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Clash of Champions: Euwe vs. Alekhine

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Jul 31, 2014

After taking the world championship title from Jose Raul Capablanca in their 1927 match (covered last week), Alexander Alekhine defended his title twice against Efim Bogoljubow: in 1929 and again in 1934.

Like Emanuel Lasker, Alekhine has also been criticized for avoiding his most dangerous challengers -- in his case, taking some measures to avoid a rematch with Capablanca.

In fact, Alekhine was merely asking for the same conditions that Capablanca had wanted for their match -- in particular, that the challenger provide a stake of $10,000, which was the major obstacle. Most likely, the poor economic conditions worldwide during the interbellum period contributed to the top challengers' inability to raise the money to play Alekhine.

Both matches with Bogoljubow were won in one-sided fashion by Alekhine. Alekhine also dominated the top-level tournaments in the early 1930s.

In 1935, he defended his world championship title a third time, against the Dutch player Max Euwe.

Max Euwe (left) and Alexander Alekhine. image via wikipedia

Euwe was born in Amsterdam in 1901. He was an unusual figure in the world of chess -- and especially as a world champion -- simply because he was very normal. He was never really a professional chess player, working instead as a teacher of mathematics and later a computer science professor. He had a family with many children, and as a result did not play in a great many international tournaments.

Perhaps his stature in history is in fact somewhat diminished by his normality. He is seen as a sort of accidental world champion, benefiting from the genius Alekhine's eccentricities -- specifically his drinking and overconfidence.

He lost the world championship back to Alekhine in a rematch two years later. Perhaps, had he been a larger-than-life figure like the previous champions -- instead of a mild-mannered and sane mathematician -- he would have denied Alekhine the rematch and, with the psychological advantage of the champion's crown on his head, gone on to be seen as one of the greats.

After all, Alekhine was considered even more of an underdog against Capablanca than Euwe had been seen as before the match with Alekhine.

Max Euwe image via wikipedia

Euwe is best-known as one who took rigorous opening analysis to a new level; in that way, he is seen as a forerunner to Mikhail Botvinnik. While older players also analyzed the opening (especially Alekhine himself), Euwe went even deeper, beyond the opening per se and into the middlegame.

His chess was distinguished by mental steadiness and the logic of a mathematician; for these reasons, he was a particularly dangerous opponent for the careless and unsteady but brilliant Alekhine -- something which was not really anticipated by those who saw Alekhine as a big favorite.

Max Euwe image via wikipedia

Unlike the Alekhine-Capablanca match of 1927, this match was not played until a certain number of victories, but rather until 30 games. Whoever was ahead after 30 games would be the victor.

The match took place in Holland, with the players traveling between 13 different cities. Alekhine quickly took a three-point lead, and for a long time it looked as though the widely expected result would occur.

By winning the 10th, 12th, and 14th games, Euwe drew even, but Alekhine quickly reestablished his lead by winning the 16th and 19th games.

We will see the 20th game, where a complicated endgame struggle took place. This was the turning point of the match -- with it Euwe began a run of four wins without Alekhine winning any, which essentially decided the match.

The opening went Euwe's way, and he went into the endgame a pawn up. However, Alekhine had counterplay, and Euwe made the right decision to give back the pawn in order to increase the activity of his own pieces. Now the black bishop is caught in a pin on the a-file. However, in order to win the game, White must absolutely find Euwe's next move. Before going ahead, try to find it yourself.

After this game, Euwe won the very next game from the same opening (with reversed colors), thus equalizing the match score. Three draws followed, after which Euwe won two games in succession.

Alekhine won in the 27th game of the match, but could not win another game -- the last three were drawn, with Euwe granting Alekhine a draw in a completely won position in the last game of the match, since a draw was sufficient to win the title.

Thus Max Euwe became the fifth world chess champion. Next week we will see a game from the rematch in 1937.



  • 14 months ago


    muito produtivo obrigado !!

  • 14 months ago


    muito produtivo obrigado !!

  • 15 months ago


    Great article! Thanks for sharing..

  • 15 months ago


    wonderful article! thanks!

  • 15 months ago


    A great article!!

  • 15 months ago


    Thanks for the link ElKitch. The man indeed had his feet on the earth and he sounded very humble as well!

  • 15 months ago


    At around 20:00 minutes Max Euwe is being interviewed about the match. Very interesting and the man has wit and is very down to the ground.


  • 15 months ago


    @b2b2: In the 1929 match Alekhine was only garantueed $6000. But it is actually fascinating how close it came to a return match with Capablanca. The situation was not simple. See here for the details:


    Interesting is that Bogoljubov had the title of "FIDE champion" (which he won by defeating Euwe 5.5:4.5) which made him the official challenger for the world championship according to FIDE.

  • 15 months ago


    Max Euwe is still a chesshero in my country (The Netherlands, a.k.a. Holland), the only world champion we've ever had. Jan Timman came close a few times but never made it. Euwe's work as president of the Fide was maybe even more important then him winning the title. It was largly thanks to his diplomacy that James Fisher finally played the match against Spasski. Fishers demands now seem 'quite reasonable, but in those days things were different and Euwe's diplomacy much needed.

  • 15 months ago


    Great article!!

  • 15 months ago


    It's also ambiguous, like so many English phrases... When talking about events in the past, "defended the title" does often imply success. The opposite is usually "lost the title" in such contexts. It avoids the awkward phrase "unsuccessfully defended the title".

  • 15 months ago


    Capablanca apparently could not produce Alekhine's required $10,000 purse, but did Bogoljubow (twice) and Euwe meet this requirement?

    It would seem that Fischer simply emulated previous champions in requiring a higher purse, before playing Spassky.  This resulted in a 6 figure purse for the first time in history.

  • 15 months ago


    To those asking, especially if English is not your first language, I'm not sure how this would work in another language, but in English it is possible to speak of defending something, even unsuccessfully.  That is, he defended the title, but was beaten while defending it.  Or in war, to defend a city and yet still be driven out of it.  Or, in many fighting sports, the champion is always said to be defending the title, even though he eventually loses it to the next champion.  So, Alekhine lost to Euwe the third time he defended the title (unsuccessful defense)...then he won it back the first time Euwe defended it (unsuccessful defense).

  • 15 months ago


    very informative on euwe the "man", our 5th world champion. he truly was an accomplished professional; in life and in chess.

  • 15 months ago


    Alekhine won the title back in a rematch.

  • 15 months ago


    no he defended it he simply wasnt successful

  • 15 months ago


    nice job; great article

  • 15 months ago


    Nice article, thanks!

    @KMagic: I thought that it still counts as a defense of the title even if Alekhine lost the match. I'm surprised that one could only use the word defense if the defender wins...

  • 15 months ago


    >In 1935, he defended his world championship title a third time, against the Dutch player Max Euwe.

    Isn't this statement wrong? He failed to defend it this year.

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