3 Of Emanuel Lasker's Greatest Hits
I’m back with three more of my favorite Emanuel Lasker games. Remember that they might or might not be his best games. All that matters is that they are games that affected me over the years.
Though Lasker was one of the greatest tacticians in history, and though he was also one of the best endgame players ever, his style was all about pressure. He loved to drag himself and his opponents to the edge of a precipice since he knew that most of his opponents couldn’t handle the slippery slope Lasker created.
In most cases his opponents simply wilted and, in the end, capitulated in the face of Lasker’s superior mind and iron will.
Lasker via Wikipedia.
I wrote a 4-part study of Lasker’s life way back in 2013. You can find them here:
I hope you enjoy these very interesting games as much as I have!
Lasker wasn’t a player who tried to beat you in the opening. In fact, he often got very little (or less than little!) in the openings. Instead, he was happy to have a complicated/tactical position or a deep positional war, which offered chances for both sides. Then, when his opponent made the smallest of mistakes, Lasker turned into Smaug the dragon and spewed napalm all over the board.
In this game Euwe had an edge/ Lasker (66 years old!) maneuvered and kept his position somewhat passive but solid, and then White made a not-so-terrible error on move 29 that turned his edge into equality. Suddenly Lasker played flawless chess, turned his solid position into a dynamic one, and turned Max Euwe’s dreams into a nightmare.
Euwe took the world championship from Alekhine a year after this game.
When two greats (boxing, running, swimming, etc.) end up face-to-face, sparks are supposed to fly. Unfortunately, these kinds of “best vs. best” battles are often postponed for too long and, by the time the contest is a reality, one of the legends have lost a step or two making it a one-sided affair.
This is what happened in the 1908 world chess championship match. Siegbert Tarrasch (a medical doctor) was probably the best player in the world in 1890-1893, and a match between Tarrasch and Steinitz was proposed by the Havana Chess Club. Alas, Tarrasch refused the match due to his medical responsibilities, which deprived the chess world of an epic contest. Of course, Tarrasch never imagined that a newcomer named Emanuel Lasker would take the world championship away from Steinitz in 1894 and then hold the title for 27 years!
A world championship match finally was arranged in 1908 between Tarrasch and Lasker (earlier matches were discussed but, for various reasons, they always fell through). Tarrasch was still one of the best players in the world, but he was no longer as good as he was in the 1890s. And so a match that so many dreamed of watching turned out to be a rout, with Lasker winning eight to three, with five draws.
There is no doubt that, if the match had been held earlier, Tarrasch would have done better. But I still think Lasker would have beaten him simply because Tarrasch was one-dimensional while Lasker played every part of the game (except perhaps the openings) at an amazing level.
Tarrasch via Wikipedia.
Did Lasker respect Tarrasch? I’m sure he did, but since they didn’t like each other, both lobbed things like this:
Lasker — “Dr. Tarrasch’s strength or weakness, if one likes - is his pronounced amour propre (self love). Without it he would have been a very mediocre chess player; gifted to an abnormal degree, he has become a giant.”
Tarrasch — At the beginning of their 1908 match he clicked his heels, bowed stiffly, and said, “To you, Dr. Lasker, I have only three words, check and mate!”
Kramnik said that Lasker’s games often looked like modern ones. That’s because in most of the 1800s, players had a “kill or be killed” mentality (though Morphy based his attacks on positional fundamentals). Then Steinitz tossed positional chess at the masses and suddenly a whole new chess appeared with Steinitz and Tarrasch leading the way.
There were still pure attackers, of course, but not as many as before. But Lasker didn’t align himself with any school of thought. If the position called for a sacrificial attack, he would do it. If the position called for trading off pieces and entering an endgame, he would welcome it. If an interesting tactic appeared, he wouldn’t fear tossing it on the board. If a quiet buildup was the right thing to do, Lasker embraced it. If a position needed to be defended, Lasker had no problem doing so (often using defense as a weapon). And, when you add his use of chess psychology, he was unstoppable.
To make things even more terrifying for his opponents, he had an iron will and never feared anything or anyone.
This game was a favorite of mine when I was very young (13 years old). I looked at it many times, learning about the importance of quick development, destroying the enemy king’s pawn protection by sacrificing pieces, and not making a move until I was sure that the opponent didn’t have a nasty response.
Now I prefer the first two games since they are more subtle, with the game against Tarrasch being one of my all-time favorites. Of course, it’s all about taste.
Which one was your favorite?