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    Entries in Bent Larsen (5)

    Friday
    Oct312014

    A Short Review of Bent Larsen's Best Games

    Bent Larsen, Bent Larsen's Best Games: Fighting Chess with the Great Dane. New in Chess, 2014. 350 pp. $34.95/29.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.

    The 1970 book Larsen's Selected Games of Chess 1948-1969 is widely considered a classic, but it's also long out of print. Moreover, Bent Larsen's career didn't end in that year, and while his 6-0 shellacking by Bobby Fischer in the 1971 Candidates made it clear that he wasn't quite a future world champion he remained a top ten player for at least another decade and a very strong GM through the '80s. He was a player with an unusual and fighting style, in some ways a kind of forerunner of Alexander Morozevich, but more flamboyant and provocative as a personality and a writer. He was one of the greatest chess players of his era, from the late 1950s into the 1990s, and it's fitting that New in Chess publishing has released Bent Larsen's Best Games: Fighting Chess with the Great Dane, which is a combination of the 1970 book with some further material taking his career up through the 1970s.

    With the exception of a short chapter at the beginning of the book, the editor's foreword and two short chapters at the end, the rest of the material is by Larsen himself. The first 50 games and the accompanying prose are from the earlier book (the one translated into English in 1969), and then another 10 came from a later German edition and 14 more from a Spanish edition. After that 50 more games were culled from Larsen's writing for various Spanish language magazines and newspapers, making a total of 124 games covering his career through the 1977 Spanish Team Championship in Alicante.

    As was common to almost all players in the pre-computer era, the annotations are respectable and responsible but far from overwhelming, and there is lots of prose - both in the games and when he introduces the event in question. It's a book that can be read not only for instruction but for pleasure, too.

    If you know who Larsen is, you already know you want the book; if you don't, you should get it and learn! Anyone who was a Candidate 4 times (in 1965, 1968, 1971 and 1977) has to be an enormously strong player, and his run of successes in the late 1960s was so impressive that even Bobby Fischer was willing to take board 2 behind him in the 1970 USSR vs. the Rest of the World match. Garry Kasparov includes a 58-page section on Larsen in his My Great Predecessors volume on Fischer, so enough said. Get the book!

    Thursday
    Sep162010

    Edward Winter on Bent Larsen

    The famous historian has a lively grab-bag of Larsen material; it's definitely worth a look.

    Sunday
    Sep122010

    Other Larsen Tributes

    I've noticed three in particular that are worthy of attention. (That doesn't mean there aren't more; I just haven't run across them yet.)

    Over at TWIC, Mark Crowther presents a biography, complete with tables of some of his notable performances and a large, downloadable selection of his games (without annotations).

    At ChessVibes they offer a profile, combined with reactions from Peter Heine Nielsen and Yasser Seirawan. Both the ChessVibes profile and TWIC also link to a beautiful 64-page document produced by the Danish Chess Federation to celebrate the occasion of Larsen's 75th birthday, earlier this year. The only problem (for most of us) is that it's in Danish, but we can all appreciate the pictures and games. (And if you're patient, you can get a decent idea of the text using Google Translate or some similar program.)

    Finally, ChessBase remembers Larsen here, but the best material is in this earlier post from March (again, celebrating his 75th birthday). It includes - among many other things - a fascinating interview conducted back in 1998. Worth reading!

    Sunday
    Sep122010

    A Look at Some of Larsen's Best Games

    As noted several posts ago, Danish great Bent Larsen passed away September 9 at the age of 75. For at least a couple of decades he was among the world's elite, and in the late 60s and early 70s was seriously talked about as a world championship contender.

    As you'd expect, a player of his caliber will have beaten many of the greats and produced some fantastic games, and if you click here you can replay 37 of his games (with my light annotations). I've included all his wins against world champions (he managed to beat Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, Karpov and Anand), plus a few other games: draws with Euwe and Kasparov, one famous loss each against Tal, Spassky and Fischer; plus five more games against non-world champions. (As a bonus, I've included the PGN so you can replay the games off-site.)

    Enjoy.

    Friday
    Sep102010

    Bent Larsen, 1935-2010

    Danish chess legend Bent Larsen died yesterday in Buenos Aires, following a short illness, at the age of 75. He was a leading grandmaster from the mid-to-late 50s through the early 80s, and for a period from the mid-to-late 1960s until his 1971 Candidates match against Bobby Fischer was considered a genuine title contender and even at one point possibly the strongest player outside the Soviet Union.

    He was a Candidate four times, losing narrowly in the semi-final match to Mikhail Tal in 1965, losing another semi-final in 1968 to eventual champion Boris Spassky in 1968, losing a third semi-final to Bobby Fischer in 1971 and in the quarter-final match to Portisch in 1977. When he lost to Fischer in 1971, it was by the terrible score of 6-0, but while Fischer was a clear and dominant victor, it need not have been a whitewash. This put an end to talk of Larsen as a potential world champion, but to see how serious and justified that talk had been, consider that in 1970 he beat Fischer in their individual game in the Interzonal, and when Larsen insisted, based on his results the past few years, that he and not Fischer should be board one in the USSR vs. the Rest of the World Match, Fischer accepted this.

    Larsen managed to defeat all the players who held the title in the post-WWII era up through and including Anatoly Karpov, and in many cases, did it while they were champions. He famously crushed Tigran Petrosian twice in the Second Piatigorsky Cup in 1966, shortly after Petrosian had successfully defended his title against Boris Spassky, and twice defeated world champion Karpov.

    Characteristically, both of his wins against Karpov were with Black. In the super-tournament in Montreal in 1979, Larsen beat Karpov (appropriately enough) with the Scandinavian. If today it's a normal but second-tier opening, back then it was considered slightly somewhat eccentric. A year later, in Tilburg, Larsen soundly beat Karpov in the Petroff, of all openings. Karpov went pawn grabbing and was crushed in an opposite-colored bishop middlegame. Karpov survived to reach the ending, but was always lost and never had a chance.

    Speaking of opening eccentricities, that was part of Larsen's charm, though he sometimes carried it to excess. (Remember of course the famous massacre he suffered with 1.b3 against Spassky in the USSR vs. the Rest of the World match.) Thanks to his consistent patronage, 1.b3 is now generally labeled the "Nimzo-Larsen", and the Caro-Kann variation 1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2/c3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6 gxf6 is generally credited to him (and fellow, late legend David Bronstein) as well. Nowadays pushing rook pawns, especially the h-pawn, is taken as a matter of course in many situations and not just when trying to mate the Dragon Sicilian; this is in part thanks to him.

    He was a very combative player (probably too combative for his own good, at least when facing his fellow elites and when in suboptimal form) who loved complicated positions, and whether he was in good form or not his games were always interesting for the spectators. He was also a friend to chess fans everywhere in his writing. Unfortunately for those of us in the English-reading world, we don't have access to much of his writing, but his chapter in the compilation volume How To Open a Chess Game was remarkable, and his chess autobiography (through 1969, when he was hitting his peak) Larsen's Selected Games of Chess is widely viewed as a classic.

    He was also very well-liked by his peers in the chess world, and also enjoys the very odd claim to fame of having been one of Bobby Fischer's very few seconds. He helped him in the 1959 Candidates, although it seems that one of his main "duties" was reading Tarzan comics to him! Once again, when it came to Larsen, the odd was actually normal when it came to his chess career.

    And so, sadly, another great figure in the history of chess has passed away. He deserves to be remembered.

    (You can find further factual information about Larsen here. Later, I hope to post some of his best and most famous games - not necessarily the same thing.)