Lasker vs. Schlechter | World Chess Championship 1910
Emanuel Lasker and Carl Schlechter, who played a short but dramatic World Championship match in 1910

Lasker vs. Schlechter | World Chess Championship 1910

ddtru
FM ddtru
Jan 5, 2019, 6:46 PM |
15

1910 match between Emanuel Lasker and Carl Schlechter is probably the most enigmatic event in the history of Chess World Championships. More than a century later the historians are still arguing about the rules and regulations of this match, with some even questioning whether the World Championship crown was really at stake.

A more pertinent debate is focused on the circumstances surrounding the 10th and final game of the match. Carl Schlechter was leading by a full point going into this game, and thus a draw would have secured him a victory in the match. However, there is a question whether a one-point victory would have sufficed for Schlechter, or if there was a secret clause in the match rules that required Schlechter to win with a margin of at least 2 points in order to claim the title.

Despite the lively discussions that raged on the pages of chess books, journals and websites for 100+ years, there is still no consensus on both question. As usual, Edward Winter's Chess Notes is a great place to start if you want to delve into the history of the debates on 1910 Lasker-Schlechter match.

In this article I will be taking a slightly different approach, by focusing more on the games of the match rather than on the many controversies that surrounded it. I believe that by studying the games and the sudden changes in styles that both players experienced during the match, we can get a deeper understanding of the events in Vienna and Berlin. Still, the controversies cannot and should not be avoided, for they form an integral part of the history - one might even say, the mystery - of this match. In this article I will present the evidence that was unearthed by the historians so far and summarize the arguments presented by both sides of the debate.

There is another reason why Lasker-Schlechter match holds a special place in the history of Chess World Championships – it was the first match that ended in a tie. It was a harbinger of the many matches that would remain undecided, including the last two that featured the reigning World Champion, Magnus Carlsen.

Lasker-Schlechter is also one of the most misunderstood matches in terms of perception by the public. There is a popular narrative of this match that goes like this:

  • Schlechter was a notoriously hard to beat "drawing master", talented but boring
  • Lasker foolishly put his crown on the line in an extremely short 10-game match
  • Schlechter was playing for a draw throughout the match. Lasker could not beat him the normal way, and so he started taking unreasonable risks, especially in the second half of the match
  • In the 5th game Lasker stumbled and lost what was a completely winning position
  • In the final game of the match Schlechter suddenly and completely uncharacteristically went berserk (which is often presented as an evidence that he had to win the match "+2"), but Lasker won and kept the title

In this article I will try to show that almost every point in this list is wrong or at least a gross simplification.

Who was Carl Schlechter?

We will start this article with a short introduction of the challenger in 1910 match, for despite his many achievements Carl Schlechter was overshadowed by his more vocal contemporaries.

Carl Schlechter was born in 1874 in Vienna, a city that he would call home for the rest of his life. He was not a "wunderkind". According to Schlechter's biography by Rudolf Spielmann (published in Stockholm in 1924), Schlechter only learned the rules of chess when he was 13; other sources state that this happened even later, at the age of 15 or 16. His initial chess education occurred in the chess cafes – an institution that existed in many European capitals but which was especially popular in Vienna. At the age of 18 Schlechter received an invitation to join Vienna Chess Society and his strength started to grow very quickly.

Already next year, in 1893, Schlechter won a famous game that is commonly known as "Schlechter's Immortal":

Leonid Verkhovksy, who wrote a Russian-language Schlechter biography that was published in the Soviet series "Выдающиеся шахматисты мира" (Outstanding Chess Players of the World), mentions that this game is replayed every two years as a "live chess performance" in a town festival at Marostica, Italy. I wonder if there are any Chess.com readers who visited their latest performance in September 2018 and could confirm that this is indeed the case?

"Schlechter's Immortal" was prominently featured in the chess press of the time and was one of the reasons why Schlechter received an invitation to his first master-level tournaments – 1894 German Chess Congress, where he finished in a respectable 11th place (out of 18) and the great 1895 Hastings tournament, which featured "who is who" of chess at the time – Lasker, Steinitz, Chigorin, Tarrasch and that was sensationally won by the American prodigy Harry Nelson Pillsbury. This time Schlechter finished in the top half (9th out of 22 players) and joined Lasker and Chigorin as the only other players who managed to defeat the winner of the tournament.

Hastings 1895 tournament participants. Schlechter is standing second from the leftHastings 1895 tournament. Schlechter is standing 2nd from the left, Lasker is sitting between Chigorin and Pillsbury © Wikipedia

Schlechter's results continued to improve and five years later he would record his first-ever victory in a major international tournament, shared with Pillsbury and Maroczy (Munich 1900). In the first decade of the 20th century Schlechter continued scoring prizes in most of the tournaments that he participated, including victories in several major competitions – most notably Ostend 1906, a 30-round marathon, which Schlechter won ahead of Rubinstein, Maroczy, Teichmann, Marshall, Janowski and many other renowned masters of the time.

Schlechter's reached the peak of his tournament career in 1908, when he shared the 1st place in Vienna (shared with Maroczy and Duras), followed by another 1st place in Prague (shared with Duras) just a few months later. This series of tournament victories gave Schlechter the moral rights to challenge Emanuel Lasker, the reigning World Champion at the time, for a match.

The organization of the match

The negotiations for the match were long and convoluted, contributing to the mystery that still surrounds it. We will retrace the main milestones of these negotiations with the help of the book "CARL SCHLECHTER! Life and Times of the Austrian Chess Wizard" by Warren Goldman, which was published by Caissa Editions in 1994. By the way, I should express my deepest gratitude to my fellow Singaporean chess historian Olimpiu Urcan for presenting his copy of this book to me when he learned that I am working on this article. It was a fine gesture, for this book is quite rare and thus very expensive these days (the cheapest copies that I could find online were being sold for $150 and above).

The preliminary agreement for the World Championship match was formalized in a personal meeting that took place at Lasker's home in Berlin on 3 December 1908. Lasker was coming off two successful defenses of the title within two years (January-April 1907 vs Marshall and August-September 1908 vs Tarrasch) – a surprising burst after playing no title matches in a decade that followed his 1897 return match with Steinitz!

The proposed regulations of the match with Schlechter represented a radical departure from Lasker's previous matches. All 4 World Championships that Lasker won to that point were in the "first-to-X-wins" format (10 in two matches vs Steinitz, 8 vs Marshall and Tarrasch). However, from the very beginning of the negotiations the match with Schlechter was envisioned as "best of X games". Lasker himself explained the rationale for the new format in his column in the "New York Evening Post" (23 December 1908):

Conditions of the match with Schlechter have been agreed upon. Accordingly, it will consist of 30 games. Schlechter will win the championship of the world if his score exceeds mine by 2 points at least. If the difference is only one point, the match will be a draw, and a tie match will then have to be arranged. The restriction to 30 games appeared to me necessary, since Schlechter has the well-fixed habit of losing an exceedingly slight percentage of his games. In the tournaments at Vienna and Prague, the total of his losses was one point – and to win 8 games from him might therefore become an almost endless task, provided, which is doubtful, he found it a still more difficult problem to beat me 8 times first.  

Curiously, almost 20 years later Alexander Alekhine would repeat Lasker's last sentence almost word-for-word in the runup to his "first to 6 wins" match with Capablanca!

Goldman remarks that Schlechter did not protest the obviously unfair conditions offered to him by Lasker:

There is no evidence that Schlechter objected to any of the foregoing conditions, including the one which required his besting the champion by two games. This contrasts sharply with the reaction of Capablanca who, in receiving Lasker's 1911 terms for a championship match, strongly objected <...> thereby leading to an acrimonious public debate which ended negotiations.

This simply was not in Schlechter's character, who was too modest and unpretentious to create a ruckus. Even Lasker himself acknowledged Schlechter's chivalrous character, although he clearly considered it to be more of a weakness than a strength. Here is what he had to say about Schlechter when he evaluated the potential challengers for the title in "Wiener Schachzeitung" (March-April 1906):

It is true that the Austrian, Schlechter, also has the ability that would enable him to compete with good chances for success, but Schlechter has only the ability – nothing more. He is a man who loves nature and the simple life and who has so little of the devil about him that he could not be wooed to take anything coveted by somebody else.

Two years later Lasker wrote another pen portrait of Schlechter, which riffs on the same themes. It was published in "Lasker's Chess Magazine" (July 1908) and quoted here from the first volume of a magnificent first volume of German collective treatise "Emanuel Lasker. World Champion for 27 Years", edited by Richard Forster, Michael Negele and Raj Tischbierek. It initially appeared in three volumes in German language and the revised edition of the first volume has just been published in English. Here is Lasker's quote on Schlechter (Vol. 1, p. 169):

I am in Carl Schlechter's room in his hotel at Prague. Neat order prevails. The only irregularity is a little heap of papers, books, and letters on the table. He is at present trying to reconstruct upon a small, travelling chess board the game that he considers best at the tourney just concluded. While at work he is serious, and though he doubts whether he remembers the moves, he does so without missing the trail once. There is no pose in his attitude. He doubts himself, though without reason, and is very charitable toward others. He is neat and simple in dress, manners, and style of thinking - in his chess play too, in which he also is ingenious.

The shortest match

The initial agreement for Lasker-Schlechter match stipulated, among other things, that the organization of the match and the negotiation with the chess clubs and potentials sponsors would be World Champion's sole prerogative. In fact, Schlechter was not even supposed to know where the match would take place! The only thing that Lasker would commit to is letting the challenger know the exact program of the match one month before it would start (this was the 3rd paragraph of the agreement, which was published in "Deutsche Schachzeitung" in 1908, p. 378). This was quite unusual, as both before and after this match the fundraising was assumed to be the Challenger's responsibility. Many World Championship matches failed to materialize precisely because the Challengers could not secure the prize money.

However, in this case, Lasker took ownership of the match organization, believing that he would be able to raise more money for the match than Schlechter. Lasker's initial announcement in December 1908 already contained a pledge for potential sponsors, and he had a very specific plan in mind, which was explained by British chess historian E. A. Apps in an article in "CHESS" magazine in November 1975.

This was but one of the many publications about 1910 Lasker-Schlechter match that appeared in "CHESS" in 1975-76. A few notes about this match in 1975 led to an avalanche of articles and letters on this topic. They are mostly not available online, meaning that only the few lucky owners of these old issues have access to them. Fortunately, the "CHESS" magazine itself is still around. A few weeks ago, I contacted the current editor, IM Malcom Pein, and he kindly granted the permission to quote the articles on 1910 Lasker-Schlechter match that were published on the pages of "CHESS" in 1975 and 1976.

I was not able to find much information about E. A. Apps - he does not seem to appear in any other contexts other than 1910 Lasker-Schlechter publications. Leonard Barden, arguably the best source of information on anything to do with British chess, could not recall any information about E. A. Apps, other than pointing out an odd postal game that he lost. I would welcome any further information about E. A. Apps, because he did an outstanding job in researching 1910 match, which was not at all easy in the pre-Internet era. Let us get down to his findings:

Early in 1909 Emanuel Lasker tried to promote the proposed 30-game title match in six 'five-game legs', and contacted the chess club authorities at Vienna, Berlin, Munich, London, St. Petersburg, New York, Riga and Stockholm, with the view of getting each chess center to take the responsibility for a five-game series. He tried to get as much as £800 for himself and £500 for Schlechter from each chess center. Each center was expected to recover the money mainly by charging at least £5 from each onlooker to watch a five-game leg lasting roughly a fortnight.

Lasker was expecting each game of the match to yield 800-1,000 German Marks for the contestants. It is clear that the financial considerations factored into his design of the match as much as the rules that he introduced to safeguard the title. If the contestants were to be paid for each game, then 30-games match would be in the best interests for both the Champion and the Challenger – 1,000 Marks per game was a great incentive for both of them to play for as long as it takes. We should remember that Schlechter was a chess professional with no sources of income, so a big payday could have been as important to him as the World Champions title.

Alas, all these brilliant plans were thrown into disarray by Schlechter's terrible performance in St. Petersburg tournament in February 1909. It was Lasker's first major tournament in almost a decade, and he did not disappoint, finishing shared first with the new rising star, Akiba Rubinstein.

Schlechter playing Perlis at St. Petersburg 1909 Schlechter during his game with Perlis at St. Petersburg 1909

Schlechter fared much worse, finishing the tournament with 50% score in 8th-10th places. Warren Goldman explains the impact that this fiasco had on the World Championship match in "CARL SCHLECHTER!":

Weakened by a serious bout of flu, [Schlechter] suffered a surprising six losses enroute to a middle-of-the-table finish – a result that was to cost him dearly in "box-office appeal," an indispensable asset for any master seeking the game's highest title. This would inevitably weaken Schlechter's position vis-à-vis Lasker in negotiating terms for the 1910 match.

The untimely St. Petersburg debacle contributed to a sharp falling away of public interest in Schlechter's quest for chess primacy. Forgotten were his hard-fought draw a pawn down against Lasker and his winning of the tournament's first brilliancy prize against Salwe. His successes in the tournament crucible of Ostend, Vienna and Prague were ignored by the fickle chess public in the prevailing excitement of a possible Lasker-Rubinstein title confrontation.

This palpable falling off of interest in Schlechter's challenge is seen in the fact that, on October 3, 1909, a notice appeared in various German chess publications appealing for financial support. The response was so painfully modest that a further notice (November 7, 1909) was forthcoming, but once again it met with little success. A short time later the "Deutsche Schachzeitung" carried the fateful announcement that St. Petersburg has declined financial backing for a Lasker-Schlechter match.

At this stage, the 30-games match was out of the question, so Lasker tried organizing a 15-games match instead, to be split between Berlin, Vienna and London. He even travelled to Britain in November 1909 to pitch this idea, but London Chess club declined the proposal:

When no other English chess club offered to sponsor the match, it became clear that Vienna and Berlin would "have to share the advantages and expenses of the contest if it is to take place at all." ("Chess Amateur").

Controversies: "+2 Required" and "Not a World Championship"

Somewhere around this point the "+2" requirement that was postulated in the initial rules for 30-games match started to blur, or at least fade into the background. Indeed, "+2" was more difficult to justify in a 15-games match, and it looks patently unfair in a 10-games sprint. E. A. Apps points out the following statement that appeared in "Deutsche Schachzeitung" in 1909:

...the conditions no longer demand 30 games, and it is left to a neutral decision as to whether one or two games should form a winning majority.

Once London was off the cards, Lasker went into intensive negotiation with German and Austrian chess authorities about the shortened, 10-games match. Lasker himself reported on the outcome of these negotiations in his "New York Evening Post" column (26 December 1909):

Recently I wrote to Schlechter, informing him that our match had to be shortened to ten games. The European chess clubs have shown no eagerness to see the match. Only Vienna and Berlin came forth with proposals... I was therefore obliged to arrange this match upon novel lines.

An interesting question is why Lasker felt obliged to play the match with Schlechter in these circumstances at all after these setbacks. We cannot be completely certain, but most likely there were several factors in play. First of all, we should point to Lasker's prior decision to take full ownership of the organization of the match. Had the fundraising responsibility remain with Schlechter, it would have been much easier for Lasker to bow out of the match. Secondly, Lasker probably was not worried enough about the outcome of the match with Schlechter, as their score to that point was +3-1=3 in his favor. Last but not least, there was the money. It has been pointed that Lasker married in 1911, and the World Championship match could boost up his financial situation in anticipation of this most serious move.

The first announcements of the 10-games match appeared in the press at the end of December 1909, but none of them seemed to publish full conditions of the match, as they were signed by the players and the organizers.

In 1976 E. A. Apps undertook a massive library search, trying to track down all publications in the contemporary press to check whether they:

  1. Reported on Lasker-Schlechter match as the World Championship
  2. Mentioned "+2" requirement for the challenger to claim the title

The results of this project were published in yet another article in "CHESS" magazine (June 1976). Mr. Apps reported that he found 37 publications that referred to the match as the World Championship, ranging from chess publications such as "British Chess Magazine" or "Deutsche Schachzeitung" to the general press, such as "New York Herald" or "Le Temps". Against this there was only one publication, American Chess Bulletin, which stated otherwise – not based on any documents, but simply because the columnist found it odd for Lasker to put the World Championship at stake in such a short match.

As for "+2" controversy, E. A. Apps pointed out several publications ("The Times", "The Field", "Berliner Lokal Anzeiger" etc.) that all reported the match as being for a simple majority. Moreover, he presented quotes from both Lasker and Schlechter, which seemed to confirm this assumption.

Of special note is Emanuel Lasker's own column that he continued to publish in "New York Evening Post" throughout the match. The 19 February 1910 issue (written by Lasker in Berlin on 6 February, i.e. before the end of the match) contained the following:

...The match with Schlechter is nearing its end, and it appears probable that for the first time in my life I shall be the loser. If that should happen a good man will have won the world's championship.

And then in the 26 February 1910 issue (written by Lasker in Berlin on 10 February):

...The title hung in the balance till the last game.

Despite the mounting evidence, Ken Whyld, one of the leading authorities on Emanuel Lasker and co-author of "The Oxford Companion to Chess", remained unconvinced that Schlechter would have been declared World Champion had he drawn the last game of the match. His letter to "CHESS" magazine, which was published in September 1976 issue, presents the best summary of the "+2 for the Challenger" theory and thus deserves quoting in full:

[E.A.] Apps has not proved beyond a shadow of doubt that the world championship hung on the last game of the match. All he has proved is that this is what public thought, and that has never been in question. It is true that some writers have been unaware that there were two sets of conditions for the match, the '30-game' conditions and the '10-game' conditions, and your pages have resolved that issue beyond all doubt. However, we are no nearer to knowing what "Deutsches Wochenschach" meant by saying that the match would go to the winner of the majority of games and if necessary the referee would decide about the world championship title.

The players wanted a thirty-game two-plus match. When public support was lacking, because it was assumed that it would be another easy win for Lasker, the organizers were forced to curtail the match. I feel certain that they hoped that the ten-game series billed as a title-match and with the two-plus condition suppressed, would create sufficient interest to enable a full match to be played. If there was a secret agreement, then obviously it would not be published or known to more than half-a-dozen people. Afterwards it would be to neither player's advantage to reveal the arrangement.

I believe that had the tenth game been drawn, Schlechter would not have become world champion on a single victory, but perhaps a victory in the last game might have given him the title. This would explain why both players tried to win. The quality of the games shows that Lasker could not have been confident of winning a full-scale match. We may never know if there was a private agreement, but your readers can ponder its likelihood.

This point of view is consistent, but in my opinion, it suffers from two intrinsic problems. First of all, it assumes that there were some secret agreements, while at the same time postulating that no one who was supposedly in on the secret ever mentioned it in print or in conversations. Secondly, and more importantly, Ken Whyld's arguments are formulated so as to withstand any evidence that contravenes the theory. The protagonists of the story are long dead so we cannot ask them, and any documents, even newly uncovered, can be dismissed using the same "we would never know" line of thinking.

I am going to close the discussion of the controversies with Schlechter's quote that was unearthed by Austrian chess historian Michael Ehn and first published in "Deutsche Schachzeitung" (#8/1995). It comes from Schlechter's own chess column in Viennese newspaper "Allgemeine Sportszeitung". On 19 December 1909, or about two weeks before the start of the match with Lasker, Schlechter published the following summary of the match rules (translation from German mine):

The match for the World Championship with Lasker is planned to start on 6 January 1910 in Vienna and to conclude in Berlin. Only 10 games will be played. The majority of the points wins the match and the World Champion title. In the case of a tie the decision will be made by an arbiter.

If we are to believe Carl Schlechter's own words, it was a World Championship match and a simple majority was enough for him to claim the title.

The first phase of the match – Schlechter plays like Schlechter

Let us now turn to the match itself, for I find the games of this match more interesting than the controversies surrounding it. I am going to divide the match into a few parts, but I am not going to follow the conventional "5 games in Vienna/5 games in Berlin" dichotomy.

In my opinion, the match should be instead divided into three different phases:

  1. First 3 games – Schlechter is pushing, but all games are drawn
  2. Next 3 games – Lasker is close to victory in each game, but Schlechter scores the only win
  3. Final 4 games – Schlechter and Lasker go into "hand-to-hand combat" mode until Lasker emerges from the chaos with a victory in the final game

A simplified version breaks down the match into two distinct phases:

  1. First 6 games – Schlechter plays in his usual calm and cautious style
  2. Last 4 games – Schlechter plays like an earlier incarnation of Tal (I could not find a better analogy among the early 20th century players; Marshall or Janowski did not quite cut it)

This runs counter to the traditional narrative of this match, but I hope that by the end of this article you would agree that Schlechter was no "drawing master" – at least not in the final stretch of 1910 World Championship!

The first game of the match started one day later than originally planned, on 7 January 1910 at Vienna Chess Club. The contestants played in a small room, but the whole club was filled to the brink. Two large demonstration boards were set up in the large hall so that spectators could follow the game.

One of the games of Lasker-Schlechter match in ViennaLasker-Schlechter match in Vienna ("Wiener Schachzeitung", 1910)

The time control of the games was quite unusual, at least by today's standards. E. A. Apps gives a good summary in "CHESS" (November 1975):

The time limit was 15 moves an hour and the games were played during afternoons and evenings, often 3-5p.m., 6-8p.m. and 9-11p.m. Both contestants were normally served dinner at 8p.m., and before resumption they often made brief speeches to the onlookers; sometimes they answered questions asked by the commentators, the press and others.

In the first game of the match Schlechter, who was playing White, completely outplayed the World Champion and only Lasker's tenacity in defense allowed him to save half a point.

Perhaps Lasker felt that his escape in the first game gave him psychological initiative, for in the 2nd game he ventured an incorrect pawn sacrifice early in the opening, and had Schlechter been less timid, he could have put Lasker in a real danger of losing.

3rd game was the only relatively "clean" – and thus the most unremarkable – game of the match, so we will skip it.

Until this point, the match was mostly going in Schlechter's favor. He was not standing worse in any of the first three games, but the tide started to turn in the 4th game. Schlechter repeated the Open Spanish with Black, but chose a different, more traditional line, perhaps trying to sidestep Lasker's home preparation. It did not help, as Lasker played the opening energetically and obtained a strong attacking position. Schlechter was lucky to escape into an endgame a pawn down and managed to save it with careful defense.

This brings us to the first of the two decisive games in the 1910 World Championship match. Like most of the games in this match, it was played in multiple sessions over two different days. It was started on 21 January, adjourned in the evening and resumed on 24 January 1910.

We will give this game with the annotations compiled by Georg Marco for "Wiener Schachzeitung" (#4-6/1910). As you will see, Marco used the annotations by several masters, including Schlechter himself, but the primary source was the commentary by one German player, Wilhelm Therkatz, published just two weeks after the game in "Krefelder Zeitung" (13 February 1910).

Mr. Therkatz would be probably completely forgotten if not for the chess column that he contributed to his hometown newspaper for many years. As Edward Winter pointed out in Chess Notes, Nimzovich once described Therkatz as "an amateur who played weakly enough to be able to write quite an important chess column". Nevertheless, Therkatz's notes were quite entertaining – if not for the chess contents, then at least for effortlessly weaving Latin proverbs and poetical quotes into the commentary.

This game was played over two days and the character of the struggle has changed dramatically from the first day to the second, so I am going to break down the analysis into two independent parts.

Here is what "Neuer Wiener Tagblatt" wrote about the 7th game – and the match in general – when the game was adjourned (22 January 1910):

Seven days of tense struggle are over! And yet there were no decisive results, so that both matadors are in the same situation as they were on the first day of the match: no winner, no loser. Can it stay that way? Is it possible that the next six games would be drawn, the match remain undecided and finally instead of one World Champion we would see two "half World Champions" on the throne? This question attracted a surprisingly large number of chess spectators to café "Zur Marienbrücke" for the fifth game, the final to be held in Vienna.

This tension will resolved on Monday, 24th of January. Today one can only guess and predict that the solid Viennese would be able to successfully hold the ground against his mighty opponent in the fifth game as well. From the first to the last move of today's session he had a nice position and even the most cautious souls could hardly imagine anything that could put him into danger. However, in the World's Champion camp there were no reasons to worry. The reefs of the middlegame were successfully avoided, but the resulting Queen+Rook game, in which both sides have seven pawns, is also very complicated. Dr. Lasker undertook a long walk with his king to the queenside (from 20th to 29th move) to show that the key to the position must be there. 

...and the game was indeed decided on the queenside – but the outcome surprised everyone!

We are returning to "Neuer Wiener Tagblatt", which reported on the shocking result of the game replay (25 January 1910):

The game continued on 24 January and ended in a real sensation. The position was promising a victory for Lasker, but after a series of incredibly deep and surprising moves by his opponent Lasker was finally forced to resign. Thanks to this, the Wiener part of the match has finished with a bang that no one expected. <...>

This evening started with a surprise that immediately captured the attention of the chess enthusiasts in the audience. This surprise was the move that Lasker sealed into the envelope back on Friday. Quite unexpectedly Lasker pushed forward the b-pawn next to his king. This forced Schlechter to resolve the tension by exchanging this pawn and thus improve the pawn structure for his opponent. This was followed by complicated play, during which Lasker offered a queens exchange and that Schlechter avoided, since in that case he would end up in a hopelessly lost endgame – although this was clear only for the trained eye of the chess analysts. After the retreat of the White queen, Black obtained dominating squares for his queen and rook. This in turn forced White to part with his a-pawn, as only at this price he could achieve a breakthrough on the queenside. Lasker's victory seemed all but assured, as he confidently refuted Schlechter's ideas and after taking the sacrificed pawn started pushing a passed pawn of his own on c-file, which necessitated Schlechter to sacrifice a second pawn – one would think only to make sure that the audience does not have to leave too early.

Lasker continued to make apparently not only reasonable, but also direct moves that seemed to get him ever closer to realization of his advantage, but then to everyone's surprise, in absolutely study-like way Schlechter invaded with his queen and rook into opponent's camp and caught Lasker's king in a mating net.

What a stunning conclusion to the Vienna half of the match!

Lasker was clearly baffled with the character of the struggle to that point. He shared his thoughts in two publications that appeared before the match was resumed in Berlin.

First came Lasker's interview for "Berliner Lokalanzeiger", quoted here in English translation published in "British Chess Magazine", 1909, p. 98:

In the last St. Petersburg tournament Schlechter always played recklessly for a win, but in the present championship match he has changed his tactics completely. He aims now rather at the certain draw than at the dubious win. According to the position, I ought to have won the last game (the fifth), but time difficulties led me to make an ill-considered move, which, against a master of Schlechter's caliber, naturally involved the loss of the game. Win the match? I am entering upon the struggle here with the greatest hopes, but the result must, of course, be fairly uncertain, in view of the few games remaining to be played and the not inconsiderable start which Schlechter has now obtained.

Lasker also published an article in "Berliner Zeit am Mittag" newspaper (29 January 1910), in which he expanded on this topic (again quoted here from "British Chess Magazine"):

The match to be resumed this afternoon at the Hotel de Rome has now entered upon an interesting stage. It is clear, from the character of Schlechter's play, that he is determined to take no chances, and, if unhorsed, to continue fighting like Richard III, on foot. It is a capital scheme, combining theory and practice – especially for young men who desire to exercise their intelligence in the avoidance of weaknesses and their energy in the face of difficulties. But for older men it is a tiring struggle against such maturely thought out and determined resistance. Schlechter owes the advantage he has gained to this cause, and in this sense his victory is well earned.

Schlechter has given me a new method of playing to fight against. I found out, with difficulty, the right strategy to employ, but was unfortunate when I applied it. I thought in the fifth game my victory was certain, until I committed the decisive mistake. It would not have happened had not Schlechter tired me by utilizing every opportunity open to him. And it might so easily have been otherwise. Theoretically the advantage was mine, even though practice asserted otherwise... Modern players do not give up equality of position in any part of the board for nothing, and it is not only difficult to avoid draws, but it is really toilsome to induce inequalities of position, and thus breed complications. Even when a modern master permits complications, he controls them. You can judge from that how difficult it is to beat such a master by force. Of course, I, too, shall fight like Richard III. Neither success nor failure will affect this resolve. That is certainly Schlechter's feeling also. We shall both do our best, and at the conclusion the loser will congratulate the victor on his success.

Leonid Verkhovsky commented on these statements in his Russian-language biography of Carl Schlechter (p. 76, translation mine):

Lasker analyzed the results of the first half of the match in a philosophical and somewhat abstract form. Nevertheless, his thoughts, while deep and original, seem to be subjective. It is notable that Lasker has changed his mind – now he sees Schlechter as a fighter who is capable of both active defense and aggressive actions. However, it is illogical to treat Schlechter as a player from a different generation and explain his success by that – there is only 6 years of age difference between the contestants. Schlechter did not invent a "new method of playing", he is a typical representative of Viennese chess school, who thinks of the safety of his own position first. But in his personal manner of play this safety is not the only rationale, it often turns into a danger, as potential energy turns into a kinetic one, and it is then when we see the disturbance of the equilibrium that appeared in certain games of the match.

I think that the real reasons behind the "disturbance in the force" were different. We will get to this topic after reviewing the events of Game 6.

The scenario of this game mirrored that of the 4th game. Schlechter repeated the Open Spanish (despite regular difficulties in this opening, he would not deviate from it throughout the whole match), went for a slightly different line, once again drifted into a difficult position and had to save an endgame a pawn down.

Strangely enough, none of the annotators realized that things could have turned out even worse for Black:

The second phase of the match – Schlechter plays like Tal!

The end of Game 6 marks a sea change in the character of the match. Up to this point, Schlechter played in the style that everyone expected of him and which seemed to frustrate Lasker so much – tenacious in defense with Black, cautious and relatively bland with White. He was getting an upper hand in the first 3 games, then mostly struggled to survive in the next 3, but demonstrated his best qualities with his back against the wall. However, after Game 6 his style has and Schlechter started playing highly tactical, almost reckless attacking chess.

It would not be fair to ascribe this change to Schlechter alone. Facing a deficit in the match with only 4 games left, Lasker did his best to take Schlechter out of the comfort zone by trying all sorts of unusual (read: "unsound") openings as Black instead of the low-risk, low-rewards Steinitz variation of Ruy Lopez that he played in Vienna. Lasker ventured a Sicilian Dragon in the 7th game and then would shock the public with what would later become known as Chelyabinsk variation in the 9th game.

Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that in the last games of the match Schlechter threw all caution to the wind. His column, which appeared in "Allgemeine Sportzeitung" while the match was still in progress (5 February 1910), sheds some light on Schlechter's attitude (emphasis mine):

This Berlin series of games are attracting a vast crowd, but some regret has been expressed because the first two games have been drawn.

I assure readers that I am not seeking a series of tame draws. The score of the 7th game reveals that I got the best of the opening and in the middle game I sacrificed a bishop for two pawns, subsequently capturing a third. The sacrifice was quite sound but Dr. Lasker nullified my efforts and I had to take a draw by perpetual check.

If I am to become the chess champion at least I desire to be worthy of that honor and I do not intend to sit back content with my rather dubious win in the 5th game.

The last sentence is key to understanding the final stretch of the match. After Schlechter's victory in the 5th game, "The Times" published a report from a correspondent (26 January 1910) with the following conclusion:

The point is now as to whether Schlechter, the notable "drawing master", can succeed at least in drawing the remaining five games. If he can he keeps the advantage obtained by his win and becomes chess champion of the world.

However, Schlechter did not want to become a World Champion by carefully drawing the remaining games! We are witnessing somewhat similar changes in Vladimir Kramnik's style over the latter years, but it has been a more gradual process. Who could have guessed that Schlechter would revolt against his own reputation of a "drawing master" over the last 4 games of a World Championship?!

I believe that Schlechter succumbed to the pressure of the public opinion, which was in turn influenced by Lasker's articles and his jabs in the interviews during the match break. Lasker was a great expert in mind tricks and he managed to get under Schlechter's skin with his statements in Berlin press.

It was the turning point of the match, and the 7th game served as the best illustration for what was yet to come. Wolfgang Heidenfeld, the South African/Irish chess player and writer, heaped lavish praise on the 7th game of Lasker-Schlechter match in his book "Draw!":

The present game is outstanding in at least three respects. First, it is probably the most profound game ever player in a world championship match. Secondly, it is truly "modern" in the best sense of the world [=striving for double-edged complications from the start of the game]. Both players shrink from no risk in the struggle for victory – the more difficult the path towards it the better they seem to like it. Thirdly, it gives the lie complete to the silly story of Schlechter's being required to have a two-game advantage in order to win the title and of his taking "unreasonable risks", therefore, in the famous 10th game which Lasker won to equalize the score. If those who spread this story, which originated in the USA and the USSR – two countries remote from the venue of the match and the personalities involved in it – had any knowledge of the other games in this match, such as the present, they would have seen that the style of both contestants accorded closely with the style both had adopted, in this match, before the 10th game.

There is a photo of Lasker & Schlechter analyzing the 7th game:

Lasker and Schlechter analyzing the 7th game of their match

Heidenfeld concluded his analysis of the game by the following exclamation:

And yet there are people who maintain that Karpov and Korchnoi are stronger than Lasker and Schlechter. They must be joking.

In comparison to this thriller, 8th game was a relatively dull affair. At the end of the game it was Schlechter who was pressing with Black pieces, but Lasker held a draw without too much trouble.

These days the 9th game is mostly remembered for Lasker's daring attempt at 5...e5 Sicilian, which was 60-70 years ahead of its time. Naturally, the struggle in 9th game is overshadowed by the twists and turns of the final game of the match.

And yet, the 9th game could have easily become Schlechter's Waterloo instead of the 10th. Schlechter continued playing in his newly discovered swashbuckling style and it should have backfired, but Lasker missed two clear shots on goal.  

The final game

This brings us to the final and the most dramatic chapter of this saga, the famous 10th game of the match. Warren Goldman wrote in his book that "any work on the career of Carl Schlechter will be judged largely by its treatment of the famous 1910 drawn match with Emanuel Lasker." The same could be said about any articles about 1910 match, as it will always come down to this fateful final game.

I decided to rely on the text and analysis from another article by E.A. Apps, which was compiled from pre-war sources and published in "CHESS" magazine in March 1976. Of course, the annotations from 1910s or even 1970s should be taken with more than a grain of salt, but I find them enormously interesting from the historical point of view. It allows us to see how the leading masters of the day understood the game and how their (unavoidably flawed) analysis led to the creation of myths and legends that still surround this game. 

If you are looking for the "final truth", then you should check Kasparov's "Great Predecessors", or better yet - Robert Hübner's exhaustive analysis that stretched no less than five (!) issues of "Schach" magazine in 1999.

Just like I did with Game 5, I am going to divide the analysis of Game 10 into multiple parts to highlight the key moments of this historical game. The analysis and text below is quoted from E. A. Apps' article:


Emanuel Lasker's second, Hugo Fähndrich, sat very silent and dejected throughout the two-hour session, whereas at dinner the next evening he was bouyant and almost hilarious. Dr. Lasker was certainly very serious and tense - far more so than at perhaps any other game in his life.

"There was no trace of excitement apparent in his thoughtful face. His eyes seemed almost to devour the pieces and his glance shot now and then over the squares of the board in a kind of lurking manner, but he smoked quickly and incessantly, in long pulls, without probably being aware of it himself, and his small nervous hands were often passed through his thick hair, or stroking his moustache." (Berliner Lokalanzeiger).

Modern [AT: as of 1976!] Appraisal of the Opening

Schlechter's defense was not well understood at the time and was dubbed 'Irregular Defense' by The Times, Saturday 12 February 1910, which published the tenth game in full.

It is now the well-known "Schlechter Variation"; see Mark Taimanov. The Slav Defense pp. 60-74 (Abkop Printing Co., 1973).

White's accepted 7th move is 7.0-0 (not Lasker's 7.Qc2?). Black can then try: 7...Bg4 (Smyslov), or 7...Bf5 (Flohr) or 7...e6 or 7...c5?! Flohr's move 7...Bf5 has led to many drawn games, and in Najdorf v Sanguinetti (Mar del Plata 1957) White only "stood rather better at move 16"; Najdorf's subsequent win was due to combinative play and had nothing to do with the opening.

Ludek Pachman's Queen's Gambit (Chess Ltd.) pp. 187-9 refers to this defense as the 'Slav Fianchetto'. Smyslov did well with this defense when World Champion and the opening 1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nf3 Nf6 4.e3 g6 5.Nc3 Bg7 6.Bd3 0-0 7.0-0 c5 8.dxc5 dxc4 9.Bxc4 Qxd1 10.Rxd1 Nbd7 11.c6 bxc6 is very well-known and at most offers White a 'minimal advantage' (Pachman ibid) (Compare this defense with the Grünfeld Defense which came into use about 1922).

This was the only Queen's Gambit Declined opening in this short match and obviously Schlechter had this excellent defense prepared ready for such an event. Why should he change it? My only regret is that he did not try at move 8...Nc7!

Thesis: 'Schlechter absolutely had to win the last game to get the two vital points over Lasker and opened with an aggressive and risky defense.'

Answer: False. Schlechter's opening theory is completely vindicated by modern standards. "The fianchetto strengthens the king's side and simultaneously restricts the sphere of White's King's Bishop. Black stands solid and secure in the center. In this aspect, Black has a very solid position from which to launch active counterplay." (M. Taimanov, p. 60, ibid).

Play on Wednesday, 9 February 1910, was in three two hour session: 3-5 p.m.; 6-8 p.m.; 9-11 p.m.; Lasker made sealed moves at move 29 for the 'tea recession' and at move 43 for the 'dinner recession'.

Black's doubtful 35th move was made at 6:50 p.m. Lasker's 58th move was sealed at the second and final adjournment at 11 p.m.

[The final instalment present the "three decisive moments" of the game]

The official news of Schlechter's resignation and the fact that the match was drawn with the score 5-5 with Dr. Lasker retaining the World Championship was announced to the spectators by the referee Erhard Post at about 8:50 p.m., Thursday 10 February 1910.

Never in a title match was Dr. Lasker seen to be more tense and serious than in the first three sessions of this game, while his second sat glum and silent and "fidgeted with his watch, his pens, his handkerchief, and virtually everything he had" (Berliner Lokalanzeiger).

In the opening session Lasker seemed to be nearly in panic and this is more consistent with the theory that both the match and the title depended on the last game and that only a win would save him.

We know what Lasker thought just before this game, as he wrote on February 6 (published in his Saturday chess column in the "New York Evening Post" issue 19 February 1910): "The match with Schlechter is nearing its end, and it appears probable that for the first time in my life I shall be the loser. If that should happen a good man will have won the world's championship" and in the NYEP issue for 26 February 1910: "The title hung in the balance to the last game."


The aftermath of the match

We will conclude the reporting on the match with the quote from "Berliner Lokalanzeiger", as presented in "British Chess Magazine" in 1909 (p. 99):

Naturally the public followed every phased of the game with devouring eagerness. The game was followed on numerous boards in the room, and each move was most ardently discussed. These commentaries were indulged in at first in whispers, but often enough order had to be called when individual disputes became too loud.

It was no secret that Lasker was playing to win. When the adjournment took place, at seven o'clock, his chances seemed to be especially good. On the resumption of play the tension was very great... After play had been in progress about an hour, a restrained but mighty surge of excitement went through the room. Lasker had forced an exchange of queens, and this sealed the fate of his opponent in a game that had lasted three days. A few moments later, after a desperate defense, the game was over – Lasker had retained the world's championship. A great shout of delight broke out; the clapping of hands on the splendid result lasted many minutes. Deeply moved, the champion spoke a few words, referring in chivalrous terms to the worth of his antagonist, and expressing a hope to resume the contest with him at an opportune date. It was rumored, however, that it would be two years before the champion would again enter the arena.

Both of these predictions proved to be wrong. On the one hand, Schlechter never got another chance to play for a World Championship. On the other hand, despite coming so close to becoming an ex-Champion – or maybe precisely because of it – it did not take long for Lasker to put his title at stake once again. Nine months later, before 1910 was over, Lasker played another World Championship match, vs David Janowski. It was not the first time that Lasker played a match with Janowski, but it was the first time that they played for a World Championship title. It was a massacre, with Lasker winning +8=3, without any losses.

After that Lasker would not play another World Championship match for another decade. The First World War would halt all chess activities from 1914 to 1918, and it would be only in 1921 that the aging Lasker would finally agree to a match with Jose Raul Capablanca. Lasker would resign the match after 14 games of the 24 that were originally planned. As we already mentioned, in the initial negotiations for the World Championship match with Capablanca Lasker proposed the same "+2" clause that Schlechter agreed to, but Capablanca would have none of it. Their relationship would remain sour ever since.

As for Schlechter, the drawn World Championship match obviously boosted his reputation. "The Chess Weekly" (with Capablanca as the editor) had nothing but praise for him (5 March 1910):

Although Dr. Lasker retains the title of World's Champion, and, in view of the fact that he evened the score by a heroic effort at the eleventh hour, commands the same respect that he ever did, Schlechter ranges up alongside him, an impressive figure great than any other master living today.

Schlechter would further cement his status as one of the top players of the time by winning his next tournament, German Chess Congress in Hamburg 1910, and then finishing shared 2nd (with Rubinstein) in a monster 25-round Carlsbad 1911 tournament.

Schlechter remained a force to be reckoned with until the end of his life, but unfortunately, his life was cut short by the privations of the First World War. Warren Goldman suggested that Schlechter's modest character also played a role in his demise:

Concerning the crucial question why there wasn't greater support of Schlechter during the cruel war years, the writer believes that this kind and generous man was simply incapable of making his increasingly desperate situation known to his friends. Finding himself unable to obtain life's basic necessities, he was too proud, perhaps too embarrassed, to admit that he had been brought to ruin by forces beyond his control.

Carl Schlechter at Berlin 1918 tournament, three months before his untimely death. From left to right: Emanuel Lasker, Akiba Rubinstein, Bernhard Kagan (tournament organizer), Carl Schlechter, Siegbert TarraschCarl Schlechter at Berlin 1918 tournament, three months before his untimely death. From left to right: Emanuel Lasker, Akiba Rubinstein, Bernhard Kagan (tournament organizer), Carl Schlechter, Siegbert Tarrasch © Wikipedia

Goldman goes on to cite a passage from Rudolf Spielmann's book "Karl Schlechter":

...from 1917 on, Schlechter, at first slowly, then continuously, went downhill. The reason for this was the increasing food shortages in Vienna. His income was not sufficient to cover even the most essential items which continued to become more expensive. His chess friends would have been happy to help his so greatly respected master, but Schlechter was not the individual to reveal his need. And so he slowly physically deteriorated. The author last saw Schlechter in July 1917 and was alarmed at how poor he looked.

One can only guess how Schlechter's life could have turned out had he won the World Championship match in 1910. Perhaps the fame would have helped him to survive the war and he would not have died at the age of 44...

Alas, Carl Schlechter could not make the final step in his quest for the World Champion title. However, his titanic struggle with Emanuel Lasker will forever be remembered as one of the most exciting and mysterious matches in the history of Chess World Championships.