Person of day - 19 MARCH 2023
An international grandmaster and an honoured master of sport, Levenfish was among the pre-revolutionary generation of Russian chess players. He made a name for himself in the first two decades of the last century. In the Russian tournament of 1912, he split 6th-7th places with 20 year-old Alekhine and he won the St Petersburg tournament with the same player a year later. Levenfish was also successful in the first Soviet competitions: in the 1920s, he was a regular prize-winner.
The peak of Levenfish’s performance came in the 1930s. In 1935 and 1937, he won two Soviet championships. Capablanca complemented his style and stated that Levenfish could be successful in international tournaments as well as Soviet ones. The peak of Levenfish’s career was his match against Mikhail Botvinnik in 1937, which was supposed to determine the strongest chess player in the country.
After skipping the Soviet championship in 1937, Botvinnik challenged Levenfish to a match. It turned out to be very intense. After victory in the final round, Levenfish snatched a draw (6,5:6,5) and retained the title of national champion. For that achievement, he was awarded the Grandmaster of the USSR, after Botvinnik and Verlinsky (whose title was taken away afterwards). As the champion of the Soviet Union, he had the chance to represent his country at the famous AVRO tournament in 1938, but the Ministry of Sport decided to send Botvinnik, who had already faced the heavyweights of world chess.
This decision was a huge blow to the 48-year-old grandmaster, who lost his last chance of entering the global world of chess. And despite continuing to play in tournaments for some time, he never managed to repeat his success of the mid-1930s.
Levenfish not only proved himself as a strong player, but also as a wonderful writer. To his pen belong A Chess player’s First Book, Alekhine-Capablanca Match, Selected Matches and Recollections, theoretical works Queen’s Gambit, Rook Endings and other works that remain relevant to this day.