A Century of Chess: Lasker-Janowski 1909
Wiener Schachzeitung

A Century of Chess: Lasker-Janowski 1909

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By 1909, it was apparent that Janowski had lost a step. He had finished far from the leaders both at Carlsbad and at Prague. He was losing his sense of proportion in positions and taking increasingly unwarranted risks. But, as he had been for over a decade, he was still a legitimate contender for the world championship, and, with Lasker discovering in the late 1900s that he very much enjoyed playing matches, the more the better, it stood to reason that the two of them would meet. They first played a series of four exhibition games in the house of Leo Nardus, Janowski’s patron. They split those games with two wins apiece.

Janowski, naturally enough, was emboldened to challenge Lasker for a full match, with Nardus’ sponsorship. It’s been suggested that Lasker intentionally threw his games in the exhibition match, exactly like a park hustler luring in a mark, but that’s ridiculous. The longer ten-game match wasn’t a world championship: Lasker had already agreed to a match with Schlechter the following year and would have broken his pact if he'd played a title match beforehand – but certainly, if Janowski had won, he wouldn’t have been shy in declaring his superiority. After an opening draw, Lasker won four straight games, and then, after a Janowski victory, won three more – a blowout victory just as one-sided as his 1907 defeat of Marshall.

Janowski’s play wasn’t particularly awful, at least in the early games of the match, but Lasker was on a higher level – and he discovered exactly how to handle Janowski. It wasn’t a case of “getting him before he got you,” which was Marshall’s prescription. As white, Lasker played the Exchange Variation of the Ruy Lopez and outplayed Janowski in the queenless middlegame. As black, he adopted constricted positions where Janowski seemed to have some initiative but couldn’t make progress without compromising himself. Inevitably, Janowski overplayed his hand and Lasker won with a sharp counterattack. In the catalog of chess excuses (accompanied by the ‘sea air’ that plagued Tarrasch in Dusseldorf), Janowski’s stands out. “Lasker plays such stupid chess,” he is reported to have said, “that I can’t bear to look at the board while he’s thinking."


-Edward Winter, Lasker v. Janowsky, Paris, 1909