Published on March 9, 2023

Memories of Max Euwe

by Paul van der Sterren

People sometimes ask me about my personal memories of Max Euwe, and I often get the impression that the question “Have you ever played against him?” is on their lips, but they dare not speak it, afraid that I will take offense at the suggestion that I am so old. But the truth is that I did indeed play against Euwe once, although in the same way as tens of thousands of others did throughout his entire adult life: in a simul.

It was early 1972 in Roermond, a city where at the time, thanks to the fact that my mother had grown up there, I was a regular visitor. As a little local hero, already champion of Limburg at the age of fifteen, I was quite famous here, and there was immediately an excited atmosphere around our board. I realized very well that this was a unique opportunity to test my strength against a real top player, and I started the game in a state of pleasant excitement.
Euwe opens cautiously, no Volga Gambit. Soon, a symmetrical and relatively uneventful position arises on the board, in which black is slightly more active. The queens are exchanged, but black maintains the initiative. Euwe sacrifices a pawn to avoid being pushed onto the defensive.
Tactical skirmishes arise which we both manage to navigate unscathed, but ultimately the balance definitively tips in my favour: an endgame arises with 3 pawns against 1 on one flank, with a couple of rooks and unequal bishops. Of course, I am winning, but… Euwe dug in.

Euwe – Van der Sterren, after 51. Rf2

I avoid exchanging rooks, deep insight, or coincidence? My pawns creep forward agonizingly slowly, and his king is driven into the corner. Euwe fights for every inch, but after 70 moves, he has to resign. A beautiful simultaneous game!

51…Rd4 52.Bc7 f5 53.Bd8+ Kg6 54.Bc7 Bf3 55.Rc2 Kg5 56.Rc5 Rd2 57.Rc3 Kh4 58.Bf4 Rd4 59.Be5 Re4 60.
Bc7 f4 61.Ra3 Kg3 62.Ra1 Re7 63.Ba5 Kh3 64.Re1 Rh7 65.Rf1 Ra7 66.Bd2 Ra2 67.Bxf4 Rg2+ 68.Kh1 Rg3+ 69.Rxf3 Rxf3 70.Bh2 g3 0-1

Now, looking back with all the experience that I didn’t have back then, what strikes me most is how thoroughly sportsmanlike Euwe played this game. Fighting honestly until the end, trying to make it as difficult as possible for his young opponent, allowing him to test his skills against him, the former world champion. But everything strictly within the realm of chess. No intimidation, no abuse of the natural authority of the simultaneous exhibitor to throw me off balance.
Or, even worse, to force a draw, as I have seen other simultaneous exhibitors do later on (no, I won’t mention any names!). Afterwards, he is not condescending, nor grumpy or surly about his defeat, but rather gives the impression of being satisfied with his work that day, the work of a good teacher. He has allowed a talented boy to play a training game at a high level, and thus helped him move forward a little bit. Very ordinary, all in a day’s work, for Euwe then.