Person of day   -  24 DECEMBER 2020

EMANUEL LASKER

EMANUEL LASKER

He was the World Champion for 27 (!) years- longer than any chess “king”. This impressive record will never be broken. Emanuel Lasker was not merely a chess player, but also a doctor of philosophy and mathematics. Botvinnik believed his philosophical approach to chess problems and mathematical accuracy with which he judged the chances of his opponents brought this “great psychologist” victories that amazed the world.

Lasker became world champion in 1894, beating the ageing Steinitz decisively 12:7. However, the chess world was not in a hurry to crown him king, especially after he only won 3rd place in the tournament in Hastings in 1895. Lasker forced his sceptics to recognise his strength with his subsequent successes. In 1896, he won the revenge-match against Steinitz and the St Petersburg tournament between the four strongest players in the world. The next few years brought him greater victories. He won matches for the world championship against Marshall, Tarrasch, Janowski (twice) and only Schlechter managed to draw against the world champion- 5:5.   

Lasker could play decisive matches like nobody else. He won the last round in the match against Schlechter and in the St Petersburg tournament of 1914, having fallen behind Capablanca by 1,5 points with two rounds to go, he won the decisive match and overtook the young Cuban, winning first place. Seven years later, in 1921, the match for the world championship between Capablanca and Lasker took place in Havana. Naturally, it was difficult for the 52 year-old world champion to fight against an opponent 20 years younger, especially in tropical Havana. Lasker lost the match, surrendering after 14 rounds of which he didn’t win a single one.

Many believed the ex-world champion’s career to be over after this, but Lasker remained the unbeaten champion of tournaments for several years. In 1923, he won a large tournament in Ostrava, in 1924 he won a tournament of the strongest players in New York, overtaking Capablanca by 1,5 (!) points. Next year, in Moscow, he finished ahead of the Cuban once again, coming second after Bogoljubow.

After this, Lasker left chess for nine (!) years and did not return to tournaments until the mid-1930s. The 66 year-old veteran performed brilliantly at the Moscow international tournament in 1935: he came third and once again overtook Capablanca, whom he beat in a decisive match. In 1936, Lasker fought valiantly in the grand Nottingham tournament: he split 7th-8th places with Flohr, won a round against the new world champion Euwe and finished behind winners Botvinnik and Capablanca by just 1,5 points.  

In the second half of the 1930s, Lasker was forced to leave his German homeland, which was ravaged by fascism. For a while he lived in Moscow, but soon moved to USA, where he died in January 1941. “Lasker was my teacher,” wrote Alekhine. Without him I could not have become who I became. The idea of the art of chess is unthinkable without Emanuel Lasker.”