The Good Name of Lasker: Berthold, Emanuel, and Edward

The Good Name of Lasker: Berthold, Emanuel, and Edward

NM SamCopeland
Mar 23, 2015, 3:29 PM |

What is the greatest chess playing family in history? I cannot argue against the Polgars, but I would like to make a case for the Laskers as strong contenders. It is impossible to be a serious chess player and not know of Emanuel, but what about his older brother Berthold, or his distant relation, Edward? You could make a case that each of the Laskers was around the top 20 or so players in the world at their peak, and each of the Laskers achieved a distinct and laudable chess legacy while maintaining successful careers outside of chess.

Berthold Lasker (1860 - 1928) 

Berthold with his wife Else.

Berthold was born in 1860 in Berlin. During Berthold's time, Berlin was probably the strongest chess city in the world. Berthold is reputed to have been more of a coffeehouse player. You would find him playing in the coffee houses of Berlin. Berthold achieved his best results during and shortly after the 1880's. To bookend the decade, Berthold took first place in the Berlin tournament of 1881 with Tarrasch and he shared first with his brother Emanuel in the Berlin tournament of 1890. This is not a well documented era in chess and few of Berthold's games have been passed on through the years. One of Berthold's combinations that you have probably seen is the following. This chestnut appears regularly in many tactics books although it is often unattributed.


Emanuel Lasker (1868 - 1941)

Emmanuel and Berthold analyzing together.
There is little to say about Emanuel that has not already been said. Emanuel was the second world champion after Steinitz. He holds the record for holding the title the longest (1894-1921), but most would argue that he was not the strongest player in the world for a portion of his reign. Rubinstein and Capablanca were probably stronger for portions of the period, but the first World War complicated matchmaking efforts. I have heard that Kramnik called Lasker the first 2700 chess player. I have not been able to find attribution for that statement, but I think many would agree that Lasker was the first world champion to have a truly modern style. Lasker clearly has a long list of wonderful games and combinations, but I have always found the following game against Pillsbury to be my favorite achievement of Emanuel's. Kasparov's notations to the game in My Great Predecessors I are excellent.

Edward Lasker (1885 - 1981)


Edward Lasker

Edward Lasker was a distant relation to Berthold and Emmanuel. Despite the common name and a mutual friendship, Edward was unaware of his relation to Emanuel until Emanuel showed a family tree to Edward. Edward's best tournaments were his Paris, London, NYC, and Chicago city championships, his multiple US Open Championships, and his showing in the 1924 New York tournament. Edward was a tough match for any player in the world at his best.

Edward also shared a fascination with Go and Checkers and he wrote fine books about all of these subjects, Chess, Checkers, and Go. His English language book on Go is the oldest of which I am aware, and I still find it an excellent read although the text is unquestionably dated. His book, Chess Strategy, has long been a classic although it's age does show today.

Undoubtedly, Edward's greatest combination was his game against Sir George Thomas in which he played one of the most famous queen sacrifices in chess history.