A jubilee: Dawid Janowski 150th birthday

by André Schulz
6/7/2018 – Today, 150 years ago, on June 7, 1868, Dawid Janowski was born, one of the world's best players at the beginning of the 20th century. Janowski was an inspired and dangerous attacking player who was strong enough to challenge Lasker to a World Championship match. | Photo: St. Petersburg 1914, from the "Neue Wiener Schachzeitung"

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Chess player and gambler

Most chess players know the name of Dawid Janowski, whose full name was Dawid Markelowitsch Janowski, because he played a couple of matches against Emanuel Lasker. In fact, from 1909 to 1910 Janowski played no less than three matches against the world champion, and the last of these matches was a match for the title. The first of these three matches was balanced but then Lasker had adjusted to his opponent and the following two matches took a rather one-sided course As Georg Marco, who followed the title match, put it: "Either Lasker won or Janowski lost."

According to the Gregorian calendar, which is used today, Janowski was born on June 7, 1868, in Wolkowysk, a Polish town which at that time was part of the Russian empire. But according to the Julian calendar, which at that time was still in use in Wolkowysk, Janowski was born on May 25.

Janowski's family later moved to Lodz and in the early 1880s moved on to Warsaw where Janowski and his brother joined a chess club. In 1886 he first appeared in Paris but he also lived in Berlin and New York for a time. From about 1890 Janowski was a regular in the famous Café de la Régence. His first game that found its way into the Mega was played in 1892 at just this venue.

After Janowski won the Championship of Paris he was regularly invited to big tournaments. In 1894 he is one of the 18 participants of the Masters Tournament at the 9. Chess Congress of the German Chess Federation in Leipzig. Siegbert Tarrasch won the tournament ahead of Paul Lipke, Janowski finished sixth.

In 1895 Janowski played a match against Jacques Mieses which finished with a 7-7 tie. Only two of the 14 games in this match were drawn, which indicates Janowski's fighting spirit and his sharp attacking style. Janowski liked to attack but he also often tried to win equal positions at all costs which cost him many a point.

Janowski also liked to continue clearly lost positions to the very end, pursuing the vague hope the opponent would blunder, a habit that did not make him popular among his colleagues. In real life, Janowski also was a gambler. He regularly lost his money in the casino, and when he was winning he could never stop playing in time and only left the casino when he no longer had a cent in his pocket.

After Janowski finished as shared second at the tournament in London 1899 he sent Lasker, who was world champion at that time, a first challenge. Lasker was basically ready to play a match and asked for 10,000 Swiss francs of prize money but after Janowski and Lasker could not agree on the details the match did not come about.

In the following years, Janowski had a number of successes in international tournaments. He finished third behind Chigorin and Schiffers at the Russian Championships in Moscow 1901, and in the same year he won the tournament in Monte Carlo and one year later, in 1902, he was shared second in Monte Carlo. In 1902 he also won the Masters Tournament at the 13th Congress of the German Chess Federation in Hannover, and in 1904 he shared second place with Lasker in Cambridge Springs 1904 which Frank Marshall won. In Ostende 1905 he shared second place with Tarrasch while Geza Maroczy won.

In Barmen 1905 he even shared first place with Maroczy. According to the historical ratings of Jeff Sonas, in 1904 Janowski for some time even was the world's number one in 1904.


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His risky style brought Janowski a lot of points against the players from the older generation but the more pragmatic younger players such as Lasker, Schlechter or Capablanca often showed Janowski his limits.


In 1909 talks about a World Championship match against Lasker were resumed. Janowski had made the acquaintance of Leonardus Salomon, a wealthy art dealer who was willing to sponsor Janowski. Salomon was originally from the Netherlands and had become rich in the US where he befriended Frank Marshall.

Marshall plays against Janowsky, Leonardus Salomon watches | Photo source: The Chesspedia

At the start of the new century Leonardus Salomon who from about 1910 onwards adopted the name "Leo Nardus" had returned to Europe. He was ready to support Janowski's efforts to play a World Championship match against Lasker. For a start, a small four-game test-match was organised in 1909 - it ended in a 2-2 tie.

In the autumn of the same year, 1909, followed a longer match which Lasker won rather clearly with 6-2. But Janowski and Leo Nardus were not discouraged, and after the Berliner Schachgesellschaft (the Berlin Chess Society) had also declared its willingness to contribute Lasker and Janowski agreed to play another match in autumn 1910. Match-winner would be the player who was the first to win eight games. The first ten games of the match should be played in Berlin, the remaining games in Paris. But after Lasker had won seven of the first ten games in Berlin one decided not to move to Paris. Lasker secured the match by winning the eleventh game.


However, the public did not much interest in this match because Lasker had asked for the exclusive right to publish the games which prevented the press from printing the games. Janowski tried to compensate his losses in the casino.

In the following years, Janowski played a number of tournaments in America and finished second behind Alekhine in Scheveningen 1913. He was also invited to the Grandmaster Tournament 1914 in St. Petersburg, but failed to qualify for the finals.

Janowski was also one of the participants of the aborted 19th Chess Congress of the German Chess Federation in Mannheim 1914. World War I began during the tournament, and players from countries that were at war with Germany were detained, among them Janowski who had become a French citizen.

But like Alekhine and other participants he was released and sent to Switzerland in the same year. From Switzerland Janowski went to the US. In 1916 he took part in the Rice Memorial and finished on shared second place behind Capablanca.

In America Janowski played a couple of matches with varying success, and started in a couple of tournaments which were either not particularly strong or in which he failed to succeed. But in 1924 Janowski was one of the participants of the famous New York tournament which was won by former World Champion Emanuel Lasker. Janowski finished last, which might have been due to health issues which would plague him more and more.

In 1925 Janowski returned to Europe. After the war, the economy was slowly getting better and chess also came back to life after a long break. In 1925 Janowski played in Marienbad but finished in the lower part of the field as he did in Semmering 1926. In October 1926 Janowski was in Ghent, in Belgium, and played the last tournament of his life. He wanted to take part in a Christmas tournament in Hyères 1926 but when he arrived on December 19, he was very ill. What he thought was a heavy cold turned out to be the final stage of tuberculosis. He died on January 15, 1927, at the age of 58.

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer

Postscript on 19th-century dates (June 9th)

There is some disagreement when it comes to Janowski's date of birth. One reader took issue with our use of June 7th rather than May 25th:

The reader has a point, but it's not as clear-cut as that, since the calendar in use in the city of Janowski's birth may still have been Julian, as it was controlled by Russia at the time.

We put the question to noted historian Edward Winter, who published his initial findings on his Chess Notes site. Notably, Winter references, "page 1 of Ackermann’s monograph on [Janowski] (Ludwigshafen, 2005)", which refers to June 7th as the data according to "the Russian calendar". However, Winter notes that indeed May 25th is actually more generally accepted.

Concerning the Julian and Gregorian calendars, it may be wondered why the difference for that nineteenth-century date is given as 13 days and not 12. (See When Was Alekhine Born?) One would expect 25 May/6 June 1868.

Another question is what relevance the two calendars may or may not have in the context of Janowsky’s place of birth, given in various English-language sources as Volkoysk, Volkovysk, Walkowisk and Wolkowysk (Wołkowysk) and, in German sources, as Walkowijsk, Walkowisk and Waukawysk. On page 15 of the January 1956 Chess Review, Ossip Bernstein wrote that Janowsky was born ‘in the Polish-Jewish industrial city of Łódź, then still in Imperial Russia’.

Winter concludes that more primary sources are needed to clear up the matter.

In view of the dearth of primary sources, anyone given to Grübelsucht may be tempted to ask provocatively: how can it be stated for certain that even the year 1868 is correct? Where is the documentation?
Can readers assist us in taking the matter forward?

We're happy to put out a similar call.


André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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