Remembering Machgielis “Max” Euwe on his 121st birthday

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Max Euwe (May 20, 1901 – November 26, 1981)

Max Euwe was born on May 20, 1901 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Although the family is of modest means, Euwe is blessed with parents who are passionate about chess. He and his five siblings were taught chess at an early age, and Max, the second in the brood, was said to have played adults when he was 4 years old. He won his first tournament at the age of 10, and at 12 joined the Amsterdam Chess Society.

Euwe’s first impression was of Frank Marshall holding a simultaneous exhibition as a guest of his club. He was only a spectator then, but the following year he took part in another exhibition given by Te Kolste. Euwe won, marking his first victory against a master. It was 1914 and in faraway Russia, all the greatest masters in the world were taking part in the famous tournament in Saint Petersburg. The transmission of the games across Europe inspired young Euwe to work even harder.

Euwe regularly competed in tournaments and at the age of 15 he won Group ‘B’ of his country’s national championship. World War I, however, put an end to chess.

The Netherlands emerged from the war less torn than other nations, leading some powerful European players to seek asylum there. Among these were Emanuel Lasker, Richard Reti, Geza Maroczy, Siegbert Tarrasch and Saveilly Tartakower. The presence of these outstanding masters stirred up chess in the Netherlands, which could only have benefited Euwe. Maroczy, in particular, became Euwe’s teacher and lifelong friend.

In 1921 Euwe won his first Dutch league title and drew in 12 games with Maroczy. All the while he had taken care of his studies, graduated in mathematics from the University of Amsterdam and got a job as a teacher. Despite the significant competitive achievements, Euwe decided to pursue a doctorate in mathematics and put his aspirations on hold.

Euwe received his doctorate in 1926 and married the same year. He was now twice Dutch champion, having won his second title in 1924. Euwe’s Dutch supporters, sensing his potential, organized a group that would oversee his further development until he could compete for the world championship. This group was loosely known as the “Euwe Committee”.

The committee immediately worked to pit Euwe against another strong player and chose Alexander Alekhine, who accepted the challenge as preparation for his world championship match against Capablanca the following year.

Alekhine was expected to easily win the 10-match match as he was completely dominant on his way to the championship. He had to fight tooth and nail, and it wasn’t until winning the last game that he won the game, 5.5-4.5.

In 1928, FIDE, then a new organization, organized two 10-match matches between Efim Bogoljubov and Euwe. Supposedly, it was for the right to challenge Alekhine, who had beaten Capablanca in their 1927 world title encounter. Euwe lost those matches by the same score, 4.5-5.5. Bogoljubov then challenged Alekhine in 1929 and 1934, but lost lopsidedly.

Euwe won the Hastings edition of 1930-31 ahead of Capablanca, after which the Euwe committee arranged a 10-match match between them. Capablanca was eager to prove he was still a title contender and won, 6-4, but Euwe proved a tough opponent, missing out on two wins that would have leveled the game.

Hastings Tournament 1930-31

Hastings Tournament 1930

In 1934, Euwe and his committee worked to issue a challenge and set up a world championship match with Alekhine. FIDE then relegated an emerging star to Salo Flohr as the most logical contender, but Alekhine had the right to the title and chose to accept Euwe’s challenge. Euwe and Flohr had gone 16 games two years before it ended in a draw.

Max Euwe, Jose Raul Capablanca

Max Euwe ready to face Jose Raul Capablanca

A few months later, Alekhine and Euwe played at Zurich 1934, which heightened everyone’s anticipation for the match. Alekhine and Euwe finished first and second respectively, but Euwe beat Alekhine in their individual encounter.

Zurich Tournament 1934

Zurich Chess Tournament 1934

Euwe’s preparations for the 1935 World Championship match were the most intense he had ever had to undertake. Alekhine was the big favourite, and Euwe understood that his theoretical and physical preparation had to be very advanced if he wanted to make the most of his slim chance. Studying Alekhine’s games, Euwe noticed that the champion tended to overpress where he was only equal when exiting the opening. Euwe set about developing a serious opening repertoire, a task he called “titanic”.

Alekhine took a 4-1 lead early in the 30-game tie, and still trailed by two after nineteen games. Euwe’s composure, however, allowed him to recover and win four out of the last eleven games to claim a 15.5–14.5 victory and become the 5th world champion.

The 1935 World Championship Match

1935 World Chess Championship

A number of reasons have been given for Alekhine’s loss, from his underappreciation of Euwe to his drinking problems. The 7th world champion, Vassily Smyslov, however, was perhaps one of the first to understand the true value of Euwe’s achievement when he said: “Nothing accidental happens in life. ; no matter what form Alekhine was at the time, a match against him could only be won by a master of the highest class. Euwe played better and he deservedly became champion.

Max Euwe, Alexander Alekhine

Max Euwe plays black against Alexander Alekhine

Alekhine had been careful to assert a right to a rematch in the event of defeat as one of the terms of the 1935 match, and wasted no time in claiming it. While previous champions have escaped dangerous opponents, Euwe easily accepted.

Alekhine was quick to correct his shortcomings in the first game. Coming into the 1937 World Championship hungry for the title he had lost, he won the match 15.5-9.5.

Euwe remained one of the best players in the world after his two-year reign. He placed third in the great AVRO 1938 and had a 14 game match with Paul Keres in 1940 which he narrowly lost, 7.5-6.5. At Groningen 1946 he played what was for him the tournament of his life, finishing second behind Mikhail Botvinnik. He also participated in The Hague 1948, where Botvinnik won the chess crown left vacant by Alekhine’s death. Finally, he said goodbye to the Zurich Candidates Tournament 1953, where he performed well in the first half, but faded in the second against the stars of the new generation.

Groningen Tournament 1946

Groningen Chess Tournament 1946

When Euwe called it a career, he had won 102 tournaments, 12 Dutch national titles, the most in his country’s history, and played top board in seven Chess Olympiads for the

Netherlands. He has also written over 70 books on chess, two of the most popular of which are The Road to Chess Mastery and Judgment and Planning in Chess.

After his playing days, Euwe became a teacher in 1964, and he called it a happier time in his life than when he won the world title in 1935. He also became president of FIDE in 1970 and served for eight years. He was known to be a principled president who always stood his ground, insensitive to powerful member nations such as the Soviet Union. Among FIDE’s milestones during his tenure was the successful organization of the 1972 World Championship match between Robert Fischer and Boris Spassky. If not for Euwe’s skill in handling the controversies that plagued him, the match would likely have been aborted.

With all his achievements as an amateur that would make even the bravest professional proud, and his service to chess as the highest administrator of its governing body, Euwe, indeed, was a remarkable man who deserves his distinguished place and esteemed in chess history.

Games

  1. Euwe vs. Reti – In 1920, young Euwe played a four-game match against Richard Reti, his first against a world-class opponent. His victory in Game 3 is a great display of the hypermodern game against one of the leading defenders of the hypermodern school himself.
  2. Botvinnik v Euwe – Euwe has always been a tough opponent for the great Botvinnik. Here he crushes the future world champion in the final phase.
  3. Euwe versus Alekhine – The famous Pearl of Zandvoort. Euwe’s clear, logical style and superb calculations are on full display in his best game of the 1935 World Championship.
  4. Geller vs. Euwe – Euwe played two brilliant matches at Zurich 1953, his farewell tournament. Here he demonstrates active defense with a deflecting rook sacrifice and turns the tables on Geller.
  5. Euwe versus Najdorf – The other half of Euwe’s brilliant game at Zurich 1953. Euwe navigates through high complications by intuition, a lesser-appreciated facet of his game.

Master Class Vol.3: Alexander Alekhine

On this DVD, GMs Rogozenco, Marin, Müller and IM Reeh present exceptional parts, breathtaking combinations and exemplary finales of Alekhine. And they invite you to improve your knowledge with the help of video lectures, annotated games and interactive tests


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