Historical riddle: Schlechter vs Lasker 1910

by Karsten Müller
8/27/2020 – The World Championship match from 1910 still contains several mysteries. One is the famous fifth game. Schlechter won in the end and thanks to that almost won the match, but that is another mysterious story. Can you help Karsten Müller to find the truth of the famous queen and rook fight? | Photo: Das interessante Blatt, 20 January 1910, page 6. | Retrieved from Edward Winter’s Chess Notes

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Carl SchelchterOne of the most mysterious passages of chess history was the 1910 World Championship match, or the “so-called championship match”, as described by Anne Sunnucks in the Encyclopaedia of Chess. Both the controversy of whether the world title was at stake in the ten-game confrontation and which were the conditions of said match are still unresolved mysteries.

As usual, Edward Winter has looked into this issue in depth in his Chess Notes. The concluding paragraph of C.N. 3179 (see page 280 of Chess Facts and Fables) reads:

No chess event requires greater caution by historians than the Lasker v Schlechter match. As shown by magazine and newspaper reports of the time, the regulations evolved between late 1908 and early 1910, but, as far as we know, they were never published in a final, consolidated form.*

Furthermore, it was never clarified if Schlechter needed to win by a two-point margin in order to get the title (if it was at stake). Schlechter had a one-point advantage after nine games and played for a win in the final encounter — Lasker ended up getting the point and retained the title, as has been generally accepted. Winter translated the following report by Walter Preiswerk (who was then in Leipzig) in the Basler Nachrichten of 20 February 1910:

It was generally assumed that the last game would end in a draw and that Schlechter would thereby ensure victory for himself. Curiously enough, however, Lasker won, which meant that the match ended indecisively. It is very strange that Schlechter, who lost none of the first nine games, succumbed in the final one, and the assumption suggests itself that this outcome was intentional. A narrow victory by Schlechter would by no means have given him the world championship but, instead, it would have brought him a serious return match to be carried out irrespective of its financing. This may not have suited the two masters, who, after all, are also excellent businessmen.

Nevertheless, the riddle that we present now has to do with game 5. Many analysts have looked into it in deep detail. Among them Romanovsky, Lasker, Schlechter, Tarrasch, Dvoretsky, Kasparov and Hübner. So far, the best analyzes are by Dvoretsky, who did a great job in his excellent Analytical Manual. But was that the last word regarding this issue?

Your job is to find out how many mistakes were made in the following sequence and figure out which was Lasker’s last mistake:


We need your help

Please send any analysis you come up with to me at the following email address: Karsten Müller. You may also like to use more powerful engines to assist you in your efforts. Fat Fritz, for instance, goes for some unconventional continuations and surprises. Dr. Müller will evaluate your submissions and discuss them with you.

In case you are not familiar with our replay board (above), please note that there are a large number of functions you can use to understand the game and the moves. Just an engine (fan icon) and it will help you to analyse. You can get multiple lines of analysis by clicking the + button to the right of the engine analysis window. The "!" key, incidentally, shows you the threat in any position, which is incredibly useful in the case of unclear moves.

There is one more thing you can do. It is a lot of fun, but also a serious challenge: Click on the rook icon below the notation window. This will allow you the play the above position against Fritz, at your level of playing strength (e.g. "Club Player"), right here on the news page. Note that your analysis, in which you can delete, move or promote lines, is stored in the notation as new variations. In the end you will find the game with your analysis in the cloud. So nothing is ever lost.

[*A passage by David Hooper previously quoted here was removed, as Edward Winter’s article specifically pointed out that Hooper was wrong to ascribe the quoted words to the American Chess Bulletin. Instead, we have reproduced the paragraph from C.N. 3179 to illustrate the depth of the controversy. Many thanks to Olimpiu G. Urcan for calling attention to the error.] 

Master Class Vol.5: Emanuel Lasker

The name Emanuel Lasker will always be linked with his incredible 27 years reign on the throne of world chess. In 1894, at the age of 25, he had already won the world title from Wilhelm Steinitz and his record number of years on the throne did not end till 1921 when Lasker had to accept the superiority of Jose Raul Capablanca. But not only had the only German world champion so far seen off all challengers for many years, he had also won the greatest tournaments of his age, sometimes with an enormous lead. The fascinating question is, how did he manage that?


Karsten Müller, born 1970, has a world-wide reputation as one of the greatest endgame experts. He has, together with Frank Lamprecht, written a book on the subject: “Fundamental Chess Endgames” in addition to other contributions such as his column on the website ChessCafe as well as in ChessBase Magazine. Müller's ChessBase-DVDs about endgames in Fritztrainer-Format are bestsellers. The PhD in mathematics lives in Hamburg, where he has also been hunting down points for the HSK in the Bundesliga for many years.
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Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 9/1/2020 11:07
In the 2nd volume of the new Lasker triology (2020) on page 37 Negele/Forster state clearly:

"Lasker's title was definitely at stake"

Many thanks to Herbert Bastian for pointing this out!
KIva78 KIva78 8/31/2020 06:01
"A narrow victory by Schlechter would by no means have given him the world championship but, instead, it would have brought him a serious return match to be carried out irrespective of its financing. This may not have suited the two masters, who, after all, are also excellent businessmen." I have my doubts about Schlechter being an exceelent businessman, given his reputation for being rather unworldly. Lasker certainly was, however.
I was under the impression (I can't recall where I saw this) that Lasker was writing notes for the match for a New York newspaper, and he wrote that he needed to win the last game to draw the match.
Do any of the contemporary reports in newspapers in Vienna and Berlin not mention that it was a world championship match?
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 8/31/2020 03:48
Many thanks! It has been changed on the Spanish page.
OGUSG OGUSG 8/31/2020 03:13
Of course, the Spanish ChessBase page https://es.chessbase.com/post/problema-historico-schlechter-vs-lasker-1910 also needs to be corrected.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 8/31/2020 11:32
Many thanks! It has been corrected now.
OGUSG OGUSG 8/31/2020 08:24
The repetition of "not" in the ChessBase article has yet to be corrected in the text, but in any case it is strange that Karsten Müller quotes that passage about David Hooper, given that Edward Winter's article specifically pointed out that Hooper was wrong to ascribe the quoted words to the American Chess Bulletin.
- O.G. Urcan
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 8/29/2020 10:05
Yes you are right. The second "not" should be removed. Many thanks!
CMPonCB CMPonCB 8/28/2020 09:46
Next to Schlechter's portrait, you gave Hooper's opinion, but have erroneously phrased it with a double negative. ... did NOT believe the title was NOT at stake ...

It should read: "David Hooper stated on pages 183-184 of the March 1976 CHESS that he did not believe the title was at stake ...".

In other words, the second 'not' should be removed.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 8/28/2020 03:00
Yes that is right. But what about the moves before?
ays020209 ays020209 8/28/2020 12:40
Laskers last mistake was move no.54 he should have played c3 not Qc5