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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Edward Lasker: First International Tournament, the Evils of Drink and Women

     The summer of 1913 found the 28-year old Edward Lasker on vacation at a French seaside resort when he received a telegram that contained an invitation to play in the International Masters Tournament at Scheveningen in place of Nimzovich who had been forced to withdraw because of illness. Lasker was excited about the prospect because it was his chance to gain the master title officially by scoring one third of the possible points. 
     He rushed to the railroad station to get a train to Scheveningen in time for the tournament which was to start the following morning at 9am. There was only one train and it left at 2:10, but he arrived late and missed the train by a matter of minutes. He the raced to the docks to find a ship headed for Holland and discovered the only one available was going by way of Folkestone, England. And, from there he barely would have time to catch another ship to Holland and then a train which would put him in Scheveningen only one hour before the start of the tournament. 
     He managed to get to Folkestone twenty minutes before the boat for Holland sailed, but there was the matter of customs officials who wanted to go through his bags. After arguing briefly with the officials, he was allowed to proceed and reached his boat with only minutes to spare. 
     On arrival in Scheveningen a taxi driver took him to a hotel for breakfast where he unexpectedly ran into Janowski. After breakfast and a brief walk along the beach he arrived at the tournament somewhat refreshed and managed to defeat his first round opponent, one of the weaker players. Lasker also won his second round game, also against one of the Dutch players, but in the third round he faced Gyula Breyer, a brilliant young player from Hungary against whom he managed to draw. 
     His fourth round opponent, Dr. Adolf Olland, employed an unbooked variation of the Ruy Lopez, outplayed Lasker and won without much trouble. After this defeat Lasker vowed that for the rest of the tournament he would play aggressively, come what may. 
     Facing Mieses in the fifth round, he knew Mieses would play the Center Counter Game because he had scored many brilliant successes with it. However, Edward had seen a game in which Emanuel Lasker had scored a quick win by posting his N on e5 and pushing his K-side Ps. His hope was that Mieses, who was in the habit of playing 5...Bg4 in this line, would not know of the Emanuel Lasker game; in any case, Mieses avoided 5...Bg4 and lost a miniature. See the featured game below. After this game Mieses offered Lasker a bet that he would place higher in the tournament than Lasker. Lasker took the bet if for no other reason than Meises was playing under a twenty-five year age handicap. 
     The next two rounds were bad news. The Dutch player Rudolf Loman lost the exchange, but Lasker took his opponent too lightly and allowed the draw. Then in the seventh round Alekhine badly outplayed him in the early middlegame and won easily. 
     With the tournament half over, Lasker's score was only 4-3, but on the plus side, only three players had a better score, so he was not discouraged. Alekhine had won every game and he was closely followed by Janowski with 6.5 points and Frederick Yates with 6 points. Then came Dr. Olland, Fritz Englund and Lasker. 
     In the eighth round Lasker caught Yates in a prepared opening line which he had analyzed with Teichmann only a few months previously where they had discovered a promising positional sacrifice of a P. Lasker won when Yates, with only seconds left, blundered. After defeating Yates he had high hopes of finishing third; Alekhine and Janowski were too far ahead to catch. 
     He defeated Abraham Speyer who had been doing poorly and then had to face Janowski, against whom he had white. Lasker admitted that he was much too impressed by his famous opponent, played for a draw, and lost as badly as he had to Alekhine. The only difference was that against Janowski he butchered the ending instead of the middlegame. 
     In spite of this loss, he calculated that he still had a chance for third prize. Alekhine and Janowski had a big lead. Breyer and Yates were next with only a half point lead over Lasker and Olland. Lasker felt rather sure that he could beat his final opponents, so that his final score could be 9 points. As is often the case, fate had different plans. 
     Janowski lost to Yates giving Alekhine a one point lead. Meanwhile, in his game against te Koiste, Lasker tried to make something out of nothing in an effort to avoid a draw, lost a Pawn and had an awful time working up any kind of counterplay. The game was adjourned in an unclear position which could go either way. 
     In the next to last round he played Englund who misplayed the opening and lost a game for which Lasker received a brilliancy prize. After this game, Alekhine who had also won, was in high spirits and offered to take everybody to a night club who wanted to help him celebrate his assured victory. Naturally, Lasker accepted the invitation, feeling certain he would win his last round game and that he would have no difficulty in drawing his adjourned game with te Koiste. Several players declined Alekhine's invitation: te Koiste, Janowski, Olland and Yates. 
     Alekhine ordered champagne for everyone, including a number of French hostesses who saw to it that the bottles were emptied fast and replenished without delay. As the night wore on, Alekhine became happily intoxicated, and he refused to let the others leave. Lasker noticed that Alekhine insisted on dancing exclusively with a woman about twice is age and twice his circumference, although there were plenty of young girls around. At about four in the morning Mieses, who was the only one left outside of Alekhine and Lasker sneaked off. It was after 7am when the club finally closed and Lasker staggered back to his hotel. 
     At 9am he sat down to play his adjourned game and quickly lost both the game and any chance at third prize. At least that left him a few hours to sleep before his final round game, which he won, but his rivals for third place also won, leaving Lasker in fifth. It was good enough to allow him to be recognized as a master, plus he also learned a lesson that drink and women don't mix at a tournament. 
     In other final round news, Alekhine appeared late for his game and Janowski made short work of him, but all that did was narrow the difference between their scores down to a half a point. However, Janowski's victory convinced one Monsieur Nardus, his sponsor, that Janowski could really beat anybody in the world if he only half tried. It also meant that Janowski continued to receive a fair sized check from Nardus on the first of every month. Lasker commented that the money should have allowed Janowski to live quite comfortably, but within a week or two he was usually cleaned out because of his fondness for roulette.
     After the tournament Alekhine, Janowski, Nardus and Lasker decided to stay another week in Scheveningen, but a couple of days later Alekhine suddenly left for Paris and Janowski headed for the gambling casinos. When Lasker returned to England for a week, he received a telegram from Alekhine claiming he had been robbed in Paris and wanting to borrow fifty pounds. At the same time he informed Lasker that he had made arrangements to sponsor a short match of three games between them. Lasker sent the money and when he got to Paris he was informed by Janowski that Alekhine had shown up in Paris with one of the fat girls he had met in Scheveningen, but after a week she had disappeared. It made Lasker suspicious of the robbery story. He lost all three games of the match. 

1) Alekhine 11.5 
2) Janowski 11.0 
3) Olland 9.0 
4) Yates 8.5 
5) Lasker 8.0
6-7) te Kolste and Breyer 7.5 
8) Mieses 6.0 
9-10) Englund and Geus 5.5 
11) Loman 5.0 
12) Speijer 4.0 
13) Schelfhout 2.0 
14) Van Foreest 0.0

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