Max Euwe (1901-1981) was world chess champion from 1935 to 1937 and was recognized as international grandmaster. He also served as a great ambassador for the game and served as president of FIDE during a crucial time.
Euwe was born near Amsterdam in 1901 and he learned the royal game from his mother at the age of four. At the age of ten, he entered and won his first tournament, and by the age of 20, he was the Dutch champion. He entered his first major international tournament in 1920, finishing second against world class competition. This is even more remarkable when you consider that chess was only a part-time hobby; he was studying philosophy at the time. He received his doctorate in philosophy in 1923 and took up teaching as a career.
Due to his teaching, he couldn't play as regularly as his rivals. He dabbled in it throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, remaining first and foremost a philosophy teacher. He did have much success even as a part time player, winning many tournaments and even garnering a match against the world champion, Alexander Alekhine, in 1926, which Euwe lost. In 1935, he qualified for the World Championships again and in a shocker defeated the champion at the time, Alexander Alekhine, 9 wins, 8 losses, and 13 draws, to become world chess champion. He remained champion until 1937, when he sportingly gave Alekhine a rematch and lost.
He played sparingly during World War II, mostly because of his refusal to play German opponents. As a result, his play became quite rusty. He did have some success in 1946, finishing second in a major tournament in Groningen, but in 1948, he came in dead last in the World Championships and largely retired from active play, only playing a few matches at various times.
Throughout the 1950's and 1960's, Euwe stayed involved with the game, writing and editing many books and newsletters about the grand game. From 1961 to 1963 he headed the Eurotom committee, a group seeking out the possibilities of programming chess for a computer. His greatest contribution, however, was as president of FIDE from 1970 to 1978.
Max became president of FIDE during 1970, and it was his single-minded determination that made the legendary 1972 "Match of the Century" between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky possible. The personal disagreement between the Russian and the American, as well as the fact that this was a symbolic Cold War on the chessboard, made this match very difficult to negotiate, but thanks to Euwe's determination, it came about. Euwe's first attempt at bringing both sides to the table was to declare that the match would be played half in Reykjavik, Iceland and half in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. The Russians protested at this, and Fischer said that no one had the authority to make decisions on his behalf, so Euwe was forced to renegotiate. Fischer continually refused to guarantee that he would play in Belgrade and Euwe stood by his side, stating that political beliefs shouldn't be an issue when the two men finally sat down at the chessboard. Eventually, the Romanians withdrew their offer and the match was held in Reykjavik; it went on to become perhaps the most famous chess match ever played. Without Euwe's determination, the men may have never sat down at the board together.
Max Euwe passed on in 1981, leaving behind a legacy of writings, ambassadorship, leadership, and great play in the world of chess.