Sunday, May 29, 2011

Part 6 ( Finale): Dr. Emanuel Lasker; Old Lions still have sharp teeth.

In 1911, Lasker was challenged by an up and coming star, Jose Raul Capablanca. Having witnessed Steinitz decent into poverty as a former chess champion, Lasker was reluctant because of the stipulation of “first to win ten games”. The match could last well over 6 months and the expenses to endure such a match were not prevalent. He made a counter-proposal. If neither player had a lead over 2 points by the end of the match, that it should be drawn AND the match be the best of 30 games. He had more stipulations but the gist was to favor the existing Champion. Capablanca didn’t like these rules ( especially the 2 point lead) and refused the match. Lasker took offense to the objections and broke off negotiations.

In 1912, Akiba Rubinstein and Lasker entered negotiations for a world title match. Rubinstein actually had a better tournament record than Capablanca. Again, Lasker pushed the envelope with asking for the challenger to come up with funds. Rubinstein didn’t have the funds and the match was never played.

In 1914, the St. Petersburg tournament saw a great collection of strong future players :Alekhine, Rubinstein, and Capablanca . It also had extended the invite to a couple of Master’s past their prime. Lasker was considered one in the corner ( as well as Blackburne). The tournament committee decide to hold two events. The five winners of the preliminary event would go on to the second. The event saw Rubinstein, Nimzovitch and Bernstein fall short of qualifying for the second event. Lasker was strong in the first event which qualified him for the second event. Despite a loss to Berstein and a draw to Nimzovitch, he managed to land in the finals a full point and half behind Capablanca. Here is a game against Rubinstein in the first section where he uses the rule of two weaknesses to land a favorable R and P endgame against an up and coming endgame genius.

The five winners of the first section were, Capablanca, Alekhine, Marshall, Tarrasch, and Lasker. Not on speaking terms with Capablanca, Lasker couldn’t afford any losses or draws. He had to win EVERY game in the second event. Indeed, he does this, with the deciding game in the second to last game against Capablanca. On Lasker’s 12th move, he demonstrates a better understanding of the position by playing a move that seems to create a nice hole for Black… only to allow a king side attack by White.


At the event, Capablanca proposed a new set of rules for the World Championship match which all the leading players accepted. But, World War I broke out and any talk about a World Championship match was on hold for the near future. During WWI, Lasker only played in a couple events.

An agreement was signed in 1920 between Capablanca and Lasker to play a much anticipate World Championship Match in 1921. In August of 1020, it was reported that Lasker had simply resigned the title of World Champion in favor of Jose Raul Capablanca mainly because he was concerned there was not enough funds. He couldn’t justify spending nine months on a match . He was not aware that Chess enthusiast in Havana had actually raised the money for the match ( provided it was played there). Upon hearing of Lasker’s resignation, Capablanca went to Holland to let him know that the money was there. In a letter dated in August 1920 confirming this agreement, it also stated that he would resign even if he beat Capablanca so that younger masters could compete for the title. (

The match was played between March –April 1921. The deciding game was really in game 5 where Lasker appears to blunder in an equal endgame.

Here is the game where on Black’s 34th move ( sealed move of an adjournment) he was quoted as saying:

“It is usual to attach a "?" to this move. "31...Kg6 was better. Then if 32.hxg5 Ne4 33.Qd3 Qg4+ 34.Rg2 Qh4 35.Qb1 Kg7, the Pawn at g5 falls and Black has a good position"

At first sight here it is indeed impossible to convert the exchange advantage: the White King is exposed, and Black's Queen and Knight dominate. And yet White has a way to gain an advantage: 36.Qd1 Kg6 37.Qf3! (threatening Qf4) 37...Nxg5 38.Qg3, with good winning chances. So that 31...Kg6 was by no means better than the move in the game.”

After 27 years of the title of second World Champion, he passes it on to Capablanca. His next to last tournament before he retired from public chess events, was New York 1924. Here, at age 56, he demonstrates that old lions still have teeth and wins the event. He shows he has what it takes to go against the hyper-modern school of the young masters. Here is a game against Alekhine.

After finishing second place in Moscow in 1925 he bowed out of serious chess activity.

I will end this series on this triumph. Lasker’s life encompassed many triumphs. With a PhD in mathematics, he had papers published that formed the basis of modern game theory. He and his brother wrote a drama ( “History of Mankind”) that was performed in Berlin ( but not critically acclaimed).

Late in life, he returned to competitive chess for the money. He finished fifth in Zurich 1934 and third in Moscow in 1935 at the age of 66!

Lasker’s influence on chess was profound. Max Euwe put it plainly “It is not possible to learn much from him. One can only stand and wonder.” He was a practical yet attacking player . He delivered several “ Lasker’s variations” to chess opening theory. Some may argue the peculiar way he demanded more financial support for match play as contrary to his professionalism in the chess world. However, raising the standards paved the way for the rise of full time chess professionals. Lasker also fought for the copyrights of the games to be owned by the players.

So this ends this series. I hope you all enjoyed this. For me, this was nice public study of the second World champion who’s 27 year reign on the top has yet to be matched. I like these stories of old lions who still can leave a mark!


Tommyg said...

Great series on Lasker! Have you read through Soltis' book on Lasker?

It is really well done. I love the fact that Lasker won New York, 1924!! He is definitely one of my favorite champions.

takchess said...

Does this mean we are now back to the circles?


BlunderProne said...

Never stopped circling... just hadn't any time to report on that activity :)

LinuxGuy said...

Game 1, nicely commented by you, an Open Ruy Lopez.

I don't think Black was in danger during the game so much as blundered at the end with 59...b4. I would play 59...Rf8, and only then 60...d4, and how does White make progress?

I don't have an engine on this PC, so I won't even bother to check that. Generally, there's nothing decisive about a rook ending. ;-p This is why I learn more from crazy middlegame players, but OTH both the opening, and your commentary was instructive.

LinuxGuy said...

I've looked at that Lasker-Rubinstein game some more, and now I'm thinking that 60..d4 is where the draw was, instead of 60..Rf7 which is a useless move. But it's a deep draw, not sure what ..Rf7 was about.

Robert Pearson said...

Linked at the Sixth Chess Improvement Blog Carnivàle!

keypusher said...

He didn't win every game in the 1914 final. He won six and drew two.

keypusher said...

Also, Lasker-Capablanca 1914 was played in the 7th of ten final rounds. The next round Lasker had his second bye (there were five finalists and the final was a double round robin, so each man had two byes) while Capablanca had a famous blunder and lost to Tarrasch. (You could say it was this game, rather than Lasker-Capablanca, that really put Lasker in front.) In the 9th round Lasker drew with Tarrasch and Capablanca scored a lucky win against Marshall, pulling within half a point of the champion. In the final round they both won, so Lasker finished a half-point in front. See Benzol's tournament collection at chessgames.

A lot of chess authors have pushed Lasker-Capablanca closer to the end of the tournament, to heighten the drama of the game.