Lasker & Capablanca

As I teach (and prepare to teach) my daughter how to play chess, I am teaching myself. The more I examine the game the more I am fascinated with its history and the numerous characters that have populated that history.

One of those characters was the great chess master Emanuel Lasker (b. 1868, d. 1941). Lasker was the world chess champion for 27 years until he lost his position to the brilliant José Raúl Capablanca. To be a world chess champion for that long is a stunning achievement. But he was much more than a chess player.

Lasker was a brilliant mathematician and a noted philosopher. He was a friend of Albert Einstein and was a passionate bridge player. Most importantly, Lasker was a humanitarian with a focus on education.

Lasker (left) and his brother

Lasker lost his world title in 1921 to the young Capablanca. There is no doubt that Capablanca was a genius at chess. But it was no so much that Capalanca took the world chess title from Lasker, as it was Lasker gave up the title knowing that Capablanca would win. This may sound like a contradiction, but it seems clear that Lasker had been champion so long and had moved on to other things. He became increasingly interested in the betterment of others and the development of a better world. His humanitarian goals began to outweigh his chess goals. To me this is by far the greater goal than being a chess champion. Though I want my daughter to enjoy playing chess, and if she becomes a great chess player that’s fine to, but I hope that she (and myself) grow to become the kinds of people who love others and seek their good. That is Lasker’s true legacy.

Capablanca giving a simultaneous exhibition

One of Lasker & Capablanca’s great games.

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