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Modern Ideas in Chess by Richard Rèti

14. Emanuel Lasker

During the era of scientific chess there were not only accurate investigators like Steinitz and Tarrasch who built up their theories on experience, but there was living at that time a philosopher who played chess, by name Emanuel Lasker: the former chess champion. In giving a portrayal of Lasker’s individuality in chess I must not omit therefrom his love of philosophy. He began with quite small essays and lectures in which he compared chess to life. Then he wrote an essay entitled “der Kampf” (The Struggle). To struggle means to overcome difficulties which stand in the way of reaching a goal. He tried to discover general laws for the proper way to carry on the struggle. Chess as an example of a purely intellectual and straightforward struggle he adduced as the test of the correctness of his theory. Lasker’s chess activities were not an end in themselves, but a preparation for his philosophy. It strikes one as remarkable that Lasker, the one-time world’s chess champion, had no disciples. Steinitz had founded a school. Nearly all modern masters have learnt from Tarrasch. One perceives quite clearly the mind of young Rubinstein in the chess praxis of later years: Only Lasker is inimitable. Why is it? We ask: Can he be said to have given us nothing lasting towards the progress of our game?

The other masters endeavoured to create a specific chess technique. They studied the peculiarity of the board and of the pieces and propounded general maxims as “two Bishops are stronger than two Knights” or “the Rook should be placed behind the passed pawns.” Those are maxims that have no general value and, to a great extent, so far as they apply to progressive chess technique, require certain qualification: yet they are glasses for the short-sighted and have their uses. Lasker acknowledged only universal laws of the struggle and by means thereof he triumphed over Steinitz and Tarrasch and proved the errors and defects in their chess technique. Therein lay his merit in chess. So to improve his powers, that attack and the necessary defence went hand in hand, was for Lasker not a matter of chess principle only. The latter troubled him but little. It was the struggle as such that concerned him. But against the most perfect technique even the Titans with their bare strngth could not prevail. Thus Lasker was beaten by Capablanca. The age of heroes is over in chess, as well in other things. Where Lasker was most original was in his application of the principles of development. Take, for example, with what wonderful control he avoids the self suggesting and attractive moves for the sake of correct development.

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