Chess in the Turbulent Era – vol. 2

As we mentioned in the first article of the series, chess became a science under the first world champion Steinitz. On another side, the second world champion, Emanuel Lasker, integrated other subjects into chess. Find out more about his approaches to chess, seen as mysterious to people of his time.

Sparkles between Chess and Academics

psyhology of chess

In 1868, Lasker was born in Berlinchen, a small city in modern-day Poland. At that time, Poland was a part of Prussia, the predecessor of modern German. Different from Steinitz, who gave up everything and devoted his life to chess, Lasker believed that he must have professions other than chess to sustain his life, especially in his era when chess was under-appreciated. During his chess career, he never gave up his study of psychology, mathematics, and philosophy.

emanuel lasker
Emanuel Lasker

The greatest invention Lasker contributed to chess methodology is that he introduced psychology to chess. He believed that “a good move may not be good itself, but it can make your opponents feel afraid and nervous so that they make mistakes.” He also utilized “magical” methods to disturb his opponents during his games. His psychological approaches were completely new and unbelievable at that time; you can imagine how astonished people felt when he used “magic” and made his opponents lose in many absolutely winning games.

mind, concentration, brain

It is undeniable that nowadays psychology still plays a crucial role in chess. Players may feel nervous when encountering strong and prominent opponents; they may feel annoyed if their opponents disturb them during the games, and they may keep losing if they lose a critical game. How psychology influences chess has already become an important field for us to study.

In 1894, Lasker had a match against Steinitz for the world champion. It was a close match in the beginning. However, in one game, Steinitz was two pawns up and was clearly winning, but Steinitz finally lost. It is believed that Lasker employed some psychological strategies to exert pressure on his opponent. Steinitz felt terrible after this game, which caused him to continue to lose many games and lose the whole match.

emanuel lasker vs steinitz
Lasker vs. Steinitz

For Steinitz, this failure was a great disaster for his chess career. Before the match, he already had a mental breakdown because of the death of his wife and his 21-year-old daughter. But he still indulged in chess and participated in many tournaments, hoping to prove that he was always the best chess player in the world. He had rematches against Lasker in the following years, but he never managed to retake the honor of world champion. Worse, Steinitz was poor at financial management. Though he was the world champion for many years, he often failed to find sponsorship for his tournaments. When his chess level began to decline, he had no other means to earn money. For most of the time throughout his life, Steinitz lived in poverty.

But Lasker was smarter in this aspect. He demanded large bonuses for every tournament. He also gained his Ph.D. in psychology, mathematics, and philosophy after he became the world champion, and contributed a lot to the academic world. Even Einstein spoke highly of Lasker. He said, “I admire Lasker. I admire his determination of thinking independently, which is commendable especially in our ages.”

Chess and thinking

It is still respectable that Lasker achieved such a high level in both chess and academics. These days, a lot of chess players give up everything and devote their whole lives to chess, just like Steinitz. Some people firmly believe that chess is their true passion, but for most people, life is not just about chess. Do you want to live like Steinitz, who took chess as the enterprise of his life, or Lasker, a versatile chess player? This is a hard choice for most chess players. But it is instructive as
Lasker reveals, subjects that seem irrelevant from chess, such as psychology, are actually very helpful in the game itself. In the same way, Lasker demonstrated that chess has a positive influence on academic subjects such as math and philosophy, because chess promotes our calculation and logical thinking abilities, and cultivates our spirit of perseverance no matter what hardships we face in our lives. This may provide players a useful insight into how to keep a balance between chess and schoolwork.



Young and active tournament player with excellent results including a 1st place at the BSSZ Aranytiz International Master, 1st place at the Chinese Youth Chess Championship G16, and part of the top 10 contenders in two World Chess Championships for girls G16 and G18.

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