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!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Part 5 Dr. Emanuel Lasker: Defending his World Title

In the last post, we saw how Dr. Lasker, while multitasking, was able to maintain his World title and still have strong finishes at top tournaments. After the Cambridge Springs event in 1904, Lasker’s appearance at tournaments became increasingly more infrequent.

With Frank Marshall’s first place victory at Cambridge Springs in 1904, it only stood to reason that he challenge Lasker for the World Championship. In 1907, this match finally took place but it became clear early on that the American master was far from Lasker’s equal. Despite his aggressive style(…or perhaps because he was too aggressive?) he lost games and drew seven against the World Champion.

Below is one of the games where Lasker has an incredible endgame combination.

Following this Match, Tarrasch challenged Lasker for the title. Reading the accounts of the banter that went back and forth, I could not help think of the similarities of two World Wrestling Federation trash talking each other before a “fixed” match. Tarrasch, who firmly believed that chess was governed by a precise set of principles, viewed Lasker merely as a “coffee house” player who wins solely by his dubious tricks. At the opening ceremony of the match, Tarrasch commented: “ Mr. Lasker, I have only three words to sat to you: check and mate!” Lasker’s best response was winning the match against his arrogant rival. Here is one game which showcases that Lasker is more than a coffee house trickster.

Because there is too much material in this series, I will briefly touch on the Match against Janowski. This started with a short drawn match in 1909 ( 2 wins and 2 losses). Several months later, it was followed up with a longer, more decisive match in Lasker’s favor. Lasker was more prepared for Janowski’s attacking style. More prepared, the attacks proved to be premature and left him vulnerable. There is a historical debate whether this was truly a World Championship match. In 1910, Lasker agreed to a “revenge” match under the guise of World Championship Match in Paris. Lasker won this with 8 wins, three draws and no losses. Next victim please.

Now we enter the period of one of the most dramatic trial of Lasker’s World championship. Carl Schlechter challenged the Champion in 1910 but limited the event to only 10 games. It is argued that Lasker agreed under the premise that in order for Schlecter to declare World Title, he MUST win by two points. This meant that both players were desperately playing for wins with sharp aggressive lines. Despite that, the first few games of the match played in Vienna were drawn and Lasker actually lost on the fifth game. When they reconvened in Berlin, four more draws followed. This meant that in order for Lasker to retain the title, he HAD to win the last round. Schlechter also had to play for a win in the final game though in the book,Lasker’s Greatest chess games, by Reinfeld, he cites only a draw was required by Schlechter to win the championship casting some doubt on the two-point rule. The following game is not with out positional blunders from both parties. Schlechter’s final misstep is what enabled Lasker to take this final match game to full point.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Part 4: Dr. Emanuel Lasker: Multitasking

After a convincing World Championship rematch victory against Steinitz in 1897, Lasker seems to disappear from chess for a couple years. In that time same period, he managed to publish his book in 1897, Common sense in Chess, based on his 1895 lectures. In 1895, while recovering from Typhoid fever I must add, he published two mathematical papers in the Nature journal as he finished in 3rd place at Hastings.

The turn of the century sees Lasker finishing strong in a couple of major events after he took a couple of years off. We first see him in London in 1899, where he was in first place by a clear 4 ½ points! Georg Marco, a Romanian Chess master who came in 2nd place in the event ( and finished 17that Hastings a few years earlier), remarked: “ Lasker was there, Lasker I, Lasker the Unique!”

In this game against Tchigoran at the London 1899 event, we see Lasker not phased by White’s odd opening of 2.Qe2. Instead, he calmly maneuvers the came to a favorable position for Black where by move 26, he has a clear advantage and begins a forceful series of moves to close the deal.

The following year, he has another convincing victory in Paris (1900) with a 2 point lead ahead of Pillsbury. This game against Amos Burns, is a masterpiece of how Lasker took a slight lead in the opening and pressed on through the entire game.

In 1900, David Hilbert, a world renowned German mathematician of his day, became aware of Lasker’s published mathematical articles and encouraged him to register for his doctorial studies. Lasker attended the University of Erlanger-Nuremberg in the period of 1900-1902. He presented his thesis in 1901 and was awarded a doctorate in mathematics in 1902. His contributions to the academic world are now regarded as fundamental importance to modern algebraic geometry.

After accomplishing his doctorate, he appears back on the chess scene in 1904 and plays at the Cambridge Springs event. He doesn’t come in first place, rather, he ties for 2ndplace with Janowski. Frank Marshall came in first place. In this game here, Lasker ties with the first place winner. Marshall “the swindler” plays a gambit with a pawn down and manages to keep the edge against the World Champion to get the draw.

In another game at Cambridge Springs, the American ( with British roots) William Napier will most likely be remembered for this tough game he lost against Lasker for its tactical acumen by both parties. Lasker comes out of the opening with an inferior position as he didn’t spend a whole lot of time looking at opening variations and relied more on his tactical and positional skills to win the game. This causes the world champion to spend a considerable amount of time coming up with the right moves.

By move 21, Lasker only had 3 minutes left on his clock to make time control for the next 9 moves. This happens at one of the sharpest points in the game. The notes in the embedded chess game are transposed from Georg Marco’s through Fred Reinfeld. It’s simply amazing that Lasker can come from behind after an opening misstep and find just the right tactical play to restore balance. Lasker mentioned to the 26 year old: "It is your brilliancy, even though I won it." The young Napier was impressed at how Lasker kept his composure under such time pressure.

As a footnote: The Cambridge Springs 1904 event was where the Cambridge Springs Defense ( Pillsbury contribution) was debuted by several masters at this event. Lasker was not one of them so I chose not to showcase that defense.

Next time we will look at Lasker defending the world title.