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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Lasker's Snit - why he refused to play in New York, 1927

     Following the success of the great 1924 New York tournament, the organizers headed by Norbert Lederer, decided to hold a match-tournament of six or seven players where each would meet the other four times. 
     Geza Maroczy was asked to be the tournament director and invitations were sent to J.R. Capablanca, Emanuel Lasker, Frank Marshall, Alexander Alekhine, Efim Bogoljubow, Aron Nimzovich and Milan Vidmar.  Capablanca was the only player who would get an appearance fee. 
     Lasker was in a snit and refused to play because of an incident in one of his games with Capablanca back in the 1924 event. Lasker made his allegations in a letter to the Manhattan Chess Club and as a consequence was not formally invited to take part in the 1927 tournament. However, it was stated, Lasker was informed informally that he would be allowed to participate if he would cable his intention of doing so to a friend. Lasker refused and his place was taken by Rudolf Spielmann. 
     Bogoljubow replied in the form of an ultimatum asking for an appearance fee of $1,500 (about $21,000 today) and that the tournament should be replaced by a World Championship match between himself and Capablanca! His ludicrous conditions couldn't be accepted and it was decided that his place would not be offered to anyone else. 
     A number of accounts stated that the tournament would be regarded as a qualifier for choosing the challenger for the World Championship. When Alekhine heard this he was furious as he and Capablanca had already arranged terms for their match in September of 1927. Alekhine declared he would not take part unless he was given an assurance that the tournament would not affect the conditions that had been agreed previously. The committee, with Capablanca's approval, telegraphed him that the winner would not be for the selection of Capablanca's challenger. Alekhine then confirmed his acceptance of his invitation. 
     The tournament was held from February 19th to March 23, 1927 with a time control of 40 moves in two and a half hours, rather than the then standard of 30 moves in 2 hours. It was held in the Trade Banquet Hall of the Hotel Manhattan Square on 77th Street, New York. Five rounds a week were played, but this was later relaxed with the introduction of more rest days to ease the strain on the players. Capablanca registered one of the greatest triumphs of his career, taking first place without the loss of a game. 
     What was Lasker's problem? He charged in his letter to the Manhattan Chess Club that in the tournament in 1924 he was robbed of fifteen minutes because of the way a clock was manipulated which disturbed him to such an extent that he lost his game to Capablanca and his share of the receipts had not been delivered to him. Norbert Lederer, secretary of the tournament committee, responded, “He complains that he was not paid his regular fee of $500. The fee of $500 is that which is paid to the champion. Capablanca won the championship."  Note: $500 in 1924 was worth about $7,000 today.
     As for Lasker's share of the surplus revenues, Lederer claimed that was ridiculous because, instead of having a surplus, the committee showed a deficit of $400.  Concerning the charge that the clock was manipulated to injure him, Lederer said the claim was "absolutely false.”  He explained for the benefit of the non-playing public “each contestant in the chess game is allowed two hours in which to make thirty moves. He may use that time as he sees fit. He is timed by a clock. Each player must turn off the clock as soon as he has made the move, to prevent time from being checked against him." 
     Lederer then gave the details of the incident. "What happened is that Dr. Lasker forgot to stop his clock after one of the moves. The time was running against him and he did not notice it. I reached over and stopped his clock. Instead of injuring him, that helped him. He alleged that the clock was afterwards repaired and that this cost him fifteen more minutes. That is false. He says that this clock incident caused him to make a terrible blunder which resulted in his losing to Capablanca. That is not the case. The clock incident occurred in the afternoon. The blunder was committed by Dr. Lasker in the evening, three or four hours later.” 
     Lederer also threw in a dig at Lasker by adding the superfluous fact that "during chess games Lasker smokes long black five cent cigars and blows the smoke across the table, indulging in virtual gas attacks on his opponents.” He also pointed out that when he wasn't playing chess, Lasker smoked "very fine Havanas." 

1) Capablanca 14.0 
2) Alekhine 11.5 
3) Nimzovich 10.5 
4) Vidmar 10.0 
5) Spielmann 8.0
6) Marshall 6.0 

     The following game won Alekhine the Brilliancy Prize. Marshall never had much success against Alekhine (his score was 0-7), Capablanca (4-21) or Lasker (2-12). With a colorful style and numerous tournament success (and some disasters!) and for many years the complete dominance of US chess, Marshall was always just outside the very top circles.

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