08 Mar

The Lesser Lasker

Almost all sports have a hall of fame - the idea being that top athletes should be recognized and remembered long after their careers have ended.  And chess is no different, with the U.S. and World Chess Halls of Fame recently announcing four new inductees in a ceremony that will kick off the 2017 U.S. Championship and U.S. Women’s Championship on 28 March and held in Rex Sinquefield’s Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis.

After 11.Qxh7+!!

Representatives of Fide, the governing body of chess, nominated and selected Soviet and Swiss Grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi, Austrian chess master Paula Kalmar-Wolf, and Russian–born Israeli Woman Grandmaster Alla Kushnir for induction into the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF).

They will join 27 other players who have received the honor since the WCHOF’s creation in 2001. Members of the WCHOF are chosen for their total contribution to the sport. Players, as well as others who have made an impact on the game, such as authors, journalists, organizers and eligible for induction.

The trustees of the U.S. Chess Trust have also selected International Master and author Edward Lasker for induction into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame. Lasker will now join 57 players currently in the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame - and his induction is not only a welcomed one, but also one that is long overdue.

Edward Lasker & Emanuel Lasker

Lasker was a German-American born in 1885 in Kempen, Poland (then part of Germany), and who died in New York in 1981 at the ripe old age of 95. He was a distant cousin and good friend of his namesake Emanuel Lasker, the long-time world champion, and occasionally both got confused in the chess media or in certain game sources, leading Edward to be known as  ‘the lesser Lasker’ or ‘the other Lasker’. 

The highlight of Edward Lasker’s career came in the early-to-mid 1920s. He nearly bested Frank J. Marshall in his one and only U.S. title match in 1923, and then went on to acquit himself well in the storied New York 1924 international (famously won by the other Lasker, and indeed both Laskers had an epic showdown that ended in a draw), before going on to forge a second career outside of chess as an inventor, famous for inventing and marketing a breast pump for mother’s milk.

Lasker was also a noted cosmopolitan and one of the most durable players of his generation. At various times he was champion of Berlin, London, New York and Chicago. His first international was in 1913, and his last came 63 years later in the New York v London telex match (in a non-scoring veterans board, defending a King’s Gambit against Sir Stuart Milner-Barry) that I well remember being transfixed by as a kid.

His most famous victory was played not in a tournament but just a casual encounter. On his first day in England in 1912, Lasker called at the City of London club where he was warmly welcomed by club president GA (later Sir George) Thomas. Thomas was a leading UK master, who went on to become a two-time British champion, and he was also renowned at badminton where the world team Thomas Cup is named after him.

In the game, Thomas fell into a cunning trap, and set up Lasker’s brilliancy which became one of the game’s classic queen sacrifices and king hunt’s that has featured time and time again in many anthologies over the years - and I give no apologies for showing this wonderful game yet again!

Edward Lasker - George Alan Thomas
Casual game, London 1912
Dutch Defence
1.d4 e6 2.Nf3 f5 3.Nc3 Nf6 Instead, 3...d5 would have prevented the menacing manoeuvre that ends with carnage, but then the e5 square would be weakened - not to mention that the annals would be deprived of this fantastic sacrificial gem. 4.Bg5 Be7 5.Bxf6 Bxf6 6.e4 fxe4? This seemingly natural move falls into a cunning trap which even today, more than a century later, is well worth a punt down at your chess club or a weekend tournament. Black should have played 6...0-0 7.Bd3 d5 keeping the centre closed and Black has a solid basis to continue without fear of a big king hunt. 7.Nxe4 b6 8.Ne5 0-0? [The last chance to avoid what comes next is 8...Bxe5 9.Qh5+ g6 10.Qxe5 0-0 and White is only very marginally better here. 9.Bd3 Bb7 10.Qh5 Qe7 Unwittingly setting up Edward Lasker's immortal game. 11.Qxh7+!! The stunning queen sacrifice is a precursor for a remarkable king hunt, as Thomas' king is dragged all the way up the board for one of the game's most memorable mates. 11...Kxh7 12.Nxf6+ As another Hall of Famer, Reuben Fine was wont to say, the discovered check is the dive bomber of the Chessboard - and here it leaves Thomas no other option other than for his king to take the walk of shame up the board, as 12...Kh8 13.Ng6 is mate! 12...Kh6 13.Neg4+ Kg5 14.h4+ Kf4 15.g3+ Kf3 16.Be2+! There's a Lasker anecdote that, a year after this game was played, he explained that '[World Champion-to-be Alexander] Alekhine called my attention to the fact, discovered in Moscow, where he went over the game with [Ossip] Bernstein, that I could have mated in seven instead of eight moves by playing 16 Kf1 or O-O, as then Black would have been unable to prevent mate by 17 Nh2.’ All true of course, but then again, that would not be as aesthetically pleasing as Lasker's chosen route to mate. 16...Kg2 17.Rh2+ Kg1 18.Kd2# 1-0 A spectacular finale, but wouldn’t the 'rarity mate' with 18.0-0-0# not be even more spectacular? In his entertaining book, Chess for Fun & Chess for Blood, Lasker explains his rationale thus: ‘Instead of checkmating with Kd2 I could have done it by castling, which would perhaps have been more spectacular, as no player has ever been mated that way before, as far as I know. I actually considered castling, but the efficiency-minded engineer got the better of it and I played Kd2 which required moving only one piece.’

2 Comments March 8, 2017

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  • Mel Burt

    Pleased to see Edward Lasker getting some recognition. I discovered his book “Chess for fun and Chess for Blood” in my local library in Methil over half a century ago and his enthusiastic readable style and glorious games like the one above had a strong influence in making me love chess. Lasker says he knew of no-one who mated with 0-0-0 but I had the pleasure of doing that many years ago

    Wandless-Renton,Eric – Burt,Melville [B45]
    Friendly @ Chorley Chess Club , 12.1974

    Not a great game but it did finish with “0–0–0 checkmate” 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6 6.h3? Bb4 7.f4?? Ridiculously optimistic and agressive .. ..but that was Eric’s style! 7…Nxe4 8.Ndb5 Qh4+ Fritz says mate in 13 but we managed fewer moves. 9.Ke2 Qf2+ 10.Kd3 Nc5+ 11.Kc4 d5+ 12.Nxd5 exd5+ 13.Kxd5 [13.Qxd5 Qxc2+ 14.Nc3 b5+ 15.Kxb5 Ba6+ 16.Kxc6 Rc8+ 17.Kd6 Nd7+ 18.Qc5 Bxc5+ 19.Kd5 Qf5#] 13…Be6+ 14.Kd6 0–0–0# 0–1

    • John Henderson

      Yes, Mel, he was also a good read/teacher when I took up chess. And as for the 0-0-0 mate, you have to remember that Lasker was talking about this back in the period 1912 etc.