Emanuel Lasker's Greatest Hits
Everyone has a favorite chess player. People like players that are still alive, like Magnus Carlsen, Garry Kasparov, etc. Or players that are no longer with us, like Bobby Fischer and Mikhail Tal or, going way back, Paul Morphy.
My favorite active player is Hou Yifan, and in my youth I worshiped Fischer.
However, my favorite player ever is Emanuel Lasker, who held the world chess championship for an astounding 27 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 four-part study of Lasker’s life way back in 2013. You can find them here:
In this article I’m going to entertain myself (and I hope you too!) by sharing my favorite Lasker games (three in this article and more in another). Some of these might be his best games, and others might be games that, for some personal reason, I just like.
There were four players in the event (Lasker, Pillsbury, Chigorin, and Steinitz), and everyone had to play six games against one another. Pillsbury was in first place at the halfway mark, while Lasker was second. Thus, this was a must-win for Lasker. Many players would break due to the stress, but Lasker leaped headfirst into some extremely memorable tactics.
After the aging Lasker lost his title in 1921 to Capablanca, many players felt that ex-champion was finished. Indeed, the hypermodern players (Nimzowitsch, Reti and others) were certain that Lasker wouldn’t be able to deal with their new ideas. They were wrong! After staying away from tournaments for two years, Lasker finally decided to play in the very strong Moravska-Ostrava Tournament in 1923 (Reti, Grunfeld, Tartakower, Euwe, Tarrasch, Bogoljubov, Spielmann, Rubinstein, etc). Lasker won the tournament without losing a game, with the impressive score of 10.5 out of 13. Second place was Reti, whose “new ideas” failed against Lasker.
A year later the great New York 1924 event was arranged, which had 11 players with everyone playing two games against one another. Lasker played again, along with Capablanca, Alekhine, Marshall, Reti, Maroczy, Bogoljubow, Tartakower, Yates, Edward Lasker, and Janowski. Lasker (56 years old!) won both games against Reti (I should mention that Reti won a game against Capablanca in this tournament!), and Lasker won at least one game against every other player except Capablanca (a loss and draw…that was the only game Lasker lost in the event). When the smoke cleared Lasker was first again, a point and half ahead of second-place Capablanca!
Emanuel had played poorly and this position seems to be lost for White. Though White has two pawns for the exchange, the pawns can’t go very far while Black’s b-pawn is ready to run for a touchdown. Of course, if White can get a rook vs. knight position with no pawns, it’s a draw. But that’s not going to happen since Black will carefully make sure that his b-pawn will be safe and sound.
What makes this wonderful is Edward Lasker’s commentary and Emanuel Lasker creating (over the board!) a never-before-known way to draw with king and knight vs. king, rook, and pawn. I don’t think that any other player in the history of the game would have found what Emanuel Lasker found if were put in the same situation.
At the end of this game you’ll see that others also feel the way I do about this amazing defensive save.
The late Mark Dvoretsky said: “I doubt that any modern grandmaster would be capable of such exploits!”