Emanuel Lasker

Emanuel Lasker

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Emanuel Lasker, PhD (December 24, 1868 – January 11, 1941) was a German chess player, mathematician, and philosopher who was World Chess Champion for 27 years (from 1894 to 1921). 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.

Playing strength and style

In addition to his enormous chess skill Lasker was said to have an excellent competitive temperament: his rival Siegbert Tarrasch once said, “Lasker occasionally loses a game, but he never loses his head.” Lasker enjoyed the need to adapt to varying styles and to the shifting fortunes of tournaments. Although very strong in matches, he was even stronger in tournaments. For over twenty years, he always finished ahead of the younger Capablanca: at St. Petersburg 1914, New York 1924, Moscow 1925, and Moscow 1935. Only in 1936 (15 years after their match), when Lasker was 67, did Capablanca finish ahead of him.

Statistical ranking systems place Lasker high among the greatest players of all time. The book Warriors of the Mind places him sixth, behind Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, Fischer, Mikhail Botvinnik and Capablanca. In his 1978 book The Rating of Chessplayers, Past and Present, Arpad Elo gave retrospective ratings to players based on their performance over the best five-year span of their career. He concluded that Lasker was the joint second strongest player of those surveyed (tied with Botvinnik and behind Capablanca). The most up-to-date system, Chessmetrics, is rather sensitive to the length of the periods being compared, and ranks Lasker between fifth and second strongest of all time for peak periods ranging in length from one to twenty years. Its author, the statistician Jeff Sonas, concluded that only Kasparov and Karpov surpassed Lasker’s long-term dominance of the game. By Chessmetrics’ reckoning, Lasker was the number 1 player in 292 different months—a total of over 24 years. His first No. 1 rank was in June 1890, and his last in December 1926—a span of 36½ years. Chessmetrics also considers him the strongest 67-year-old in history: in December 1935, at age 67 years and 0 months, his rating was 2691 (number 7 in the world), well above second-place Viktor Korchnoi’s rating at that age (2660, number 39 in the world, in March 1998).


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