Lasker: Move by Move, Zenon Franco, Everyman Chess, Paperback, ISBN 9781781944349, 448pp., $29.95; Ebook $21.95
Zenon Franco is a Paraguayan grandmaster who is an experienced trainer and has authored numerous books on chess. He represented Paraguay on top board in seven Chess Olympiads, and won individual gold medals at Lucerne 1982 and Novi Sad 1990.
Here is how Lasker: Move by Move is described on the publishers website:
“Emanuel Lasker was world champion for a remarkable 27 years (1894-1921) and is generally regarded as having been way ahead of his time in his understanding of chess. He primarily regarded chess as a fight and considered that the strongest move in a position was the one that created greatest problems for the opponent and not necessarily the one that was objectively ‘best’. His strengths included:
- His skill at accumulating small advantages with quiet manoeuvring.
- His astonishing ability to find tactical resources in defence.
- His uncanny knack of provoking errors in balanced positions.
“Lasker was, essentially, a complete chessplayer and his games feel thoroughly modern. Indeed many contemporary elite players (the most obvious one being the current world champion Magnus Carlsen) exhibit a very similar style. The Move by Move series provides an ideal format for the keen chessplayer to improve their game. While reading you are continually challenged to answer probing questions – a method that greatly encourages the learning and practising of vital skills just as much as the traditional assimilation of chess knowledge. Carefully selected questions and answers are designed to keep you actively involved and allow you to monitor your progress as you learn. This is an excellent way to study chess while providing the best possible chance to retain what has been learnt.”
The main content is divided by selected games as follows:
- 1889-1894 (92 pages)
- 1895-1900 (108 pages)
- 1901-1910 (99 pages)
- 1914-1925 (81 pages)
- Final Years: 1934-1936 (30 pages)
There is also a bibliography, preface, introduction, an index of openings, and an index of complete games. There are forty-six complete games and a range of opening systems represented, the most common of which is the Ruy Lopez and Queen’s Gambit. All of the games are wins for Lasker. He is on the white side of twenty-four of them. There are several game fragments and endings discussed as well.
There have been many books written on Lasker, seventeen are mentioned in the bibliography (a list Edward Winter describes as “desperately superficial”), with several quoted in the book. Franco writes, “As in my previous books in the Move by Move series, I shall give voice to the wisdom of other chess masters who have provided annotations, many very instructive, to Lasker’s games during the past one hundred years or more.” Yet, enjoyable as Lasker: Move by Move is, if you have some, or all, of these previous titles, you probably do not need this one.
All of these books share in common the authors wonder at the strength of Lasker’s play. Franco writes, “for more than a year there has scarcely been a day when I haven’t marvelled at [Lasker’s] strength. I found so much to admire: often it was how Lasker conducted the defence; at other times, it was for his handling of the endgame, or his astonishing ability to find tactical resources in defence, or the way in an inferior position he could create serious difficulties for the opponent, or provoke errors in balanced positions, or handle equal positions in such a way that he would keep accumulating small advantages with quiet manoeuvring, etc. In short, Lasker was a complete chessplayer.”
Soltis, in Why Lasker Matters, marvelled at Lasker’s ability to outplay an opponent from an even, seemingly drawn, position; while Franco opines “when Lasker stood worse … he had no equal in finding the best chances for resistance and counterattack.” He exposits that “one of the most important parts of Lasker’s legacy is that he demonstrates with his play that chess is a fight. Even in worse positions there are usually ways to fight and chances of putting up resistance, no matter what the engines say. That’s why in my annotations I try to convey the practical situation as well as the objective evaluation.”
[FEN “2b3k1/p1p3pp/8/2p4r/2PpP3/1P4P1/P2N3P/R5K1 b – – 0 23”]
Perhaps the reason why Lasker caused his opponents so many problems is illustrated with the following maneuver from Marshall-Lasker, New York 1907, where Franco gives Black’s move as 23…Rf7. This typographical error then keeps the black king at g8, making the later 24…Ke7 and 25…Rh6 truly astounding.
Let’s look at an example from game fourteen, H.Pillsbury-E.Lasker, St. Petersburg 1896. In the Queen’s Gambit, after the moves 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 c5 5.Bg5 cxd4 6.Qxd4 Nc6 7.Qh4 Be7 8.0-0-0 Qa5 9.e3 Bd7 10.Kb1 h6 11.cxd5 exd5 12.Nd4 0-0 13.Bxf6 Bxf6 14.Qh5 Nxd4 15.exd4 Be6 16.f4 Rac8 17.f5, which are annotated across three pages, we reach the following position:
[FEN “2r2rk1/pp3pp1/4bb1p/q2p1P1Q/3P4/2N5/PP4PP/1K1R1B1R b – – 0 17”]
Exercise: What was the idea that Lasker had prepared?
“A fine, deeply calculated combination, which any grandmaster could be proud of even today. It’s beyond the powers of even a strong computer – here additional forces are needed…” (Kasparov).
It’s also much better than 17…Bd7 18 Qf3 Bc6, which was slightly better for Black. Regarding Lasker’s decision to sacrifice when he had a good alternative, Nunn commented: “To embark upon a sacrificial combination when there’s no choice is not especially brave, but to do so when you have a perfectly good positional alternative requires courage,” and he added, “Nevertheless, this is one of the keys to success in chess. If you genuinely believe that a particular continuation is best then you should have the self-confidence to play it even if it involves a degree of risk”.
In the event of 18 bxc3 the simple 18…Bd7! is good, followed by 19…Rc8, but more crushing is the immediate 18…Rc8! and after 19 fxe6 Qxc3 20 exf7+ Rf8 Black’s attack is decisive: 21 Qe2 Bxd4 or 21 Be2 Qb4+ 22 Ka1 Rc1+! and mate with …Bxd4+.
[FEN “5rk1/pp3pp1/4Pb1p/q2p3Q/3P4/2r5/PP4PP/1K1R1B1R b – – 0 18”]
Exercise: What had Lasker planned to play here?
Marvellous. This move unsurprisingly attracted great admiration and praise. It’s hard not to have the same reaction as upon seeing a move like 11…Na4!! in D.Byrne-R.Fischer, New York 1956, or 18 Rxf7!! in M.Botvinnik-L.Portisch, Monte Carlo 1968, or the sequence beginning with 24 Rxd4!! in G.Kasparov-V.Topalov, Wijk aan Zee 1999, to quote just a few examples of the highest expression of the art of chess.
Nunn wrote: “This is the difficult move to see. The threat to the a2-pawn forces White to take the impudent rook, exposing his king to a check along the b-file. However, the queen and bishop by themselves cannot press the attack home and the key factor is whether Black can include his remaining rook in the attack”.
“The point of the combination! This paradoxical rook sacrifice forces the white king to begin a fight for its own existence”, commented Kasparov, while Amos Burn called it “The finest combination ever played on a chess board”, while it’s noteworthy that Lasker commented simply, “This was the point”.
This capture reduces the tension in the position and makes Black’s task easier, since it activates the rook immediately.
Lasker commented: “Or 19 e7 Re8 20 bxa3 Qb6+ 21 Kc2 (if 21 Ka1, Black would soon win by 21…Bxd4+ 22 Rxd4 Qxd4+ 23 Kb1 Rxe7) 21…Rc8+ 22 Kd2 Bxd4 and White has no defence”. In the event of 21 Bb5 here, Black could play 21…Qxb5+ 22 Ka1 Rxe7, with huge compensation for the small material investment.
After 19 e7 Lasker preferred 19…Re8 to the more active move 19…Rc8, because White could then exploit the fact that the rook was unprotected with 20 Qg4! and at the same time defend d4, enabling him to capture the rook on a3 under more favourable conditions.
White had to play 19 bxa3, to which the reply would be 19…Qb6+. Then 20 Ka1? loses to 20…Bxd4+ 21 Rxd4 Qxd4+ 22 Kb1, after which the f8-rook would join in the attack with 22…fxe6!, threatening …Rf2, amongst other things. Then after 23 Be2 Qe4+ 24 Ka1 Rf2 Black is winning: for example, 25 Re1 Qd4+ 26 Kb1 Qd2, etc.
20 Kc2? also loses: 20…Rc8+ 21 Kd2 Qxd4+ 22 Ke1 (22 Bd3 allows mate with 22…Rc2+! 23 Kxc2 Qb2#) 22…Qe3+ 23 Be2 fxe6, and despite White’s extra rook, with his king stuck in the centre, his position is indefensible after, say, 24 Qh3 Bc3+ 25 Kf1 Rf8+ 26 Bf3 Ba5 27 Qg3 Bb6, followed by 28…e5 and 29…e4.
As such, the only viable option for White would be to return some of the material with 20 Bb5!, although after 20…Qxb5+ 21 Ka1 fxe6 Black’s compensation for the exchange should be more than sufficient.
Skipping ahead some moves (and two more pages of annotations) 19…Rxf7 20.bxa3 Qb6+ 21.Bb5 Qxb5+ 22.Ka1 Rc7 23.Rd2 Rc4 24.Rhd1 Rc3 25.Qf5 Qc4 26.Kb2 we arrive at the following position:
[FEN “6k1/pp4p1/5b1p/3p1Q2/2qP4/P1r5/PK1R2PP/3R4 b – – 0 26”]
Exercise: How did Lasker continue?
“This is some kind of mysticism: the second rook is also sacrificed on the very same square! I think that Pillsbury must have been unable to believe his eyes…” (Kasparov).
If 27 Kb1 then Black can play 27…Bxd4 28 Re1 Qb4+ 29 Kc1 Qc3+ 30 Qc2 Qa1+ 31 Qb1 Rc3+ 32 Rc2 Be3+ 33 Rxe3 Qxb1+ 34 Kxb1 Rxe3, and the rook ending should be a win for Black.
Quicker was 27…Kh8 28 Qe8+ Kh7 29 Kb1 Bxd4, but there is nothing wrong with repeating moves.
“If 28 Kb1 Bxd4 29 Qf5+ g6 30 Qd7+ Bg7 wins” (Lasker). In this line 29 Qe2 is no better, in view of 29…Qb4+! regaining the exchange, with a decisive advantage.
Instead, if 28 Qf5+ Black should avoid 28…Kh8? because of 29 Kb1! and as 29…Bxd4?? loses to 30 Qf8+ and Qxa3, he must play 29…Rxa2 30 Rxa2 Qb3+ 31 Kc1, when 31…Qxa2? loses to 32 Qc8+ Kh7 33 Qc2+, so Black must force a draw with 31…Bg5+ 32 Rad2 Qc3+ 33 Qc2 Qa1+.
Here Lasker would have repeated moves with 28…Kg8!, and now if 29 Kb1 then 29…Bxd4 is winning, since with the king on g8 there is no 30 Qf8+, while 29 Qe6+ Kh8 transposes to the line given in the note to move 27, above.
The finish of the game, with another page of annotations, was 28…Qc3+ 29.Ka4 b5+ 30.Kxb5 Qc4+ 31.Ka5 Bd8+ 32.Qb6 Bxb6# 0-1 When Franco conlcudes as follows:
“Later Lasker called this game the best of his career.
“Too many mistakes, you say? Please don’t rush to write off this game, and just remember its unique historical importance! That day Caissa chose Lasker, and as we know today, the chess goddess did not err. Her cruel decision marked a fork in the lives of both players.
“Lasker, inspired by this victory, won the tournament convincingly. Later that year he crushed Steinitz in a rematch and kept his title for 25 more years, while Pillsbury, after the above disaster, collapsed and lost five games out of the remaining eight, ending up third behind Steinitz. He never achieved the same peak of playing strength as in that magnificent year and died eight years later at the age of 34.
“Who know how often Harry Nelson Pillsbury remembered that traumatic day in St. Petersburg and the chances he had missed – chances that would have changed his entire life and the course of chess history” (Kasparov).
The cause of the collapse of the only 23-year-old Pillsbury in the second half was apparently that he had contracted syphilis, an illness which began to be curable only in 1908. He scored omly one and a half points from the final nine games, whereas Lasker continued playing at the same, very high level and scored 6/9.”
If you want to become acquainted with Lasker’s play, then Lasker: Move by Move is a suitable guide. The games are fantastic. The explanations are plentiful without overburdening the reader in variations. There are ample diagrams. The reader will come away with the same awe and respect as the author for Lasker’s strength and ingenuity. As Franco notes, “It has been a pleasure to ‘rediscover’ the second world champion, Emanuel Lasker, in this, the 150th anniversary of his birth. I hope that the reader will also share that emotion.”
The ebook works wonderfully in the free Everyman Chess Viewer app, and makes it convenient and easy to play through the games. The app comes with a built-in chess engine, but it will not let you enter sideline variations on your own. Chess Viewer eBooks are compatible with Apple and Android products, as well as with any PGN software. Each eBook comes with a ChessBase and PGN file that can be added to your device of choice.