Isaak and Vladimir Linder, Emanuel Lasker: 2nd World Chess Champion (Foreword by Andy Soltis, Game Annotations by Karsten Müller. (Russell Enterprises 2010.) 264 pp. $24.95.
This is by the same authors as the recently reviewed Capablanca volume, but while the first book was a solid, workmanlike effort but not really so special, the Lasker volume makes a significant contribution to the chess world. First of all, there isn’t much that’s available in English on Emanuel Lasker. There’s the J. Hannak hagiography originally published in 1959, Kasparov’s chapter in volume 1 of My Great Predecessors (2003) and then in 2005 Soltis’s Why Lasker Matters presents 100 of the second world champion’s games, but without any biographical material. So there’s a huge gap in the literature, and considering that Lasker was world champion for 27 years and continued to compete at the highest level into his mid-to-late 60s, he’s a worthy figure.
Additionally, he lived a very interesting life: he obtained a Ph.D. in mathematics, wrote broadly philosophical material, was an expert in other games like bridge and even wrote a play. He was born in Germany but also lived for significant periods in England, Russian and the United States.
So the Linders have a very rich subject for their work, and they handle it in a very interesting way. Rather than giving a traditional chronology of his life, interspersed with accounts of his matches and tournaments, they present a series of encyclopedia-like chapters.
Chapter 1, “Life”, begins as one might expect with a section called “Childhood and Adolescence”. But that’s where business as usual comes to a screeching halt. The next section is “Family”, then “Personality”, “Mathematician”, “Teacher”, “Dissertation”, “Philosopher”, “Einstein and Lasker”, “Politics”, “Curiosities”, “Humor”, “England”, “Holland”, “Russia” and “USA”. In general the narrative follows a chronological thread, but not always.
So where’s the chess? It’s mostly in the very long chapter 2, which might be thought of as its own book. It is labeled “Matches, Tournaments and Opponents”, and that’s just what it is. It starts with an entry on Alekhine, then “Berlin Tournaments, 1890, 1918”, “Bird”, “Bird-Lasker Matches, 1890, 1892”, and so on, all the way to the letter Z (for Zürich 1934). When a subsection is devoted to a player, that person gets his own mini-bio and sometimes the accompanying game(s) doesn’t feature Lasker! It’s quite unusual for a chess biography, but it presents a fascinating picture of the chess world around Lasker during his career.
Many of us have a pretty good sense of the players he faced in world championship matches and after losing the title, but many of his early opponents are just names to us. So in addition to telling us a lot about Lasker, we get a broader education thrown in for free.
Within the chapter is a mini-chapter, “Matches”, which is dominated by a sub-mini-chapter, Matches for the World Championship. It’s well-done, and I should add that these entries don’t replace the entries on the match opponents. (That is, Capablanca has his own entry, and then there’s the further section on the Capablanca-Lasker match.)
Chapter 3, “Chess Works – His Games and Discoveries”, is another hodge-podge. Sections include Aesthetics, Aphorisms, Endgame Studies, Losses, Neo-Romanticism and Psychology.
Chapter 4, “Writer and Journalist”, gives a quick run-through of his efforts as a chess journalist and author, and the final chapter, “Impervious to Time”, briefly discusses his final years and death, books and other memorials to his life and work, and presents a series of quotations from other champions about Lasker. (It’s the sort of thing Kasparov does throughout My Great Predecessors, at the end of each champion’s biography, but he got the idea from the Linders and not the other way around.) The book then concludes with a series of indexes.
As for annotated games, while this work doesn’t replace Soltis’s Why Lasker Matters, the chess content isn’t trivial. There are 82 games and game fragments (mostly games), and they are annotated by German GM Karsten Müller. Sometimes the analysis is rather light, but on the whole the games are covered quite well.
I really liked this book, and can heartily recommend it to chess fans of all sorts.
(Purchasing info here.)