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Emanuel Lasker | Biography: 30 Facts (World Chess Champion for 27 Years)

Last Updated on January 25, 2024 by Gamesver Team and JC Franco

Even some of the greatest minds of his time recognized Emanuel Lasker as an exceptional person. Being a chess world champion and mathematical prodigy, he left his mark on society in a very tangible way. But who was Emanuel Lasker really, and what made his life so remarkable?

Emanuel Lasker was born in Prussia (now Poland) in 1868. He became the world’s longest-running chess champion but was also an accomplished mathematician and philosopher, recognized for his brilliance by the likes of Albert Einstein. He spent nearly half of his life wearing the champion’s crown.

Such a remarkable person must have had a fascinating life, and had he been born just 30 years later, things might have gone very differently for him because of the Holocaust. But as it stands, his life was similar to his chess career: one victory after another.

Emanuel Lasker (Biography): These are 30 interesting facts:

1. Emanuel Lasker Changed His Name

Lasker was born Immanuel Lasker, but he changed it to Emanuel in later years. Changing names was quite common at the time, and even Emanuel’s father changed his name from Michaelis Aaron Lasker to Adolf. 

2. Emanuel Lasker Grew Up In A Devout Jewish Home

Lasker’s father, Michaelis Aaron (Adolf) Lasker, was a cantor at the local Jewish synagogue who also worked as a carpenter. His grandfather was a Rabbi. Despite his Jewish upbringing, it is unclear how religious or devout Lasker was, as he was never noted to have discussed the topic. Still, it is likely that his Jewish childhood had at least some impact and left him with a theistic worldview.

3. Lasker Began Studying Mathematics When He Was 11

At the age of 11, Lasker’s parents sent him to Berlin to study mathematics. He showed an early aptitude for the subject and eventually got his Ph.D. as a mathematician. His studies were influential, and much of his mathematical work is still used to teach and guide students today.

4. Lasker’s Brother Taught Him To Play Chess

When Lasker went to Berlin, he lived with his 19-year-old brother, Berthold. Berthold taught Lasker how to play chess, and the bug quickly bit him. Emanuel even started playing low-stakes games at local establishments to help supplement their income and quickly proved his capability at playing chess. He only became serious about chess when he was 15, though.

5. Lasker Didn’t Only Play Chess

Though chess was his preferred game, Emanuel Lasker also regularly played card games and would later develop his own game, called Lasca. He also wrote books about games like Bridge and Go.

6. Emanuel Lasker Became Master Of Chess At 21

In 1889, when Lasker was 21 years old, he won every Berlin chess tournament and was awarded the German title “Master of Chess.” People who saw his winning tournament noted that he would become a formidable opponent in the future.

7. Lasker Failed To Win In Amsterdam

After getting his German title, he competed in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, but he did not win a single tournament. Far from being shaken, Lasker pursued the game with even more zeal and passion.

8. Lasker Then Left His Mark In London

After failing in Amsterdam, Emanuel Lasker went to England and beat the best players in London. He spent two years in England, refining his game and learning more than ever. English players were astounded at how expertly this young man could read the game and strategize every move.

9. Lasker Also Dominated Chess In The United States

After ransacking London for every victory, Emanuel Lasker went to the United States, where he won every match he played, including every match in the New York International tournament. He also defeated the United States chess champion, which opened the way for him to challenge the world champion, Wilhelm Steinitz.

10. Lasker Became World Champion At Age 26

Emanuel Lasker beat Wilhelm Steinitz for the tenth time on 26 May 1894, when Steinitz was 58 and Lasker was only 26. Lasker lost five matches, and the two players had four draws. The matches were played over two months in three cities before Lasker finally won in Montreal and became the official World Champion.

11. People Felt That Lasker’s Victory Was Undeserved

Despite how incredible Lasker’s chess skills were, many felt his World Champion title was undeserved, primarily because of Steinitz’s age. At 58, many people regarded Steinitz as less capable at chess than he used to be. Yet nobody could deny the authenticity of his victory, so the title stayed, but it did lead to many challenges from other players.

12. Lasker Did Not Win In England

After winning his world champion title, Lasker returned to Europe and participated in the Hastings Tournament. He only took third place, despite expectations of the new world champion running high, especially after his previous stint in London. The relative failure was likely caused by the typhoid fever he contracted and struggled with for more than a year.

13. Lasker Did Not Neglect His Mathematics

Despite his success at chess (not to mention his obsession with it), Emanuel Lasker continued his mathematical studies. He even lectured in both mathematics and chess at various universities in Europe and New Orleans.

14. Lasker Faced Steinitz For A Second Time

During the world championship tournament of 1896 to 1897, Lasker faced Wilhelm Steinitz again. Lasker’s naysayers were anticipating Steinitz to win this time around, but Lasker took the victory even more decisively than the first time, with only two losses and five draws. Lasker’s championship title was now undeniable.

15. Lasker Published 19 Books On More Than Just Chess

Including his doctoral thesis, Emanuel Lasker published four books on mathematics, five on philosophy, six about chess, and four about other games. He also ran two chess-related magazines in his lifetime.

16. Lasker Took A Bit Of A Break From Chess

Between 1898 and 1907, Lasker played in relatively few tournaments. He took some of his most significant victories in the ones that he did play, but he took this time to focus more on his other passions, like mathematics.

17. Lasker Partially Defended His Title With Money

Frank Marshall challenged Lasker for the world champion title in 1904. Marshall was a young man with few financial resources, so Lasker set the financial stakes at a level that he knew Marshall would be unable to find a backer for, and Marshall had to withdraw his challenge.

18. Emanuel Lasker Was Highly Motivated By Money

Lasker was brilliant and had a true passion for chess. Still, after he saw how poverty-stricken Wilhelm Steinitz was after years of playing, Lasker got into the habit of setting high financial stakes and charging hefty fees for playing against him. He decided that he would not suffer as Steinitz had.

19. Lasker Finally Faced Frank Marshall

After spending a few years in the United States, Emanuel Lasker moved back to Germany. At this point, Frank Marshall challenged him again, and Lasker lowered the stakes so the match could occur. Lasker didn’t lose a single game, though seven of the 15 ended in draws.

20. Lasker Defended His Title Against Six Players

Apart from Frank Marshall, Lasker was challenged by five other players, all of which he defeated. 

21. Lasker Finally Got Married

At the age of 43, a very late age back then, Emanuel married Martha Cohn and settled in Berlin in 1911.

22. Emanuel Lasker Tried To Give Up His Title

After years of successfully defending his title, Lasker was set to play against the Cuban José Raúl Capablanca after the 1st World War. But Lasker had gotten ill and decided to resign his title voluntarily. He was persuaded otherwise, though, and played the tournament in Havana. However, his health forced him to retire after 14 games, and he lost his title to Capablanca.

23. Lasker Continued To Play Chess And Win

Despite his failing health, Lasker still played chess and won many tournaments, even against Capablanca.

24. Lasker Suffered Due To The Holocaust

In 1933, Emanuel and Martha fled from Germany when the Nazi regime confiscated their home, farm, and savings. Suddenly they were poor, destitute, and living in England. This forced Lasker to come out of retirement and play chess again to earn money.

25. Emanuel Lasker Moved To Russia

Lasker got the honor of being asked to become a member of the Moscow Institute of Science in 1936, which he gladly accepted. He and Martha relocated to Russia to pursue this new career path.

26. Lasker Made An Impression On Einstein

Albert Einstein met Emanuel Lasker and later stated that he was one of the most interesting people he had ever met and felt that Lasker wasted his talents on his chess obsession.

27. Lasker Was Forced To Move Again

After a few years in Russia, Lasker’s patron was disgraced, and they were forced to leave Moscow. Emanuel and Martha relocated for what would be the last time and settled in New York.

28. The End Of The Road For Emanuel Lasker

Shortly after moving to the US, Martha got ill and died later that same year. Emanuel presented several lectures to survive, but his illness finally took its toll, and he passed away in 1941.

29. Lasker Was One Of The Longest-Reigning Chess Champions

Lasker was the second chess world champion and maintained that title for 27 years.

30. Lasker Also Left A Legacy In Mathematics

Though it would seem he was far more interested in chess than mathematics, Lasker’s proposition of a primary ideal is still being taught today. Even the Lasker Ring was named after Emanuel Lasker.

In Closing

Emanuel Lasker is often criticized, like Einstein did, for wasting his talent on games like chess. However, nobody can argue that he made an immeasurable contribution to the world. Even his approach to games was mathematical in nature, and studying his methods is invaluable to anyone who wants to understand mathematics or the intricacies of a game like chess.

JC Franco

JC Franco serves as a New York-based editor for Gamesver. His interest for board games centers around chess, a pursuit he began in elementary school at the age of 9. Holding a Bachelor’s degree in Business from Mercyhurst University, JC brings a blend of business acumen and creative insight to his role. Beyond his editorial endeavors, he is a certified USPTA professional, imparting his knowledge in tennis to enthusiasts across the New York City Metropolitan area.