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Emanuel Lasker

Chess player

born December 24, 1868 in Berlinchen (Pommerania) – died January 11, 1941 in New York

  • Chess World Champion 1894–1921

For many chess fans, Emanuel Lasker remains the best chess player of all time. The future chess genius was born in Berlinchen, current day Poland, in 1868. Lasker came from humble beginnings; his father was a cantor and a clergyman in their small community synagogue. Lasker learned to play chess at the age of 12 from his older brother Bertold.

Thanks to his remarkable talent he managed to rise quickly in the early 1890s: after some succès d'estime at tournaments in Breslau and Amsterdam, he won the world championship in 1894 at the age of 25 against defending champion Austrian-American Wilhelm Steinitz. 

His initial victory marked the beginning of a singular era: he defended the world championship title – longer than any of his predecessors or successors – for 27 consecutive years. His enigmatic style, which he adjusted according to the weaknesses of his opponent, puzzled generations of chess players. Then in 1921, Cuban chess player José Raúl Capablanca managed, after a series of 14 games, to dethrone Lasker, who suffered under the tropical Havanna climate.

Chess was Emanuel Lasker’s career. His interests went far beyond the 64 squares of the chessboard: in 1900 he received his PhD in mathematics, later he wrote several philosophical and sociological papers, and worked as an inventor. For a long time, Lasker aspired to become a professor at a German university, but the process of appeals discriminated against Jews making his goal impossible to realize. 

Until 1933 Lasker belonged to a respect circle of intellectuals in Berlin. His group of friends included author Else Lasker- Schüler, his brother Bertold’s wife, actor Frity Kortner, and physicist Albert Einstein. Lasker took long walks with his Nobel Peace Prize winning friend during which they would exchange their thoughts on various academic questions. Einstein later described his friend as “one of the strongest minds I have ever met in my life.” 

The Nazi takeover was a defining moment in Emanuel Lasker’s life: in 1933 he fled to the Netherlands, and from there went to Great Britain and then the Soviet Union. By then, Lasker had already made his public departure from the world of chess. In order, however, to secure the standard of living for him and his wife Marta, he returned to the game. Multiple tournaments wins further established him as one of the best chess players in the world. 

In 1937, during the climax of Stalin’s Great Purge, the Laskers decided during a trip to the USA not return to Moscow. Physically weak and financially broke, Emanuel Lasker’s final years were spent in destitution. In 1941 he died in New York at the age of 72.

Henry Wahlig