Emanuel Lasker was the second "official" World Chess Champion, reigning for a record 27 years after he defeated the first World Champion, Wilhelm Steinitz, in 1894.
Statistician Jeff Sonas of Chessmetrics writes, "if you look across players' entire careers, there is a significant amount of statistical evidence to support the claim that Emanuel Lasker was, in fact, the most dominant player of all time." By Sonas' reckoning, Lasker was the No. 1 player in the world for a total of 24.3 years between 1890 and 1926.
He was born in what was then Berlinchen (literally "little Berlin") in Prussia, and which is now Barlinek in Poland. In 1880, he went to school in Berlin, where he lived with his older brother Berthold Lasker, who was studying medicine, and who taught him how to play chess. By Chessmetrics' analysis, Berthold was one of the world's top ten players in the early 1890s.
Soon after Lasker obtained his abitur in Landsberg an der Warthe, now a Polish town named Gorzow Wielkopolski, the teenager's first tournament success came when he won the Café Kaiserhof's annual Winter tournament 1888/89, winning all 20 games. Soon afterwards, he tied with Emil von Feyerfeil with 12/15 (+11 -2 =2) at the second division tournament of the sixth DSB Congress in Breslau, defeating von Feyerfeil in the one game play-off.* Also in 1889, he came second with 6/8 (+5 -1 =2) behind Amos Burn at the Amsterdam "A" (stronger) tournament, ahead of James Mason and Isidor Gunsberg, two of the strongest players of that time. In 1890 he finished third in Graz behind Gyula Makovetz and Johann Hermann Bauer, then shared first prize with his brother Berthold in a tournament in Berlin. In spring 1892, he won two tournaments in London, the second and stronger of these without losing a game. At New York 1893, he won all thirteen games, one of a small number of significant tournaments in history in which a player achieved a perfect score.
After Lasker won the title, he answered his critics who considered that the title match was by an unproven player against an aging champion by being on the leader board in every tournament before World War I, including wins at St Petersburg in 1895-96, Nurenberg 1896, London 1899, Paris 1900 ahead of Harry Nelson Pillsbury (by 2 points with a score of +14 −1 =1), Trenton Falls 1906, and St Petersburg in 1914. He also came 3rd at Hastings 1895 (this relatively poor result possibly occurring during convalescence after nearly dying from typhus), 2nd at Cambridge Springs in 1904, and =1st at the Chigorin Memorial tournament in St Petersburg in 1909. In 1918, a few months after the war, Lasker won a quadrangular tournament in Berlin against Akiba Rubinstein, Carl Schlechter and Siegbert Tarrasch.
After he lost the title in 1921, Lasker was still in the top rank of players, winning at Moravská Ostrava in 1923 ahead of Richard Reti, Ernst Gruenfeld, Alexey Sergeevich Selezniev, Savielly Tartakower, and Max Euwe. His last tournament win was at New York 1924, where he scored 80% and finished 1.5 points ahead of Jose Raul Capablanca, followed by Alexander Alekhine and Frank James Marshall. In 1925, he came 2nd at Moscow behind Efim Bogoljubov and ahead of Capablanca, Marshall, Tartakower, and Carlos Torre Repetto. There followed a long hiatus from chess caused by his intention to retire from the game, but he re-emerged into front line chess in 1934 placing 5th in Zurich behind Alekhine, Euwe, Salomon Flohr and Bogoljubow and ahead of Ossip Bernstein, Aron Nimzowitsch, and Gideon Stahlberg. In Moscow in 1935, he was 3rd, undefeated, a half point behind Mikhail Botvinnik and Flohr and ahead of Capablanca, Rudolf Spielmann, Ilia Abramovich Kan, Grigory Levenfish, Andre Lilienthal, and Viacheslav Ragozin. Reuben Fine hailed the 66-year-old Lasker's performance as "a biological miracle". In 1936, Lasker placed 6th in Moscow and finished his career later that year at Nottingham when he came =7th with 8.5/14 (+6 -3 =5), his last-round game being the following stylish win: Lasker vs C H Alexander, 1936.
Non-title matches 1889 saw his long career in match play commence, one which only ceased upon relinquishing his title in 1921. He won nearly of his matches, apart from a few drawn mini-matches, including a drawn one-game play-off match against his brother Berthold in Berlin in 1890, losing only exhibition matches with Mikhail Chigorin, Carl Schlechter and Marshall, and a knight-odds match against Nellie Showalter, Jackson Showalter's wife. In 1889, he defeated Curt von Bardeleben (+1 =2) and in 1889-90 he beat Jacques Mieses (+5 =3). In 1890, he defeated Henry Edward Bird (+7 -2 =3) and Nicholas Theodore Miniati (+3 =2 -0), and in 1891 he beat Francis Joseph Lee (+1 =1) and Berthold Englisch (+2 =3). 1892 and 1893 saw Lasker getting into his stride into the lead up to his title match with Steinitz, beating Bird a second time (5-0), Joseph Henry Blackburne (+6 =4), Jackson Whipps Showalter (+6 -2 =2) and Celso Golmayo Zupide (+2 =1). In 1892, Lasker toured and played a series of mini-matches against leading players in the Manhattan, Brooklyn and Franklin Chess Clubs. At the Manhattan Chess Club, he played a series of three-game matches, defeating James Moore Hanham, Gustave Simonson, David Graham Baird, Charles B Isaacson, Albert Hodges, Eugene Delmar, John S Ryan and John Washington Baird; of the 24 games he played against these players he won 21, losing one to Hodges and drawing one each with Simonson and Delmar. At the Brooklyn Chess Club, Lasker played two mini-matches of two games each, winning each game against Abel Edward Blackmar and William M De Visser, and drew the first game of an unfinished match against Philip Richardson. Lasker finished 1892 at the Franklin Chess Club by playing 5 mini-matches of two games each against its leading players, winning every game against Dionisio M Martinez, Alfred K Robinson, Gustavus Charles Reichhelm and Hermann G Voigt and drawing a match (+1 -1) with Walter Penn Shipley. Shipley offered cash bonuses if he could stipulate the openings and taking up the challenge, Lasker played the Two Knight's Defense and won in 38 moves, while in the second game, Shipley won as Black in 24 moves against Lasker playing the White end of a Vienna Gambit, Steinitz variation (Opening Explorer). Shipley, who counted both Lasker and Steinitz as his friends, was instrumental in arranging the Philadelphia leg of the Lasker-Steinitz match, that being games 9, 10 and 11. 29 years later, Shipley was also the referee of Lasker’s title match with Capablanca. In 1892-3, Lasker also played and won some other matches against lesser players including Andres Clemente Vazquez (3-0), A Ponce (first name Albert) (2-0) and Alfred K Ettlinger (5-0). Also in 1893, Mrs. Nellie Showalter, wife of Jackson Showalter and one of the leading women players in the USA, defeated Lasker 5-2 in a match receiving Knight odds.
These matches pushed Lasker to the forefront of chess, and after being refused a match by Tarrasch, he defeated Steinitz for the world title in 1894 after spreadeagling the field at New York 1893. While he was World Champion, Lasker played some non-title matches, the earliest of which was a six-game exhibition match against Chigorin in 1903 which he lost 2.5-3.5 (+1 -2 =3); the match was intended as a rigorous test of the Rice Gambit, which was the stipulated opening in each game. In the midst of his four title defenses that were held between 1907 and 1910, Lasker played and won what appears to have been a short training match against Abraham Speijer (+2 =1) in 1908. Also in 1908, he played another Rice Gambit-testing match, this time against Schlechter, again losing, this time by 1-4 (+0 =2 -3), apparently prompting a rethink of the Rice Gambit as a viable weapon.** In 1909 he drew a short match (2 wins 2 losses) against David Janowski and several months later they played a longer match that Lasker easily won (7 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss). Lasker accepted a return match and they played a title match in 1910 (details below). In 1914, he drew a 2 game exhibition match against Bernstein (+1 -1) and in 1916, he defeated Tarrasch in another, clearly non-title, match by 5.5-0.5. After Lasker lost his title in 1921, he is not known to have played another match until he lost a two-game exhibition match (=1 -1) against Marshall in 1940, a few months before he died. A match between Dr. Lasker and Dr. Vidmar had been planned for 1925, but it did not eventuate.***
World Championship matches The Lasker-Steinitz World Championship (1894) was played in New York, Philadelphia, and Montreal. Lasker won with 10 wins, 5 losses and 4 draws. Lasker also won the Lasker-Steinitz World Championship Rematch (1896), played in Moscow, with 10 wins, 2 losses, and 5 draws. At one stage when Rudolf Rezso Charousek ‘s star was in the ascendant, Lasker was convinced he would eventually play a title match with the Hungarian master; unfortunately, Charousek died from tuberculosis in 1900, aged 26, before this could happen. As it turned out, he did not play another World Championship for 11 years until the Lasker-Marshall World Championship Match (1907), which was played in New York, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, Chicago, Memphis. Lasker won this easily, remaining undefeated with 8 wins and 7 draws.
After a prolonged period of somewhat strained relations due to Tarrasch’s refusal of Lasker’s offer for a match, Lasker accepted Tarrasch’s challenge for the title, and the Lasker-Tarrasch World Championship Match (1908) was played in Düsseldorf and Munich, with Lasker winning with 8 wins 3 losses and five draws. In 1910, Lasker came close to losing his title when he was trailing by a full point at the tenth and last game of the Lasker-Schlechter World Championship Match (1910) (the match being played in Vienna and Berlin); Schlechter held the advantage and could have drawn the game with ease on several occasions, however, he pursued a win, ultimately blundering a Queen endgame to relinquish his match lead and allow Lasker to retain the title. Some months later, the Lasker-Janowski World Championship Match (1910) - played in Berlin - was Lasker’s final successful defense of his title, winning with 8 wins and 3 draws.
In 1912 Lasker and Rubinstein, agreed to play a World Championship match in the fall of 1914 but the match was cancelled when World War I broke out. The war delayed all further title match negotiations until Lasker finally relinquished his title upon resigning from the Lasker-Capablanca World Championship Match (1921) in Havana while trailing by four games.
Life, legacy and testimonials
Lasker’s extended absences from chess were due to his pursuit of other activities, including mathematics and philosophy. He spent the last years of the 19th century writing his doctorate. Between 1902 and 1907, he played only at Cambridge Springs, using his time in the US. It was during this period that he introduced the notion of a primary ideal, which corresponds to an irreducible variety and plays a role similar to prime powers in the prime decomposition of an integer. He proved the primary decomposition theorem for an ideal of a polynomial ring in terms of primary ideals in a paper Zur Theorie der Moduln und Ideale published in volume 60 of Mathematische Annalen in 1905. A commutative ring R is now called a 'Lasker ring' if every ideal of R can be represented as an intersection of a finite number of primary ideals. Lasker's results on the decomposition of ideals into primary ideals was the foundation on which Emmy Noether built an abstract theory which developed ring theory into a major mathematical topic and provided the foundations of modern algebraic geometry. Noether's Idealtheorie in Ringbereichen (1921) was of fundamental importance in the development of modern algebra, generalising Lasker's results by giving the decomposition of ideals into intersections of primary ideals in any commutative ring with ascending chain condition.****
After Lasker lost his title, he spent a considerable amount of time playing bridge and intended to retire. However, he returned to chess in the mid-thirties as he needed to raise money after the Nazis had confiscated his properties and life savings. After the tournament in Moscow in 1936, the Laskers were encouraged to stay on and Emanuel accepted an invitation to become a member of the Moscow Academy of Science to pursue his mathematical studies, with both he and his wife, Martha, taking up permanent residence in Moscow. At this time, he also renounced his German citizenship and took on Soviet citizenship. Although Stalin's purges prompted the Laskers to migrate to the USA in 1937, it is unclear whether they ever renounced their Soviet citizenship.
Lasker counted Albert Einstein amongst his friends. He published several chess books but as he was also a mathematician, games theorist, philosopher and even playwright, he published books in all these fields, except for the play which was performed on one occasion. As a youth, his parents had recognised his potential and sent him to study in Berlin where he also learned to play serious chess. After he graduated from high school, he studied mathematics and philosophy at the universities in Berlin, Göttingen and Heidelberg. Lasker died in the Mount Sinai Hospital, New York in 1941, aged 72, and was buried in the Beth Olom Cemetery in Queens. He was survived by his wife and his sister, Lotta.
On May 6, 2008, Dr. Lasker was among the first 40 German sportsmen to be elected into the "Hall of Fame des Deutschen Sports".
"It is not possible to learn much from him. One can only stand and wonder." - <Max Euwe> Euwe lost all three of his games against Lasker, the most lopsided result between any two world champions.
"My chess hero" - <Viktor Korchnoi>
"The greatest of the champions was, of course, Emanuel Lasker" - <Mikhail Tal>
"Lies and hypocrisy do not survive for long on the chessboard. The creative combination lies bare the presumption of a lie, while the merciless fact, culminating in a checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite." – <Emanuel Lasker>
* E von Feyerfeil vs Lasker, 1889** http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/... *** User: Karpova: Emanuel Lasker ****http://www.gap-system.org/~history/...
Sources: Article about Lasker by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson http://www.gap-system.org/~history/...; Obituary from the Times of London: http://www.gap-system.org/~history/...
Notes Lasker played on the following consultation chess teams
Em. Lasker / MacDonnell, Lasker / Taubenhaus, Em. Lasker / Maroczy, Em. Lasker / I Rice, Em. Lasker / Barasz / Breyer, Lasker / Pillsbury, Lasker / Chigorin / Marshall / Teichmann, W Lasker Em / Ward Higgins, Emanuel Lasker / Heinrich Wolf, H Lasker Em / Keidanski & L Lasker Em / Lasek.
Wikipedia article: Emanuel Lasker