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Monday, February 6, 2012

Edward Lasker

Edward Lasker (December 3, 1885 – March 25, 1981) was born in Kempen, near Breslau, now in Poland.  He learned chess form his father, whose own interest captured the fancy of a distant relative, Dr. Emmanuel Lasker.  Edward decided to study engineering in Berlin rather than Breslau because of the opportunities for playing chess that Berlin afforded.

In 1911 Lasker graduated cum laude with degrees in both mechanical and electrical engineering.  He did not have a doctorate although he was often called “Doctor.”  During his university days he won a match from Erich Cohn for the championship of Berlin.  At that time he also met and became friends with Dr. Emmanuel Lasker.  It was Edward that introduced Emmanuel to the game of Go and both had a lifelong interest in the game.

Lasker first read about Go in a magazine article which suggested Go as a rival to chess, a claim that he found amusing. Later his interest was piqued when he noticed the record of a Go game on the back of a Japanese newspaper being read by a customer of a cafe where they played chess. He and his friend Max Lange (not the chess player of the same name) took the paper left behind by the customer and deciphered the diagram. The position led them to assume that the notation under the game would indicate a Black victory, but being unable to read Japanese, they asked another Japanese customer at the cafe. To their surprise, it was a resignation by Black. Only after three weeks of study was Max Lange able to understand the reason for White's victory. This experience led them to a deeper appreciation for the game, and they studied it in earnest, but were unable to interest other chess players.

Two years later Emanuel Lasker, then the world chess champion, returned to Germany from the United States and when Edward told him that he had found a game to rival chess, he was skeptical, but after being told the rules, and playing one game, he understood that Go was strategically deep. They started studying Go with a Japanese student, and after two years were able to beat him with no handicap.

The student arranged a game for Edward, Emanuel, and Emanuel's brother Berthold, against a visiting Japanese mathematician, and strong Go player. The Laskers took a nine-stone handicap, and played in consultation with each other but their opponent beat them effortlessly and without taking much time to think. After the game, Emanuel suggested to Edward that they travel to Tokyo to study Go. So, in 1911, Edward got a job at AEG and after a year at the company he tried to get transferred to the Tokyo office, but as the company only posted fluent English speakers there, he went to work in England first.

As a result of the outbreak of World War I he never made it to Tokyo and while in England he was in danger of being interred as an enemy alien but eventually was given permission to travel to the United States, the birthplace of his mother.

Lasker was instrumental in developing Go in the U.S and helped found the American Go Association.  In 1971 he was the only westerner ever to be awarded the Ohkura Prizefor the promotion of Go. Lasker was also a music lover and a member of the Mark Twain Society.  Lasker published several books on American checkers, chess, and Go

After arriving in the US he found a job in Chicago and when America entered the war in 1917 he was sent enlistment papers, but with the right of exemption as a German. He waived his right to exemption which he said would make his American citizenship be granted more quickly but the war was over before he was called up to military service.

In 1921–23, he invented a mechanical breast pump which saved many premature infants' lives and made him reasonably wealthy.  He manufactured and marketed it himself then in 1932 he sold the patent but continued to work for the purchaser.

Lasker won five U.S. Open Championships (1916, 1917, 1919, 1920, 1921); in those days it was known as the Western Open. His best result was his narrow 8.5 – 9.5 loss in a match with Frank Marshall for the U.S. Championship in 1923. As a result of his narrow defeat by Marshall and with his chess reputation at its height, he was invited, along with ten of the world’s best players, to compete in the great New York, 1924 tournament.  As the only amateur in a very strong field of professionals his tenth place (out of 11) finish was not very good but he proved not to be easy pickings for the pros.  

In 1926 he began playing in earnest, visiting Cuba and participating in a number of US events but after that spurt of activity his engineering life took its toll on his chess life and his tournament appearance became infrequent.  He continued to participate in tournaments on occasion, his last being an “Old Timers” tournament at the Marshall Chess Club, of which he was the honorary president, in 1980 where he finished fourth with a score of 7 – 4.  Lasker lived on the Upper West Side of New York City until his death in 1981.

In the following game he plays an instructive ending against Rossolimo at Havana. Crosstable

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