It is often debated who is the strongest chess player of all time. In such debates a small minority have chosen Emanuel Lasker. But whether or not Lasker could compete with the greatest, it is probably true that for comprehensive intelligence and mental accomplishments, he would beat them all.
Born in Prussia in 1868, Lasker was sent to Berlin to study mathematics. He learned chess from his brother Berthold, one of the then-strongest players in the world. In Berlin, he supported himself in part with chess. He triumphed in tournaments in Berlin and London, and in New York by a perfect score, a very rare achievement. After Siegbert Tarrasch refused to play him, he challenged the reigning, aging champion Wilhelm Steinitz and won a match held in three different cities in North America.
Lasker soon rebutted any doubts about his ability with a long list of triumphs. He famously averred that “lies and hypocrisy do not survive for long on the chessboard.” Included in his victims by overwhelming scores were Tarrasch, David Janowski, and the aggressive Frank Marshall of America, though he barely survived a challenge by the drawing master Carl Schlechter. Lasker held his world championship for 27 years, a period that included World War I. In 1920, Lasker, then 52, tried to resign his title, but he finally agreed to play Jose Raoul Capablanca in Cuba. Playing badly, Lasker resigned the match after just 14 games.
He continued to participate in tournaments into old age, for a while coming out ahead of Capablanca in a number of them, and even placing near the top in them.
Lasker published a number of magazines and wrote a simple but popular primer called Common Sense in Chess. Later on he wrote a large work in German translated into English as a manual of chess. In his early mathematical years, he composed a permanent solution to algebraic problems involving polynomial rings, in the process of which “Lasker Rings” were named in his honor. He possessed a doctorate in mathematics and published two mathematical papers in the magazine Nature.
Lasker’s interest for a while shifted to card games and he published a work on the mathematics of such games. He became a prominent bridge player, representing Germany in International contests, and he also became adept at the Japanese game Go.
Emanuel’s failures include a philosophy textbook, in which he attempted to lay down rules of logic, based in part on his experience with chess and a debate with his friend Albert Einstein on the speed of light. He teamed with brother Berthold to compose a drama, which was finally accepted for performance in Berlin. Its theme was that perfection was unattainable. The drama was too complex to become popular. Emanuel Lasker was a man of kaleidoscopic abilities.
Brevity: I. Rogers v. K. Langeweg (2001) 1.d4 Nf6 2.Bg5 d5 3.Bxf6 exf6 4.e3 c6 5.c4 dxc4 6.Bxc4 Bd6 7.Nc3 0–0 8.Nf3 Nd7 9.0–0 Nb6 10.Bb3 Qe7 11.Re1 Bd7 12.e4 Rad8 13.h3 Bb8 14.Qc2 Qd6 15.a4 a5 16.e5 fxe5 17.Rxe5 Bc7 18.Rh5 g6 19.Ne4 Qf4 20.Qd2; 1-0
Winners: Boylston Thurs. Night. Swiss 1st: E. Godin 4-0, 2d-3d Terence Fricker, Timothy O’Malley both 3.5-.5. Greater Worcester Fresh Start: 1st: John Curdo, 4-0, 2d: Brett Kildahl, 3-1; 3d: Mike Odell, 2.5-1.5.
Coming Events: 2014 Planet Earth Chess Championship, 139 South Main St., West Hartford, Conn., March 1, 860-250-6040; Metrowest Vernal Equinox, March 4, 11, 18, 25.