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Clash of Champions: Alekhine vs. Euwe (1937 Rematch)

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Aug 7, 2014
  • | 9496 views
  • | 26 comments

After winning the world championship title from Alexander Alekhine in 1935, Max Euwe did something rare -- he voluntarily gave his opponent a rematch, without putting obstacles in the way or seeking a weaker opponent to play first.

The rematch took place in Holland in 1937.

It may be hard to believe now -- since Alekhine is seen as one of the best players ever -- but at the time, Euwe was considered a strong favorite. The public did not rate Alekhine's chances too highly because he was seen as a washed-up alcoholic.

But there was something that neither the public nor Euwe knew: in the intervening years, Alekhine had bought a cow.

Not Alekhine's cow: image via Wikipedia

What this meant was that Alekhine was drinking fresh milk, straight from that cow, rather than his usual vodka, whiskey, or whatever.

It also meant something more.  Alekhine was coming to the second match full of determination, having worked on himself and no longer underestimating Euwe. He knew that if he failed to regain the title, he would go down in history as no more than a bit player; he would lose his legacy of greatness.

Alekhine had worked too hard climbing to the world championship to throw it away.

"Allein-Ich," as he was sometimes jokingly called ("I am alone" in German), showed that he could wake from his slumber and be once more the chess god he had been before.

At first, it seemed like the champion would retain his title, as Euwe won the first game. However, Alekhine bounced back in the very next game. After two draws, Euwe won another game, giving him the lead after five games.

Alekhine-Euwe 1937 via wikipedia

But then came a game which can be described as the turning point of the match, even though it came fairly early -- in the sixth game of what ended up being a 25-game match.

In the following position:

Alekhine played the shocking piece sacrifice 6.Nf3!!? (Actually it was the previous move, 5.Bxc4, which was the shocker, since at this point there is no other option for White, but never mind that.)

And Euwe, after long thought, declined the sacrifice and instead played 6...b5?, which was immediately refuted by 7.Nxb5! (if 7...cxb5 8.Bd5 wins the exchange). I believe this was a huge turning point in the match and -- although just equalizing the score -- it put Euwe on the back foot psychologically.

Alekhine won the following two games, and after a single draw, he won again, giving him a three-point lead.

Later it was shown that the sacrifice could have been accepted, and with very precise play Euwe could have shown Alekhine's sacrifice to be found wanting. But what is done is done.

After the match, Euwe -- always objective and never one to be hampered by his own ego -- thoroughly praised Alekhine's play:

"Alekhine's perfect technique and combinative talent are so well known that it is unnecessary to talk about them. His conduct of the endgame was shining. Even so, I admire most how he finished the adjourned games. I had to analyze them, too, so I know them well. When I think of how my opponent created ingenious ideas and how he finished them in unexpected ways, I have only the greatest admiration for Alekhine's playing style."

Alexander Alekhine: image via Wikipedia

We will now see an example of this ingenious endgame play by Alekhine from the 24th game of the match. At this point, the match was nearly over, but Alekhine had to win two more games to take back his title.

In this game, we will see a minor inaccuracy by Euwe in a benign opening variation is harshly punished by Alekhine, with instructive play.

Not long after this match ended, the world once again convulsed into war, and Alekhine never had another chance to defend his title. He became the first world champion to pass away while holding the title when he died at the age of 53 in a hotel on the coast of Portugal, where he was staying as he sought a new home.

He had just come to terms on a match with Botvinnik, which was never to happen. 

The 1948 world championship was therefore decided by a tournament. It was a five-player round-robin tournament held half in The Hague and half in Moscow.

Next week, we will see some endgames from that tournament.


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Comments


  • 3 weeks ago

    feryke

    Alekhine Alexander,secondo me è stato uno dei più grandi giocatori di scacchi del pianeta!

    Bellissimo articolo,complimenti!

  • 5 weeks ago

    SurreptitiousQueen

    amazing article! Thank You.

  • 5 weeks ago

    placemaker

    its a sad story...

  • 5 weeks ago

    old-driftwood

    I've always been an admirer of both players, great article!

  • 5 weeks ago

    heartofthelion

    thank you. very entertaining bit of chess history

  • 6 weeks ago

    CP6033

    lol, so all Anand needs to do is buy a cow! MrLibrarian agreed!

  • 6 weeks ago

    53MiND

    maybe i should also buy a cow!

  • 6 weeks ago

    dzindzifan

    I was just going over all the Slav Games in both of these matches.  In Game 6 of the rematch, was Euwe smoking a fatty before that game?  What a major deviation from all the other games and a horrendous loss. People make a great deal of Alekhine's drinking in the first match before crucial games, but this one well ... there must be some story behind this game. 

  • 6 weeks ago

    sluck72

    World champs should be offered FIDE pres position.

  • 6 weeks ago

    Rawnsdale

    nice article!

  • 6 weeks ago

    gainsfieldvishnu

    This is truly an amazing article, and I hope that both these players' memories dwell in the future! 

  • 6 weeks ago

    FM backreg

    Excellent series of articles, quite a joy to read!

    Savantz, match play has its own intricacies, Larsen sprang a similarly dubious sac on Tal in 1965 Candidates Match, and Tal of all people did not go for it after an hour of though. It was in Alekhine's defense: 1. e4 Nf6 2. e5 Nd5 3. d4 d6 4. Nf3 de5 5. Ne5 Nd7 (and 6. Nxf7 is very tempting and actually correct but Tal played Bc4)

    As Tal mentions in comments to this game, in such a situation you either trust your instinct and instantly take or you do not take. Worst decision is calculating for an hour and not seeing an exact win and declining basically wasting an hour.

  • 6 weeks ago

    hadi1989

    Great article!!!

  • 6 weeks ago

    Andy_Warstar

    There needs to be Chess tournaments in Colorado where all the champions sit around smoking ganja LOL :) Rastafarian chess! Bim...

  • 6 weeks ago

    badways

    i like this comment below. respect the game! 

  • 6 weeks ago

    olympicheropaul

    Euwe was the man. He always respected and defended the game.

  • 6 weeks ago

    tucumcari

    It's a good thing Alekhine wasn't lactose intolerant. Seriously, the mention of the cow had me hoping we'd have one of Bryan's infamous snack suggestions, something along the lines of a nice parmigiano-reggiano dipped in balsamic and washed down with an ice cold Sam Adams Cherry Wheat. Alas it wasn't to be..

  • 6 weeks ago

    tpe09222012

    I liked the cow. And the double rook endgame where the king has to be centralized without being mated. Rb5 b6, with b5 to follow was very cool too.

  • 6 weeks ago

    yureesystem

    Great article! Kasparov had praises for Euwe. Alekhine was amzing, and one of great player of the past.

  • 6 weeks ago

    savantz

    it's quite amazing that alekhine, a game down in a world championship, would assay such a dubious opening

    sure it was a 30 game match, but who does that!? in doing so he put one huge question to euwe; and based on euwe's praise and respect for alehkine creative play, as expressed after that 1937 match, euwe just wasn't willing to suffer through prepared analysis of what would have been a complicated maze of calculations, tricks, and traps. probably a wise decision, except his response was a blunder

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