While looking through Lasker's Greatest Chess Games 1889-1914 by Reinfeld and Fine and reading the comment, "Surely it is no exaggeration to say that this game is one of the most beautiful, most profound, most exciting and most difficult in the whole literature of chess!" I had to check it out. OK, I just said I never played over many of his games, but own the book. Am I the only person who owns chess books he has never read?
After doing a little research on the game I discovered that the experts call it one of the most complicated games ever played and a lot of people are familiar with it even though it has escaped my attention for all these years!
Napier considered it the best game he ever played! He wrote, “This is, I think so, my best game and the one I most enjoy reproducing. The impetuous project started with 12…d5 it was irresistibly attractive, and very few players, and only the most ingenious, would have stopped. Finished the game, Lasker told me that let’s propose the game for the brilliancy prize together, saying: ‘It was your brilliancy, though I won.’ In the time trouble, Lasker amazed me playing nine moves from 21 to 30, in three minutes only!”
Andy Soltis called it "overrated." In the book The World's Greatest Chess Games the game received 9 votes out of a possible 15 and so just made the cut to be included.
There have been a lot of annotators, but most wrote in the days before engines and, because the game is highly tactical, they missed quite a few points. Not a few annotated the game based solely on the results, praising Lasker and peppering his moves with exclamation points while making Napier's play look feeble.
Not only did the pre-engine annotators have a hard time with this game, so did the early engines, often flip-flopping in their evaluations. In The World's Greatest Chess Games GM John Nunn annotated the game with the help of the now ancient 1995 version of Fritz (5.32, I think). Today Stockfish and Komodo give a more reliable picture because of their tactical prowess and speed. But even then in a few positions their evaluations differed from Nunn's intuition. In those cases I tend to trust the Grandmaster's evaluation.
All told I spent several hours over the course of three days letting Stockfish and Komodo 8 evaluate the game and comparing different analysis. One thing is certain...this game is complicated! Unlike many earlier annotators did, it is simply not possible to throw exclamation points at many of Lasker's moves and questions marks at Napier's...they just won't stick.
It's quite possible that with a more powerful computer, Komodo 10 and more analysis time, even more hidden resources for both sides might be uncovered and reverse some of my findings. But, the fact remains that BOTH Lasker and Napier deserve kudos for producing this extraordinary game! Capablanca's comment "Let us depart from science...Chess can never reach its height by following in the path of science.. Let us therefore...turn the struggle of technique into a battle of ideas" is appropriate.
I would recommend that for maximum enjoyment that this game be played over by actually setting up a board. Any analytical improvements are also welcome.
Lasker, famous for his fighting spirit and ability to induce mistakes by his opponent, needs no introduction. William E. Napier (1881-1952) was born in England, but his family moved to the U.S. when he was five years old. His international career was short. He played internationally from 1900 to 1905, winning the British Championship in 1904, but after becoming a U.S. citizen in 1908, he gave up serious chess and concentrated on his business career, becoming vice president of the Scranton Insurance Company. He married Florence Gillespie (Pillsbury's niece) with whom he had two daughters. When he died at the age of 71 his chess career was nearly forgotten. His best historical Elo rating was 2662 which at the time placed him 11th in the world...not bad!! He was a good writer, too. See the Wit and Wisdom of Napier at Edward Winter's site HERE.