A match between Max Euwe and Jan Hein Donner for the championship of the Netherlands.
This ten-game match for the Dutch Championship took place from 27th December 1955 to 7th January 1956. It was housed in the Dagblad Het Binnenhof newspaper's offices at 42 Prinsegracht in the centre of The Hague, Netherlands. It was played in an office on the first floor with a large glass front with both players clearly visible to the pedestrians below. On the ground floor, windows were large demonstration boards for the spectators milling around on the pavement. (1, 2)
Euwe had lost the national championship narrowly to Donner in 1954. This match was one of youth versus experience; a challenge to the established order. The Dutch press treated it as a national event, and the radio stations provided a dedicated radio programmes on the match days. Donner would become Dutch Champion again (in 1957 and 1958). In 1958, he narrowly failed to qualify for the Portoroz Interzonal (1958) losing a match against Bent Larsen for the last qualifying place from the Wageningen Zonal (1957) - Donner - Larsen Zonal Playoff (1958).
In 1958, Donner would become the second Dutch Grandmaster after Euwe.
Euwe, as the ex-world champion still considered himself as the premier Dutch player. He had bestrode the Dutch chess world as a Colossus for three decades.
"Understandably, Euwe did not take the loss of 'his' national title lying down. The revenge mechanism devised for these situations was invoked and sponsors materialised out of nowhere ... Donner, normally not given to admiring the feats of his opponents, was remarkably modest: "My position was a bit like the pupil playing his teacher, of course, with desperate thoughts along the lines of what do I know that this man doesn’t? Which is not exactly the required fighting spirit." Donner continued: "Another reason why I couldn’t do anything against him was that I had been brought up as a Euwian ..."" (3)
Progress of the match
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
Euwe ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ ½ ½ 7
Donner ½ 0 0 ½ ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 3
Euwe had white in the odd-numbered games. Donner did not win a single game.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Euwe ½ 1½ 2½ 3 3½ 4½ 5½ 6 6½ 7
Donner ½ ½ ½ 1 1½ 1½ 1½ 2 2½ 3
Photographs of the match
"All chess lovers in the country will be staying up a bit later than usual in the evening in order to follow the course of the chess match between Euwe and Donner into the late hours. It praiseworthy of the radio broadcasting associations that they have decided to jointly broadcast this national event. ... It is also interesting that Dr Euwe ... is willing to comment on his games, if the battle on that day has already concluded by eleven o'clock ... it is a pleasure to hear the master speak about the game, in which he sometimes honestly reproaches his play, sometimes expresses his satisfaction, but he is always extremely sportsman-like in his assessment." (4)
A Queen's Gambit Exchange with Euwe as White. Euwe played vigorously and initiated a King-side attack. Donner defended accurately and after 24 moves a draw was agreed.
Donner defended with an Open Spanish, a long established favourite despite his problems with this defence in 1948. Donner used the 9. Qe2 variation which Keres had used so effectively against Euwe in that tournament. Donner played aggressively but was tactically outplayed.
"2nd Game DONNER-EUWE THE HAGUE, 28 Dec. - The second match of the two-camp J.H. Donner - Dr M. Euwe was won by Dr Euwe. Donner, who played white, resigned the game at the 34th move. Dr Euwe now has the lead with a one-and-a-half point against Donner's half a point." (5) "(From our chess correspondent, Dr M. Euwe). My second game against Donner was finished well within the allotted time last night ... Donner opened with the King's pawn and I defended myself with the open version of the Spanish game, a continuation, which has an aggressive character and was warmly recommended half a century ago by Dr Siegbert Tarrasch. Since then, theorists from all countries have constantly examined this "variation" with the result that the Tarrasch continuation has practically disappeared from the tournament game of the masters. This is not surprising: it should not befit the black player to take the initiative, however, the open game remains an overwhelming weapon and as such, I used it today in the second game of the match. Donner chose a Russian variation and his eleventh move was a recommendation of Vasily Smyslov, but I was prepared for it." (6) Position after Euwe's 13...Na5:
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"My thirteenth move was a novelty, a pawn sacrifice which Donner did not dare to accept. The result of this was that he had then to cope with complications which he could not ultimately resolve. Donner's nineteenth move was a mistake and cost two pieces for a Rook after interesting complications. There was still play in the position but after the 25th move the danger was finally neutralised and then the remaining moves were only a matter of technique ..." (6)
Euwe once again played the Queen's Gambit Exchange variation. He maintained a slight advantage, and his precise play kept Donner under pressure. Donner was left with a weakness on <c6> which Euwe very effectively exploited.
"Euwe-Donner .. The third match of the two-championship chess between Dr M. Euwe and H. Donner for the championship of the Netherlands was won by Euwe after 38 moves. The fourth match ended on the 30th move, on Donner's proposal as a draw. Euwe now leads with 3-1." (7)
Donner reprised his 1.e4 opening and a second Spanish Open followed. Both sides played accurately and a draw was agreed on move 30.
“The fourth game of the H. Donner - Dr M. Euwe match has ended in a draw at the suggestion of Donner after the 30th move. Dr Euwe is now leading 3 - 1 after four games. Would the arrears of two points discourage Donner? That was the question that many posed after the two victories by the former world champion; the answer to this imponderable soon appeared.
The numerous attendees in the press room on the first floor, separated by a glass wall from the player's room, in the lower hall and in front of the building of "Het Binnenhof" this time had an exciting duel. For this fourth game, Donner again chose the Spanish Opening, but on the fourteen he deviated from the second game. What he played forced Euwe to find a very accurate defence. At his nineteenth move the ex-world champion thought for an hour, and with success, because after that any advantage for Donner was presumed to be lost. Incidentally, this was only after breathtaking manoeuvres - a nice game that shows that Donner does not intend to lay down his arms.” (8)
Whilst Euwe opened with 1.d4, Donner transposed into a Caro-Kann defence. The game followed Furman vs Korchnoi, 1954, but unlike Furman, Euwe swapped material off and a draw was agreed in 19 moves. Euwe was in the lead in the match and it was clearly up to Donner to force the pace of the match.
The 6th game took place on the on 3rd January 1956. (9) Donner for the first time in the match opened 1.d4. Euwe played a King's Indian Defence. Donner took a risk with
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15.f4, but this proved disastrous. Euwe saw the weaknesses created in his opponent's King-side. Donner was tactically outplayed and resigned after only 22 moves.
"Euwe-Donner 4½-1½. The state of the chess match between Dr Euwe and champion. Donner is after six matches 4½ - 1½ in favour of Dr Euwe. Three games ended in a draw and three were won by Dr Euwe. There are now four games to be played; from which Euwe only needs to get one point, to recapture the Dutch chess champion's title." (10)
"Sixth game is decisive for the match. Dr Euwe's brilliant victory is another point towards the title. Donner completely lost after 22 moves. (From our special reporter) The Hague, Jan 3. - In his column Donner yesterday, after the fifth game, announced, that the experiment playing without seconds in the second half of the match could still be discussed. We have been spared from working through the night by the remarkable speed with which either a decisive decision was reached or a draw has been agreed. The average number of moves of the first five games has been far below, for example, the ten games against Alekhine in 1927 (December 1926 - January 1927, Alekhine - Euwe Training Match (1926) - e.d.) which instigated Euwe's career as a grandmaster. Was Donner planning to have extra provisions, extra smoking and writing utensils and a blanket to be prepared for all possible contingencies? In any case, he had excited the curiosity of the Hague audience: not only was downstairs room crowded at half past seven, but people were also pushing outside in front of the spectacle and staring hypnotised at the demonstration board. Then there was something great to see! The direct attack continues with a full Rook less. The most amazing thing was that he could have avoided this second sacrifice; with
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18.Bg7 instead of 18...Rxe4, Black would still have a certain win. "A duplicate solution," said Euwe, smiling after the game, "but I wanted somewhat more ..." The continuation was not that difficult anymore and was therefore found in many different versions by the experts. But not only Donner but also us experts had been given our lesson, by the 22nd move when White resigned in a totally lost position. Euwe thought for an hour before he made his first sacrifice. That he was brooding on something was clear, but he surely would not come up with the unhappy idea 16.Bxh3? That's how the whole press thought; the spectre of the time scramble was invoked, Donner's counter-chances were widely considered - but not deeply - and in the chorus, the evidence was provided that the entire Dutch chess world consisted of little children in comparison with a Euwe ... In the analysis between Donner and Euwe after the game, the masters agreed that Donner's real mistake had been 15.f4 ... In short, Euwe had seen everything from Donner's pawn sacrifice and his splendid conception ... There is no doubt that this sixth game is decisive. Not only for the score but for the profound impression that a so magisterial game has made his opponent. A game of this class, played by a 54-year-old, is unique in the so rich chess literature." (11)
Donner now three games down in the match, equalised as Black playing a Grunfeld Defence. He played a pawn sacrifice which Euwe accepted. Donner could not build an initiative and in the end lost a second pawn and soon after the game. Euwe had now won the match, although the remaining games were played out.
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Euwe played 42.Bc6! Black has severe difficulties protecting his Rook; if 42...Bg6 then 43.c5!
"Donner resigns after six hours. (From our chess editor, Dr M. Euwe). Finally the night session. After a fierce battle of five hours, an endgame came into being, in which I possessed an extra pawn. After another hour of play, I finally succeeded last night in converting the advantage which I had gained in the first session. It was a King's Indian opening in which I gained some spatial advantage. Given the state of the match, I did not want to take any risks and took the first opportunity (12.d5) to wrap up the game. Notwithstanding the simplification, I kept sufficient pressure on Donner's position and as he does not feel so at home in purely defensive positions, Donner sacrificed a pawn (17...Be6) in the hope of taking over the initiative.
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However, this only succeeded in part; I continued to have small and large threats and it looked like I would win a quick victory. Donner, however, defended himself excellently and as the playing time passed, it became clear that no decision would be made before the adjournment. The game was adjourned in a critical position. After the break, it soon became apparent that Donner had to give up a second pawn in order to escape immediate defeat. There was then a rook endgame of three pawns against one, which although it still posed problems, in the long run, was unsustainable for Donner. Donner resigned at about half past one. That is to say, I have retaken the championship title. The remaining three matches will be played on the next three days." (12)
"(From our special reporters) THE HAGUE, Wednesday. It was busy at the "Binnenhof" building on the Prinsengracht in The Hague, when the match between Jan-Hein Donner and his challenger, Dr Max Euwe, entered its decisive phase. Many prominent figures from the chess world had come to watch. They saw what they should expect: Donner, lighting one cigarette with another ... the former-world champion eating fruit and nut mix. Jan-Hein played under the pressure of his previous losses, he lost a pawn after weak defensive play and Euwe did not let the chance slip away." (13) Herman Pilnik noted that "in the Dutch newspapers you read that the grandiose attack and sacrifice, as Euwe played Tuesday, is unique for a grandmaster at the age of 54. That is certainly not correct. Just think of the old Emanuel Lasker and the magisterial victory of 80-year-old Dr Ossip Bernstein against my compatriot Najdorf, recently in a South American tournament (O Bernstein vs Najdorf, 1954 - e.d.). Pilnik discussed the game along with Fenny Heemskerk, the Dutch ladies champion, and had a lively discussion with her about the advantages and disadvantages of a championship match against a tournament. (13)
"One of the most expert and interested spectators in the warm, smoky upper room was the German-Argentinian grandmaster Herman Pilnik, just arrived from Iceland, to participate in the Hoogovens tournament in Beverwijk ... Pilnik immediately equipped himself with a pocket chessboard, and carefully examined the position between Euwe and Donner. "Yes", he concluded in an amiable tone, "by 12.d5 Euwe can play without any significant risk of losing. The transformation to the endgame on the next moves is then almost forced and then Donner's wing will be exposed to an annoying pressure." Indeed, the entire variant predicted by Mr Pilnik came on the board a little later." (13)
"It would be an exaggeration to say that the Prinsegracht, where the "Het Binnenhof" building is located, was filled by the public of the Euwe - Donner match, but there were hundreds of chess players crammed together by the end of the game at half-past ten to learn that Donner had resigned the seventh match against Euwe on the 54th move, the 54-year-old Dr Max Euwe had deprived his old rival of the title of Dutch champion ... As you know, Donner had seized the national title two years ago in a tournament ... In a game that lasted longer than one of the previous six, the Dr Euwe very quickly gained an advantage. Donner played relatively weakly and only when the battle seemed hopeless did he move up a gear, but this, however, proved futile ... When Euwe, after analysis and filming, came out at one o'clock, an enthusiastic applause of the crowds echoed on the street, which proved how popular the "new" champion among Dutch chess players is." (14)
Having decisively lost the match, Donner played an English opening but had little appetite to try to score a consolation point with White. The game was drawn at move 16.
Donner replied to Euwe's 1.d4 with a Czech Benoni. It seems his fighting spirit had returned after the previous game. Despite this, Euwe maintained an advantage in space and was never troubled.
Donner played a known draw line of the Exchange Slav, following Botvinnik vs P Trifunovic, 1947 up to the same draw on the 13th move.
This was a decisive victory for the 54-year-old Max Euwe against 28-year old Jan Hein Donner. Afterwards, a formal dinner took place with the mayor of The Hague F.M.A. Schokking presenting both players with a book. Donner graciously congratulated Euwe on his victory.
"Ex-world champion was well prepared. Why did Euwe win? First of all, we can see that the ex-world champion was better prepared than Donner, which emerged from the novelties in the first, second and third games. Donner was able to recover — in the fourth game, he came up with a novelty, which probably means the refutation of Euwe's idea in the second game — but Donner was forced to have to choose alternative openings with both white and black." (15)
Surprisingly, Donner and Euwe would only play once more after the match despite being their era's leading Dutch players.
(1) Newsreel film of the event: Eerste NTS-Journaal (5th January 1956), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JYy...
(2) Newsreel film of the event: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3a...
(3) Max Euwe: The Biography, Munninghoff, Alexandr. New in Chess, Chapter 12
(4) De Telegraaf, Dutch newspaper, 5th January 1956
(5) Limburgsch Dagblad, Dutch newspaper, 29th December 1955
(6) Het Vrĳe Volk, Dutch newspaper, 29th December 1955
(7) Java-bode, Dutch newspaper, 2nd January 1956
(8) Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Dutch newspaper, 31st December 1955
(9) Limburgsch Dagblad, 4th January 1956
(10) De Nieuwsgier, Dutch newspaper, 5th January 1956
(11) De Volkskrant, Dutch newspaper, 4th January 1956
(12) Het Vrije Volk, 5th January 1956
(13) De Telegraaf, 5th January 1956
(14) Utrechts Nieuwsblad, 5th January 1956
(15) Utrechts Nieuwsblad, 9th January 1956
The attribution of the photographs of the match: 1. Daan Noske / Anefo CC0, via Wikimedia Commons. 2. Haagse Tijden.
This text and original research by User: Chessical. Thanks to: User: OhioChessFan for textural improvements and also to User: sneaky pete for information about the "Dagblad Het Binnenhof" newspaper.