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cat20.jpg (2105 bytes) lk1.jpg (9987 bytes) Emanuel Lasker

Emanuel Lasker 1868-1941
World champion reign: 1894-1921
Editors: Tryfon Gavriel, Janet Edwardson of Barnet chess club (London, England)
Feedback welcome


Personal Background
Match/Tournament History
Lasker game philosophy
Lasker's personality
Literary contributions
Lasker games
Lasker quotes
Research references and credits

Personal background
bulletHe was a German player of Jewish origin
bulletHe was born in Berlinchen (after 1945 when it became a Polish town, it became known as Barlinek) , a small town in the Prussian province of Brandenburg on Christmas Eve
bulletHe had one brother and two sisters
bulletHe was taught the moves by his elder brother Berthold on a visit to Berlin
bulletHe finished his mathematical studies at the Universities of Heidelberg and Erlangen gaining his doctorate

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Match/Tournament History


Lasker's record of success in tournament play extends further than any other great player over a period of forty years. From 1895 to 1924 he played in ten major tournaments, winning or sharing eight first prizes, one second, one third. His 78% score in these events (+119=46-18) spread over 30 years, was easily the best tournament record of the time.

After gaining the title of World Champion at a young age of 25, he held the title of World Champion longer than any other world champion - 26 years and 337 days

Uncrowned Kings

Lasker's three main rivals prior to 1908 were Tarrasch, Maroczy and Pillsbury. Pillsbury was unfortunately very unwell and died in 1906. Tarrasch was particularly dominant in the chess world and arguably an "uncrowned king" through winning five major tournaments between 1889 and 1894:- 1889 Breslau Master Tournament, Nuremberg 1888, Manchester 1890, Dresden 1892, and Lepizig 1894. Tarrasch should have perhaps accepted Lasker's initial match proposal in 1892, and history might have been different.

After 1908, Lasker had to face Schlechter, Rubinstein, and Capablanca. Rubinstein's tournament record between 1909 and 1912 was better than anyone else in the world. It was the outbreak of war which prevented the scheduled match between himself and Lasker in 1914. Schlechter held his own in his match against Lasker, and unfortunately chess lost a brilliant player as he died in 1918 from a combination of malnutrition and pneumonia.

Lasker was greatly affected by Steinitz's impoverishment and demanded high fees whenever he played, believing a champion should be properly rewarded. He attempted to provide a more rewarding climate for his contemporaries to survive in. It was unfortunate for the chess world however, that many could not.

Lasker could go for many years without playing in a tournament, because he also had demanding professional interests in mathematics and philosophy. The rarity of his appearances contributed to his ability to raise the stakes when he did appear.

Year Description and implications Result 
1888 Café Kaiserhof annual Winter tournament Won (+20)
1889 The Hauptturnier of the German Schachbund tournament held in Breslau. [Editor's note: This is like the UK's Hastings challengers event and the Hastings Premiere event. Tarrasch had won the premier event, Lasker the challengers]


Lasker's victory brought him the title of German Schachmeister (master title) which increased the probability of Lasker taking up chess professionally rather than following one of his other many interests. He had even told his brother prior to the tournament that if he did not obtain first place he would abandon serious chess.

In this respect, it is interesting to note that if Lasker's main rival in the tournament had not had a position set up incorrectly after adjournment, Lasker might not have been able to catch up, and then win the play off giving him sole first place.

The winner of the master tournament was Dr Siegbert Tarrasch, who was destined to be one of Lasker's greatest rivals throughout his life.

1899 Amsterdam 2nd place
1890 London tournament Defeated Bird (+7=3-2)
1892 London tournament First prize (+5=3), half a point ahead of Blackburne
1892 Match with Blackburne

Lasker must have thought about the possibility of becoming world champion after this crushing match victory.

He first challenged Tarrasch, who suggested that he win a major tournament before making the challenge. He then decided to challenge the official world champion Steinitz, making the bold step of going to the USA.

Won (+6=4)
1894 (May)

World Championship match against Steinitz

Steinitz (left) vs Lasker 

Venues: New York, Philadelphia, Montreal


Steinitz immediately wanted a rematch, and wrote a letter full of venom to Lasker, which including such comments as: "I shall therefore take the fullest responsibility of retaining the champion title, which you have forfeited by your letter of June 22nd, after the expiration of the time of grace which I gave you for reconsideration... I have the honour to subscribe myself... yours very truly, W.Steinitz Chess Champion of the World"

Lasker found himself in the same position as a later world champion Karpov was to be in. He had the title, but had to prove himself to the chess world, by winning some major tournaments.

Editor's note: It seems nothing has changed nowadays (1999)! Perhaps we could all learn from Tarrasch's suggestion of having a "World Tournament Champion" as well as "World Champion" title :-)

Won (+10=4-5)
1895 Hastings

Implications: There was still tension as to who was the best player in the world. St Petersburg Chess Club was motivated to resolve this tension by arranging a tournament inviting all five in an all play all shootout in 1895-96. Unfortunately Tarrasch was unable to attend due to ill health.

3rd place (+14=3-4) after Pillsbury and Chigorin, ahead of Tarrasch and Steinitz
1895-6 St Petersburg, Russia, four master match tournament

Implications: Lasker re-asserted himself as a worthy world champion by winning this all play all.

1st (+8=7-3) ahead of Steinitz, Pillsbury and Chigorin
1896 Nuremberg 1st (+12=3-3) ahead of Maroczy, Pillsbury, Tarrasch, Steinitz and Chigorin
1896-97 World Championship return match against Steinitz held in Moscow

Implications: Lasker confirmed his status of World Champion to the chess world.

Editor's note: It could be argued that Steinitz's openings were an "open book" to Lasker, because Steinitz had given away many of his secrets in 1889 with the publication of the Modern Chess Instructor. This not only encapsulated Steinitz's general theories of chess, but also gave detailed accounts of opening analysis.

Won (+10=5-2)
1899 London (+18=7-1) 4.5 points ahead of Janowski, Marcozy and Pillsbury who shared 2nd place
1899 Haupitturnier, Breslaw Gained German master title
1900 Paris (+14=1-1) ahead of Pillsbury and Maroczy
1904 Cambridge Springs

Implications: This minor setback coming behind Marshall, was the precursor to the Marshall World championship match.

2nd equal (+9=4-2) with Janowski, two points after Marshall
1907 World championship match against Marshall held in the USA

Implications: This was one of the most one-sided world championship matches ever

Won (+8=7-0)
1908 World championship match against Tarrasch held in Germany

Implications: Pillsbury dying in 1906 through syphilis, had left Tarrasch as one of Lasker's last remaining rivals.

This match victory by Lasker brought an end to one of the longest feuds in chess history. Lasker at forty years of age had triumphed. The practical game philosophy of Lasker was victorious over the more dogmatic "rule-bound" style of Tarrasch. 

Won (+8=5-3)
1909 St Petersburg 1st place with Rubinstein (+13=3-2) ahead of Duras and Spielmann
1909 Janowski exhibition matches Drew 1st (+2-2), won 2nd match held a few months later (+7=2-1)
1910 "World championship match" against Schlechter (the public after the match decided to call it a "world championship match". However there is little evidence to believe that Lasker would want to risk his world title on a short 10 game match.)

Thirty games were originally proposed, but this was reduced to 10 because of a lack of funds.

Implications: Some mystery as to the match clauses surround this match. Schlechter lost the final game, but was unusually playing very hard for a win. It could be speculated that the match conditions were such that the challenger (Schlechter) had to win by two clear points. If this were the case, in the context of such a short ten game match, then this was a heavy condition for Schlechter to accept.  It could also be speculated that Schlechter was simply being a sportsman, trying to win in the last game.

Editors note: In order to clarify these speculations, please Email the editor if you have convincing evidence of the match clauses, or explanation of Schlechter's final game approach where the "drawmaster" played like a hacker

Draw (+1=8-1)
1910 World championship match against Janowski held in Berlin Won (+8=3-0)
1914 St Petersburg

Tournament highlights

It was the first tournament encounter between Capablanca and Lasker. After beating Capablanca, Lasker commented

"From the several hundred spectators there came such applause as I have never experienced in all my life as a chessplayer. It was like the wholly spontaneous applause which thunders forth in the theatre, of which the individual is almost unconscious"

1st stage:
All play all between 11 players, Capablanca scored 8, Lasker 6.5. These two together with Alekhine, Marshall and Tarrasch then competed in the next stage: a double round all-play-all

2nd stage all play all:
1st ahead of Capablanca (+10=7-1)

1918 Berlin 1st (+3=3) ahead of Rubinstein, Schlechter, and Tarrasch

Capablanca (Left) vs Lasker

World championship match vs. Capablanca held in Havana

The match was scheduled for 30 games, but after 14 games, Lasker resigned the match on the grounds of ill-health.

In defence of Lasker

Lasker was attracted to play through the large purse at stake despite being disillusioned and not overly enthusiastic about the game. He had even previously written to resign his title in favour of Capablanca with the congratulatory words: "You have earned the title not by the formality of a challenge but by your brilliant mastery."

Lost (-4=10)
1923 Mahrisch-Ostrau tournament held in Czechoslovakia 1st (+8=5)
1924 New York International chess tournament

Implications: 11 Grandmasters took part in this tournament, and Lasker at the age of fifty-five showed them who was dominant. He finished 1.5 points ahead of world champion Capablanca

Won (+13=6-1), ahead of Capablanca and Alekhine
1925 Moscow

The planned New York 1927 tournament did not include Lasker in its invitees, and this may have had an effect on Lasker giving up competitive chess for a long time.

Implications (of Hitler):
Lasker had a large gap now before playing in another tournament.

When Hitler came to power Lasker was forced to leave Germany and had to come out of retirement in chess to make enough money to live. Gareth Williams, writing in "Chess Monthly", describes the last few years of Lasker's life:

... the Laskers were forced out of their comfortable retirement. The regime confiscated the Laskers' Berlin appartment, their farm at Thyrow and their lifetime savings. Emanuel and Martha Lasker, in their old age, suddenly found themselves destitute, without money home or homeland.

In order to survive Lasker had once again to build a career in chess. The first tournament he was invited to after nine years retirement was Zurich. ..... Lasker was invited to Moscow in 1936 to participate in another great international tournament. ... The Laskers were encouraged to stay on in Moscow after the tournament and Dr Emanuel Lasker, mathematician, was invited to become a member of the Moscow Academy of Science. The offer was accepted and the Laskers took up permanent residence in Moscow. Emanuel became absorbed with his mathematical studies at Moscow Academy.

2nd (+10=8-2) after Bogoljubow ahead of Capablanca
1934 Zurich Fifth (+9=2-4)
1935 Moscow tournament


This tournament fully demonstrated that Lasker could hold his own still against the best players in the world. This was absolutely outstanding for a player in his 60's. He played 19 games without a single loss against very tough opposition.

It should be noted that he beat his old rival Capablanca again in this tournament as well as finishing ahead of him!

Third (+6=13-0) after Botvinnik and Flohr ahead of Capablanca
1936 Nottingham

[Editor's note: We are now in scope of the excellent British games archive "BritBase" courtesy of John Saunders, and you can therefore see all the games of this great tournament by downloading the relevant file from the 1930-1939 section!]

worldchamps.jpg (108334 bytes)

Lasker is 2nd from left seated.
Other world champion celebrities include Capablanca (3rd from left seated), Euwe (3rd from right seated), Alekhine (2nd from right seated), Botvinnik (2nd from right standing)

Implications: Lasker's final tournaments put him in the World record book for chess longevity.

7th (+6=5-3)
1941 Died at age of 72 in New York  

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Lasker game philosophy


Lasker represented the link between Steinitz and the modern chess world. He ensured that the principles of Steinitz were given maximum reward. Together with Steinitz, positional play in chess was well and truly introduced, elevating the game to a  new level.

Lasker's game philosophy from a psychological perspective, is extremely interesting because he uniquely put human frailty into the equation for being an effective chess player. Through the examples of his games which were for a long time not understood, he taught players to respect the psychological elements of chess. [Editor's note: Chess for Tigers is a very good little book teaching one to play on one's strengths. This is a kind of echo of Lasker- who was not so much interested in trying to play a "perfect", correct game of chess, as much as an effective game of chess].

Examples of psychological factors affecting Lasker's choice of plan: He would tempt defensive opponents onto the attack, he would create a very tactical unclear climate for his positional opponents. He was clearly aware that a bad move against one player, might be a very effective move against another player of different playing style. [Editor's note: Basically he was a psychological nightmare to play against! Perhaps Lasker would have been a great anti-computer chess player if he had been alive today, using for example very closed positions devoid of tactics, to remove the metal monster's counterplay completely before doing anything active to win!]

To further emphasise the practical implications of the Lasker philosophy, it is interesting to contrast it with the "correct" and "perfect" philosophy of Tarrasch who asserted facts irrespective of the opponent, for example that after 1.d4 d5 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 that c5 was the only "correct" move as it challenged the White pawn centre. Lasker never asserted such statements, and thus conceded in effect that Chess was far too complex for man. Thus "effectiveness" was more appropriate a philosophy than "correctness", as the latter was impossible for humans to obtain in his view.

In the opening Lasker liked to leave the beaten track and was not concerned that that sometimes left him with a slight disadvantage, providing the position offered scope for his talent. He believed that such positions were defensible and had the talent and resourcefulness to back this belief. He had a deep understanding of the boundary between hopeless positions, and difficult positions, and used the latter as a psychological weapon against his opponents where appropriate.

Because Lasker, was no opening theoretician, his games became a model for fighting, resourceful chess after the opening positions reached, rather than for example, the technical capitalisation of winning advantages. This is a good lesson to us all, in that memorisation of thousands of opening lines, should be weighed against simply knowing the fundamentals of the openings, and being a highly resourceful player within that framework.

The following game is a classic cited by many books, paradoxially demonstrating Lasker's fighting spirit through a seemingly innocuous opening where a draw was the implied result. Lasker had to win this game.

(868) Lasker,E - Capablanca,J
05.18 R07 RUS St. Petersburg (siegergru, 1914)

source: "Weltgeschichte des Schachs", v11, Wildhagen 1958, 11-389.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Bxc6 dxc6 5.d4 exd4 6.Qxd4 Qxd4 7.Nxd4

Lasker had to win this game!

7...Bd6 8.Nc3 Ne7 9.0-0 0-0 10.f4

Lasker shows fighting spirit with this move. He is indeed trying for a win!

10...Re8 11.Nb3 f6 12.f5

A controversial decision, leaving the e4 pawn backward on a semi open file.

12...b6 13.Bf4 Bb7 14.Bxd6 cxd6 15.Nd4

The knight hops into e6
15...Rad8 16.Ne6 Rd7 17.Rad1 Nc8 18.Rf2 b5 19.Rfd2 Rde7 20.b4

Lasker clamps down on Capablanca's counterplay

20...Kf7 21.a3 Ba8 22.Kf2 Ra7 23.g4

The start of a kingside offensive

23...h6 24.Rd3 a5 25.h4 axb4 26.axb4 Rae7 27.Kf3 Rg8 28.Kf4

The pressure increases on Capablanca. A breakthrough with g5 is imminent

28...g6 29.Rg3 g5+ 30.Kf3 Nb6 31.hxg5 hxg5 32.Rh3

White has carved a clear advantage from the position

32...Rd7 33.Kg3 Ke8 34.Rdh1 Bb7

A stunning and logical pawn sacrifice. The e4 square is vacated for the knight

35...dxe5 36.Ne4 Nd5 37.N6c5 Bc8 38.Nxd7 Bxd7 39.Rh7 Rf8 40.Ra1 Kd8 41.Ra8+ Bc8 42.Nc5


(Return to / Go to 1914 St Petersburg Tournament)

Lasker's game philosophy can be bulleted as following:-


To understand the opponent's weaknesses and let this understanding usefully pervade his plans to make them more effective against his particular opponent. In this respect, Lasker's style was based around his own personal philosophy of battle- human battle. He treated his opponents on their own merits- each with their individual personal flaws and weaknesses. For example he exploited Frank Marshall's interest in brilliant combinations and open lines, by deliberately playing cramped, stodgy defence in order to frustrate him


He was a fine tactician when he wanted to be, evidenced clearly for example in his outcombining the American champion Frank Marshall who was a brilliant tactician


He was an expert in manoeuvring


He was one of the greatest defensive players, content sometimes to play very stodgy cramped positions. It was perhaps for this reason, that Fischer referred to him as a "coffehouse player" and expressed suprise that Lasker consistently wriggled out of them


His underlying philosophy was to play an "effective" game of chess, as opposed to a "perfect" game of chess and in this respect he was able to take calculated risks

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Lasker's personality

bulletHe was by many accounts, a gentlemanly and equitable grandmaster
"A gentleman of culture, pleasing manners, and becoming modesty" wrote Hoffer in 1890
"Lasker may occasionally lose a game, but never his head" wrote Tarrasch
bulletBalance and good humour characterised his attitude
bulletHe generally hated anything artificial including perfume, scented soap, and imitation flowers

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Literary contributions


Lasker was a chessplayer, mathematician and philosopher contrasting with the more dedicated Steinitz who restricted his intellectual explorations to chess. The great Albert Einstein opines of Lasker in the forward of the book "Emmanuel Lasker: The Life of a chess master"

"Emanuel Lasker was undoubtedly one of the most interesting people I came to know in my later life."

Lasker believed that chess was inherently a worthless pursuit, but it was a perfect model for his profound ideas. Chess was not just opening lines and book knowledge. It represented a battle between two individuals, and therefore the style and psychology of the opponent had to be understood.

His philosophical writing entitled "Struggle" encapsulated Lasker's model of life, but unfortunately it was close to being unreadable, and having few practical implications, and was thus ignored by the majority of people, and criticised by professional philosophers because it lacked a logical system.  His literary contributions in the 3 areas of mathematics, philosophy and chess can be summarised as follows:-

bulletHe wrote Common Sense in Chess (1896) which ran to more than 30 editions or translations
bulletHe wrote Lehrbuch des Schachspiels (1926), rewritten in English by him as Lasker's manual of chess (1927).

This illustrated his approach to the game. It also provided a sympathetic testimony to Steinitz and offered instruction of the theory of the game attributed to Steinitz.
bulletHe wrote the tournament book for St Petersburg 1909 tournament
bulletHe edited 4 short lived chess magazines

bulletHe spent 2 years at Heidelberg University 1897-9, culminating in a thesis presented at Erlangen University in 1900, and he gained his doctorate
bulletHe wrote a book on algebra which many mathematicians considered one of the best on the subject
bulletIn 1905, 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.
bulletHis contributions to geometric calculus remains relevant in this age of electronic computers
bulletHe contributed papers to mathematical journals. A theorem in the theory of vector spaces is still known by his name

bulletHe produced many philosophical writings including Struggle, Understanding of the World, and The Philosophy of the Unattainable. He often drew analogies from chess, but philosophers noted that he constructed no logical system. He however, saw this problem himself. Within his book Struggle he suggested that more experienced philosophers should develop the ideas contained in it.
bulletHis last book was The Community of the Future (1940)

Miscellaneous literary contributions:

He wrote books on contact bridge (he was an international player in the early 30's) and other games

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Lasker games

Lasker game download (zipped)

World Champions Java Browser (2nd item on combo-box)
(has 1159 Lasker games so takes a while to load! )

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Lasker quotes

"Chess is a fight"

"Chess is above all a fight"

"If you see the good move, look for the better one"

"The hardest game to win is a won game."

"In mathematics, if I find a new approach to a problem, another mathematician might claim that he has a better, more elegant solution. In chess, if anybody claims he is better than I, I can checkmate him."

When asked how many moves he considered when analyzing a chess position:

"Only one," he replied. "But it's always the best move."

A Manual of Chess (London 1932):-

"On the chessboard, lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of a lie; the merciless fact, culminating in the checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite."

"Chess is only a game and not to be classed with ... science ... or the arts"

"Where a mediocre chessplayer sees ten moves to continue his game, a master may see only two or three. He discards the others as not of sufficient merit. The further the master progresses in skill and foresight the more he is restricted in his choice of moves... The higher the class of the artist, the less is his liberty."

Of Tarrasch before their match encounter:-

"Dr Tarrasch is a thinker, fond of deep and complex speculation. He will accept the efficacy and usefulness of a move if at the same time he considers it beautiful and theoretically right. But I accept that sort of beauty only if and when it happens to be useful. He admires an idea for its depth, I believe in its strength. I think that by being strong a move is beautiful too."

Of Steinitz's principles:-

"That Chess follows the principles of Steinitz only in some points is no fault of his theory, which would indeed deteriorate if it tried to embrace all possibilities. The fault lies in the rules with which, in course of time, the game has been burdened."

For the secret of longevity, Lasker said:- (can be found in latter part of letter 1936 written to chess on Lasker's view of chess as a fight)

"I have repeatedly explained my conception of a contest between masters, i.e. between creative minds representative of their period. The fight between them is the necessary and sufficient condition of their creative work. To have a worthy opponent is a boon. He is short-sighted who strives for indisputable supremacy in his domain. If, by ill chance, he succeeds in approaching his stupid goal, he his blinded to his defects and deteriorates. When the outcome of tournaments is uncertain and incalculable, as at present, then is chess passing through its more fertile periods"

"Vanity should never tempt a player to engage in combat at the risk of losing health. It is bad enough to lose without the additional annoyance of paying doctor's bills"

Of chess as a model of life:

"The world did not comprehend how much Steinitz had given it: even Chess players did not comprehend it. And yet his thought was revolutionary, because of course, it is not limited to the chessboard - the royal game, after all, is of slight significance - but extends to every activity towards meaning and purpose... What true of chess must hold by analogy for other games. And games being, at least in intent, modelled on Life - simplified, to be sure, but still resembling in it essentials- there must be some analogy between them. Every activity, then, directed by rules and having a meaning and purpose, such as, for instance a dispute between persons taking different sides of a question and applying logical rules in their argument, ever such activity, without exception, has to follow the same fundamental principle which Steinitz discovered as governing the game of Chess."

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Research references


The Kings of chess, by William Hartston
The Guinness book of chess grandmasters by William Hartston
The World of chess, by Saidy and Lessing
The Oxford companion to chess, by Hooper and Whyld


Relevant web sites

Chess history.
See the Deja News 'Chess History' Discussion Group

Lasker biography by "The game is afoot" website

World chess champions
World chess championship matches
New York 1924 International Chess Tournament

Mathematical web site
Mathematics and Chess references


Further Reading

Common Sense in Chess
Emanuel Lasker / Paperback / Published 1965
Emanuel Lasker : The Life of a Chess Master
J. Hannak / Paperback / Published 1991
Lasker's Manual of Chess
Emanuel Lasker / Paperback / Published 1969
Emanuel Lasker
Emanuel Lasker
The international chess congress, St. Petersburg, 1909
Emanuel Lasker
Lasker's Chess Primer. Reprint Ed
Emmanuel Lasker

The World Chess Championship : Steinitz to Alekhine
Pablo Moran(Translator)


Presentation credits
bulletLasker pictures and Nottingham 1936 picture courtesy of Alan Cowderoy, part of Traveller Chess Sites
bullet"Flum" of in encouraging the use of default font!


Correction credits

Many thanks to Andreas Thomsen of Bonn/Germany for pointing out that Lasker was born in the Prussian province of Brandenburg, as opposed to the Russian province. "At the time, the Kingdom of Prussia with its  capital Berlin was the most important state of Germany, the king of  Prussia being also the emperor of Germany." 


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