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Alexander Konstantinopolsky

Alexander Konstantinopolsky, ca. 1932

Alexander Markovich Konstantinopolsky (Russian: Александр Маркович Константинопольский; 19 February 1910, Zhytomir, Russian Empire, now Ukraine - 21 September 1990, Moscow, USSR) was a Soviet International Master (IM) of chess, chess coach and trainer, and a chess author. He was a five-time Kiev champion, and trained the world title challenger David Bronstein from a young age. He earned the IM title in 1950, won the first Soviet Correspondence Chess Championship in 1951, earned the IM title at correspondence in 1966, and was awarded an Honorary Grandmaster title in 1983.

An Ukrainian Master

At the beginning of his career, Konstantinopolsky won the Kiev championships five consecutive times from 1932 to 1936. He played in seven Ukrainian SSR championships. In 1931, he tied for 3rd-5th in Kharkov (6th UKR-ch). In 1933, he took 3rd in Kharkov (7th UKR-ch). In 1936, he took 4th in Kiev (8th UKR-ch). In 1937, he tied for 3rd-4th in Kiev (9th UKR-ch), which was won by Fedor Bohatirchuk. In 1938, he took 3rd in Kiev (10th UKR-ch), which was won by Isaac Boleslavsky. In 1939, he took 3rd in Dnepropetrovsk (11th UKR-ch). In 1940, he tied for 8th-9th in Kiev (12th UKR-ch). Boleslavsky also won in both 1939 and 1940. Konstantinopolsky's early games from this period are largely missing from games databases. (portrait photo from his later years at under Konstantinopolsky heading)

In 1936, Konstantinopolsky played in a Leningrad Young Masters' tournament, scoring 7.5/14 in a strong field which played a double round robin format.

Konstantinopolsky played several times in Soviet Chess Championships. In 1931, he tied for 3rd-5th (7th URS-ch semifinal), in Moscow. In 1934, he tied for 11th-13th in Tbilisi (9th URS-ch sf). In April/May 1937, he tied for 2nd-3rd with Viacheslav Ragozin, behind Grigory Levenfish, in Tbilisi (10th URS-ch), with a score of 12/19. In 1938, he tied for 11th-12th in Kiev (URS-ch sf). In 1940, he tied for 4th-7th in Kiev (URS-ch sf), with a score of 9.5/16. In September/October 1940, he tied for 13th-16th in Moscow (12th URS-ch), with a score of 8/19.

Theorist and trainer

During the late 1930s, Konstantinopolsky trained young players and amateurs in Kiev, at the Palace of Young Pioneers. He was widely regarded as a friendly and kindly man. His prize pupil was the young David Bronstein, who eventually challenged for the World Championship title in 1951, drawing the match against Mikhail Botvinnik. Konstantinopolsky and Bronstein were close friends, and Konstantinopolsky served as Bronstein's second for the 1950 Candidates' playoff match in Moscow, against Isaac Boleslavsky, which Bronstein won by 7.5-6.5.

He was one of the Ukrainian pioneers who developed the King's Indian Defence into prominence, along with Boleslavsky and Bronstein. The variation had been considered suspect until the mid-1930s. During this time, he played one of the earliest games in the Yugoslav Attack against the Dragon Variation of the Sicilian Defence, a line which would become very popular about 20 years later. He also defended the Dutch Defence with success at a time when it was rarely played by top players. Konstantinopolsky had a very wide opening repertoire with both colours, a very valuable attribute which he passed on to his prize pupil Bronstein. He was also a formidable strategist and tactician, as the games selection shows.

Grandmastership denied

He played in the tournament Leningrad / Moscow 1939, scoring an excellent 8.5/17 against an exceptionally strong field. During World War II, he played in national tournaments. In 1940, he took 3rd in Lvov (Lviv, Lwów, Lemberg), which was won by Abram Khavin. The war then seems to have stopped his chess activity for about three years. In February 1943, he won in Kuibyshev. In April/May 1943, he took 6th in Sverdlovsk, a very strong tournament, with 6.5/14; the event was won by Botvinnik. In August/September 1943, he took 2nd, behind Boleslavsky, in Kuibyshev. In 1943, he won a match against Yakov Rokhlin (+7 -0 =1). In 1944, he won a match against Lev Aronin (+6 -1 =5). In 1944, he moved to stay in Moscow. He played in the 1945 Moscow City Championship, probably on average the strongest such event in the world, scoring 9/16.

After the war, he played in several more Soviet championships. In 1945, he tied for 1st-3rd in Baku (URS-ch sf), with Alexander Kotov and Iosif Rudakovsky, each scoring 10.5/15. In June 1945, he tied for 4th-6th in Moscow (14th URS-ch), with 10.5/18; the tournament was won by Botvinnik. In 1947, he tied for 3rd-4th in Moscow (URS-ch sf). In 1948, he tied for 6th-9th in Moscow (16th URS-ch), with 9.5/17; the tournament was won jointly by Bronstein and Alexander Kotov. In 1950, he tied for 2nd-4th in Tartu (URS-ch sf), with a score of 10/15. In 1950, he tied for 5th-6th in Moscow (18th URS-ch), with 7.5/14; the tournament was won by Paul Keres. In 1952, he took 16th in Moscow (20th URS-ch), with 7/19; the tournament was won jointly by Botvinnik and Mark Taimanov. He played in the Soviet Team Championship, Riga 1954, scoring 5.5/10; this was his last really strong performance. His over-the-board play seems to have largely stopped about 1955, as he concentrated more on correspondence chess and on his job as a trainer and coach. He did play occasionally over-the-board in later years.

So, his best results in the Soviet national championships, which during that period were the strongest tournaments in the world, were four times in the top six (1937, 1945, 1948, 1950). In any virtually other nation in the world during that period, he would have been its national champion, and an almost certain Grandmaster. Because the Soviet chess talent was so deep, he never earned the highest chess title. His best games show he could hold his own with anyone in the USSR, with victories over Botvinnik, Keres, Kotov, Boleslavsky, Grigory Levenfish, Vasily Smyslov, Salo Flohr, Alexander Tolush, Viacheslav Ragozin, Andor Lilienthal, Viktor Korchnoi, Yuri Averbakh, Ratmir Kholmov, Boris Verlinsky, and others.

Later years

In 1948-1951, Konstantinopolsky won the 1st Soviet Correspondence Chess Championship. He was awarded the International Master (IM) title in 1950, the International Master of Correspondence Chess (IMC) title in 1966, and the Honorary Grandmaster (HGM) title in 1983. According to his game files, he only had one chance to play over-the-board in an international tournament outside the Soviet Union, the 'B' section of Amsterdam 1966, when he was well past his prime at age 56. Even so, he scored a creditable 5/9. He continued to work as one of the Soviet Union's most respected trainers well into his 70s.

He introduced an opening which is named for him as the Konstantinopolsky Opening (1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.g3), against Viacheslav Ragozin at Moscow 1956. He published two chess books after age 70.

Konstantinopolsky died in Moscow, September 21, 1990, at age 80.

Notable chess games

Konstantinopolsky defeats that year's Soviet champion.

An exchange sacrifice sets up a very deep trap winning White's Queen; interestingly, this line was eventually jointly named for Konstantinopolsky's pupil Bronstein.

Lilienthal was one of the world's strongest players during the 1940s.