the sanitary squad of Zemgor (committee of All-Russian zemstvo and city unions). As part of an ambulance train, he regularly went to the front, personally supervised the evacuation of the wounded from the battlefield.

In 1916, in Galicia, Alekhine carried a wounded officer out from under fire, for which he received the Order of St. Stanislav. A few months later, the ambulance train, in which the chess player was, came under heavy enemy shelling. Alekhine received a severe concussion and for a long time ended up in a military hospital in the city of Tarnopol (now Ternopil). For some time he could not even move his arms and legs, as well as move independently. At the beginning of 1917, Alekhine received a long leave to improve his health, which was shaken by a concussion.

From that moment on, a black streak begins in his life. His father died in May (his mother died even earlier, in 1915). And in October 1917, a revolution took place in Russia. For some time Alekhine lives in Moscow, in his parents' mansion. He is absolutely not interested in politics and tries not to take any part in the flaring up civil war. Sometimes he organizes small chess tournaments in private apartments, tries to publish a chess magazine.

In October 1918 Alekhine made his way to Odessa through the seething Ukraine. What made the chess player make such a dangerous and risky journey? It is not hard to guess that Alexander seriously feared for his life. According to his personal data, he was a very desirable "client" for any revolutionary tribunal.

In Odessa, a chess player plunges headlong into his favorite business. He becomes a frequenter of cafes where there are chess tables, gives paid simultaneous games, private lessons. But the quiet life did not last long.

Denunciation victim

On April 6, 1919, troops entered Odessa under the command of Ataman Nikolai Grigoriev. "Grigorievtsy" at that time were, perhaps, the most unbridled formation of the Red Army. A bloody bacchanalia began in the city.

These events were colorfully described by Ivan Bunin in his diary book "Cursed Days". Ironically, he was also then in this southern city. But the writer was more fortunate. In any case, he was not sent to jail. But Alekhine had to get acquainted with all the delights of the red terror.

On April 19, 1919, Alekhine, who did not take any part in the political struggle and lived a private life, was arrested by the Odessa Cheka. The chess player was detained right in the cafe when he was finishing the next game.

To be arrested by the Cheka in those "cursed days" very often meant a death sentence. The Criminal Code, the court, the legal profession did not exist as such. The analysis of the evidence base is also. All these "formalities" were abolished by the revolution. The sentences were passed on the basis of revolutionary expediency by a special tribunal. It was considered bad form to release people arrested by mistake.

At the beginning of perestroika, the investigation file of Alexander Alekhin was accidentally discovered in the KGB archives. It follows from it that the chess player was arrested as a result of a banal denunciation. A certain anonymous person informed the "authorities" that a dangerous counter-revolutionary, a former officer awarded a military order, Alexander Alekhin, lived in the city. In addition, he is a hereditary nobleman, the son of a former member of the State Duma, landowner and manufacturer Alekhine. At the end of the denunciation, it was carefully indicated that the enemy could be arrested in one of the chess cafes. Surely the denunciation was written by one of the ill-wishers who envied the chess genius.

Investigators of the Cheka immediately found out that Alekhine was not a counterrevolutionary at all and had nothing to do with the White Guard underground. However, they did not release it. The chess player was simply transferred to another cell where the hostages were kept.

This meant that his death sentence was simply deferred. Every week the Odessa Cheka shot 20-30 people. In the case of sabotage and counter-revolutionary actions, this figure increased to 60-70. The lists of those executed were printed in the local newspaper. In just four months, the local Cheka shot 1,300 prisoners and hostages.

It is well known that Trotsky loved chess. But whether he ever played with Alekhine - there is no exact information
It is well known that Trotsky loved chess. But whether he ever played with Alekhine - there is no exact information

Alekhine only miraculously did not fall into their number. One night the cell door opened. A group of armed men stood in the corridor. The commandant of the internal prison began to give names for the next firing squad. The surname was also sounded. - Tell me, what do you have to do with the famous chess player Alekhine? - asked the prisoner one of the Chekists, younger and more intelligent, apparently a former student. - The most direct, - Alexander answered. “I am that very Alekhine.” The Chekist struck the chess player off the death row and sent him back to his cell.

The path to freedom

After three months in the hostage cell, Alekhine was unexpectedly released. There is a beautiful legend that the chess player was personally freed by the chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council Lev Trotsky. True, only after he lost ten chess games in a row to Alekhine. For the first time this version was announced back in 1937 by the English chess magazine Chess. But this is just one of the many tales that walked among the Russian emigrants. Serious historians have long proved from archival materials that in the summer of 1919 Trotsky was very far from Odessa and was engaged in completely different matters.

Dmitry Manuilsky, member of the All-Ukrainian Revolutionary Committee
Dmitry Manuilsky, member of the All-Ukrainian Revolutionary Committee

However, as the saying goes, “there is no smoke without fire,” and there is some truth in this version. The release of Alekhine was indeed assisted by a prominent Soviet official. But a rank lower than Trotsky. In the summer of 1919, Dmitry Manuilsky, a member of the All-Ukrainian Revolutionary Committee, arrived in Odessa with an inspection. It was he who discovered the best Russian chess player in the basements of the local "Chechenka". Manuilsky was an admirer of Alekhine's chess talent and immediately ordered the release of the prisoner.

Moreover, he arranged for Alekhine for a prestigious service - as an interpreter in the foreign department of the Odessa Provincial Executive Committee. Alekhine was very grateful to the People's Commissar for his release, but did not stay in the ill-fated Odessa for a long time. Already in July 1919, he left the southern city that turned out to be so inhospitable and returned to Moscow. In the capital, he worked in the main sanitary department, as an interpreter in the Comintern and even as an investigator in Tsentrorozisk.

However, Alekhine did not feel completely safe. For these reasons, the chess player decided to emigrate from Soviet Russia. Having entered into a fictitious marriage with the Swiss journalist Anna-Lisa Rygg in 1921, Alekhine obtained official permission to leave. Shortly thereafter, he left Russia by diplomatic train. As it turned out later - forever.

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