17 December 2007

The Interregnum According to Fine

First person accounts of the World Championship Interregnum, the period between Alekhine's death in 1946 and Botvinnik's tournament victory in 1948, provide informed insight into the events of that period. In 'The World's Great Chess Games', Reuben Fine wrote an account in chapter 9, 'A Brief Interlude (1946-1948)'.

When the war ended in 1945, Alekhine was still technically champion. Nevertheless, there was little doubt that almost any of his younger rivals, Botvinnik, Keres, or Fine, could have defeated him. During the war the unsettled circumstances enabled him to sidestep a match. But what would happen now, with the return to normalcy?
Despite his extraordinary chess genius, Alekhine was not an especially admirable human being. During the war he had even stooped to write a series of anti-Semitic articles for the Nazis (he had chosen to stay on in Nazi Europe), arguing that only the "Aryan" spirit could save chess. When international chess resumed with the Hastings tournament at the end of 1945, he was boycotted by his fellow masters.
In this situation I proposed that the remaining six participants in the AVRO tournament of 1938 play a tournament to decide the title. While the others were agreeable, Botvinnik objected on the grounds that politics should not be allowed to interfere with chess (a noble principle, had it been followed). Instead Botvinnik, in a politically astute maneuver, challenged Alekhine to a match, which the champion hastily accepted. It was scheduled for London in the summer of 1946.
Shortly before the match was to take place, Alekhine suddenly died, thereby creating an unprecedented situation, since the title had passed from one champion to another uninterruptedly since Steinitz had defeated Anderssen in 1866. Again a natural solution suggested itself with a tournament composed of the surviving AVRO contingent. Unexpectedly Smyslov replaced Flohr, who by that time had become a Soviet citizen, and so he was no longer free to speak for himself. At the U.S.-U.S.S.R. match in Moscow in 1946, agreements were drawn up among all parties concerned; the tournament was to be played in Holland in the spring of 1947.
As might have been expected politics did enter the picture. A Dutch newspaper published the charge, later often repeated, that the Soviet players would throw their games to one another in order to allow a Soviet master to become world champion. (This danger was in fact so persistent that the FIDE later changed the rules to substitute matches for tournaments, so that the danger might be avoided.) The Soviet government, knowing full well what the answer would be, then demanded that the Dutch government censor its newspapers. When the Dutch refused, the Soviets, in retaliation, withdrew from the tournament.
Legally there were various possibilities. Euwe might have reclaimed the title, as the last official champion before Alekhine. Or Keres and Fine could have been declared co-champions on the basis of their joint victory in the AVRO tournament. Or Euwe, Fine, and Reshevsky might have played a three-cornered tournament to decide the championship. Or the free world might have chosen a champion, and the communist world left to choose its own; then the two could have met for the world championship.
Unfortunately for the Western masters the Soviet political organization was stronger than that of the West. The U.S. Chess Federation was a meaningless paper organization, generally antagonistic to the needs of its masters. The Dutch Chess Federation did not choose to act. The FIDE was impotent.
The result was a rescheduling of the tournament for the following year, with the vital difference that now half was to be played in Holland, half in the U.S.S.R. Dissatisfied with this arrangement and the general tenor of the event, I withdrew. (Incidentally, there was no real financial compensation offered to any of the Western players, who, unlike their Soviet counterparts, were totally unsubsidized.)
Five masters took part in the 1948 tournament. Botvinnik, playing in brilliant style, carried off first prize.

That last sentence pointed to a footnote...

However, his surprising loss to Keres in the last round, allowing the Soviet master to finish in a tie for third with Reshevsky, looked very suspicious.

...adding another twist to the Botvinnik-Keres controversy. Who, if anyone, threw games to whom?


The book's title page (Dover 1983) says 'Edited by Reuben Fine'. It's not clear why he wasn't given full credit as the author.

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