He was an easy man to overlook, both because of his diminutive stature and because he happened to share a first initial and last name with one of the greatest chess players to ever play the game.
But Edward Lasker, the German-American star who was a distant cousin of longtime world champion Emanuel Lasker, still managed to make quite a name for himself in the course of a long career as a player, author and raconteur, a career that started before World War I and lasted right up until his death at the age of 95 in March 1981.
He nearly bested Frank Marshall in his one U.S. title match in 1923, acquitted himself well in the storied New York 1924 tournament (famously won by the other Lasker), played some immortal attacking games that have been heavily anthologized, and found time to carve out a second career as an engineer and inventor while writing a string of popular chess books and even becoming one of the earliest and most effective evangelists in the West for the Japanese game of Go.
It’s nice then, to note, that Edward Lasker is getting some long overdue recognition as this year’s inductee into the U.S. Chess Hall of Fame in St. Louis, the 58th player to be so honored. The induction ceremony will be held March 28.
Lasker’s fighting spirit and his skill as a tactician both come shining through in his victory over longtime New York master Anthony Santasiere in a 1931 invitational won by former world champion Jose Raoul Capablanca. (Lasker, who was moving away from full-time chess to focus on his burgeoning business career, would finish in a tie for ninth — along with Marshall — in the 12-player event.)
Lasker as Black does not exactly handle this rare English Opening sideline well, and after 10. Bxd2 Qc6?! (more in the spirit of things was the sharper 10…Qxb2!? 11. Rb1 Qxa2 12. Bc3 Qa3 13. Bxg7 Rg8 14. Rb3 Qa4 15. Bc3, with doubled-edged play) 11. Rg1 a5 12. Bg2 Qc7 (Qxc4?? 13. Rc1 wins at once) 13. Bc3, and the White bishops rake the board.
In danger of getting pushed off the board, Lasker finds a way to alter the game’s dynamic with 17. Kb1 d5!? (after 17…Nc6. either 18. Qd6 or 18. Qf4 cements White’s positional dominance) 18. cxd5 (better already might be 18. Bxb4 axb4 19. cxd5 e5 20. Qxb4 Rd8 21. Be4 Rd6 22. Rc1, and Black is hard-pressed to justify his two-pawn deficit) e5! — the computers are unimpressed, but Lasker at the cost of a pawn has suddenly shut down the diagonals for both of Santasiere’s bishops. With Black repeatedly finding ways to keep the position complicated with moves like 21…f5!, White has a hard time adjusting to the sharp shift in the game’s psychology.
White defends well for a while, but the growing pressure around his king finally causes him to crack: 27. Bd2 Rb5 (finally a real Black threat — 28…Qxa3 — but did he overlook his opponent’s reply?) 28. Bd3 Rb3 29. Bc4 Qxa3, when now White could have kept his edge with 30. d6+! Kf8 (Kg7 31. Bc3 Nb4 32. Bxe5+ Kf8 33. Kc1 Qa1+ 34. Kd2 Rxb2+ 35. Bxb2 Qxb2+ 36. Ke1 Nc2+ 37. Kf1 and the king escapes) 31. Bxb3 Qxb3 32. Bc3 Nb4 33. Bxb4 Qa2+ 34. Kc1 Rc8+ 35. Kd2 [Bc3? Rxc3+ 36. bxc3 Qxe2] Qxb2+ 36. Ke1 Qxb4+ 37. Qd2 Qb3, and Black will struggle to hold the ending.
Instead, the floodgates open on the game’s 30. Bxb3? Qxb3 31. Bc3 (on 31. Ba5 Nc5 32. Qd2 Qb5 33. Bc4 Qc4!, and Black is winning in lines such as 34. b3 Qxb3+ 35. Qb2 Qc4 36. Bxe5 Na4 37. Qa3 Qe4+ 38. Rd3 Bb5 39. Rgd1 Bxd3+ 40. Rxd3 Qxe5) Nc5! 32. Qf3 (the threat was 32…Bb5 33. Qd2 [Qc2 Ra1+!] Qa2+ 34. Kc1 Qa1+ 35. Kc2 Ba4+ 36. b3 Bxb3 mate) Ba4 33. Rd2 (see diagram), meeting the threat of 33…Qc2+ 34. Ka1 Bb3+ 35. Ba5 Rxa5 mate.
But Black has a prettier way to his goal: 33…Qa2+!!, and White resigns in light of 34. Kxa2 (Kc1 Qa1 mate) Bc2+ 35. Ba5 Rxa5 mate. A very clever finish!
Congratulations to new women’s world champion WGM Tan Zhongyi of China, who defeated Ukrainian GM Anna Muzychuk in a playoff last week after their four-game knockout final ended in a 2-2 tie. The 64-player FIDE event was played in Tehran, Iran.
Santasiere-Lasker, New York, April 1931
1. Nf3 Nf6 2. d4 e6 3. g3 c5 4. c4 cxd4 5. Nxd4 Bb4+ 6. Nd2 Qb6 7. N4f3 Ne4 8. e3 Bxd2+ 9. Nxd2 Nxd2 10. Bxd2 Qc6 11. Rg1 a5 12. Bg2 Qc7 13. Bc3 O-O 14. Qd4 f6 15. O-O-O Na6 16. g4 Nb4 17. Kb1 d5 18. cxd5 e5 19. Qe4 Qd6 20. a3 Na6 21. Bxa5 f5 22. Qc2 fxg4 23. Be4 g6 24. h3 Bd7 25. hxg4 Rfc8 26. Qe2 Rc5 27. Bd2 Rb5 28. Bd3 Rb3 29. Bc4 Qxa3 30. Bxb3 Qxb3 31. Bc3 Nc5 32. Qf3 Ba4 33. Rd2 Qa2+ White resigns.
• David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by email email@example.com.