Jews In Sports: Exhibit Page @ Virtual Museum

Harold U. Ribalow and Meir Z. Ribalow
Page 21 of 54

The Great Jewish Chess Champions

This was the heart of Lasker's game. He beat his opponents by outwitting them. Tarrasch called Lasker "lucky" and could not be convinced that it was better play on Lasker's part that won for him. From time to time Tarrasch won a game, but in the end Lasker thrashed him convincingly He won eight, drew five and lost three times.

In 1909 and 1910, Lasker won from the unsteady but brilliant David Janowski, who was also a Jew.

In 1910, Lasker won from Carl Schlechter in a match that offered one of the most unusual games in chess history. This match proved more than any other the remarkable chess powers of Emanuel Lasker. He always won the game he had to win, which is the mark of the true champion. Schlechter was also Jewish, a Viennese and a man with limited physical stamina. He played excellent chess and was extraordinarily hard to beat because his knowledge of the game was enormous and he had a tendency to play draw games rather than games to a decision. Perhaps he lacked a "killer" instinct. But if he wished, he could go through tournament after tournament without losing. Perhaps not winning, but surely not losing. Lasker and Schlechter were to play a ten-game match, five in Vienna and five in Berlin. Victory was to be decided by the number of wins in the ten games, with draws not counting. With Schlechter's ability to draw, it was possible that the match could be determined by one or two clear-cut victories.

Lasker, who was not a fast starter, found himself struggling from the outset and he was lucky to get draws in the first two games. In the next two games, Lasker played much better but now Schlechter managed to hold on and earn draws. Thus of the first four games played, the two masters had played to a standstill and the decision would depend on the turn of events in only six more matches.

In the fifth game, Lasker managed very well and by the fiftieth move it appeared that he held the upper hand and that finally he would obtain a victory. But he made one careless move. Schlechter pounced on him, and upset Lasker. Instead of the champion holding the upper hand, it was the challenger who now was one game to the good. The sixth, seventh and eighth games were drawn. In the ninth, and semi-final game, Lasker held a winning position, but Schlechter escaped to earn another draw.

Lasker had been champion sixteen years and now he was on the verge of losing his crown. All Schlechter had to do was play another even game and he would be the new champion. It was not enough for Lasker to work for a draw. He had to win. Schlechter had his own sense of pride and even though he was on the edge of triumph, he refused to play for a draw. He wanted to win the title outright. The opening itself was uncommon and, at the start, it looked like Lasker would win. Then Schlechter fought back to a positional advantage. With these ups and downs, it was clear Schlechter could have his draw. Both men made mistakes. Both came close to winning during the course of the game, which lasted three days. Ultimately, Lasker escaped from a Schlechter trap and took the offensive. He won in seventy-one moves. A defending champion wins if his opponent does not beat him; so the drawn match after ten games was enough for Lasker to retain his title.