|From Second Piatigorsky Cup |
(published in Los Angeles, 1968), page xv
Hebden Bridge chess club members must forgive my tardiness in failing more promptly to eulogise the Danish chess titan Bent Larsen, who passed away last Thursday. I must confess that I only picked up the news yesterday when I noticed an obituary in The Times. It seems hard to believe that none of the chess blogs and news feeds that I subscribe to was able to beat the newspaper to it so I guess the news must have been held back by the family over the weekend.
The timing was particularly poignant when you consider that, the day after Larsen’s passing, Denmark’s newest and brightest sparkling chess star, Magnus Carlsen, was taking on and beating “the world” in a live game played on the internet. As one Danish legend passed away another reinstated his claim to be the best contemporary exponent of the game.
I’m too young to have any memories of Larsen’s heyday in the 60’s but I’ve read enough about him to know that he was a truly wonderful player who’s game was characterised by a willingness to accept risky positions in order to take opponents out of their comfort zone. Perhaps his greatest legacy is the opening variation that was named after him beginning 1.b3!? However, this idiosyncratic line tells only part of the story of Bent Larsen.
It isn’t really possible for me to do justice to such a heavyweight career in one blog post but, suffice to say that he reached the World Championship Candidates Semi-Finals on three occasions and was prevented from progressing to the Final itself only by such luminaries as Mikhail Tal (twice) and Bobby Fischer. He also had an excellent tournament record and during his career he won notable games against seven World Champions from Botvinnik to Karpov.
I can certainly recommend the study of Larsen’s games to any novice aiming to improve their play. Larsen’s willingness to play offbeat openings against the strongest players in the world can help to guide anyone who is looking for practical ways of bypassing the most heavily analysed opening variations.
Let me give two brief examples of the great Dane at his very best. The first is a complete game that is widely regarded to be his masterpiece. It was played in California in 1966 against the then World Champion, Tigran Petrosian who had a reputation for being almost impossible to beat. I should add that Larsen also beat Petrosian with the black pieces at the same tournament in a game that he himself regarded as superior to this rather more showy affair. To beat Petrosian twice in the same tournament with both colours really was a huge achievement. The notes are mostly Larsen’s own with a few other explanations thrown in for completeness.