Lasker was the first champion after Steinitz; although he did not defend his title in 1897–1906 or 1911–20, he did string together an impressive run of tournament victories and dominated his opponents. His success was largely due to the fact that he was an excellent practical player. In difficult or objectively lost positions he would complicate matters and use his extraordinary tactical abilities to save the game. He held the title from 1894 to 1921, the longest reign (27 years) of any champion. In that period he defended the title successfully in one-sided matches against Steinitz, Frank Marshall, Siegbert Tarrasch and Dawid Janowski, and was only seriously threatened in a tied 1910 match against Carl Schlechter.
Lasker’s negotiations for title matches from 1911 onwards were extremely controversial. In 1911 he received a challenge for a world title match against José Raúl Capablanca and, in addition to making severe financial demands, proposed some novel conditions: the match should be considered drawn if neither player finished with a two-game lead; and it should have a maximum of 30 games, but finish if either player won six games and had a two-game lead (previous matches had been won by the first to win a certain number of games, usually 10; in theory such a match might go on for ever). Capablanca objected to the two-game lead clause; Lasker took offence at the terms in which Capablanca criticized the two-game lead condition and broke off negotiations.
Further controversy arose when, in 1912, Lasker’s terms for a proposed match with Akiba Rubinstein included a clause that, if Lasker should resign the title after a date had been set for the match, Rubinstein should become world champion (American Chess Bulletin, October 1913). When he resumed negotiations with Capablanca after World War I, Lasker insisted on a similar clause that if Lasker should resign the title after a date had been set for the match, Capablanca should become world champion. On 27 June 1920 Lasker abdicated in favor of Capablanca because of public criticisms of the terms for the match, naming Capablanca as his successor (American Chess Bulletin, July August 1920). Some commentators questioned Lasker’s right to name his successor (British Chess Magazine, August 1920; Rochester Democrat and Chronicle); Amos Burn raised the same objection but welcomed Lasker’s resignation of the title (The Field, 3 July 1920). Capablanca argued that, if the champion abdicated, the title must go to the challenger as any other arrangement would be unfair to the challenger (British Chess Magazine, October 1922). Lasker also announced that, if he won his match against Capablanca, he would resign the title so that younger masters could compete for it (“Dr Lasker and the Championship” inAmerican Chess Bulletin, September–October 1920). Capablanca won their 1921 match easily.