Alekhine and Alcohol

Edward Winter


See C.N. 5524.

In C.N. 8538 Jeremy Silman (Los Angeles, CA, USA) asked about suggestions that Alekhine was found drunk in a field during his 1935 world championship match against Euwe. Noting that the subject of Alekhine and alcohol had been referred to in a number of C.N. items, we invited further documentation, adding: ‘The word documentation is stressed; frequently elsewhere the subject is treated merely as good for a gossip and a giggle.’ We also promised to gather C.N. material in a single feature article, as is now done here.

The feature article A Question of Credibility, written in 1997, commented with regard to Bill Wall:

Among Mr Wall’s other effluence is a pitiful feature on ‘eccentric chessplayers’ ( A couple of sentences about Alekhine will give the flavour:

‘In a few tournaments he was found in a field drunk. He would urinate on the floor in other events.’

For these dainty tidings no documentary source is given, of course, for the Walls of this world expect us to take on trust their attacks on the chosen prey of the day. It can only be guessed that he has gleefully seized and embroidered upon what Reuben Fine (strong master, undependable writer) said on page 54 of The Psychology of the Chess Player, but that really won’t do. Poach from a dubious source some suspect chitchat about a deceased master and whisk it up from an alleged one-off incident into a categorical denunciation of repeated misconduct. Yes, being a chess journalist is that easy.

Even today, Wall still allows his words about Alekhine to appear on the Internet, although at a different site.

On pages 410-413 of the August 1978 Chess Life & Review Max Euwe was interviewed by Pal Benko. Here is one exchange, regarding the 1935 world championship match:

‘Benko: I have heard many rumors that Alekhine was drinking heavily during the match and was behaving strangely sometimes. Can you comment?

Euwe: I don’t think he was drinking more then than he usually did. Of course he could drink as much as he wanted: at his hotel it was all free. The owner of the Carlton Hotel, where he stayed, was a member of the Euwe Committee, but it was a natural courtesy to the illustrious guest that he should not be asked to pay for his drinks. I think it helps to drink a little, but not in the long run. I regretted not having drunk at all during the second match with Alekhine. Actually, Alekhine’s walk was not steady because he did not see well but did not like to wear glasses. So many people thought he was drunk because of the way he walked.’


‘Yes, Alekhine did it. He won the return match with Euwe. For nearly two years he had lived on sour milk, travelling around with his own cow.’

Source: Chess World, July 1954, page 160.

(Kingpin 1995)

When the above passage was quoted on page 384 of Kings, Commoners and Knaves we added:

Innumerable books affirm that Alekhine gave up smoking in preparation for his 1937 match with Euwe, as if that were an unprecedented decision. From page 62 of the April 1929 American Chess Bulletin:

‘He [Alekhine] no longer smokes. We understand that he bid farewell to Lady Nicotine soon after the New York tournament of 1927 …’

Harry Golombek on Alekhine:

‘... even when drunk he could see a great deal further over the board than most chessplayers sober. I remember that, at the Warsaw International Team Tournament of 1935, I was showing a game I had won that day to the fellow members of my team. Alekhine came up, recognized the game and complimented me on it in mellow, if somewhat thickly intoxicated, tones and, in a flash, indicated a vital, winning variation we all had missed.’

Source: ‘Recollections of Alekhine’ by Harry Golombek, Chess Review, May 1951, pages 140-141. See too C.N. 1313. Golombek’s article can also be found on pages 191-196 of The Treasury of Chess Lore by Fred Reinfeld (New York, 1951).

The relevant game from the 1935 Olympiad was not identified, but one possibility is Golombek v Horowitz. The former’s annotations on pages 480-481 of the October 1935 BCM referred to 24 h4 as a possible improvement suggested by Alekhine; at moves 28 and 33, shorter wins were pointed out by Golombek (without, however, any mention Alekhine).


Page 238 of the Pocket Companion Guide to Political Quotations (Longman) there is the following remark by Andrew Bonar Law (died 1923):

‘Asquith, when drunk, can make a better speech than any of us when sober.’

A more original remark about Alekhine’s conduct during the 1935 world championship match is to be found in an article ‘Knights of the square table’ by William Hartston in the 2-8 August 1986 issue of the Radio Times:

‘... but he did have the excuse that he was in poor form at the time. In fact, he was as out of form as a newt throughout that match.’


From Chess and Alcohol:

Alexander Alekhine’s heavy drinking is not in doubt, and Pablo Morán’s monograph on him has a chapter entitled ‘Exhibitions Under the Influence’. There are, though, inferior writers (which is certainly not a description of Morán) who enjoy pouncing on and blowing up any great master’s adversities. See, for instance, the examples quoted at the start of our article The Games of Alekhine. A person [Raymond Keene] who writes that a champion played a world title match ‘more or less in a perpetual stupor’ is capable of writing any old thing about anyone.

A contribution from Martin Weissenberg (Savyon, Israel):

‘In his article on Alekhine in the series “Grandmasters I Have Known” Hans Kmoch wrote:

“It was also at Bled [1931] that Alekhine started to indulge openly in unrestrained drinking. One day, when he joined our wives and me at afternoon tea, his behavior was erratic and he had difficulty speaking. When he snuffed out his cigarette in my wife’s cake, Nadasha [Alekhine’s wife] rose and led him away. Returning alone after a few minutes, she said to my wife, in grammatically broken German, ‘Excuse me, dear, Alekhine – Russian pig. Now sleeping like child.’

At the closing ceremony of that tournament, Kostić, that inveterate enfant terrible, caused some further painful embarrassment by calling from his end of the table to the other end, where the world champion was sitting next to a few high officials, “Herr Alekhine!”. He always called him “Herr.” “What was it that made you so drunk yesterday, cognac or klekovača?” (Klekovača is the Slovene equivalent of gin.) Alekhine mumbled some denial, but Kostić persisted. “Of course you were drunk! How else could I have beaten you seven to one? I’m very good at skittles, that’s true, but seven to one is too much!”

Kmoch also relates:

“One night when I was out dancing with my wife, Alekhine entered the place just as the band was beginning a Viennese waltz. Alekhine never danced, but on this occasion, though for obvious reasons he was unsteady on his feet, he asked my wife to join him in the waltz. The result was that they both had to be helped up from the floor. We left immediately and I took Alekhine home. There was a moment of anxiety when the world champion, in the process of entering the taxi, almost propelled himself out the other side.”

Elsewhere in his article, Kmoch wrote:

“It is incredible how long Alekhine remained on top despite his pernicious addiction to alcohol.”

A large trunk containing “nothing but liquor bottles – a traveling bar” in Alekhine’s hotel room during his 1934 match against Bogoljubow was also mentioned.’

From page 177 of Kings of Chess by William Winter (London, 1954), concerning the 1926-27 Alekhine v Euwe match:

‘It is possible that Alekhine had not fully trained for the encounter and that he was rather too appreciative of Dutch hospitality, but nothing can detract from the all-round excellence of Euwe’s play.’

When did explicit references to Alekhine’s excessive alcohol consumption begin to appear?


Regarding the assertion that after blindfold displays Alekhine ‘would drink brandy in ordinary tumblerfuls’, see C.N.s 8947 and 8950.

Addition on 18 March 2022: Marcello Sibille (Uruguay) draws attention to the comments by Ricardo Aguilera in his introduction to Gran Ajedrez (Madrid, 1947). See the paragraph beginning ‘Se dice que Alekhine ...’.

Latest update: 26 June 2023.

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