Lasker Speaks Out (1926)

Richard Forster

In the spring of 1924 the 55-year-old Emanuel Lasker won the great New York tournament ahead of Capablanca and Alekhine. Three years later, New York chess enthusiasts organized another top-class tournament, but Lasker’s name was conspicuously absent. In the run-up to the tournament it became apparent that a bitter schism existed between Lasker and the chief organizer, Nobert Lederer.

The conflict had been brewing behind the scenes for two and a half years until it erupted in late 1926 after the announcement of the invitees to the 1927 tournament. Lasker was not invited, and he decided to bring the dispute into the open with a long public statement. That text of Lasker’s, which ignited a series of fierce exchanges in the press, has often been misquoted, mistranslated and misunderstood.

The present article aims to give Lasker’s statement in an English version which is as complete and faithful as possible. This is greatly complicated by the fact that Lasker’s own original text has not been preserved. Instead, it has to be reconstructed from four versions published in four languages, each version having its limitations.

The Four Sources

Lasker wrote the text in German. It was first published in that language, but with significant editorial abridgements. It has therefore been necessary to reconstruct the omissions from the various translations.

German Lasker’s text appeared for the first time on 21 December 1926 in the Essener Allgemeine Zeitung and in the Beilagen der Düsseldorfer Nachrichten, no. 645. Both papers were owned by the Girardet publishing house. The former publication broke off abruptly about two-thirds into the text. The latter version was more comprehensive and contained several paragraphs from the last third of Lasker’s text. Unfortunately, it is the former, shorter version that was picked up by the German chess public and eventually reprinted (without the paper’s own introduction) in Kagans Neueste Schachnachrichten, no. 2b, April-June 1927, pp. 277–279.
Dutch Two weeks after the German text, there came a Dutch translation in De Telegraaf (Amsterdam), 4 January 1927, to which newspaper Lasker had been a regular contributor for years. This version was later picked up by the American chess public in a mediocre English translation. In the 1980s Dirk Jan ten Geuzendam translated the Dutch text into English for Edward Winter, who included extracts in his book Capablanca, 1989, pp. 195–196.
Spanish The next version appeared in La Nación (Buenos Aires) on 1 February 1927. This publication has received almost no attention, which is unfortunate as it was the most complete rendition of the text that has ever appeared until now. (With many thanks to Christian Sánchez for providing a scanned version.)
English An English translation, purportedly based on the Dutch article (but, in fact, including some details absent from the Dutch version), appeared in the American Chess Bulletin, February 1927, pp. 37–38. That translation, which dominated the American perception of Lasker’s complaints, was marred by several significant inaccuracies (see also Lasker’s own remarks in the American Chess Bulletin, March 1927, p. 72).

Introductions and Headlines

Before we delve into the actual statement, here is a brief overview of how the newspapers introduced and presented Lasker’s statement:

German. The German papers presented the text under the heading “Capablanca’s poisonous arrows against Dr Lasker”, accompanied by the subheadings “A dark chapter from the realms of the Royal game. An affront to the chess world. New York’s attack on German chess. A mysterious clock.” This was followed by an introductory paragraph from the editors, which finished as follows: “We have asked Dr Lasker, known to our readers as a diligent contributor to this paper, for an explanation, and we have received his highly interesting account of the matters. Lasker writes, among other things [the following].”

Dutch. The text appeared without any introduction under the heading “Revelations by Dr Em. Lasker” and it was dated “Berlin, 31 Dec.”

English. The American Chess Bulletin gave it under the heading “Translation of Dr Lasker’s Statement,” with the following introduction: “After declaring that he does not know what were the motives of the organizing committee in not inviting him to the forthcoming international tournament in New York, Dr Lasker says [the following].”

Spanish. The text was presented without any introduction, under the heading “The master Lasker makes some declarations” and the subheading “He explains why he will not be taking part in the New York tournament—history of the case”.

Lasker’s Statement

Below, for the first time, a “complete” version of this important statement of Lasker’s is given. Which parts can be found in which original publication is indicated as follows:

X: the text was given (almost) verbatim

(p): the text was either paraphrased or only partially reproduced

n/a: the text was missing in that publication

German Dutch Spanish English Reconstructed Text (in English) Notes
1 n/a X X n/a Revelations by Dr Em. Lasker
2 (p) X X (p) From more than one side I have been asked why I am not among the participants in the master tournament to be held in New York next March. In fact, this question had better be put to the organizing committee that has sent out the invitations for the tournament.
3 X X X (p) The motives which have induced this committee not to invite me are formally unknown to me, but I can deduce them from the simple fact that practically the same committee is at work which controlled the New York 1924 tournament, at least as far as the principal persons are concerned. For this reason, it seems appropriate for me to lay my experiences with this committee before the public.
4 n/a n/a X n/a First, because the committee shows itself to be predisposed in favor of Capablanca. Second, because there seems to be a danger that legend, always lurking when it comes to falsifying the truth, in this case too could take hold of the matter, once public attention has been sought.
5 X (p) X n/a In 1923 and early 1924 I was living in Holland. Germany was weighed down by the consequences of the inflation that had also destroyed my capital. The misery of that time could only be alleviated by manufacturing goods, of which I did not understand anything. In Holland I met with a warm welcome. Friends had found work for me outside of chess, when suddenly I received, through Mr Kagan, a letter in which I was invited to participate in the 1924 New York tournament.
6 X X X (p) This was not exactly a friendly invitation. It was intended to hurt me in my self-esteem and to discredit me. For in this letter I was at the same time notified that in case I refused, my replacement, Dr. Tarrasch, had already been appointed; furthermore, I was requested to answer categorically with yes or no within 24 hours.
7 n/a X X n/a Apparently, the committee wanted to demonstrate with their unkind behaviour that they were not inclined to enter into any negotiations with me.
8 (p) (p) X X Since 1914 the chess world has known very well that I require a fee when a chess committee wants me to join a tournament.
9 n/a n/a X n/a My participation undoubtedly helped increase the interest evoked by a tournament, and hence also the amount of subscriptions and gate receipts.
10 n/a n/a X X The invitation which imposed a deadline of 24 hours on me to reply “yes” or “no” precluded any opportunity of asking for an appropriate fee.
German Dutch Spanish English Reconstructed Text (in English) Notes
11 X n/a X X It was obvious that those who sent me the above invitation via Mr Kagan—they remained anonymous themselves—expected with certainty a “no” from me.
12 X X X X There were two reasons which induced me to accept the invitation after all.
13 X X X (p) Since the London tournament of 1922 I had observed a spirit of intrigue ruling the chess world. I was not invited, the tournament was uneventful as Capablanca had no opposition, the English audience complained. English version: London and Hastings 1922 are mixed up in the abridged version.
14 n/a X X n/a Still, in the British press not a single word was mentioned about the present writer’s absence, although without a doubt only my participation could have lent the tournament the tension that it was lacking. However, when a remark I had made could not be suppressed the British press reported that “Somebody said...etc., etc.”. This “somebody” was I. The Spanish version wrongly speaks of a newspaper called Somebody.
15 X X X (p) To the following tournament at Hastings I was invited, I had asked for a modest fee of £100, this was refused, and through Mr Kagan I was offered a much lower fee, which I refused. Dr Tarrasch played instead of me.
16 X n/a X (p) Later on Capablanca attacked me insultingly in a five-page article in the British Chess Magazine. I sent a response to the magazine with documentary evidence unmasking several statements by Capablanca as untruths, and the directors of the British Chess Magazine returned the manuscript to me after four weeks of consideration, refusing to publish it under the pretext that it could not become involved in a dispute between Capablanca and myself.
17 n/a n/a X n/a Did the directors of the magazine not know that by publishing Capablanca’s article with all its false accusations they had already become part of the conflict?
18 X X X n/a All this was a prelude. The strange manner in which it was thought appropriate to invite me to New York, together with all the above, was a strong indication of a systematic desire for secret but determined intrigue against me, and the origins were to be sought in the circle of Capablanca and his supporters.
19 X X X (p) Although I had been selected as their first target, I was not the only one. Bogoljubow was also about to become a target, as was Rubinstein, who had always managed to hold his own against Capablanca. I felt that only my personal intervention could bring the actions of those adverse elements to a halt.
20 X X X n/a But this was not the main motive that drove me. It is not my habit to bring matters into the open where my person alone is concerned. I rather rely on the maxim “Gottes Mühlen mahlen langsam, doch sehr, sehr fein” (God’s mills grind slowly, but very, very thoroughly). Everyone is attached to the ground on which he first stepped as a child and to the mother tongue through which the culture of mankind was imparted to him.
German Dutch Spanish English Reconstructed Text (in English) Notes
21 X X X n/a Somewhere within me lives the German forest, the German language. In Dutch freely translated: “German blood is flowing through my veins.”
22 X X X X In London 1922 German chess was not represented at all; in Hastings and other smaller tournaments, by Dr Tarrasch. In Mährisch-Ostrau [1923] I gained confidence that I was better suited for the battle with the younger chess masters than was Dr Tarrasch. It was German chess which called me to New York.
23 X X X X In New York I was loudly applauded at a public general meeting which was held on the occasion of the great tournament and which was attended by hundreds of people. At this meeting the president of the tournament committee emphasized that the tournament had considerably gained in importance because of my participation.
24 X X X X Apparently, the public had no idea of the manner in which I had been invited – nor, possibly, did the president of the committee. I soon learned that in this committee a small group of people set the tone, and this group knew how to win over the other members of the committee or leave them in the dark. Of this small group Mr Lederer was the central figure.
25 X (p) X X From some committee members I learned that Mr Lederer had been entrusted with conducting the correspondence with the masters, and that a fee had been budgeted for me, just like for Capablanca.
26 X n/a X X I therefore asked Mr Lederer if he was responsible for the manner of inviting me which, I said, seemed obviously designed to cause me to decline and prevent my participation.
27 (p) (p) X X He intimidated that Mr Kagan was to blame, and as proof showed me the official correspondence, but not the letters with Mr Kagan. He asserted that he did not have that correspondence at hand but promised that he would endeavour to get it and show it to me. This promise, however, he never fulfilled although I waited for it for many months.
28 n/a n/a X X After I returned to Europe, Mr. Kagan told me that he had adhered strictly to the instructions given him by Mr Lederer, and that Mr. Lederer always had in his possession copies of all the correspondence with the different chess masters which had gone through Mr Kagan’s hands. Although I have gone to much trouble to have light shed on this subject, I never received a satisfactory explanation. It seems to me that it was the duty of the committee to ask Mr Lederer to put before them the whole correspondence and to say: “Yes, we wanted Dr Lasker to be invited in the way it was done.” Or, in the other case, “No, Mr Lederer did not act in the spirit that we would have liked him to do and we are ready to offer you redress.”
29 n/a (p) X X In a letter to the president of the committee (Mr Limburg) I insisted on an investigation and a solution in the way I have outlined, but he simply wrote me a non-committal letter. I wrote a second letter to him along the same lines. I never received an answer. So he has left it to me to think about the whole situation as I see fit. My idea is that, although Mr Lederer acted originally against the will of the committee, using all sorts of tricks and bluff, the committee profited by the results of his actions.
30 X X X n/a As far as the tournament itself is concerned, it will be remembered that I soon took the lead. It was not the leisurely pace of the London tournament, and Capablanca was forced to do his utmost to keep up with me.
German Dutch Spanish English Reconstructed Text (in English) Notes
31 X X X n/a The public anxiously looked forward to the game between the two of us, a game in which my opponent was White. We were excited by an emotion which the creative master has to sense within and around himself to achieve something truly special. A passionate struggle developed.
32 X X X (p) Suddenly I noticed that the clock which regulated my time for reflection was not right. Mr Lederer had the control of and responsibility for this clock. After I insisted on an investigation, a closer inspection revealed that I had lost about fifteen minutes of my time for reflection because of a defect in the clock.
33 X (p) X (p) This was a significant disadvantage, made even worse because through the examination of the clock I lost twenty minutes of the time designed for the dinner break and recreation. The Dutch version wrongly stated: “I lost twenty minutes during the repair of the clock”. Some of the later comments in the American press were based on this important mistranslation.
34 X X X X It transpired that some chess friends who had also noticed the failure of the clock had sent for Mr Lederer, as he was in control, but he was nowhere to be found. Had Mr Lederer, to whose care these clocks had been entrusted, not closely inspected them? After all, it was his duty to check on the clocks, especially the one used for such an important game. He should have stayed in the vicinity to regulate the clock if something was amiss. As a result of the excitement about this intermezzo, the loss of time for reflection and my exhaustion, I made a gross blunder in a fine and clear position and lost the game, my only loss in New York.
35 X X X X This same Mr Lederer has again been appointed as secretary of the committee for the coming tournament in 1927.
36 X X X X This fact alone is sufficient reason to make my participation impossible. But there are two other facts which show even more clearly that the organizers want to prevent at all costs my participation, which would be applauded by many chess friends in and outside the United States. After this paragraph the German text in the Essener Allgemeine Zeitung (and reprinted by Kagan) broke off. The Düsseldorfer Zeitung, however, continued.
37 X X X X As director of the tournament has been chosen Mr Maróczy, a master of average class, who doubtless qualified by his abominable attack on me in Kagans Neueste Schachnachrichten. Amongst other things he implied that I smoked during play to hinder my opponents on purpose.
38 X X X X In the same place, this gentleman also advised tournament organizers to exclude masters who asked for an honorarium; the masters would need to give in because otherwise they would be forgotten by the public. Some translations seem to be rather free.
German: …die Meister müssten klein beigeben, da sie sonst vergessen würden.
Dutch: Zij mochten er zelfs wel iets voor over hebben, om mede te mogen spelen, daar zij anders wel eens vergeten zonden kunnen worden.
Spanish: …dando a entender que los maestros se verían obligados a ceder para no verse olvidados por el público.
English: This class of players should consider themselves favoured to play with masters and pay for it.
39 n/a X X X This man, of all people, has been chosen as director of the 1927 tournament.
40 (p) X X X During the 1924 tournament, the committee informed the masters by letter that the surplus of the money received, estimated at two or three thousand dollars, would be divided among the players in proportion to the results they achieved. As I won first prize, I was entitled to about one third of the surplus.
German Dutch Spanish English Reconstructed Text (in English) Notes
41 n/a n/a X X But at the end it transpired that there was no surplus.
42 n/a X X X In the congress book, in which the history of the tournament was written down, said promise is not mentioned with a single word. Neither does it become clear from the balance given which masters profited from the surplus.
43 n/a X X X I suppose that the committee took special care of certain masters, and certainly not out of their own pockets, but with the money they had already promised to the other masters.
44 n/a X X X I hold the Manhattan Chess Club morally responsible for these actions and consider it the heir of the 1924 committee, as the president of that club was also chairman of the committee and further because the plan to hold the tournament was put forward by members of that club.
45 (p) X X X I have informed the club to this effect and requested that they clarify the controversies now that the 1924 tournament committee has been dissolved. It should be easy for them to clear up the old controversies by collecting all the pertaining documents and submitting the material to an arbitration committee. The club, however, has refused to do so.
46 X n/a X n/a Once more its principal members are on the committee for the projected tournament of 1927.
47 X X X n/a But my taking part in the tournament is not the issue; this is not the reason why I have decided to address my readers.
48 X X X n/a “Res publica agitur.” A variation of the expression “tua res agitur”—here: It is a matter of public concern.
49 X X X X The committee of 1924 was excessively partial toward Capablanca, and what came of this I have just shown in these lines. The board of directors of the coming tournament seems to be only a creature of Capablanca’s. At present Capablanca also openly writes letters in the name of the committee.
50 n/a n/a X n/a This can be seen, among others, in a publication by Kagan’s publishing house. “Como lo demuestra … una publicación de la Empresa Editora de Kagan.” Possibly this was simply a reference to Kagans Schachnachrichten.
German Dutch Spanish English Reconstructed Text (in English) Notes
51 X X X X Instead of the old rules the committee has adopted the new ones that Capablanca has prescribed for his matches. However, it is an old custom that before new rules come into effect, they must first be confirmed by an assembly of masters.
52 n/a X X X In one of the American newspapers it was stated that out of the coming tournament the future opponent of Capablanca would logically emerge, and Capablanca himself seems to hold this view too. In this way the question is avoided whether I should play a match with Capablanca, and whether it is not after all this match that the chess world demands. Besides, the legitimate rights of Alekhine are violated, who has formally challenged Capablanca to play a match in South America. No doubt a South American committee would be impartial.
53 (p) X X X The committee of the forthcoming tournament does not represent the American people. It is a small minority backed by a couple of capitalists who started this tournament. The chess friends of the United States want impartiality. Soon they will tell the incompetent men who organized the tournament in 1924 and who profess also to organize the one in 1927: Go hence! Keep your dollars to yourself. Our country has no need for your dollars or your support! In the Dutch (and derived English) version, the last sentence ends with “…no need for your dollars nor yourselves”. The Spanish version used here seems more plausible. The German version omitted the last four sentences.


Published: 3 February 2020.

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