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Friday
Oct242008

The One True Style

Chess Player: Emanuel Lasker, The One True Style
(1868-1941)

Lasker was polite, a remarkable player, and a remarkable person by all accounts. He held a PhD in mathematics and he happened to share an apartment with Albert Einstein in the 1930s. Dr. Lasker played bridge, Go, and chess. Although he had many interests, he utterly dominated the world of chess. He held the title of World Champion for an amazing twenty-six years, during which time he defended the title seven times. Dr. Lasker’s winning percentage is the highest of any World Champion: 66%. His record was 52 wins, 16 losses, 44 draws for a total of 74 points in 112 games.

But numbers alone cannot convey the genius of Lasker. He was an attacker, but not overly so. He was a defender, but not overly so. His mathematical mind saw solutions on the chessboard that few others could see, but it was not about “finding the solution” to Lasker. He believed chess has a spirit, and that psychology of the opponent was at least as important as chess theory when deciding a move. His style showed a balance of many aspects and schools of thought, and thus he was versatile and adaptable. Like all masters, he made his art look easy. He was also quite adept at making moves that made his opponents very uncomfortable, and at finding his way out of positions that other players called hopeless. The thing that really calls out to me about Dr. Lasker, though, is that others believed his ability to read the mind of the opponent was simply uncanny. Nebulous as it is to “know the mind of the opponent,” that accusation shows up again and again when dealing with the world’s best players of strategic games.

Lasker won so many games from bad positions that he was accused by at least one opponent of witchcraft, by another of hypnotism and by many more as being grossly over-endowed with good luck. In fact, he often deliberately courted difficult positions because he understood the mental stress that can be built up in the mind of an attacker when he meets with a resolute defense. By building up an opponent’s hopes and then placing a trail of difficulties in his path, Lasker would induce feelings of doubt, confusion and finally panic.
—Bill Hartston, Chess Author
While both Steinitz and Tarrasch . . . [put] into practice a perfect strategy, playing only the best possible moves on every occasion, Lasker’s approach to the game was certainly more flexible. For Lasker understood better than anyone that the true nature of the struggle in chess was not an objective search for the truth, but a psychological battle against both oneself and the opponent in conditions of extreme uncertainty.
—Bill Hartston
It is remarkable, and deserves special mention that the great masters, such as Pillsbury, Maroczy, and Janowski play against Lasker as though hypnotized.
—George Marco, Chess Annotator
Emanuel Lasker was undoubtedly one of the most interesting people I came to know in my later life.
—Albert Einstein

Street Fighter Player: John Choi, The One True Style

Choi is polite, humble, and utterly dominating as a player. In high school, he was a champion wrestler, and now he is a champion fighting game player, probably the best overall player in the United States. Choi has good reaction speed, but not the best. He has good technical skills and dexterity, but not the best. He is, however, one of the most adaptable, versatile players around. Choi quickly learns exactly what it is you’re up to, and soon makes you feel a bit silly for thinking you could really get away with it. Like Lasker, he attacks at times, defends at times, and generally plays a balanced game. His style is one of simplicity, and he makes the game look easy. Also like Lasker, he combines the analytical approach of determining the logically correct thing to do in a given situation with the psychological approach of measuring and reading the mind of the opponent. It’s very hard to get such a player “out of his element” since virtually any situation or turn of events becomes his element, just as much as it is yours. In the end, it’s not hard to see why the central style has proven stronger than obsessive styles like my own, or overly defensive styles like Ortiz’s.

Choi has won far too many US national tournaments to even mention.