A game of great delight. (Euwe - Keres, 1939.) 


This is a game I saw or went over when I was very young, I am sure that I studied it many times  ... before I turned 15. It has always brought a smile to my face and given me a 'tingly sensation"  ...  that I am at a loss of words to accurately describe. (Perhaps when I go over this game, I know in my heart that I have seen greatness, and perhaps touched genius.) It has always been my intent to offer this game to the public ... in a manner that befits this legendary player.  


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  Max Euwe (2718) - Paul Keres (2732)  
[E19]
Ninth (9) Match Game (Match: 1939-1940)  
  Holland; (NED) 1939  

  [A.J. Goldsby I]  

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One of my favorite games for this particular player. 

Rather than try to describe all the pyrotechnics of this marvelous game ... I think I will just allow the actual moves to speak for this game ... and this player. 

I will only add that I have been familiar with this game ... since the 1970's, and I have been over it literally hundreds of times. [For several years, I had an entire website devoted to this player, but it closed in the big ... "Dot-com" failure(s) that occurred in the late 1990's. This five-star contest was one of my first choices when picking the various games for that defunct site.] 

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{The ratings are fairly accurate and are derived from those I obtained from the website of statistician, Jeff Sonas. I have not changed them, but I do consider them to be low, by at least 25-50 points; especially when compared to the ratings of most of the modern players, today. For example, Euwe was # 7 in the world in 1939, according to Sonas. And according to the (FIDE) rating list for July, 2005 - the # 7 player in the world is GM P. Svidler. For this period, Svidler is rated 2738. Almost needless to say, other than possibly openings, I do NOT believe that the players of 1939 were in any way inferior to those of 2005. The only real question remains is, "Why the overall discrepancy in rating?" Personally, I think that players of the previous generation always get the "short end of the stick" when any type of comparison is made. The problem posed by Arpad Elo - "How do you accurately compare players of different generations?" - still remains with us.} 

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 1.d4 Nf6;  2.c4 e6;  3.Nf3 b6;   
A Queen's Indian Defense,  the great Estonian seemed capable of playing virtually any opening set-up. 
(As White or Black.)  (See my  "Game of the Month"  column,  Game # 24/Sept, 2005;  for more info.)  

 

 4.g3 Bb7;  5.Bg2 Be7;  6.0-0 0-0;  7.Nc3 Ne4;    
So far - so book, the fight is on for the critical e4-square. 
[ See MCO-14, page # 566; columns # 19 through col. # 22, and all applicable notes. ] 

Keres said he liked this move, which was simple and gave Black's somewhat cramped position, a little relief (through exchanges). 

 

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The position on the board is a very common one, and has occurred in dozens of high-level master games.  
(Almost 5,000 matches in a search by position of the "Mega" database!) The first master-level contest was played early in the 1920's. 

One of the examples between two top-rated players would have to be: 
GM A. Karpov - GM V. IvanchukICT / Tenth Super-GM 
Linares, ESP; 1992. {This game was drawn, 1/2 - 1/2; in 32 tense moves.} 

 

 8.Qc2 Nxc3;  9.Qxc3 d6;   
The immediate move of  ...Pawn/c7-c5;  is more active, and is the most popular move in the database today.  
(The move actually played, while questioned by some annotators, is fully playable - the computer sees no significant change in its "scores" of the position, after this play by Black.) 

 

 10.Qc2,   
White attempts to control the light squares, particularly e4. 
(Today, 10.b3 seems to be the most popular move for White in this position.) 

     [ Also played has been: 
        10.Qd3!? f511.Qe3!? Qc8;   Protects b7 and e6. 
        12.Ne1 Bxg213.Nxg2 Nc6 14.d5!? Nd815.Qd3 Bf6   
        16.Rb1 a517.b3 e5;  "~"  ("=" ?)  {Diagram?}   
        Black has no real problems, and actually went on to win the game.    

        D. Fridman (2562) - S. Atalik (2561)  
        CCA-ICC Open / (0-1, 39 moves.) / Lake George, USA; (R7) / 14,05,2005. 
        (The game started as 1.Nf3, but quickly transposed to a QID.) ]  

 

Both sides continue to debate the opening in a fairly logical manner.   
 10...f5!?;   [e6-square]   {See the diagram, just below.}   
This move highlights the continuing struggle over the e4-square, Black risks {minor} weaknesses to gain a 
little space and try to prevent the first player from easily obtaining the e2-e4 advance. (It is also 'book.')   

 

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I don't bother with trying to attempt to compare this game to modern opening theory, what the "TN" was in this game does not even concern me, as the game was played so long ago. Suffice it to say - - the play thus far has been more than adequate here, even by the most stringent of modern standards. 

     [ The parties can also try the following continuation:   
       (</=)  10...Nd7; ('!?')  11.Ng5! Bxg5 12.Bxb7 Rb813.Bc6,  "+/="  
        with a small edge for White.   

        (I could only find four games with this position in the "Mega" database,    
         and none of these featured strong, GM-strength players.) ]   

 

 11.Ne1,  
A popular move ... even today. 
(White immediately offers to swap on the long diagonal, neutralizing Black's Bishop on b7.)   

 

     [ Thematic is: 11.d5!?, "~"  for White. (Unclear, possibly "+/=")  
       (I consider it beyond the aim of this game to deeply analyze  
        this try for White - at this point.)   

   *****************************************************   

        The continuation of: 
        </= 11.Ng5? Bxg2!; 12.Nxe6 Qc8; ('!')  13.Nxf8 Bxf1;   "/+"     
        clearly favors Black. (Not so much an opening trap, as just bad play   
         ... for the first party, here. I only address these tactics - because so   
        many of the players who reviewed this game, wanted to look at this.) ]   

 

Keres responds by reinforcing his overall control of the key light squares.   
 11...Qc8!;  12.e4!?,  
Perhaps too forceful. 

     [ >/= 12.d5!, "~"  (Maybe "+/=") ]   

 

 12...Nd7;  13.d5!?,   
Is White trying too hard here? 
(Euwe understood enough about chess to know that if he can shut Keres's QB on the b7-square out of the game, he will have gained a fairly large advantage.) 

Keres awarded this move a full question mark ('?') ... but that is too harsh, at least in my opinion. 
(Nunn ... and many others repeat this criticism ... but they are just following Keres, and refusing to think any original or creative thoughts.) 

     [ (>/=) 13.exf5! exf514.Bf4, "~"  ("+/=") ]   

 

Now Keres begins to break down White's Pawn phalanx, Paul himself awarded his thirteenth move an exclam in his own collection of his best games. 
 13...fxe4!;  14.Qxe4?!,   
White [now] definitely crosses the line with this move; as a result of this errant play, Max Euwe loses a lot of tempi with the Queen. (Maybe - '?') 

Strangely - no other annotator, at least that I could discover - even bothers to question this particular move.  

     [ >/= 14.Bxe4 Nf6; 15.Bg5, "=" ]    

 

 14...Nc5;  15.Qe2 Bf6;  "=/+"   
Black is (now) already slightly better here, although only fifteen moves have been played.  

 

 16.Bh3!?,  (Maybe dubious?)   
Optically impressive ... but this pin just doesn't cut the mustard. But it takes brilliant play by Keres to show up all the flaws in Euwe's position. 

     [ Maybe just  16.Nc2!? instead? 
      (The logical move of 16.Nd3, should also be considered as well.) ]  

 

Now maybe 16...Qe8; ('!') is best ... 
(This was my choice of moves, when showed this game as a teenager, it is also the first choice of several different programs in the year, 2002.); however, Keres goes a different way. (Black's concept creates immediate difficulties for the position of the WQ on the e2-square here. Keres awards his 16th move an exclam, but after literally years of analysis, I am not really 100 per cent convinced.)   

However, I should {also} note that - in addition to Keres - nearly every other annotator, (like GM John Nunn); who looked at this contest awarded Black's 16th move one full exclamation point. 
 16...Re8; ('!')  17.Be3,    
Trying to make the most out of the pin (on e6) - this move just winds up creating more problems for poor Max Euwe.  

     [ Possibly an improvement was:   
       (>/=) 17.Nd3! exd518.Bxc8 Rxe2 19.Bxb7 Nxb720.cxd5 Nc5;  "~"     
       when Black is probably just a little bit better here, ("=/+") ... the second player   
       has more freedom for his pieces to move about. ]   

 

Now Black escapes the pin. (On the h3-c8 diagonal.)  

ChessBase awards Black's play on his 17th move TWO exclams!   
 17...Qd8!; ('!!')  18.Bxc5!?,   {See the diagram, just below.}   
It seems to run against chess logic for White to voluntarily open the e-file at this point. Of course, White is trying ... "to make something happen," but in this position, Euwe is only creating opportunities for his opponent.   

 

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This would be a good place for a diagram ... and to try and guess what move Black will play next.  

     [ The move of:   >/=  18.Bg2,  ('[]')   is basically an admission that White's entire strategy   
        has failed. (But this was probably forced ... and definitely better than what actually    
        happened in the game.) ]   

 

 18...exd5!!;  (WOW!!!)   
An unexpected zwischenzug. 

     [ Not  </= 18...bxc5; 19.Bxe6+,  etc. (White has an extra Pawn. '') ]   

 

 19.Be6+?!,  (Maybe even - '?')   
White is basically trying to create chances, and perhaps even pull a rabbit out of his hat. ... 
But he is just digging a deeper and deeper hole here. 
(Definitely - this is a move of doubtful merit, although a move that is much worse ... is still yet to come.)  

 [White eventually loses control of the crucial light-square complex ... which is all the more critical,   
   since 4.g3, weakened White's King-side ... just ever so slightly.]   

 '?' - GM Paul Keres (& ChessBase)   

Originally ... I only 'graded' this move ... as '!?' But after much thought, I decided that this was not as objective as it could be ... although I am not completely convinced that this move is as bad as all the other annotators have made it out to be. 

     [ The continuation of:   
        (>/=) 19.Be3, ('!')  19...d4!20.Ng2 dxe321.Nxe3 Bd4;  "=/+"  {D?}   
        might not have been pretty, but would have avoided the various histrionics 
        that occur in this game. ]  

 

 19...Kh8;  20.Rd1!? dxc5;   
This is a very good move, and allows Black a solid edge.  
(But 20...dxc4!; is probably best, and the first choice of Fritz here.)   

"20...bxc5; would have been simpler still, so as to meet 21.cxd5, with 21...Bxd5; 22.Rxd5, Qe7; while after 21.Ng2, Black can quietly play 21...dxc4. Nevertheless, the move played is also sufficient to make clear Black's advantage." 
< Paul KERES: The Road To the Top, >  by GM Paul Keres. Translated by Harry Golombek, series editor: GM John Nunn. An ICE (blue) book for the American Batsford Chess Library. Copyright (c) 1964 & 1966 by both Paul Keres and Harry Golombek. Printed by International Chess Enterprises, (ICE) in 1996. (Game # 34, beginning on page 174, continuing through page # 179.) {Purchased through Chess Cafe.} ISBN: # 1-879479-35-4 (pbk)  

 

     [ Perhaps the try of:  >/=  20...dxc4!?; ('!')  {Diagram?}     
        is an improvement over the game. (Maybe, and maybe not. 
        It's a very complicated game, almost nothing is easy ... or "cut-and-dried.")  

        BTW ... if you have any doubts that  ...dxc4;  is (or is not) the best move, just fire   
        up your favorite computer program, and see which move it picks in this position. ]   

 

 21.Ng2?,  (hmmm)   
Seeing that bad things lie in wait in the bushes ... Max Euwe decides to jump out of the hot cooking oil ...   
and leaps into the heart of the flames!  

The computers notice an immediate change in their valuations of the position after this play ... 
yet no other annotator, (that I am aware of); ...  
has even queried the worth of this particular move by GM Max Euwe.   

     [ Like it or not, White almost had to play the continuation of:   
        >/=  21.cxd5[]  21...Bd422.Qe4!? Ba6!23.Nd3 c6!;  "/+"  ("/\")  {Diag?}    
       (but) Black has a ton of play. (This line represents a big improvement of the analysis   
       of the key position in this game.) ]    

 

 21...d4;  (hmmm)   
Good enough for a solid advantage, but  >/= 21...Ba6!;  set up a deadly pin. (On the a6-f1 diagonal.)  
(ChessBase gives 21...Bd4!; "=/+"  instead.)   

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Now Fritz 6.0 looks at several moves, 22.Rfe1 may be forced. The move that is played in the game is more active, yet creates many more weak squares.  ("22.f4?" - the one and only, Paul Keres.)   

The move of f2-f4 is actually quite logical, White hopes to anchor his beleaguered Bishop (on e6) by playing 
the foot soldier to the f5-square.  
 22.f4!? d3!;  23.Rxd3[],   {See the diagram given, just below here.}  
This is positionally forced for White, the first party cannot tolerate a Pawn like the beauty on d3 for long at all. 

 

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This is another good place to take a look around.   
(Keres is about to play one of the most stunning moves of his whole career here.)   

     [ </= 23.Qe1?! Qd4+24.Kh1 Qxb2; "-/+" ]   

 

 23...Qxd3!!;   (Maybe - '!!!')    {See the diagram - just below.}   
A truly stunning and completely unexpected Queen sacrifice.   

Only ...  '!' - Paul Keres.   

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In my own opinion, this move is as  wild and as shocking as anything  ever played by Alekhine, Tal, Fischer  ... or even Garry Kasparov. (I have  shown this contest literally dozens of  times over the years, no one ever  picks this wondrous rejoinder!)  

     [ Maybe Euwe was looking at a continuation, maybe something like the following one:   
       (</=)  23...Bd4+!?; ('!')  24.Kh1 Qf625.f5 Re7; "=/+"  ("/+")  {Diagram?}   
       with great play for Black, but perhaps the {former} Champ thought he could   
       successfully defend his position. (?)  ]   

 

 24.Qxd3 Bd4+;  25.Rf2[],  (Urgh!!!)   
Ugly - yet this move is completely forced. 
(Playing the King in the corner, sets up a deadly pin, that loses even more quickly than in the actual game.)   

     [ </= 25.Kh1?! Rxe626.b4 Re327.Qc2 Rae8; "-/+" ]   

 

 25...Rxe6;  26.Kf1 Rae8!;  ('!!')     
Black has a slight material disadvantage ... but a monster of an attack here. 

Note that Black could have won the exchange with a capture of 26...BxR/f2; here ... but prefers to increase the pressure instead.   

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Now White is in dire straits ... his advance/sacrifice of his f-pawn, is done hoping that this idea will stir up some badly needed play.   
 27.f5!? Re5;  28.f6 gxf6;  29.Rd2,  {Box?}    
Seemingly one of the few good moves here for White, but maybe Euwe already needed to be thinking about more active measures (to try and save his game).   

     [ Maybe  (the move of)  29.Rf3!?,   was forced for White?   

     **********************************************************   

        But definitely not: 
        </=  29.Rxf6?? Bxg2+30.Kxg2 Re2+ 31.Kh3 Bxf6; ("-/+")  {D?}  
        when Black is winning on material. ]  

 

 29...Bc8!;  (nice)   
Now the pin at h3 will be deadly. 
(Black would then threaten an instant mate on the e1-square.)  

 

 30.Nf4 Re3!;  (wins a tempo)   
This forces the White Queen back.  

 

Now maybe White had to consider a desperate measure ... like Re2 here. 
(Or possibly even a Queen sack?)   
 31.Qb1!? Rf3+!;  32.Kg2 Rxf4!!;   {See the diagram - just below.}  
Seemingly already on the ropes ... Keres sacrifices yet another exchange, just to maintain his initiative.  

 

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Keres only gives this move one exclam here, but that is far too stingy, at least in my own {humble?} opinion. 

 

 33.gxf4!?,  (hmmm)    
It no longer matters here ... this move is seemingly forced, White cannot bear the loss of a Knight ...   
with nothing gained in return.   

 

     [ Another try was:  (>/=) 33.b4! Bb7+34.Kh3 f5!!;   35.Qd3!?,  (Fritz)    
        Not a great move ... but grabbing the material is instantly fatal.   

             ( </= 35.gxf4? Re3+;  36.Kh4 Bf6+; 37.Kh5 Rh3#. )    

        35...Rf336.Qc2 Rc337.Qb1 f4!38.Qd1 Bc8+39.Kg2 f3+;  ("-/+") 
        (and) Black's attack is crushing. ]   

 

Many of my students, when tested on this position, cannot seem to positively identify the best move here.  
(Quite a few try 33...Bb7+; hence the exclam for the move that was actually played by Paul Keres.)   
 33...Rg8+!;  34.Kf3,  (hmmm)   
The Dutchman avoids the loss of his Queen - but falls into a cleverly concocted mating web.   

     [ 34.Kf1!? Rg1+ 35.Ke2 Rxb1;  "-/+"   

      ******************************    
       34.Kh1?? Bb7+,  ("-/+")   
       {Its mate next move, no matter what reply 
         White comes up with.} ]   

 

 34...Bg4+!;  ("-/+")   (White resigns here, 0-1.)  
Now Euwe realizes that he must lose his Queen ... or be mated.   

 

     [ If you still need to be shown the win ... then here it is:   
        34...Bg4+!35.Kg3[],   This is forced for White.   

                                                  *******   

             ( Worse is: </= 35.Ke4? Re8+!36.Kd3!?, {D?} 
               At this point, it really does not matter what move White plays.   

                    ( Or >/= 36.Kd5 Bf3+!;  and a mate on the very next move,    
                       e.g., 37.Qe4, BxQ/e4#.) )    

               36...Bf5#. {Diagram?}   
              An incredible and rare mate ... right in the middle of the board! )   

                                                  *******   

        35...Bf5+36.Kf3 Bxb1;  ("-/+")  {Diagram?}     
        Black has an easy win on material. (Black is two pieces up, in the    
        final position of our analysis here!) ]  

 

An ULTRA-brilliancy by Keres!!!! (And one of his prettiest games.)   

 

  Copyright (c) A.J. Goldsby, 2002.  All rights reserved.  
[I first annotated this game many years ago, and it was VERY briefly 
done on a website I had on Keres, one that closed {I believe} in 1998 
or 1999. I (re-)did it on the computer in 2002; and updated and  
 revised this version of the game; in July/2005.] 

 ******* 

(Bibliography: The one-volume ARCO book ... of the life and games of this great player. Published: 1969.) 

 

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