The Top Chess Players in the World

David Janowsky

David Janowsky
David Janowsky. Photo: Wikimedia.
Full name
David Janowsky
May 25, 1868 - Jan 15, 1927 (age 58)‎
Place of birth
Wołkowysk, Grodno Governorate, Russian Empire (modern Vawkavysk, Belarus)


David Janowsky, a Russian-born French master and a world-class player, is best known for his matches with former world champion Emanuel Lasker. Janowsky is also known as the inventor of the Janowsky Indian Defense. Former world champion Jose Raul Capablanca said, "When in form [Janowsky] is one of the most feared opponents who can exist."


Janowsky's style was tactical and aggressive. He was known to make very few draws and also said, "I detest the endgame." Janowsky played very quickly, and he was particularly strong with the bishop pair. He was adept with deep and penetrating plans, as we see in this game where Janowsky delivers a beautiful blow with 20.Qh6!

Early Career To World-Class Player

Janowsky was born in modern-day Belarus and moved to Paris in 1890. He started his chess career in the mid-1890s and had great success from almost the beginning. In the 1896 Nuremberg tournament he finished in fifth place ahead of former world champion Wilhelm Steinitz, Carl Schlechter, Mikhail Chigorin and 11 other masters. Because of his strong results before the turn of the century, Janowsky was quickly considered a world-class player.

Hastings 1895 Janowsky
Participants of the 1895 Hastings tournament: Janowsky is in the top row, third from the left. Photo: Wikimedia.

In the 1899 Vienna tournament, Janowsky finished in third place (behind Siegbert Tarrasch and Harry Pillsbury) ahead of Steinitz, Schlechter, Chigorin, Geza Maroczy, Semion Alapin and other masters. In 1899 Janowsky tied for second place in the London tournament (with Pillsbury and Maroczy but behind Lasker) ahead of Schlechter, Chigorin, Steinitz and other masters. In this game from this tournament, Janowsky uses a memorable queen sacrifice to force mate against Schlechter:

World Championship Challenger

In 1899 Janowsky defeated Frank Marshall in a short match (three wins, one loss) and then challenged Lasker, the world champion, to a match that was accepted. Unfortunately, these two players could not agree to match terms, and the match didn't happen at this time. Although these two players wouldn't play a match for 10 years, it was clear that Lasker viewed Janowsky as a worthy challenger for the crown. 

In 1901 he finished in fourth place in Monte Carlo (ahead of Isidor Gunsberg, Marshall and other masters). In 1902 he again finished in fourth place at the Monte Carlo tournament (ahead of Tarrasch, Schlechter, Chigorin, Marshall and other masters).

Cambridge Springs 1904 Janowsky
Participants of the 1904 Cambridge Springs tournament. Photo: Wikimedia.

In the historical 1904 Cambridge Springs tournament, Janowsky tied for second place (behind Marshall but tied with reigning world champion Lasker) ahead of a strong field of players, including Jackson Showalter, Schlechter, Chigorin, Pillsbury and nine other leading players. This tournament was particularly strong, as seven of the top-10 players in the world competed.

The following brilliant attacking game from Janowsky happened in the 1905 Ostend tournament. He plays a very sound opening and then launches a sacrificial combination: sacrificing first a knight on h6 and then a rook on f7 to tear open Tarrasch's kingside. Another memorable attack!

In the 1905 Ostend tournament Janowsky tied for second place (with Tarrasch and behind Maroczy) ahead of 11 other masters, including Schlechter, Marshall, Chigorin and Alapin. In the 1905 Barmen tournament Janowsky tied for first place with Schlechter ahead of Marshall, Chigorin, Alapin and seven other masters.

In this game from the 1905 Barmen tournament we see one of Janowsky's masterpieces. The opening is sound and strong. After Janowsky creates a protected passed pawn on d6, he starts to slowly build a kingside attack. The game is finished when he sacrifices a piece to transition into a winning endgame:

In 1907 the Ostend tournament had special significance because the winner would have a chance at the world championship. This tournament had six competitors, and Janowsky tied for third place (with Marshall but behind Tarrasch and Schlechter). He was not pleased with his result and decided that he would remain a challenger to Lasker after the 1908 championship match had ended.

Matches With Lasker And The World Championship

Janowsky played a short exhibition match with the world champion Lasker in May 1909. The result was a 2-2 tie, and because of this result Janowsky asked for a match for the world championship. Lasker agreed, but he already had another world championship match scheduled. Because Lasker needed to start preparing for his 1910 match with Schlechter, Lasker agreed to a longer exhibition match with Janowsky that was held in October-November 1909. 

In the second Lasker-Janowsky exhibition match, Lasker won easily (one win, seven losses, two draws for Janowsky). A few months after this match, Lasker retained his crown versus Schlechter in the 1910 world championship match, and Janowsky was the next challenger.

David Janowsky. Photo: Wikimedia.

The Lasker-Janowsky 1910 World Championship match had a different format than earlier matches: The winner would be the first to win eight games with draws not counting. Unfortunately, the results of this match were even worse for Janowsky than the terrible performance in the second 1909 exhibition match! Lasker completely dismantled Janowsky and scored eight wins and three draws without suffering a single defeat. It ended as the most one-sided world championship match in history.

Life After The World Championship and Legacy

After the 1910 World Championship match, Janowsky continued to play at a high level. His tournament performances varied a little more, but his overall results were still good. During the 1914 Mannheim tournament, World War I broke out. The tournament was put on hold, and the players from countries that Germany was now at war with were interned. Janowsky, future world champion Alexander Alekhine and other masters were confined. Janowsky was held for only a short time in Switzerland before he moved to the United States.

In the 1916 New York tournament Janowsky finished in second place behind future world champion Jose Raul Capablanca. In a particularly vicious game from this tournament, Janowsky skillfully places Oscar Chajes' king in a mating net after a blistering attack that starts with the "Greek gift" (White's light-squared bishop is sacrificed for Black's h7-pawn). A very memorable attack!

After the 1916 New York tournament Janowsky's play began to decline, although he continued to produce gems. In 1921 he won the Atlantic City tournament, and one of his best games was in 1925 (see his game with Friedrich Saemisch above in the Style section). Janowsky passed away in France in 1927 from tuberculosis.

David Janowski
David Janowsky. Photo: Wikimedia.

Janowsky will always be best remembered for his fighting spirit and his one-sided match with Lasker. He should also be remembered for his creative and ferocious attacking style and the longevity of his career. He defeated all of the first four world champions (Steinitz, Lasker, Capablanca and Alekhine), a feat accomplished by just one other player (Tarrasch). Janowsky's opening (the Janowsky Indian) is still used as a surprise weapon, and his memorable attacks and combinations are still studied in books, articles and videos to this day.

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