World – Inducted 2004
Born in Moscow, Alexander Alekhine became one of the world’s first officially recognized grandmasters in 1914. Interned in Germany during World War I and imprisoned in Odessa, Ukraine, on suspicion of spying in 1919, he eventually gained French citizenship in the 1920s. In 1927 he defeated Jose Raul Capablanca to become the fourth officially recognized World Chess Champion. He successfully defended his title in 1929 and 1934 before losing to Max Euwe in 1935. He won a rematch in 1937 and held the title until his death nine years later.
Alekhine’s successful attacking style, combined with superb positional and endgame skill, made him one of the most brilliant tactical players in chess history. He is considered a founder of the Soviet School of Chess, which dominated the game in the mid-20th century. Alekhine greatly enriched chess literature with his deeply conceived attacks and detailed annotations, lending his name to Alekhine’s Defense and other opening variations.
Alekhine’s final years were plagued by controversy. In exchange for protection of his family’s French assets during World War II, he accepted an offer from the Nazi German government to play chess and pen numerous essays on the inferiority of Jewish players. After the regime’s fall, Alekhine repudiated the Nazi ideology, claiming that he was a victim of coercion and that he did not in fact write the essays attributed to him. These claims were undermined upon his death, however, when a number of anti-Semitic essays in his own handwriting surfaced. Though one of history’s greatest chess players, Alekhine’s association with Nazi Germany has left a lingering stain on his reputation.