Emanuel Lasker, Tactical Monster - Part 2

  • IM Silman
  • | 09.07.2013
  • | 23631 odsłon
  • | 26 komentarzy

In Part 1 of my series about Emanuel Lasker’s tactical prowess, I mentioned his various chess skills and how many aren’t aware of his outstanding tactical abilities. What I didn’t clearly point out was the general nature of his tactics – yes, you’ll find the usual crushing attacks, but you’ll also notice that he uses tactics as a means to make positional plans blossom, defensive strategies work, and endgame concepts flow in perfect order. If you look closely at Tal’s tactical explosions you’ll see they are very different than Lasker’s. Tal’s were all about blowing you off the board. Lasker often used tactics to highlight more subtle but no less important things.

What Lasker’s games remind us of is that tactical building blocks don’t necessarily lead to attacks. For example, a pin can be the backbone of a lovely combination, but often a pin works its magic in calmer ways. In the following example Lasker has the better game and begins making use of a number of pins. White missed his best defense and drowned under wave after wave of pins.



The first pin is along the g1-a7 diagonal. White’s queen can’t step off that diagonal since it’s pinned to its king. This allows Black to chop on e5, which then creates another pin. 


29.Qxb6 axb6 30.Rf3??

And, just like that, the game is over. White had to play 30.Rd3 c5 31.Rdd1! (31.Rd2 Bb5 is quite unpleasant for White) defending the e1-rook and threatening to move the knight. 31...Rfe7 32.Kf2 (Once again threatening to move the knight and end the e-file pain.) 32...Bg4 (32...Bf5 33.Nc3!) 33.Rd2 d4 34.h3 Bc8 35.Red1 finally freeing himself of the pin.


The pin along the e-file is intensifying.


31.Kf1 Bf5 32.c3 c5 intending ...d5-d4-d3 is also hopeless.

31...Bf5 32.c3 Bd3 33.Kf1

Now we have two pins: one along the e-file and another along the f1-a6 diagonal.

33…c5 34.g3 Ba6 35.Rg2 d4 36.c4 d3 37.Rf2 Bc8! 0-1. Since White’s knight can’t move, Black moves his bishop to a more active square. He’ll take the knight when he wants to!

Emanuel Lasker


One of the most important building blocks of tactics is the simple, “obvious,” undefended or inadequately defended piece. In fact, a combination isn’t feasible without the presence of an undefended or inadequately defended piece, or without a vulnerable king.

Our next example shows what can happen if your pieces aren’t properly protected. Training your eye to see this kind of thing is critically important; it allows you to avoid losing stuff in this fashion and it also allows you to punish those that aren’t as careful.

Emanuel Lasker - NN
New York, 1893

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Bc5 4.c3 d6 5.d4 exd4 6.cxd4 Bb4+

The opening isn’t anything special, and I’m sure Black was thinking that after White blocked the check with 7.Bd2 or Nbd2 or 7.Nc3 he’d get rid of the pin against his c6-knight by 7…a6 with a playable position. However, there was a “small” flaw in his reasoning.


And, just like that, Black is dead lost! The problem is that the b4-bishop (which has no real support) is stranded and, combined with the pin along the a4-e8 diagonal, this means that Black will lose a piece (or will watch his position do a dive off a cliff) by force!


One example of how the b4-bishop (or Black’s position in general) is doomed: 7...f5 8.exf5 Bxf5 9.d5 a6 10.Be2 Nce7 11.Qa4+ followed by Qxb4. Best is 7...f5 8.exf5 d5 (stopping White’s d-pawn in its tracks) 9.Ne5 Qf6 (9...Kf8, getting out of the a4-e8 pin, is better but still extremely good for White) 10.Qa4! when the threats of 11.Qxb4, using the pin along the a4-e8 diagonal, and 11.Nxc6 lead to massive material gain for White.

Another try, 7...d5, fails to 8.Qb3! dxe4 (8…Nge7 9.Qxb4) 9.Ne5 when threats like 10.Qxf7 mate, 10.Nxc6, and 10.Qxb4 spell game over for Black.


The b4-bishop is a goner.


8...Nge7 9.d5.

9.d5 Qxe4 10.Nc3 Qe7 11.Bg5 and the rest no doubt gave Lasker a laugh or two: 11...Nf6 12.Re1 Ne5 13.Qxb4 0-0-0 14.Rxe5 (Greed made possible by a simple pin.) 14...Bxb5+ 15.Nxb5 Qd7 16.Nxa7+ Kb8 17.Re7 Qf5 18.Nc6+ Kc8 19.Qa5 1-0.


When the word “fork” is used (not cutlery or a fork in the road or something that tunes your piano!), we usually imagine a knight forking a king and queen or even a king, queen, and rook! A happy image! But forks can also be used in a more gentle, subtle form. Here we see a fork that’s designed to give Black a small endgame advantage. Nothing more and nothing less:

37...Rb2+ 38.Kg3 Rxb7!

The point of Black’s earlier check. 38...Nxf3? 39.Rc7+ Kg6 40.Kxf3 isn’t what Black had in mind.

39.Bxb7 Ne2+ 40.Kf3 Nxc1 41.Kxe3 Nxa2 42.Kd4?

Perhaps taken aback by Black’s little forking combination, White misses 42.f5! Nb4 (42...exf5 43.Bd5+ picks up Black’s knight and draws easily) 43.fxe6+ Kxe6 44.Kd4 with a theoretical draw.

42...Kf6 43.Kc5 Nc3 and White was suddenly getting run over. The rest of the game was easy thanks to Lasker’s peerless technique: 44.Kc4 Ne2 45.Kb5 Nxf4 46.Kxa5 Ng6 47.h5 Nf4 48.Bf3 Kf5 49.Kb4 e5 50.Kc3 e4 51.Bd1 e3 52.Bf3 Kg5 53.Kc2 Kh4 54.Kd1 Kg3 0-1.

As you can see, tactical building blocks don’t have to be used as a hammer. In the puzzles that follow, you’ll have to decide how Lasker is using them. You’ll have to decide whether he’s painting a subtle portrait or dropping a bomb.


Please remember that I’ve loaded many puzzles with analysis and prose, so after you try and solve a puzzle click “solution” and then “move list” so you can enjoy the behind the scenes stuff. 

Puzzle 1:

Puzzle 2:
Puzzle 3:
After winning the World Championship, many players still didn't think Lasker was the best. The Hastings tournament of 1895 (which was stuffed with every top player on earth – Lasker, Tarrasch, Steinitz, Chigorin, Pillsbury, Teichmann, etc.) was a chance for Lasker to show his superiority. Unfortunately he had just gotten over typhoid fever and was still quite ill. Nevertheless, he still showed his enormous strength in many games.
Puzzle 4:
Puzzle 5:
In our next puzzle I don’t think Black had any idea that he was about to be caught, gutted, and devoured.
Puzzle 6:
Puzzle 7:

Though Lasker beat Pillsbury in Hastings, Pillsbury ended up winning first prize, with second going to Chigorin (Lasker was third).

Harry Nelson Pillsbury

Oddly, in St Petersburg 1895/96, where only 4 players played 6 games against each other, Pillsbury beat Lasker 2 games to one with two draws, but this time Lasker won the event by beating Steinitz (3 wins, 1 loss, 2 draws) and Chigorin (4 wins and two draws) while Pillsbury came in third!

Let’s take a look at a Pillsbury win from St Petersburg:
Puzzle 8:

Sadly, Pillsbury died young (33) from syphilis. His score against Lasker was a fantastic 5 wins, 5 losses, 4 draws.

Two quotes by Alekhine:

“Pillsbury aspired for the candle of his life to burn constantly at both ends. ‘Wine, women, and not harmless songs, but strong cigars’ - this was Pillsbury’s principle in life.”

“Lasker was my teacher, and without him I could not have become whom I became. The idea of chess art is unthinkable without Emanuel Lasker.”

Here are two more puzzles (two parts of the same game!) from the St Petersburg tournament:

Puzzle 9:
Puzzle 10:
Finally one more game from St Petersburg, but this game is one of the greatest of all time. I’ll offer it as a series of puzzles, and then give the whole game for your viewing enjoyment. Keep in mind that many of the upcoming puzzles are just possible variations from the game and were not actually played.
Puzzle 11:
Puzzle 12:
Puzzle 13:
Puzzle 14:
Puzzle 15:
Here’s the game in full, without notes (you can see the key notes in the puzzles). It features moments of incredible brilliance, time trouble errors, frayed nerves, missed opportunities, and an incredible end by Lasker who finally drags his prey down. Play over it as if it were a movie, and let the emotional intensity of the violent battle wash over you.


  • 3 lat temu


    wonderful genius!!! thanks Silman for excellent article as usual..:)

  • 3 lat temu


    lasker is a brilliant practioner of the art of chess!Cool. Use left and right arrows to navigate.

  • 3 lat temu


    Black has no counterplay or other forms of compensation for the lost exchange. They are just lost, though without fireworks.

  • 3 lat temu


    IM Silman Thank you for your reply. Now I see that to take that "dangerous" Knight is not an option. I am far from Karpov's understanding of defence, but here is my logic: If you can't capture dangerous knight - then try to attack place, where it is going to stand (d6 square). In your first reply as best dfence for black you suggested Qd8. I tried to find another variations, but they also lose (Be5 lose to Bxe5, Bf8 to Qc3, Rd7 to Bxf5). The only option that worked (maybe not :)) was to lose exchange after Rf6.

  • 3 lat temu

    IM Silman

    Mr. Shuhister gave a new analysis (33…Qxb5 34.Rxc8+ Bf8 35.Qd4+ Nf6 36.Bxf5 Kg7 37.Bh4 Be7) and asked, “What did I miss?” [I deleted his comment since I recreated it, and his analysis, here].

    Before answering that question, I will add a small aside: The position after 33…Qxb5 34.Rxc8+ Bf8 35.Qd4+ Nf6 36.Bxf5 (shown in the diagram above) doesn’t really need to be analyzed or given a second thought. Why? Because everything, and I mean everything is against Black. He’s a solid pawn down. White’s two Bishops are dominating the board. White’s Rook and Queen are superior to black’s Rook and Queen. And black’s King is in serious trouble. Most grandmasters would just resign here, even if White couldn’t finish off his foe in short order. In other words, you’re wasting your time defending this thing.

    However, since you clearly want to know what you missed, I’ll oblige (BUT… instead of asking me, you should work hard to refute yourself. If you get emotionally involved in your own analysis you’ll miss all sorts of stuff, so you need to be dispassionate about these things and search for truth):

    33…Qxb5 34.Rxc8+ Bf8 35.Qd4+ Nf6 36.Bxf5 (Crushing, but 36.Be5 also brings Black to his knees after 36…Kg7 37.Bxf6+ Rxf6 5.Rc7+ Kg6 6.Qg4+ Kh6 7.f4! [7.Qh4+ Kg6 8.Qxh7+ is a less elegant solution] 7…fxg4 8.Rxh7 mate) 36…Kg7 37.Bh4 (I’d prefer 37.Be5, but we’ll stick with Mr. Shuhister’s move, which also wipes Black off the board.) 37…Be7 (37…Qb4 38.Bxf6+ Rxf6 39.Rc7+ Be7 7.Qxb4, 1-0.) and now we come to Mr. Shuhister’s position which, apparently, he thinks he can hold. Alas, this isn’t the case: 38.Bxf6+ (Playing for a Qg3 check also wins and can be achieved by 38.Qe5 or 38.Qf4) 38…Rxf6 (38…Bxf6 39.Qg4+ forces mate) 39.Qh4! (of course 39.Qg4+ forces 39…Rg6 and eventual mate. 39.Qh4 is even better.) After 39.Qh4 Black will be mated in several moves.

    Mr. Shuhister, I appreciate your desire to hunker down and defend a position. I watched Karpov (in Monte Carlo against various grandmasters) defend (in after-game analysis) all sorts of hopeless situations just for the fun of it (Seirawan and I were sitting next to him, enjoying the Karpov “I can defend anything” show.). But even Karpov wouldn’t touch this one. 

  • 3 lat temu


  • 3 lat temu


    Thanks- i agree with You (and Misha Tal)- Lasker was strongest Master in the history.

  • 3 lat temu


    good work, helped out my chess game reading this

  • 3 lat temu

    IM Silman

    Shuhister asked, in puzzle 4, why Black didn’t take the “dangerous” Knight (after 33.Nb5) by 33…Qxb5.

    After 33.Nb5 Qxb5 Black gets completely wiped by 34.Rxc8+ Rf8 (34…Bf8 34.Qd4+ Kg8 36.Bxf5 when the threats of 37.Qxg4+ and 37.Be6 can’t be answered) 35.Rxf8+ Bxf8 36.Qc3+ Kg8 (36…Bg7 37.Qc8+ mates) 37.Bxf5 and again, the threats of chopping on g4 and 38.Be6 mate force resignation.

    Black’s best defense after 33.Nb5 is actually 33…Qd8 34.Nd6 Rc7 though 35.f3 (35.Rd1 is also strong) 35…Nf6 36.Rxc7 Qxc7 37.Nxf5 Qc6 38.Nxg7 Kxg7 39.Be5 is an easy win for White  due to his two super active Bishops, his extra pawn, and black’s vulnerable King.


    Mr. b2b4 said (in regard to puzzle 13) that after 19…Re8 20.bxa3 Qb6+ 21.Kc2 Rc8+ 22.Kd2 Bxd4!! White can defend with “23.Qf3 Qb2+ 24.Kd3 Rc3+ 25.Kxd4 Rc4+ 26.Ke3 and there’s no immediate win in sight.”

    Let’s look at the position after his recommended 23.Qf3: 23…Qb2+ 24.Kd3 (24.Ke1 is best, though after 24…Bc3+ 25.Qxc3 Qxc3+ White might as well resign) 24…Rc3+ (24…Bb6! eventually forces mate. But let’s stick with b2-b4’s analysis) 25.Kxd4 and now his 25…Rc4+?? actually wins for White after 26.Ke3. However, 25…Rxf3+ not only wins the white Queen, it also mates: 26.Kxd5 Re3! Other moves also win, but this is best. After 26…Re3 white’s King will be dragged down in another 9 or 10 moves.

  • 3 lat temu


    Lasker was brilliant

  • 3 lat temu


    TYVM for this

    Brilliant article, Master !

  • 3 lat temu


    Puzzle four... Why just not ot take that dangerous knight? Bishop is not allways better than knight. Better was to trade them (Imho)

  • 3 lat temu


    Pillsbury vs Lasker, St Petersburg 1896, In Puzzle 13, after black's 22....Bxd4!

    23. Qf3 is a better defense than 23. Ke2. 

    - 23. Qf3, Qb2ch  24. Kd3, Rc3ch  25. Kxd4, Rc4ch 26. Ke3 and no immediate win is in sight.

  • 3 lat temu


    Thanks for these articles, I love Lasker's play.

  • 3 lat temu


    This article is at the very top of excellence! Sensational JS!!!

  • 3 lat temu


    @AllenWalsh 8... a5 9. a3, and the Bishop is lost immediately.

  • 3 lat temu


    a genius

  • 3 lat temu


    Out of curiosity, in Lasker vs NN, is there anything wrong with 8. ... a5?

  • 3 lat temu


    Another top-notch article, really enjoyed the reading and puzzling! Smile

  • 3 lat temu


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