Bent Larsen (1935-2010)
Chess legend Bent Larsen has died at the age of 75
Mark Crowther - Saturday 11th September 2010
From the mid-1960s until his loss to Fischer in 1971 Bent Larsen was one of the very best players in the World | http://www.theweekinchess.com
Chess legend Bent Larsen has died at the age of 75. In the memorable year of 1967 he won four first prizes in a row concluding with the Interzonal in Sousse and for this was awarded the 1st Chess Oscar. He was top board above Bobby Fischer in the 1970 USSR vs The World Match scoring 50% against World Champion Boris Spassky. He famously lost 6-0 to Fischer in the Candidates Semi-Finals in 1971 and although he enjoyed further success he never again reached the heights of before. He died after a short illness in the year when his career has been celebrated properly by the Danish Chess Union and they have produced a beautiful 64 page account of his career in Danish in PDF format. Read their Notice about the death of Bent Larsen. Whilst he is celebrated as Denmark's strongest ever player, he will be remembered by chess players everywhere.
Bent Larsen was born on the 4th March 1935 in Tilsted a small village in Jutland, Denmark and died September 9th 2010 in Buenos Aires, Argentina where he had lived for a long time. A leading player in an era dominated by the Soviets he and Bobby Fischer were the great Western hopes. Larsen learned to play at the age of 7 but by his own admission was by no means a prodigy. He burst onto the international stage with a 77% performance on top board for Denmark in the 1956 Olympiad in Moscow which earned him the Grandmaster title. This was an era when it wasn't at all easy to be a professional in the west.
|Portoroz Interzonal (SLO), viii-ix 1958|
He was Bobby Fischer's second in the 1959 Candidates after missing out himself in the 1958 Portoroz Interzonal where he finished a terrible 16th ("the greatest failure of my chess career - I finished as No.16. I cannot explain it"). He seemed to lose his way a bit. He calls this period "Experiments" and "Involutary Pause". In addition he says
"I had differences with the President of the Danish Chess Federation who was unwilling to send me to the Zonal Tournament, a sad affair that demonstrated the powerlessness of FIDE."
From the Autumn of 1961 to Autumn 1963 he did his military service. Although he doesn't have a good word to say about the service it seems he did become physically fit at this time which helped his career. He played a couple of events including most importantly finishing second in the 1963 Halle zonal tournament.
|Amsterdam Interzonal (NED), v-vi 1964|
Calling it "A Big Jump Forward" in his game collection he was not favourite for the Amsterdam Interzonal of 1964 but he nevertheless tied for first place and became a Candidate for the first time. Finally Larsen's career as a leading player was up and running. The following year he beat Boris Ivkov 5.5-2.5 in the first round of the Candidates before being eliminated by Mikhai Tal in a thrilling match 4.5-5.5.
|2nd Piatigorsky Cup Santa Monica (USA), 17 vii - 15 viii 1966|
|1||Spassky||(Soviet Union)||##||1 ½||½ 1||½ ½||1 ½||½ ½||½ ½||½ ½||1 ½||½ 1||11½|
|2||Fischer||(United States)||0 ½||##||0 1||½ 1||½ ½||½ ½||½ 1||0 1||1 1||½ 1||11|
|3||Larsen||(Denmark)||½ 0||1 0||##||1 ½||½ 0||1 1||½ 1||1 ½||0 1||½ 0||10|
|4||Portisch||(Hungary)||½ ½||½ 0||0 ½||##||½ ½||1 ½||½ ½||½ ½||½ 1||½ 1||9½|
|5||Unzicker||(West Germany)||0 ½||½ ½||½ 1||½ ½||##||½ ½||½ ½||½ ½||1 ½||½ ½||9½|
|6||Petrosian||(Soviet Union)||½ ½||½ ½||0 0||0 ½||½ ½||##||½ ½||1 1||½ ½||½ 1||9|
|7||Reshevsky||(United States)||½ ½||½ 0||½ 0||½ ½||½ ½||½ ½||##||½ 1||½ ½||1 ½||9|
|8||Najdorf||(Argentina)||½ ½||1 0||0 ½||½ ½||½ ½||0 0||½ 0||##||1 ½||½ 1||8|
|9||Ivkov||(Yugoslavia)||0 ½||0 0||1 0||½ 0||0 ½||½ ½||½ ½||0 ½||##||½ 1||6½|
|10||Donner||(Netherlands)||½ 0||½ 0||½ 1||½ 0||½ ½||½ 0||0 ½||½ 0||½ 0||##||6|
He finished third in the 2nd Piatigorsky Cup in 1966 beating Bobby Fischer in the first half in a game that ended very abruptly ("I do not know what Fischer overlooked, but it must have been something very simple"). He also beat reigning World Champion Tigran Petrosian in both their games.
|Sousse Interzonal (TUN), x-xi 1967|
The following year he started a great run. 5 consecutive first places at Havana, Winnipeg, Palma de Mallorca and the Sousse Interzonal in 1967 and Monte Carlo in 1968 earned him legendary status. He won the first Chess Oscar for his performances in 1967. In addition to his five straight wins he also won the Capablanca Memorial in Havana in 1967.
|Monte Carlo (FRA), 1968|
|2||Mikhail Botvinnik||Soviet Union||½||*||½||½||½||1||½||1||½||½||½||1||1||1||9|
|3-4||Vasily Smyslov||Soviet Union||½||½||½||*||½||½||½||½||1||½||½||1||1||1||8.5|
|5||Robert Byrne||United States||1||½||½||½||*||0||½||½||½||½||1||½||1||1||8|
|6-8||Pal Benko||United States||½||0||½||½||½||½||½||*||½||1||½||½||1||1||7.5|
|10-11||Wolfgang Uhlmann||East Germany||0||½||½||½||0||0||½||½||0||1||*||0||1||1||5.5|
|13||Jean Claude Letzelter||France||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||*||½||1.5|
In 1968 Larsen beat Lajos Portisch in the quarter-finals of the Candidates before losing to the eventual champion Boris Spassky in the Semi-Finals.
He followed this period with the excellent and influential book "Larsen's Select Games of Chess" in 1969. Larsen was an excellent writer although by no means all of this material appeared in English. In addition to his games collection ZOOM 001 Bent Larsen with Steffen Zeuthen was an interesting idea around different ways of using the Gruenfeld pawn structures with either colour. His Skak Skole was published as "Bent Larsen's Good Move Guide" one of my favourite little books on chess.
Most importantly, when analyzing openings are not what is true in books, but what is wrong. - Bent Larsen
This international success limited his success at home but he did find time to win the Danish title 6 times. ChessMetrics measure's him as the 50th best player of all time based on his 3 year peak (January 1969 - December 1971).
In 1969 he won the Palma de Mallorca International. Beat Mikhail Tal in a playoff 4.5-2.5 in a Candidates playoff of some sort.
This peak included top board for the World in their match against the USSR in Yugoslavia. Larsen refused to play if he didn't have top board and Bobby Fischer gave way, Fischer hadn't played for some time in the run up to 1970. Larsen lost a famous 1.b3 game against Spassky but drew 1.5-1.5 with him and beat his reserve Leonid Stein in the remaining game.
|Palma de Mallorca Interzonal (ESP), xi-xii 1970|
The following Palma Mallorca Interzonal was won magnificently by Bobby Fischer but Larsen inflicted his only loss and finished in joint second place three and a half points behind.
Larsen then defeated Ulhmann 5.5-3.5 in the Candidates Quarter-Finals and hope was high he could compete with Fischer who had beaten Taimanov 6-0. However the match which took place in Denver at altitude and in severe heat (40 degrees) was a disaster for him. Larsen suffered from high blood pressure in the match and after a couple of great games which he lost at the start he refused to play safe to preserve his reputation but instead threw caution to the wind to try and get back and was also beaten 6-0.
Whilst it would be completely wrong to suggest that Larsen's career as a leading chess player was over after this beating, it is certainly the case that he was never taken seriously as one of the very best in the World. Before the match he was top 5 in the World but in the next few years this status dropped to solid top 10. He didn't drop away immediately 1972 he won Teeside and Hastings. In 1973 he won the Manila International but in the Leningrad Zonal he was a distant 5th= a long way behind Anatoly Karpov and Viktor Korchnoi who went on to dominate the 1970s. Larsen himself said that it was probably this failure that convinced him he was no longer in with a chance of being World Chess Champion.
|Biel Interzonal (SUI), vii-viii 1976|
1976 was a good year with Larsen winning the Biel Interzonal but he lost to Lajos Portisch in the first round of the Candidates 6.5-3.5 the following year. He didn't reach the Candidates again and his final Interzonal appearance was in 1982 when he finished 7th a couple of points off qualification in the Las Palmas Interzonal.
He was still something of a force in the Niksic tournament of 1983 which was dominated by the new star in chess Garry Kasparov, who won with with 11 points, Larsen finish in 2nd two points behind. As he entered his 50s his play fell away and his openings became more off-beat. He did manage the occasional good performance, but they were increasingly rare.
He was first married to a lady named Lizzie in the early 1960s. He met an Argentine lawyer named Laura Beatriz Benedini in 1982 and they married. They settled in Buenos Aires. He did not have any children although Laura did have two daughters.
He was an advocate of psychology in chess which for him was first and foremost the ability to surprise he was especially good at putting weaker player under pressure and this led to him outpacing many of his Soviet opponents who were more cirumspect against weaker opposition. He also stressed the need to be physically fit. He said that he recognised some of the traits of his play in that of Nigel Short these days.
In his book Garry Kasparov on My Great Predecessors Volume IV he says that Larsen contributed little to modern opening theory except in the case of the "Improved Meran Variation" or Wade Variation. In conversation with Anand he said that the current World Champion observed that in preparing it in 1991 most of the Modern treatment of the Meran came from Larsen's ideas.
Larsen had diabetes in later years which limited his appearances.
Interview in Russian which can be read via google translate: http://www.chehovchess.ru/lib/lek/4-rus.htm
http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/extra/larsen.html has a great selection of pictorial and written information.
Trying to find a representative collection of games by Larsen is a lengthy task. Below is a smallish section of games against important players.
View the games on this Page