Euwe was 47 years old, and Pirc 41. On Chessmetrics January 1949 rating list they are respectively 18th and 26th in the world ranking. They had played each other three times before the war, each game had been drawn.
This was Euwe's first full-length match since his victory over Efim Bogoljubov in Karlsbad 1941. Euwe avoided playing in Nazi sponsored tournaments during the war years.
At first Euwe played successfully after liberation. At Groningen (1946) (August - September 1946) he was second (+11 =6 -2) in a very strong field half-a-point behind Botvinnik and 1.5 points ahead of Smyslov and Najdorf, and at Venice (October 1948) he was 4th (+5 =6 -2), but the ex-world champion had recently suffered one of the worst results of his career (+1 -13 =6) in the FIDE World Championship Tournament (1948) (March - May 1948).
1949 had been busy and tiring for Euwe. He had undertaken an extensive chess tour which included the United States and Canada. After playing in New York in the Manhattan Club international tournament in December 1948, Euwe embarked on a long series of simultaneous displays in: Detroit, Chicago, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver, Winnipeg and San Juan (Puerto Rico). 1 It was reported that he was remaining in Americas as he would participate in the upcoming and strong Mar del Plata tournament but instead he returned to Holland.
This match was to be one of Euwe's last major events before he returned to teaching as his principal occupation. From here on, Euwe tended to concentrate on Dutch tournaments and team events and whilst a solid grandmaster he fell back from the elite. His last involvement in world championship chess was at
Zurich Candidates (1953) when he faded to second to last.
Vasja Pirc was the third ranked Yugoslav player after Svetozar Gligoric (the 1949 Yugoslav champion) and Petar Trifunovic (with whom he had been joint 1948 Yugoslav champion). He was playing high level chess as European chess revived after the war. He had been placed 11th equal with Gligoric just behind Trifunovic at the Saltsjöbaden Interzonal (1948). A strong grandmaster and five times champion of Yugoslavia; his top flight career began in the 1930's and faded from the mid 1950's. In the decade after the war, limited opportunities in chess led him to supplement his income as a school teacher and then a official for the chess section of the Slovenian Committee for Physical Culture. In this period, he was still able to develop his interest in opening theory and write several tournament and opening books.
Commenced: Wednesday 15th June 1949, 2 in the lake resort of Bled, Slovenia (then a federal republic of Yugoslavia). The first session of Game 6 and the final game were played in Ljubljana, the near-by capital of Slovenia. 2, 3, 4
According to the introduction to the tournament book by Edo Turnher, the President of the Slovenian Chess Association, the match had been supported and promoted by the Yugoslav Communist authorities to highlight
"the profound social changes in our country, the revolutionary struggle for socialism ... chess can be enjoyed by us through so much support from the national governments and within a plan of work to elevate the economic and cultural level of our homeland." 5
Game 1 - Bled - Wednesday, 15th June 1949
Game 2 - Bled - Thursday, 16th June 1949
Game 3 - Bled - Saturday, 18th June 1949
Game 4 - Bled - Sunday, 19th June 1949
Game 5 - Bled - Tuesday, 21st June 1949
Game 6 - Ljubljana and Bled - Thursday, 23rd & Saturday, 25th June 1949
Game 7 - Bled - Saturday, 25th June 1949
Game 8 - Bled - Sunday, 26th June 1949
Game 9 - Bled - Monday, 27th June 1949
Game 10 - Ljubljana - Wednesday, 29th June 1949
Pirc was White in the odd numbered games.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
Euwe 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 1 5
Pirc 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 0 5
As usual, Pirc played queen pawn openings exclusively, whilst Euwe played both <d> and <e> pawn openings. Their openings were the staples of grandmaster play of the 1930's: three Queen Gambits, three Queen's Gambit Declined Slav (D12), two Nimzo Indians, and two Sicilian (B56).
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Euwe 0 ½ 1 1½ 2 3 3 3½ 4 5
Pirc 1 1½ 2 2½ 3 3 4 4½ 5 5
Euwe twice came from behind in this match and had to win the final game to level the scores. Euwe's end-game technique proved especially valuable.
Pirc made subtle but losing errors in his endgame play in Game 6 (Euwe vs Pirc, 1949 - http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=... 6) and exchanged into a lost ending Game 10 (Euwe vs Pirc, 1949). He won both games 1 and 7 through precision in the middle-game, the latter being probably his best game of the match.
Overall, it was a match of careful openings in which the players did not attempt to avoid multiple exchanges of pieces leaving only minimal advantages. Pirc twice had a one-point advantage but neither he nor Euwe sought to play in a way which unbalanced the position simply for the sake of complications. Euwe seemed more inclined to play on having twice fallen behind, but despite being an openings expert he did not seek to sharpen the struggle from the opening moves. Consequently, after Euwe's loss in Game 1 when he got his pieces tied up on the Q-side and lost two pawns and the game,
Game 2 saw Euwe castling on the opposite side to his opponent, but without any of his pieces developed this did not lead to complications! Pirc as black equalised easily and a perpetual check resulted in 25 moves.
Game 3 was a very solid opening Slav well known to Pirc with an early <e3>. He broke up Blacks' kingside pawns but was left with only a minimal advantage and again a draw in 25 moves.
Game 4 was the first kingside opening of the match, and was sharper with Pirc playing a Sicilian in a manner favoured at the time by Gligoric. Euwe once again adopted a positional treatment with <7.Bg2> and K-side castling. Euwe built up pressure against Pirc's backward K-pawn, but it was not enough to ensure an advantage. Euwe could have played on but it seems that he judged he would be better to preserve his energy as his opponent would be quite capable of holding the position.
Game 5. Pirc played his solid system with an early <e3> against Euwe's Slav and emerged from the opening with a better pawn structure but with multiple exchanges leaving only two minor pieces left for each player Euwe was never in any serious danger.
Game 6. Euwe won a pawn and played onto realise his slender advantage. In a very instructive K+Ps endgame, Pirc won the pawn back but then made a technical error and lost when with best play he could have held the draw.
After winning Game 7, Pirc once again defended with a Sicilian. Euwe played the opening a in slow fashion that allowed his opponent to improve on known theory with a rapid <d5> and gain quick equality.
Game 9. Pirc played a QGD very carefully taking no chances and after multiple exchanges a draw was agreed in 25 moves.
Game 10. The final game was decided by Euwe's technique. Pirc came near to equalising as Black. He had a IQP to defend but liquidated it leaving a Q, R and minor piece ending. He then exchanged Queens into what, at first glance, seemed to be a routine drawn ending
but underestimated Euwe's skill in exploiting his superior Bishop. "This pawn formation, which in itself is bad for Black since his majority is crippled by backwardness, offers the Bishop fine targets and invites White's King to penetrate on either side." 7