Athletes Chess

Emanuel Lasker

Emanuel Lasker was a German chess player, mathematician, and philosopher who was World Chess Champion for 27 years, from 1894 to 1921, the longest reign of any officially recognised World Chess Champion in history.

In his prime, Lasker was one of the most dominant champions, and he is still generally regarded as one of the strongest players ever.

His contemporaries used to say that Lasker used a “psychological” approach to the game, and even that he sometimes deliberately played inferior moves to confuse opponents.

Recent analysis, however, indicates that he was ahead of his time and used a more flexible approach than his contemporaries, which mystified many of them. Lasker knew contemporary analyses of openings well but disagreed with many of them.

He published chess magazines and five chess books, but later players and commentators found it difficult to draw lessons from his methods.

Lasker made contributions to the development of other games. He was a first-class contract bridge player and wrote about bridge, Go, and his own invention, Lasca.

His books about games presented a problem that is still considered notable in the mathematical analysis of card games.

Lasker was a research mathematician who was known for his contributions to commutative algebra, which included proving the primary decomposition of the ideals of polynomial rings.

His philosophical works and a drama that he co-wrote, however, received little attention.

  • Full name: Emanuel Lasker
  • Profession: German chess player
  • Born: 24 December 1868, Barlinek, Poland
  • Died: 11 January 1941, New York, New York, United States
  • World Champion: 1894–1921
  • Spouse: Martha Cohn (m. 1911–1941)
  • Education: University of Erlangen-Nuremberg

About Emanuel Lasker

Emanuel Lasker was born on 24 December 1868, at Berlinchen in Neumark (now Barlinek in Poland), the son of a Jewish cantor.

At the age of eleven he was sent to Berlin to study mathematics, where he lived with his brother Berthold, eight years his senior, who taught him how to play chess.

Berthold was among the world’s top ten players in the early 1890s. To supplement their income Emanuel Lasker played chess and card games for small stakes, especially at the Café Kaiserhof.

Lasker won the Café Kaiserhof’s annual Winter tournament 1888/89 and the Hauptturnier A (“second division” tournament) at the sixth DSB Congress (German Chess Federation’s congress) held in Breslau. Winning the Hauptturnier earned Lasker the title of “master”.

The candidates were divided into two groups of ten. The top four in each group competed in a final. Lasker won his section, with 2½ points more than his nearest rival.

However, scores were reset to 0 for the final. With two rounds to go, Lasker trailed the leader, Viennese amateur von Feierfeil, by 1½ points.

Lasker won both of his final games, while von Feierfeil lost in the penultimate round (being mated in 121 moves after the position was reconstructed incorrectly following an adjournment) and drew in the last round.

The two players were now tied. Lasker won a playoff and garnered the master title. This enabled him to play in master-level tournaments and thus launched his chess career.

Lasker finished second in an international tournament at Amsterdam, ahead of Mason and Gunsberg.

In spring 1892, he won two tournaments in London, the second and stronger of these without losing a game.

At New York City 1893, he won all thirteen games, one of the few times in chess history that a player has achieved a perfect score in a significant tournament.


His record in matches was equally impressive: at Berlin in 1890 he drew a short play-off match against his brother Berthold; and won all his other matches from 1889 to 1893, mostly against top-class opponents: Curt von Bardeleben (1889), Jacques Mieses (1889), Henry Edward Bird (1890), Berthold Englisch (1890), Joseph Henry Blackburne (1892), Jackson Showalter (1892–93) and Celso Golmayo Zúpide (1893).

Chessmetrics calculates that Emanuel Lasker became the world’s strongest player in mid-1890, and that he was in the top ten from the very beginning of his recorded career in 1889.

In 1892 Lasker founded the first of his chess magazines, The London Chess Fortnightly, which was published from August 15, 1892 to July 30, 1893.

In the second quarter of 1893 there was a gap of ten weeks between issues, allegedly because of problems with the printer.

Shortly after its last issue Lasker traveled to the US, where he spent the next two years.

Lasker challenged Siegbert Tarrasch, who had won three consecutive strong international tournaments (Breslau 1889, Manchester 1890, and Dresden 1892), to a match.

Tarrasch haughtily declined, stating that Lasker should first prove his mettle by attempting to win one or two major international events.