Fritz trainer: Emanuel Lasker, New York 1924

4/1/2007 – After winning the 1924 New York tournament Dr Emanuel Lasker, who was passionately interested in new technologies, recorded his comments on the games using the fledgling new technology of talking movies. The film material was recently recovered and digitally remastered. We have turned it into a Fritz Trainer DVD with twelve video lessons. You can order it now.

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Preface: Lasker's film "experiment"

It is a well-known fact that the second chess world champion Dr Emanuel Lasker was deeply interested in the new technology of animated film. This is documented in the following photo, originally owned by Lawrence T. Totaro, chess collector of Las Vegas, NV, and now hangs in the Lasker museum courtesy of the present owner, Dr. Jurgen Stigter.

The photo was taken in the Lasky Studios in New York. It shows Emanuel Lasker (seated on the right) playing a game against Frank Marshall. In the background starting from the left you have: Geo Currie, Herman Helms (Chess Champion N.Y. State Editor of American Chess bulletin), F.G.Hering (N.Y.Athletic Club), H.R.Bigelow (Chess Champion Oxford University), actress Lila Lee (who in 1918 was chosen for a film contract by Jesse Lasky), Edwin C. King, Mr. Milestone, Baron Gustow Von Kocziam of Budapest, A.B. Hodges (U.S. Chess Champion, Retired) and C.H. Nutchell.

The question that immediately springs to mind is why all these prominent chess players are gathered together in one room, in such a prop-style position; and more importantly, why was the picture taken in Lasky Studios, which operated laboratories at Sixth Avenue and Pierce Avenue, Long Island City, NY. The Lasky Corperation later became Paramount Pictures

The answer was revealed a few years ago, when six reels of film material were discovered during the restauration of the Lasker House in Thyrow, Germany (picture above).

The reels were stored in a box in a second cellar of the house, which had not been entered for decades. It contained chess boards, tables, chairs, a mattress and the box, which was pushed into a recess in the back of the cellar.

The film was in an unusual (approximately 35 mm) format and had a sound track. It took almost a year to find a projector capable of showing the film, but the wait was worth while. It turned out to be annotations to twelve games that Dr Lasker had played in the great New York Tournament in 1924. The material was in fairly good condition, probably due to the fact that it had been stored in airtight film reel cases in a cool place.

The Lasker film material was brought to the attention of ChessBase in 2005, and together with the processing facilities of Skyline-Pictures we were able to digitally remaster the original material and convert it into the WMF format required for our Chess Media System.

The next step was to "clean up" the sound track, which was done with modern audio filtering software and yielded astonishingly good results. After that the material was edited into twelve discrete clips, ranging from six minutes to 21 minutes in length.

The final stage of the process was the most time consuming. It involved ChessBase experts (IM Oliver Reeh, GM Rainer Knaak, André Schulz, and others) meticulously synchronising the Fritz board to the film material, executing the moves that Lasker spoke about in each clip. This was not very difficult since Lasker refers to the moves very clearly (albeit in descriptive notation), probably expecting that there would be a chess master with a demo board in the cinema when the film was being shown.

It is astonishing that Lasker would have made such extraordinary film recordings at a time when the technology was in its early infancy. The Time Archives have an article (which we have only found in German) in which Lasker explains how it came about: "[Since Alekhine was commissioned to write the tournament book...] I decided, with the help of Mr Eduard Lasker, to make use of a revolutionaly new technology to deliver the material to future generations. At the beginning of his career Mr. Edward Lasker worked for the Berlin company AEG, which in turn is connected with the innovative company Telefunken. Mr. Edward Lasker arranged the contacts with engineers of Telefunken who were experimenting with sound films. I was able to view the developments and experiments, one of which involved the recording which we made after the tournament in New York."

The recordings were apparently done in the Lasky Studios mentioned above, although we cannot find any indication as to why the material was not subsequently used in cinemas or private viewings. It is clear that Dr Lasker took the films to Berlin and stored them in the cellar of his home.

New Fritz Trainer DVD
Emanuel Lasker: New York 1924

The new Fritz Trainer DVD contains twelve video clips, ranging from six minutes to 21 minutes in length, in which Dr Emanuel Lasker annotates key games that led to his success in the New York 1924.

This double round robin tournament was won convincingly by the second world champion, who three years earlier had lost his title to the Cuban Raul Capablanca. Lasker demonstrated that his superior understanding of chess had not suffered from age or the the loss of world championship title, and that he remained the strategically most profound player in the world.

Above a clip (16 min 42 sec) in which Lasker annotates his round three game against Alekhine. "The Russian master Alexander Aljechin [Lasker uses the Russian pronunciation] is 32 years old and so I count him as one of the 'young generation' of players. I believe that he has the qualities to one day become the successor to the world champion. But in this game I was able to demonstrate that even the 'hypermoderns' must stick to the rules of good chess. I was able to show that it is not always possible to play successfully on both 'wings'."

From the game Yates-Lasker (8 min 53 sec): "The English master Frederick Yates is an excellent tactician, as everybody knows. I remind you of his brilliant victory with the black pieces over Aljechin at the tournament in Karlsbad, one year before the New York tournament. Now what does a tactician fear more than anything else? That he has to exchange the queens. With Queen to queen knight five I was able to achieve this under favourable conditions. That was in a higher sense already the winning move. Perhaps this would not be the case against Mr Capablanca, but against Mr Yates it was working well."

From the game Tartakower-Lasker (12 min 03 sec): "Tartakower has been know[n] to say that in the first three moves of a game anything is allowed. But he forgot to mention that only the player with the white pieces has this privilege in the game of chess. On my part I do not place so much importance to the opening as Mr Reti and Mr Aljechin seem to do, with their 'Hypermodern' school of chess. But the move pawn to queen rook three in this position seems to me to be nothing more than a loss of tempo. Of course it prevents the black bishop from occupying the square queen knight five, but what would he do from that position? In any case I was able to demonstrate in this game that perhaps in the first three moves everything is allowed, but not by anyone against everybody."

André Schulz, Frederic Friedel

  • System requirements: Pentium-Processor at 300 Mhz or higher, 64 MB RAM, Windows 98 SE, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Media Player 9.0, DVD drive.
  • Price: € 29.99 incl. VAT; € 25.20 without VAT (for customers outside the European Union); US $32.51 (without VAT).
  • Delivery date: May 15, 2007. Order now!

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