MAX EUWE – Amsterdam’s remarkable chess champion

Max Euwe - sculpture by Jose Finhaut, 2004.

Only once has an amateur ever become world chess champion. Dutch maths teacher Max Euwe held the title from 1935-37.

If you’ve ever been to Amsterdam, you’ve almost certainly passed the little square called the Max Euwe Plein, between the busy Leidseplein and the Rijksmuseum.

Jose Finhaut’s statue of Euwe looks down on the oversized chessboard where anybody who doesn’t mind getting advice from bystanders can have a game.

Max Euwe Plein is an unashamed tourist trap, with the Hard Rock Cafe, an Irish pub, Wagamama and Holland Casino and tourists wobbling through it on recently rented Macbikes.

Certainly not Amsterdam's most beautiful spot, but one of its most interesting.

Behind the statue is the Max Euwe Centrum, a small museum dedicated to the promotion of the game at which Max excelled.

Entry is free, opening times are Tuesday-Friday 12.00-16.00 and guide Cor gave me a tour.

The first surprise was to hear that the building was once the feared Weteringschans Prison, Gestapo HQ during German occupation of Amsterdam. It is likely that Anne Frank and her family spent the night after their arrest in a cell here.

"Euwe Does It!" reads the headline on the right.

When happier times arrived, the prison was decommissioned and made room for the chess centre. It tells the history of the game and naturally, it tells the inspiring Max Euwe story.

In 1935, reigning world champion Alexander Aljechin challenged Euwe to play him for the world title. Euwe had given up playing at that time, but accepted the challenge and prepared himself for the contest by taking boxing lessons.

In a series of 30 matches played over 80 days, Euwe prevailed 15 1/2 – 14 1/2 and held the title for the following two years before losing a rematch.

He subsequently wrote numerous books on chess and was president of the world chess federation FIDE during the legendary Fischer/Spassky duel in 1972. Euwe died in 1981, aged 80.

Cor shows me the library of 10,000 books about chess. Two large bookcases are dedicated to works on openings alone.

‘Is there so much to tell?’ I asked innocently.

Cor shook his head sadly. ‘You don’t know much about chess, do you?’

I freely admitted that I didn’t. But there are plenty who do, and visitors come from around the world to pay homage to Max the maths teacher.

Max gives a geometry class at Amsterdam Girls' High School. Photo: Ben van Meerendonk/Algemeen Hollands Fotopersbureau

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