Lasker was a universal genius described by Albert Einstein as one of the most interesting people he knew. As well as holding the World Championship title for 27 years he earned a doctorate in mathematics, wrote books on philosophy and what later developed into game theory, and even penned a play. He first took up chess at the age of 11 when his parents sent him to study mathematics in Berlin along with his brother Berthold, eight years his senior and himself one of the strongest players of the day. Emanuel’s progress was so rapid that within a couple of years of starting to play professionally he was arguably further ahead of his contemporaries than any player since in chess history.
Lasker’s early successes include scoring a perfect 13/13 in a strong tournament in New York in 1893, and a year later he played Wilhelm Steinitz for the World Championship title. Although his ageing rival initially managed to trade blows a streak of five wins from games 7 to 11 set Lasker on the way to a comfortable victory. During his long reign he convincingly defeated Steinitz again in 1896/7, then Frank Marshall (1907), Siegbert Tarrasch (1908) and David Janowski (1910). His one struggle in those years was a match against Carl Schlechter in 1910, when he needed to win the final game to tie the scores at 5:5. He eventually lost the title to Capablanca in 1921, in a long-awaited match where he failed to win a game. Turbulent later years saw Lasker, who was Jewish, renounce his German citizenship and move to Russia. That was the scene of one of his greatest feats, when at the age of 67 he finished third at the 1935 Moscow Tournament, above Capablanca and only half a point behind Botvinnik and Flohr. At the time of his death in 1941 he was living in America.
A legend has grown up about Lasker being the first player to master chess psychology, varying his play to surprise and cause discomfort to each particular opponent. Lasker himself, however, and many later observers, have stated that he simply had a deeper understanding of chess. What’s certain is that he was an exceptional practical player, with none of his predecessors’ trust in dogmatic theories and prescriptive rules.
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