Emanuel Lasker, Tactical Monster - Part 1

  • IM Silman
  • | Jun 25, 2013

In general, when one asks what any World Champion’s strengths were/are, it’s fairly easy to give a somewhat educated answer. Steinitz: the first master of positional chess. Alekhine: dynamic, combinative genius. Capablanca: endgame mastery and positional elegance. Tal: attack and tactics. Lasker: endgame mastery, the first chess psychologist. But... when discussing Lasker, is that the whole story?

[Warning! Emanuel Lasker is my favorite chess player, so I’m going to lay it on a bit thick!]

  • Was Emanuel Lasker really that good at the endgame? Yes. In fact, he’s easily in the list of the top five best endgame players ever.
  • Chess psychology… what does that mean? Lasker saw chess as a fight, and he entered that fight without any fear whatsoever. He knew how to turn up the heat, and where other players would crack, he would stand tall and, invariably, come out the victor.
  • And let’s not forget his defensive prowess. Where nobody (back then or now) was Lasker’s superior in the endgame, he’s (in my opinion) the greatest defensive player ever. Simply put, he saved positions that even the greatest modern players wouldn’t have been able to save.

Those amazing attributes alone might explain why he retained the World Championship for an outrageous 27 years! But what if I told you that he had another specific chess talent, one that was just as pronounced as his massive endgame skills? Lasker had the ability to calculate extremely deeply, and he had an imagination that led to him seeing things that others would never find. This means that he was able to come up with delightful combinations, just like all the other great tacticians.

But he also used this talent to find defenses that no human would even think of. He used this talent to create chaotic tactical tidal waves (like Tal did), which drowned one opponent after another. He used this talent to find endgame ideas that are well known now, but had never been seen before he found them over the board! And he used this talent to create defensive setups that even modern computers are incapable of seeing. 

I could give examples of all these things, but we’ll keep it simple and just concentrate on his use of basic tactics. 

The following double bishop sacrifice had never been seen before Lasker played it in this game. 

Of course, it’s very important to understand that tactics aren’t just used for mating attacks. Tactics also allow positional ideas to come to fruition and make technical endgames far easier to play. Here are two examples:

By threatening both the d8-rook and c5-pawn White hopes to get three pawns for the lost piece. However, Lasker (and his two partners) show that this is just wishful thinking on White’s part.

In our next position, Lasker (who was 66 years old at this point!) understood that a pedestrian move like 34...R2d4 wouldn’t give him anything after 35.Ne4 Qh5 36.Qe2=. So he came up with the idea of sacrificing his queen for a rook, knight and pawn. At that time, such a sacrifice was unheard of, but (like the double bishop sacrifice) it became normal after this game.

This game is all the more impressive when you realize that his opponent, Max Euwe, took the World Championship from Alekhine one year later!

Puzzle Time!

Let’s enjoy a few more Lasker tactics in puzzle form. I’ve only used puzzles from the early part of his career. Perhaps I’ll use later ones in a future article!?

Please remember that I’ve loaded many puzzles with analysis and prose, so after you try and solve a puzzle click “solution” and then “move list” so you can enjoy the behind the scenes stuff. 

Puzzle one:

Puzzle two:

White to move and mate in 6

Puzzle three:

Puzzle four:

Puzzle five:

Puzzle six:

Okay, this one is a bit different since I'm highlighting a possible variation (with Lasker's side losing) that lower rated players will enjoy. I also give the real game, and also best play for both sides showing how Lasker would have created maximum chaos in an effort to save a bad position. (Since Lasker won, the chaos must have worked!)

Puzzle seven:

White’s winning easily, but a tactic puts Black away in the shortest amount of time.

Puzzle eight:

Puzzle nine:

Puzzle ten:

Puzzle eleven:

Puzzle twelve:

Puzzle thirteen:

Puzzle fourteen:


  • 7 weeks ago


    Emmanuel Lasker is in my top 5 best chess players ever, maybe even 3rd or second! Cool post!

  • 13 months ago


    *Lasker v. Bauer; tactic is clearance, not double bishop sacrifice, clearance.

  • 18 months ago


  • 3 years ago


    Fantastic article, I'm proud that I've solved 4 puzzles... :_D

  • 3 years ago


    Fantastic article! He`s probably my favorite player of all-time

  • 3 years ago


    In puzzle six isn't bxg5 also mate?

  • 3 years ago


    the wikipedia says that an earlier similar Burn–Owen 1884 might have been an inspiration for Lasker for the double bishop sacrifice

    great puzzles, puzzle 4 remind me of the windmill Torre-Lasker 1925 Lasker being the victim here, puzzle 8 is tough

  • 3 years ago

    IM Silman

    Shadecrow wanted to know what's wrong (in puzzle 1) with 37...Qg4+. One answer is that you're only allowed to play one move at a time (in other words, 37...Qg4+ is an alternative solution, though there is more to it than that). The puzzle software only allows me to give one solution, so anything other than the solution (even if it's just as good) will be viewed as an error.

    However, though I try and try to make people realize that there are often variations and prose in the puzzles (and 37...Qg4+ is indeed mentioned), many readers are still in the dark. If they would only read the paragraph right before the first puzzle, this would be made clear. Here is that constantly ignored paragraph:

    Please remember that I’ve loaded many puzzles with analysis and prose, so after you try and solve a puzzle click “solution” and then “move list” so you can enjoy the behind the scenes stuff. 

  • 3 years ago


    Why, in puzzle #1, didn't he just made 37...Qg4+?

    Wasn't that a faster solution?

    Given the position of his knight and tower, in the worst case scenario he would have eaten the queen.

    Am i unseeing something, or he just didn't think about that?

  • 3 years ago


  • 3 years ago


    Finally, someone talks about the great Lasker.

  • 3 years ago


    nice article and puzzles

  • 3 years ago


    For long I have been fascinated of Lasker's walk of life. In many ways, he was a genious who excelled in mathematics (he was Dr and Professor of that), in philosophy and all kinds of big challenges of the human mankind. To put these things in a proper prespective, even Albert Einstein considered him as the greatest mind he ever met -even if Einstein was ultimately right in their argument in saying that the speed of light is not indefinite, but has a value. But without Lasker even the famous E=mc^2 might not have seen the day of light.

    Lasker showed that the man is ultimately judged by his fighting spirit. He came from poor conditions, had to fight his way to the top only to lose it all in the 1920's due to the German hyperinflation, to only come back again. He was not a silicon chip of openings, but a fighter, mathematician, philosopher and a splendid psycologist. All these assets combined made him the Greatest Chessplayer Ever Lived. Respect.

  • 3 years ago


    What do you think would be the result of lets say Kasparov VS Lasker first one to ten wins. What do you think the result would be?

  • 3 years ago


    A terrific article with fantastic games/puzzles!

     I've never paid sufficient attention to Lasker, probably because of his renown in endgames. I tend to neglect endgame study since I usually manage to lose way before I get to that pointWink. I'll certainly look again at the master, thanks to this posting.

       The 'psychological' aspect of Lasker's play is debatable. But something struck me about puzzle #4, the game vs Feyerfeil. As IM Silman points out, black could pick up the queen with 37...Nd3+ or 37...Nd1+. But instead he interposes a few gyrations with the knight to grab an extra pawn. Surely Lasker could have won easily without the measely pawn. Was he trying to 'stick it' to white or something, or was that really the best continuation? Ah, who knows......... I guess it's not that important.

       @Purloined: I agree, Soltis' writings are great, very instructive. I love Bird's Opening, and of course there's his Winning with f4. Lasker was one of the few 'modern' players to use Bird's once in a while. The first game shown here against JH Bauer was a Bird's opening.

  • 3 years ago


    I've heard it said that the best tacticians are actually those players like Lasker and Karpov that people don't think of as playing for tactics.. because they're so good at it they can see tactical resources others would miss and snuff them out before there's even a chance they'll appear.  That has a certain kind of logic..

  • 3 years ago


    lasker is amazing! thank you for creating this article and drowning me in puzzles :)

  • 3 years ago



    He studied the lessons of Steinitz, and gave him high praise. But while Steinitz (like most humans) was a STUDENT who played; Lasker was a true PLAYER who studied. (paraphrasing Lasker himself)

  • 3 years ago


    Puzzle six reminds me of Legal's mate.

  • 3 years ago


    but what did he study?

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