Three Days in Breslau. The Strange Story of How Lasker Became a Master.

Three Days in Breslau. The Strange Story of How Lasker Became a Master.

Nov 29, 2018, 6:33 AM |

Morning everyone.

Before I start, special mentions to @batgirl @Gottfrid and my good friend @kamalakanta for their time, trouble, and inspiration. Thanks guys.

O.K. A short time ago there was a truly beautiful post on this site, here  Go take a look! In the comments I mentioned that two names were well known in chess history. Hermann von Gottschall, and Emil von Feierfeil ( or Feyerfeil in some sources )

That resulted in this post, which tells a story that has been mentioned quite often, but never, to my knowledge, been told in full. So go grab a beer and I will begin!

In amongst the massive chess legacy of Hermann von Gottschall is this book.


Along side the main event - won convincingly by Tarrasch - was the hauptturnier of the Deutschen Schachbundes. I have discussed these events in some of my earlier posts with reference to Barmen 1905. For those of you who don't know, the winner of the hauptturnier would be officially recognized by the German Chess Association as a 'Master', which was quite a big thing. 

This particular event was the first important step in the career of Emanuel Lasker. Hannak, on page 26 of his book 'Emanuel Lasker the Life of a Chess Master'  says this. 

'And it may well be that Lasker, had he failed to achieve the master title at that first attempt, would have given up chess altogether. In fact, he had repeatedly told his brother Berthold that he would do so'. If that is correct, then the strange happenings over three days in Breslau were a defining moment in chess history.

You can find a photograph of Lasker, taken at the tournament here 10763

The Hauptturnier was played in two stages, two preliminary groups, and then a final with the top four in each group qualifying. The tables from Deutsche Schachzeitung - reproduced in the Tournament book.

nullLsker, as you can see, dominated his qualifying group , whilst the second group was much tougher. As it turns out, Dr. Ed did not play in the final group, leaving seven players. This was probably a relief to the remaining participants, as it meant a bye for each of them. The schedule in those D.S.B events was tough! The playing schedule was like this. One game 9-00a.m. -1-00 p.m. then another game 4-00pm-8-00p.m at 20 moves per hour. Then, the following day one game from 9-00a.m. - 1-00p.m. and the

4-00pm - 8-00p.m. session for adjourned games. Play was to take place from 15/07/1889 - 27/07/1889. 

Sadly the tournament book is rather light on it's coverage of the hauptturnier - only a few games are given, and there is no round by round schedule of the games played in the final. However it is clear that with Lasker losing early on to Steif, von Feierfeil found himself in the lead, and by a significant margin.

Despite my best efforts ( plus some help from others ) details about von Feierfeil are rather hard to come by! We know when he died, from Deutsche  Schachzeitung. '

Am 28. Februar ist in Wien
der bekannte Schachmeister Emil Ritter von Feyerfeil gestorben. 

I have also found references to him as both a player in Vienna, and as a problem composer, back into the mid 1860's ( so it is reasonable to assume a birth date between 1840 and 1845 ) but no biographical information! So help wanted on that one! There may well be an obituary and photograph in Wiener Schachzeitung in early 1917, but I haven't been able to locate it.

We do have one image of him though! It is in a composite owned by Edward Winter, and you can see it under 3478  

At this point a third player became a central figure in the drama.


Paul Lipke - at that time a student in Magdeburg. He went on to win the master title at the 7th D.S.B congress, at Dresden in 1893. You can find more about him in a nice article, with some excellent photographs, here 

O.K. That's the background done - onto the chess and the drama! The notes to the games are from the tournament book, and are by Dr. Seger - 3rd prize winner in the tournament - except for the Lasker - Lipke game, which are von Bardeleben's in Deutsche Schachzeitung. ( The translations, plus the Lipke quote, are my own, non-literal, interpretation.)

Lasker showed a glimpse of the great competitor that he was to become in his game against Lipke. Under huge pressure he  produced a masterpiece! 

That win kept him well in contention for first place, and the coveted master title. In the next round he had Black against von Feierfeil, and our three days of chaos began. He just played badly, and was crushed.

The tournament was effectively over - von Feierfeil needed just one point from his remaining two games to take first place, the prize of 300 marks, and the title of D.S.B. Master. In doing so, he may have changed the entire course of chess history.

In the next round he was to face Lipke, and the result was one of the most curious events in the history of the game.

As a prelude, I will give an excerpt from Lipke's reminiscences from Deutsches Schachblatter 1931, 

''But by far the most important thing was my acquaintance with Lasker:
He had become first in his group of the Hauptturnier,
and so we got to know each other more closely; I marveled at his self awareness, his general points of view, his ability to judge, create and develop positions. He also knew all kinds of technical tricks
and the individual styles of his opponents.
He spoke of the masters, (whom he, by the way, also knew exactly how to characterize,) as if they were his peers;
Also charactaristic is that he once told me,
'We will both will be fighting each other again - for the World Championship!.'
'That was a flattering overestimation of me,  but forshadowed his, later realized, hope of winning the World Championship title.
He had the highest respect for Steinitz, who he had already studied.
Lasker hardly suspected what fertile soil his suggestions to me fell on.
Of course I was fire and flame for him and was the only one who already knew to appreciate him in all his importance.
My game against von. Feierfeil I played as a life and death fight, just because I had to win it,
in order to help Lasker to the play off for the first prize, which as is well known, he won.

O.K. In the notes you will see that the game was adjourned at either move 40 or 41, in a position where von Feierfiel was at least equal. he had another game to play that day, against Dr.Seger. Given that he did not play all out for a win, I am assuming that the game was played in the afternoon session, and he assumed that a draw would be good enough.

So back to the von Feierfeil - Lipke game. Shortly after the adjournment - and let's assume that he had played nearly 80 moves in the day by then - von Feierfeil made his blunder on move 46. We take up the story after move 52 with the tournament book.

All of which left the final table like this.
The next day there was a single game play off for first prize and the master title. Unsurprisingly, having, I assume, played over 150 moves the day before, Von Feierfeil was unable to offer any serious resistance.
And so ended a strange sequence of events that may have changed the future course of chess history.