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Euwe - Keres
Compiled by Chessical


A match of 14 games between Max Euwe and Paul Keres staged in various cities in Holland (Amsterdam, Hilversum, The Hague and Rotterdam) between, 24th December 1939 and 15th January 1940. Prior to this match, Euwe and Keres had played five times since their first meeting in 1936. The score was +2=2-1 in favour of Euwe.

This was a hard fought match with only three draws which went one way and then the other. Euwe establishing an early two point lead, but Keres fought back and overtook him scoring +5-1=0 in games 5 through 10.

The late 1930s were a period of transition with the world champion Alexander Alekhine being unable to maintain the overwhelming dominance he enjoyed in the earlier part of the decade.1

Keres was FIDE's challenger to Alekhine for the world championship (but the Champion still had the final say against whom he wished to play). This match was an opportunity for Keres to reinforce his claim to be the primary challenger for the world championship crown by playing Euwe who had been the world champion of 1935-37.

Keres wrote:

“The encounters with the leading masters in Nottingham (1936) and in the AVRO (1938) had proved that Alekhine’s “superclass” no longer existed, and that he would have to fight as hard for his place as any of the candidates...

It might be argued that Alekhine’s playing strength has declined somewhat as compared with the period of his greatest ascendancy, while that of his rivals has risen, resulting in the disappearance of the “superclass”. However, Alekhine is not weaker than any one of the seven claimants. Possibly the decline of his strength is to be explained by approaching old age, fatigue, or analogous reasons; yet his original ideas, fighting temperament, colossal resourcefulness, ingenious combinations – all these have remained almost at the same level...

...I can freely declare that none of his seven rivals possesses his resourcefulness, his most subtle grasp of positions, and his experience. The weapons with which he may be conquered consist of fundamental theoretical knowledge, accurate play and, above all, greater endurance and stronger nerves...a match between Alekhine and any one of the seven candidates will constitute a chess event of exceptional interest, the outcome of which cannot be determined in advance.” 2


From, the foreword to "Euwe - Keres 1939/1940" by Mr. M. Levenbach:

"After his successful winning spurt in the second round of the major AVRO tournament in the autumn of 1938 Dr. Max Euwe immediately devised a new project. He worked in cooperation with the Euwe committee and there was extensive consultation with the executive board of the Dutch Federation.

The Euwe Committee consisted of Messrs A. de Bruyn, P. Jungman, Th. M.E Liket, K.J Nieukerke and Mr. M. Levenbach, with the tireless G. v. Harten as active secretary-treasurer. Full of enthusiasm, the Committee took up its duties, and considered two projects: a match against Paul Keres or against Reuben Fine, both winners of the above mentioned tournament. Keres had, under the provisions of this tournament, been given the right to a title fight with the world champion, Dr. Alekhine. Consequently, as Dr. Euwe and the Committee did not want to interfere with this, Fine was invited to play a 14 game match against Dr. Euwe in the summer of 1939. Fine, who was then in America, accepted the invitation, but declined in the spring of 1939 due to the international tensions.

Meantime negotiations were between Keres and Alekhine about the battle for the world championship floundered. This allowed the Committee to now feel themselves free to address an invitation to Keres, who was immediately prepared to play... The course of the match caused us some disappointment, because Dr. Euwe, albeit at the smallest possible margin, lost the match. The match itself has had an exciting course and chess literature was enriched with many games of theoretical interest and of great beauty."3

Contemporary reaction

<Euwe- Keres, a test of strength of special significance - Is Keres also a match player? - Upward trend in Euwe's performance.>

Keres, travelling by airplane from Stockholm, arrived in Amsterdam on Friday (22nd December), and on Sunday his duel with the former world champion, Dr. Euwe will commence. This match is viewed by the national and international chess communities with great anticipation. After all, this meeting will probably provide an answer to the question of whether Dr. Euwe has returned to a form which could entitle him to challenge the world champion Dr. Alekhine to a new title fight, or whether Paul Keres at fourteen year's younger, who many in the chess world see as a future world champion, would be the most eligible. Euwe has already played two title matches, Keres, however, has not had the opportunity to prove that he is a world championship contender.

... Keres has actually only played in one match against in 1938 in Gothenberg against Gideon Stahlberg (Sweden), which ended in a tie (two wins, two losses, four draws). Everybody understands, however, that being an excellent tournament player - which Keres has proven to be - by no means guarantees that he will be an ace in match play. The reverse is of course also the case. Keres in the upcoming match against Euwe, may now have to demonstrate that he is equally as fearsome in match play as he has been in his tournament play in recent years. If so, then rightfully the Estonian may fully cherish world championship aspirations.

A second question, which could be raised before the start of the contest is: in what direction is Keres' style evolving? Playing successfully in international tournaments his style is most impressive. He is full of enterprising spirit, has a marked preference for gambits developed and almost always played an attacking type of game. As some experts put it, in "the wild" style. But despite this attacking game Keres does not neglect the defence; he is perfectly aware of opening theory, he has already made a special study of opening variations and is an artist in endgames... Generally, however, it has been assumed that Keres would play eventually adopt a quieter, safer, yes, one might even say, sedate style....

For Euwe, there is a lot at stake. After the second match for the world championship (1937) there was a major slump in his form, but in November 1938, in the second part of the AVRO tournament, our compatriot regained his old form. That is, he recaptured an inner certainty with the confidence in his own abilities returning again, which is not to be underestimated psychologically, because one may be technically very skilled, but without those attributes, the master will never reach peak performance.

This upward trend has been maintained in the past year and Euwe has been unassailable in his match against Landau. Not only because he defeated his fellow competitor by a large margin, but in particular in the manner in which he proved that he completely overcome his slump. In this context, it was seen as beneficial for the Euwe Committee to organize a match against Keres. The result will matter a lot, to the extent of whether Euwe will again be allowed to make a bid for the highest title in the foreseeable future..." 4

The players


Euwe had briefly won the world champion then lost it again to Alexander Alekhine (Alekhine - Euwe World Championship Match (1935) and Euwe - Alekhine World Championship Rematch (1937) .

Since losing his title, Euwe had twice been outdistanced in tournaments by Keres. Euwe came forth in Noordwijk (1938) in which Keres had come second, and at AVRO (1938), 6th to the 27th of November 1938, he had shared fourth place with Alekhine and Samuel Reshevsky . Euwe came second to the Hungarian champion Laszlo Szabo in a middle ranking tournament at Hastings (1938/39) over the New Year 1937-39.

Euwe was Dutch champion in 1938 and 1939, decisively beating Salo Landau, who had been the 1936 Dutch champion, in a match for the 1939 championship (+5 –0 =5).

Apart from his victory at Bournemouth (1939) ahead of Ernst Ludwig Klein and Salomon Flohr, (August 1939), Euwe restricted himself to only local tournaments in Holland before this match. His victories included Amsterdam (VARA) in May 1939, Baarn (A), and Amsterdam (KNSB), won jointly with Laszlo Szabo Salomon Flohr



Keres and Reuben Fine had won AVRO (1938), a tremendously strong tournament which included Alekhine and Jose Raul Capablanca in its stellar line-up of eight of the top ten players in the world. Keres won on tiebreak having defeated Fine 1½–½ in their individual two games.

This tournament, with the participation of world champion Alekhine, should have created the next FIDE challenger and so determined the next world title challenger. A new cohort of players were entering the elite, and Keres was seen as a potential world champion. According to Jose Raul Capablanca :

"Amongst the new talents there are two who stand out more as great masters than the others: Mikhail Botvinnik, on a secondary level, Keres. Also Alekhine, of course; but he is not new; he is old like me. Keres plays admirably well; his sense of fantasy is enormous, his imagination fiery. But his judgment is unsteady. He does not always know if the game in front of him is won, lost or drawn; and when it is won it also sometimes happens that he does not know for sure why and how it is won". 5

After AVRO, Keres played against Gideon Stahlberg in a match (Gothenburg), 20th April - May 1938 which ended with a draw +2=4-2. 6

Keres was living a very demanding life. From 1937 to 1941 apart from his burgeoning chess career, Keres studied mathematics at the University of Tartu, and after his great victory at AVRO, Keres was feted in municipal celebration across his native Estonia.

With too little time to rest and prepare, Keres played indifferently in the Leningrad/Moscow training (1939), January 3rd - February 1st 1939, first: 1. Salomon Flohr - 12 out of 17 ; 2. Samuel Reshevsky - 10.5; ...12-13. P. Keres and Vasily Smyslov – 8.

In the spring of 1939, he won the tournament in Margate (1939) ahead of Capablanca. Keres then played for Estonia at the Chess Olympiad in 1939 in Buenos Aires, August 21st to September 19, 1939, on top board, (+11 −5 =3); the Estonian team winning the bronze medal.

During this Olympiad, on the 1st September 1939, Germany invaded Poland; Britain and France declared war on Germany two days later. All the members of German team, including their strongest player Erich Eliskases, chose to remain in Argentina, as did the other elite players such as: Miguel Najdorf and Gideon Stahlberg.

Despite the outbreak of war, Keres did not stay in Argentina. Keres played in Buenos Aires (1939) - from August 21st to September 19th 1939, sharing first with Miguel Najdorf. He then returned home to Estonia. In this dangerous and turbulent period, he accepted the Dutch invitation to play Euwe, and travelled to Holland rather than undertake a previously contemplated tour of the USA.



Game 1 - 24th December 1939 --- Amsterdam
Game 2 - 25th December 1939 --- Amsterdam
Game 3 - 27th December 1939 --- Utrecht
Game 4 - 29th December 1939 --- Amsterdam
Game 5 - 30th December 1939 --- Amsterdam
Game 6 - 1st January 1940 ------- The Hague
Game 7 - 2nd January 1940 ------ The Hague
Game 8 - 3rd January 1940 ------- Amsterdam
Game 9 - 5th January 1940 ------- Rotterdam
Game 10 - 6th January 1940 ------ Rotterdam
Game 11 - 7th January 1940 ------ Rotterdam
Game 12 - 10th January 1940 ----- Amsterdam
Game 13 - 13th January 1940 ----- Hilversum
Game 14 - 14th-15 January 1940 -- Amsterdam

The match almost collapsed at the last moment. Keres, after the Olympiad in Buenos Aires returned to Tallinn via Gibraltar, Genoa and Berlin. He had had planned to then travel to Amsterdam by train. He, however, had to contend with visa difficulties, so the trip had to commence from Stockholm, but the ferry to Stockholm was over-booked. Keres was about to telegraph the Euwe Committee that the match would not take place, when he heard that a group of people in Riga had arranged a private aeroplane charter from Stockholm. He managed to persuade them to give him a seat. These travel problems could not have helped his frame of mind or physical preparation for the match. 7

The official opening of the match was held on the 23rd December at the Hotel Gooiland, in Hilversum. Keres gave a short speech. He said that he was very happy to be back in the Netherlands, where he felt totally at home, thanks to his three previous visits, namely Zandvoort (1936), Noordwijk (1938) and AVRO (1938). He stated that the task that awaited him would be very onerous as Dr Euwe was one of the best match players in the world. Keres expressed his hopes that the quality of the games would be high and gallantly wished that the best man would win. 8

Euwe also spoke and stating his belief that the "very young Keres" would undoubtedly be a future world champion, but the Dutch champion wryly hoped that this would happen "only in ten or fifteen years’ time". 9

The Games

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Euwe ½ ½ 1 1 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 0 ½ 1 - 6½ Keres ½ ½ 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 1 0 1 ½ 0 - 7½

Progressive score:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Euwe ½ 1 2 3 3 3 4 4 4 4 5 5 5½ 6½ Keres ½ 1 1 1 2 3 3 4 5 6 6 7 7½ 7½

Game 1

Later analysis established that Euwe had an opportunity to gain an advantage from the opening, but instead mass exchanges on the Q-side eventually led to a drawn position.

Game 2

Euwe defended using his favourite Open Spanish and the game followed Keres- Euwe , Stockholm in 1937,. Keres introduced an innovation <11. Qe1>, but it proved ineffective. Euwe was able to equalise with little trouble.

Game 3

Keres played a pawn sacrifice which gave him little compensation against Euwe’s accurate play.

In the third successive Spanish opening, Euwe scored the first win of the match. The game followed the theory of the times for 17 moves with Keres sacrificing a pawn for activity. Keres then was outplayed and his defence was marred by several blunders. He resigned in a hopeless position faced with an inevitable mate.

Game 4

Keres again played the Spanish, but in this game Euwe payed a closed variation. After a long struggle, in which neither player had gained the advantage, Keres miscalculated. He sacrificed a pawn to allow his <b> pawn to advance, but Euwe found a tactical refutation for this scheme and ended three pawns up.

Game 5

Despite his success with the Spanish (+2=2-0), Euwe chose to open with a <d> pawn opening. Keres may have been surprised but he was not unduly disturbed, Euwe soon had the worst of it. Keres played very well to establish a Rook on Euwe’s second rank. Keres won a pawn and went into an ending in which he won despite the presence of opposite coloured Bishops.

Game 6

Euwe found himself in an inferior position from the opening. He then managed to effect some simplification but remained under positional pressure. Keres gained space on the K-side, but was still not clearly winning until Euwe sealed a poor 43rd move. This left the Dutch champion him in a cramped position. Keres played extremely accurately in the ending to break through on the Q-side and win.

Game 7

The first eleven moves followed Game 1. Keres built up a promising position, having compromised his opponent's King-side defences, but then he carelessly blundered a piece away.

click for larger view

After <30.Bc4!> Kh8 31.Rxe4! wins the piece as recapture allows an instant mate.

Game 8

In a Slav Defence, both players chose sharp attacking lines. Keres as White emerged with the advantage. With Keres’ King still in the centre, Euwe sacrificed a Knight on <e5> for two central pawns creating a highly tactical position. In the ensuing melee of attack and counter-attack, Euwe had a chance of snatching a draw, but and his King was chased down the K-side into a mating net.

Game 9

Keres 23rd move was a: “breathtakingly brilliant positional sacrifice of the Queen. This game…was later called “The Ninth”, in reference to Beethoven’s last symphony.” 10

Keres commented that: "Euwe played the opening inaccurately and lost a pawn, obtaining in return only highly problematic counter-chances on the K-side. In order to eliminate these possibilities, I offered a positional Queen sacrifice , after the acceptance of which, Black's Rooks and Bishops began operating with destructive power" 11

Keres sacrificed as pawn <22.d3> in order to then play a terrific Queen sacrifice taking the <Rd3>

click for larger view

Game 10

Euwe had almost equalised as Black when he overlooked a sharp tactical pawn sacrifice by Keres on move 16. Taking the pawn lost so instead Euwe, in his own words,"gave up two pawns, hoping for counter-play on the K-side"...but his threats proved insufficient and despite both players being short of time "the ending (was) untenable". 12

Game 11

Keres played a rare line in the Slav with <6… Qa5>. This variation was practically refuted by Euwe’s successful opening plan which was later adopted by Botvinnik vs Denker, 1945 (radio match 1945). After these two sharp defeats, this variation has rarely been tried.

click for larger view

Euwe’s <21. Nh5> (Re1! being the solid alternative to maintain the advantage) may have been too sharp. Instead of Keres’ <21...f6>, the move <21…Be2> which was suggested during the game seems to lead to a forced draw.

21...Be2 22.Nf6+ gxf6 23.Rg3+ Kh8 <24.f3!> (better than 24.Bh6 suggested at the time) 24…Rg8 25.Rxg8+ Kxg8 26.Bh6 Qc8 27.Qb2 Bc4 28.Qf2 Kh8 29.Qh4 Qd8 30.Qg4 Qg8 31.Qf4 Qg6 32.Qb8+

Euwe won prettily with:

click for larger view

31.Qd8 after which Keres resigned

Game 12

" the twelfth game Euwe was simply unrecognisable and lost almost without a fight..." 13 Keres played a Reti opening which Euwe invited him to transpose into a Queen's Gambit Accepted. Euwe on the 6th move weakened his Q-side gravely and unnecessarily with <6...b5>

click for larger view

apparently fixated with typical Queen Gambit manoeuvers:

"This move, which can be very strong in the Queen's Gambit, is out of order in the present and quite different circumstances. The advanced pawns are soon subjected to an attack which proves embarrassing for Black. Correct was <6...Nc6> and <7..e6> to be followed by normal developing moves." (Euwe) ". 14

In the remainder of this short game, Euwe was dispirited and played poorly. He lost the right to castle and soon had "practically no moves left" and Keres playing "relentlessly" won in 23 moves.

The game was later followed as far as move 16 with Deep Thought as Black against Unzicker (Hanover 1991). Deep Thought varied with <16...b4> but still lost.

Game 13

"In the thirteenth game, Euwe played so nervously for the offensive that that he soon found himself with a very inferior game and was only too glad to accept his opponent's offer of a draw". 15

Euwe could not gain any advantage against Keres’ Queen Indian. He sacrificed a pawn which gave him positional compensation but still no tangible advantage. Euwe then, probably more mindful of the state of the match score than the objective requirements of the position, made a superficial attacking move. This gave Keres a superior game and Euwe was glad to agree to his proposal of a draw.

Game 14

"...Euwe's best achievement in this uncompromising encounter…" 16

Euwe defended with a QGA and the game followed contemporary theory until move 13. Keres played passively and this allowed Euwe to develop a significant initiative. With his two bishops and his Queen raking his opponent's King-side, Euwe won the exchange.

Euwe had to overcome Keres' determined defence in a complex ending. His eventual victory attracted praise for the quality his endgame technique.


"at the insistence of the Euwe Committee, an arrangement was made for a return match against Keres immediately after the end of the first match. It was to take place in 1941..." 17 18

Unfortunately this was not to be. The day after the conclusion of the match, the "Rotterdamsch Nieuwsblad" newspaper lead with the following headlines:

"The (Dutch) Motor Vessel Arendskerrk torpedoed by German submarine."

"The war enters Finland. Russian terror from the air."

Germany was to invade the Low Countries and the Dutch forces surrendered on the 14th May 1940. Soon afterwards, on 6th August 1940, Estonia too was occupied by the Soviet Union. The fates of Euwe and Keres were to be determined not by any civilised competition but in the chaos and suffering of a world war.

Match Books

Euwe wrote a match book in Dutch: "Dr. Max Euwe, Euwe - Keres 1939/40", published by "De Schaakwereld" in 1940.

Emanuel Lasker wrote, "The 14 games played in the match between Paul Keres and Max Euwe (Holland 1939/40)", New York 1940. 19


1 See

2 Keres in "Chess Review", March 1941, p. 51-53. The rivals mentioned (apart from Keres) being: Botvinnik, Capablanca, Euwe, Fine, Flohr and Reshevsky.

3 "Euwe - Keres 1939/1940", Euwe (in Dutch)

4 "Zaans Volksblad", 23rd December 1939.

5 Capablanca quoted and translated by Winter.

A translation of an interview with Capablanca published in the Buenos Aires magazine "El Gráfico", 1939 and reprinted on pages 103-107 of "Homenaje a Capablanca" (Havana, 1943). See -

6 See -

7 "De Residentiebode", 23rd December 1939.

8 "De Telegraaf", 24th December 1939.

9 "Het Vaderland", 24th December 1939.

10 "Paul Keres’ Best Games", vol.1. , Egon Varnusz, p.102.

11 Keres quoted in "My Great Predecessors, Part 2", Kasparov, p.78.

12 "The Keres-Euwe Match" quotes taken from notes by Euwe, "Chess Review", April 1940, p.65.

13 "My Great Predecessors, Part 2", Kasparov, p82.

14 "The Keres-Euwe Match", "Chess Review", May 1940, p.90.

15 "The Keres-Euwe Match" by Fred Reinfeld, "Chess Review", January 1940, p.27.

16 "My Great Predecessors, Part 2" Kasparov, p82.

17 "Max Euwe: The Biography", Alexandr Munninghoff, p.241.

18 "Het Volksdagblad", 16th January 1940.

19 Books by Emmanuel Lasker quoted in Bibliography of "Emanuel Lasker: Second World Chess Champion", By Isaak Linder

Game 1
Euwe vs Keres, 1939 
(C91) Ruy Lopez, Closed, 31 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 2
Keres vs Euwe, 1939 
(C83) Ruy Lopez, Open, 41 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 3
Euwe vs Keres, 1939 
(C79) Ruy Lopez, Steinitz Defense Deferred, 42 moves, 1-0

Game 4
Keres vs Euwe, 1939 
(C78) Ruy Lopez, 59 moves, 0-1

Game 5
Euwe vs Keres, 1939 
(E32) Nimzo-Indian, Classical, 39 moves, 0-1

Game 6
Keres vs Euwe, 1940 
(E33) Nimzo-Indian, Classical, 55 moves, 1-0

Game 7
Euwe vs Keres, 1940 
(C91) Ruy Lopez, Closed, 30 moves, 1-0

Game 8
Keres vs Euwe, 1940 
(D10) Queen's Gambit Declined Slav, 35 moves, 1-0

Game 9
Euwe vs Keres, 1940 
(E19) Queen's Indian, Old Main line, 9.Qxc3, 34 moves, 0-1

Game 10
Keres vs Euwe, 1940 
(E33) Nimzo-Indian, Classical, 49 moves, 1-0

Game 11
Euwe vs Keres, 1940 
(D13) Queen's Gambit Declined Slav, Exchange Variation, 31 moves, 1-0

Game 12
Keres vs Euwe, 1940 
(A09) Reti Opening, 23 moves, 1-0

Game 13
Euwe vs Keres, 1940 
(E19) Queen's Indian, Old Main line, 9.Qxc3, 23 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 14
Keres vs Euwe, 1940 
(D28) Queen's Gambit Accepted, Classical, 61 moves, 0-1

14 games

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