Lasker Letter (NY Tournament 1927) Part 4

May 15, 2008, 5:45 AM |


The Emanuel Lasker Affair

Lasker's Version, Part Four


From: Emanuel Lasker

To: Various Newspapers and Organizations

Date: April or May [?], 1927

[Continued from Part Three]


Upon my return from Norway, on March 23rd, I received a registered letter from Mr. Capablanca. It contained the following invitation to a Tournament at Havana:

Dear Dr. Lasker,

A Tournament has been arranged in Havana to take place right after the close of the New York Tournament. It will thus begin around March 28th, 1927. All the participants in the New York Tournament will be invited and besides, G. Maróczy, Dr. Tartakower and Réti. It will be a double round affair at the rate of 40 moves in 2½ hours. Play to take place every day during the week. The schedule will be arranged according to the final number of participants in order to make the Tournament as short as possible without interfering with the absolute necessities of the playerswelfare. The prizes will be as follows: 1st $1,500 or $1,600; 2nd $1,200 or $1,100; 3rd $800 or $700; 4th $400. In addition $50 a point will be paid to the non-prize winners. Those prizes might be enlarged but not diminished. As there is no time for correspondence or negotiations of any sort the directing hands, one of which is Dr. Ponce who signs with me, have decided to offer you at once the maximum they are ready to offer, viz: $2,000 (two thousand dollars) to cover your playing fee and your traveling expenses from Europe and back. Once you are here you will be taken care of in the same form as the other players. This is of course independent of any prize money you may win.

Upon receipt of this kindly cable YES or NO to: Doctor Alberto Ponce, Union Club, Havana. YES, of course, will mean that you accept to come and be here on time to play on the abovenamed tournament that will begin the first of April. NO will mean that you will not play. If you cable YES, we will forward by cable to the same address as this letter, one thousand dollars. The other thousand to cover you fee and traveling expenses will be given to you within 24 hours after your arrival. Dr. Ponce wishes to be excused from writing on account of his lack of knowledge of the English language. He says he would be delighted to see you here once more.

Hoping to obtain a favorable answer, I remain

Sincerely yours,

J.R. Capablanca

Agreed to in every respect: Alberto Ponce


The date of this letter is worthy of notice. The letter was dictated January 26th signed and forwarded by Dr. Ponce to Mr. Capablanca on the 22nd of February. It then stayed a few days in the pocket of Mr. Capablanca, who mailed it on the second of March; had it arrived very early, say on the tenth of March, it would have allowed me three weeks within which to prepare the voyage to Havana, to make it and to get acclimatized before starting the Tourney, an impossible task. As it was, I received it on the 23rd of March. The Tourney, so it turned out, did not take place at all, which is a pity, since Capablanca in the month of April at Havana would have carried off a victory against his European competitors that would have been a crushing triumph.


Aside from this invitation I found in the letter the following missive:


New York

March 1st, 1927

Dear Sir,

The enclosed letter was written before I left Havana, when the tournament seemed already assured and before you undertook once more to attack me through the press without any provocation on my part. Réti and Tartakower are not here, therefore they may not play. As far as you are concerned the enclosed letter is an invitation which speaks for itself. I must add, however, that unless you apologize and retract through the press all that you have said against me I shall never play (after Havana) in any Tournament in which you participate. As you might claim that my decision is an excuse to avoid a match with you, I wish to state that should you challenge and deposit a forfeit to bind the challenge I cannot very well refuse to play, but I shall insist in your case and only in your case, that once my 20% fee be taken from the purse, the rest of it shall all go to the winner.

I wish to add that I shall not accept any communication from you unless preceded by a complete apology.

Yours truly,

J.R. Capablanca


I am not in principle against making an apology. Errare humanum est, and to acknowledge having made a mistake, if that action is sincere, is also heroic. But in the present instance I see no cause whatever for such action. Even if I had said aught against Capablancas person, he is not above criticism, there is no lex lalsae majestatis Capablancae, but what I contend for concerns not his person but solely the future of Chess, what I fight against is the bad system embodied by the Committee of the late Tourney and I consider myself privileged in captaining a good cause that requires sacrifices on my side. Hence I must bear with fortitude Capablancas resolve not to receive any communications from me.

I think not badly of him; he has great faults, as I shall presently explain and also great virtues, for instance, his word is reliable even where others would falter; but he insists on misunderstanding my motives and it is as well, that I am spared the effort which under these conditions every direct communication with him would necessarily cause me. His resolve not to enter any Tournament in which I participate is regrettable and foolish: regrettable from the viewpoint of the evolution of chess and foolish for his own sake, because his Tournament record against me is disastrous and it is in his interest to improve it. Even his match record is not so convincing as his flatterers want to make him believe. As to the restrictions he imposes upon me in the event that I should challenge him he is downright at fault. He cannot change his published conditions except by agreement with his match partner. His outburst of passion is so much more astounding as I have never insulted him. He has insulted me in the press and in a chess magazine, I retaliated by abstaining from intercourse with him. To use invective is not given me. I look upon persons and things as evolutionary and though trying to give them a large allowance, I am sometimes driven to argue and even to assail, but not for personal benefit. I absolutely always contend for a cause, and I desire to be shown where I used invectives, or let invectives be inferred. I try to say what I mean without fear or favor, but always for an object that concerns a society. For myself I do not fight hard but would take such blows of fortune as would concern only my possessions like I would take bad weather.


Capablanca, on the other hand, looks upon argument as a personal affair. He uses invective, sometimes direct, sometimes covered by a thin veil of inference. He assumes that his opponents, and possibly men generally, are actuated by highly selfish motives. At least, that has been my invariable experience with him for sixteen years. His great fault, from a chessic point of view, is his lack of self-discernment. He is, without doubt, a chess master of exceeding merit and rightly belongs in the series of chess champions which starts with Philidor. Yet he is fearsome as if he mistrusted his own powers. And that has grown on him and threatens to clog the wheels of his own evolution. Nor has Capablanca the proper valuation of opposition. He does not know that without an opposition his deeds would lack lustre and interest. The best player would amount to very little unless the second best player amounted to something: this principle which is common sense is applicable to chess as much as to any game. And again, to the evolution of a man opposition is as needful as the wind is to a field of corn. But Capablanca is passionately angered by every kind of opposition. That is a great danger to him, too. The genius of chess has been kind and generous to Capablanca, but if he insists on his present ways he will stand still while others advance and in the end cut only a poor figure in the gallery of champions. My quarrel with Capablanca is not on the core of his chess, which, on the contrary, interests me greatly, but my quarrel with him is nevertheless bitter. He has achieved his success in Tournaments and matches financed and managed by a few influential sources. From my start I have appealed to the mass of the people; I have often failed in my endeavor, but have succeeded in arranging two matches on the plan of selling tickets by the dollar: one in the United States against Marshall and one in Berlin and Vienna against Schlechter; I have arranged countless lectures and exhibitions on this plan, the first one as early as 1895 and this way of arranging exhibitions, then a novelty displeasing men of influence, has step by step advanced and now become of almost universal use. My objection to the old plan of arrangement is that it depends on the whim of a few and favors clandestine intrigue. My plan, which is democratic, is also public, efficient, fertile. If international tourneys and worlds championships would be arranged on a democratic basis, a body of chess friends asking all interested persons, wherever they may reside, to contribute their dollar to the event and to elect the Committee, intrigue would melt out of chess and tournaments and matches worthwhile could easily be arranged on a just basis every year and help the old game mightily on its way.

I have shown that a certain group has been grossly discourteous to me, has smartly tried to make a very good bargain out of me, has succeeded in it and has launched ludicrous charges against me. These matters do not ruffle me. I shall know what to expect of that group and be on my guard, that is all. I have also shown that the Committees of 1924 and 1927 were partial to Capablanca and that the Tournaments of these years were consequently by so much spoiled; this circumstance does matter. Chess has to be organized on a different, a just, a moral basis, because the old game has a business to do, it has a meaning to explain, a function to fulfil all over the world. Whoever assumes an office, even an honorary one, is subject to its morals. A business must be done with attention and in businesslike fashion; in judging men who compete with each other, the judges have to aim at being impartial; each man has to be paid according to the service he renders: these are the morals of practical life. There were excellent men on the Committees of 1924 and 1927 who tried to serve chess, but were they always alive to the requirements of the honorary function that they had undertaken? On that score, I fear, hardly one of them was guiltless. For that reason, I trust, these discussions will be beneficial to chess of the future.


[Emanuel Lasker]

[End Part 4]