1901 - 1981

12/03/2008 20:43  

A little known fact concerning Machgielis Euwe is that he was the World Chess Champion on THREE occasions.  It is well known that he wrested the Championship from Alexander Alekhine in a match played in 1935, and  generously offered a return match played in 1937 - that he lost.  What is less known is that he was declared the World Amateur Champion in 1928 as a result of winning a tournament held in the Hague and in 1947 he was again made World Champion during a meeting of FIDE.  This came about in rather unusual circumstances.  Following the death of Alekhine in 1946, there had been difficulties in deciding how another World Champion would be appointed.  FIDE decided to take the matter into their own  hands but had difficulty in arranging a suitable tournament particularly as the emergence of Soviet players in international tournaments had begun to muddy the waters and they were not members of FIDE.  In many post-war international events, Euwe had been particularly successful and by 1947 the Soviets indicated that they could be persuaded to join the International Federation and throw their weight behind an arrangement to decide the World Championship competition.  Accordingly, FIDE arranged a meeting in the Netherlands for 1947 that the Soviets agreed to attend.  However, the meeting started without any of the Soviets present and there was no indication whether or not they were going to attend.  After two days, the meeting declared Euwe the World Champion and then set about deciding how the title would be contested in the future. Eventually the Soviets did put in an appearance, declared their intention to join FIDE and then the whole matter of the World Championship went into the melting-pot and resulted in the Match Tournament held the following year.  Euwe who had been the World Champion for two days then resigned his title!  

Max Euwe was born on May 20th 1901, in Amsterdam and was one of five children in his family.  His father was a primary school teacher who spent a lot of time educating his own family.  His mother was a fanatical chess player and the young Max watched whilst she played her husband and eventually mastered the rudiments of the game himself although his efforts against his parents did not initially meet with success.  Within a short time, however, he began to win some games although his interest was not very strong.  In fact he preferred playing marbles!

Mainly due to his father's efforts, the young Max made a flying start to his school education, being so well advanced that he leapt the first two classes of his primary school.  Although chess played a clear second to football in Max's estimation, he did play in local clubs with considerable success.  His secondary schooling occupied him almost exclusively although he did manage to play in some short tournaments.  When he attended his club he began to meet players such as Reti, Tartakover and Maroczy and this improved his proficiency to a point where he was able to win national tournaments.  In 1921 he won the Dutch Championship for the first of many times. 

Euwe went to Amsterdam University as a student of mathematics and graduated in 1923.  Like his father, he became a teacher of mathematics and mechanics in 1924 and gained his doctorate in 1926. His profession was very demanding and he remained a chess amateur all his life.  His ventures onto the international chess scene were not very plentiful although he won first prize at Wiesbaden in 1925 in a six round tournament where he scored 3 wins, 3 draws and no losses, and finished ahead of Spielmann and Samisch.  His chess had to be confined to the school holidays and in 1926-27 he played a short match against Alekhine that he narrowly lost and in the following year, during the Easter holidays, he lost another very tight match against Bogolybov.  However, during 1928 he did win the World Amateur Championship in a tournament at the Hague.

His first major result came in the 1930-31 Hastings tournament where he won ahead of Capablanca.  Several other successes followed that persuaded Alekhine that Euwe should be the challenger for the world title.  During this period Alekhine was finding ways to avoid his main challengers and felt, on the basis of his win against Euwe in the 1926-27 match, that he would satisfy his critics and retain the World Championship.

The match started in Amsterdam on October 3rd 1935 and the games were scheduled to be played in various venues across Holland.  Alekhine set a storming pace at the start and raced to lead of 6-3 at the end of the ninth game.  However, this was to be a turning point in Euwe's fortunes.  In the next game Alekhine launched a fierce attack that was completely unsound, and calmly Euwe repelled his attempts.  A fine rook sacrifice by Euwe decided the game and in the next game played in the Hague,  Euwe demonstrated his steady nerves by drawing in 30 moves.  This comeback so rattled Alekhine that when the match moved back to Amsterdam, he lost the next game.  Now, only 1 point separated the contestants and this difference was maintained until they played the fourteenth game at Groningen on November 2nd.  Here Euwe won yet again to level the score.  The next game was drawn but Alekhine recovered to win the sixteenth game, thus re-establishing his lead of one point.  This he increased to 2 points by the nineteenth game.  Euwe hit back by winning the twentieth game and levelled the score once again with the next game.  The following three games were drawn but in the 25th game Alekhine again threw all caution to the wind and suffered the consequences.  For the first time in the match Euwe was in the lead.  The next game later became to be known as "The Pearl of Zandvoort" and virtually sealed the result of the match.  Euwe won in fine style and this game follows with annotations by Euwe.  A deficit of two points was too much for Alekhine to recover in the remaining four games although he did claw one point back in the next game, but the final three games were drawn leaving Euwe as the new World Champion.

World Championship 16th 1935

    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30  
1 Euwe,Max 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 1 1 1 0 0 1 1 1 1 0 15 
2 Alekhine,Alexander 1 0 1 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 14 

Much has been written concerning Alekhine's untypical play in this match, but most observers seem to agree that the amount of alcohol he consumed  did not benefit his play.

This was to be the zenith of Euwe's chess career and unlike his opponent's treatment of his challengers, he agreed to a return match with Alekhine that was played in 1937.  For this match Alekhine put the bottle to one side and his return to form helped him to overcome Euwe.  Although Euwe played in several first class tournament up to the break out of World War 2, he never really recaptured the form he had enjoyed in the middle 1930's.  The war years forced a break of five years in his chess playing career but when he returned he scored a great success in the international tournament at Groningen in 1946.  Here he came second after Botvinnik ahead of Smyslov, Najdorf, Flohr and Boleslavsky.  A not inconsiderable performance!

Unfortunately he was not able to repeat this success in the World Championship Match Tournament played in the Hague and Moscow in 1948.  He drifted out of international tournaments and eventually gave up teaching in 1957.  Subsequently he did a lot of work in the development of computers until 1970 when he became President of FIDE.  He threw all his enthusiasm into this post and visited over 100 countries at his own expense in order to champion the game.  In 1972 he was faced with the problems surrounding the Spassky - Fischer World Championship Match and took the prime role in ensuring that the match was completed.  

Euwe was a great student of the opening in chess and was responsible for many improvements in well known variations.  His output of books was prolific and he wrote more books than any other chess master.  A look at one of them can be seen by clicking here

He died on 26th November 1981, in Amsterdam and his memory is greatly revered in the chess world and particularly in his native country where a museum has been opened in his name.