September 10, 2010 23:20

Bent Larsen dies at 75

Bent Larsen dies at 75Yesterday chess legend Bent Larsen passed away in Buenos Aires, only six months after his 75th birthday. We received the sad news from Thomas Hauge Vestergård, press officer of the Danish Chess Federation. Update: reactions by Peter Heine Nielsen and Yasser Seirawan added; profile added; his victories against World Champions added.

The Danish Chess Federation published a press release which you can read in English via Google Translate here. We also spoke to Mr Vestergård on the phone, who told us that about 14 days ago Mr Larsen suffered from a cerebral haemorrhage, after which he was taken into hospital for an operation. He never really recovered. "It is especially sad that this happened in the year in which we have so much celebrations for his 75th birthday. There would be another event, a GM tournament, later this year but this will probably be cancelled. Naturally we will have a memorial," said Vestergård.


Peter Heine Nielsen

Peter Heine Nielsen | Photo © NH Chess Tournament

Peter Heine Nielsen, currently Denmark's number one player, told us: "This is big in Denmark, big everywhere, so it gets a lot of media attention, it's a very sad day for chess in general and for Danish chess especially, and for the people knew him personally."

"It is incredibly sad, but at the same time it is fantastic for Denmark that we had someone like Larsen. His influence cannot be overestimated. For a long time Denmark was the strongest chess country in Scandinavia, because of him."

"Personally I have learnt a lot from him by his writings and we have met several times, the last time in January this year. He talked about chess constantly, he loved chess. He still followed top chess, yes. Not like you and me, who need to see games five minutes after they finished, but in his own way he still followed it."

Peter Heine Nielsen

Yasser Seirawan | Photo © James F. Perry, Creative Commons Attribution - ShareAlike 3.0 license

Yasser Seirawan, who has known Larsen for decades, reacted: "Very bad news. Bent was and is a great personal hero of mine. My initial reaction to the news was a bit selfish: I was very happy that Chess Duels was dedicated to him and came in time for him to see it."

"For chess this is really a big loss. He was a giant in the chess world; certainly in the years I played him. He was a colourful personality, a story telly, and a man of burning ambition at the board. Let me share two small stories."

"A tournament in '81/'82 in Morón, Argentina. In the last round Bent played with Black against Ulf Andersson on first board. The two were leading by half a point, and I was in the trailing group, playing on board 2, and hoping they would draw. By the way, Ulf at that time was the world's number three, behind Karpov and Kasparov. He played Nf3, g3, Bg2, c4, castles and offered a draw. I was sitting next to them and was watching the whole thing. Bent instantly, without hesitation, said: "No!" Fortunately for me the game did end in a (hard-fought) draw. But this story sums up his chess career. He was a fighter at the chess board by definition."

"I reach out to his wife who stood at his site for 30 years. I was there when they met, in Mar del Plata. I was at a terras drinking a cappuccino when Bent and his future bride literally rushed by me, almost jumping. I thought: this is eternal love."

"Bent was a bridge to out past and to our future."


Jørgen Bent Larsen was born on the March 4th, 1935 in Thisted, Denmark, and graduated from Aalborg Cathedral School as a 17-year-old after having skipped two grades. After engineering studies in Copenhagen and the military service, Bent Larsen devoted himself exclusively to chess, which was his life forever.

He was national champion six times, a figure that could have been much higher if his engineering studies and his international career had not prevented him from playing more. Larsen became an International Grandmaster in 1956 with his gold-medal performance on board one at the Moscow Olympiad. Over the next 45 years Larsen won numerous international competitions, including three Interzonal tournaments: Amsterdam 1964, Sousse 1967 and Biel 1976. For many years it was generally agreed that he was the world's best tournament player.

Clare-Benedict tournament, Copenhagen 1977, teammate IM Svend Hamann is looking on | Photo Thorbjørn Rosenlund

In 1967 Larsen received the very first chess Oscar and in the period 1969-1972 he was repeatedly number three in the world. He never became world champion, but three times he played candidates semi-finals. All three times lost Larsen either to a past or to a future world champion.

In the early 60s Larsen diversified his style, switching over to risky and unusual openings in some of his games, to try to throw his opponents off balance; this led to the recovery of his form and further development of his chess.

He experimented with e.g. Bird’s Opening (1. f4) and 1.b3, which is called the Larsen Opening or the Nimzo-Larsen Attack. This year several celebrating events took place in Denmark where the first move 1.b3 was obligatory.

Larsen defeated the seven World Champions who held the title from 1948 to 1985. He won games against Mikhail Botvinnik, Vasily Smyslov, Mikhail Tal, Tigran Petrosian, Boris Spassky, Bobby Fischer, and Anatoly Karpov.

Larsen reached his top rank in the Elo rating system at the start of 1971, equal third in the world (with Korchnoi, behind Fischer and Spassky) with a rating of 2660. In the same year he famously lost the Candidates semi-final match in Denver 0-6 to Fischer, who went on to win the title.

Holding a Chess Informant at a lecture, appr. 1980 | Photo Thorbjørn Rosenlund

Larsen later claimed in a interview (1998) that his one-sided loss to Fischer was due in part to his condition during the match: “The organizers chose the wrong time for this match. I was languid with the heat and Fischer was better prepared for such exceptional circumstances… I saw chess pieces through a mist and, thus, my level of playing was not good.”

Together with Fischer, Larsen was clearly the strongest tournament player from the West in the years 1965-1973. Victories include Le Havre 1966, Havana 1967, Winnipeg 1967, Palma de Mallorca 1967, Monte Carlo 1968, Palma de Mallorca 1969, Lugano 1970 and Teesside 1972. In the USSR vs Rest of the World match at Belgrade 1970, he played first board for the World side, ahead of Fischer, and scored 2.5/4 against Spassky and Leonid Stein.

Since the early 1970s, he lived for part of the year in Las Palmas and in Buenos Aires, with his Argentinian-born wife.

Larsen has continued to play occasionally in tournaments to the present day. In 1999 he finished 7th of 10 in the Danish Championship, but in the 2000 event he was forced to withdraw when he became seriously ill with an edema, requiring brain surgery. He has played in only a few tournaments in Buenos Aires since then. In 2008 he playes his first tournament in four years, and avoiding theory in every game, the famous Dane only played very exotic openings and scored 0 out of 9.

For his 75th birthday the Danish Chess Federation produced a beautiful 64 page account of his career in Danish in PDF format which you can download here.

In Buenos Aires, January 2010 | Photo Peter Heine Nielsen

Larsen's victories against World Champions

Game viewer by ChessTempo

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Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers


webbimio's picture

Goodbye Bent.
I always admired your unique style.
You belong to the small company of the true chess artists.

Castro's picture

Good bye and forever Hello, dear Master and antimaster!

john's picture

RIP Bent Larsen

thanks for so many great games!

Yuri Garrett's picture

Daniele Vocaturo and I met Bent in 2009, a few weeks before Peter Heine Nielsen shot his pictures at his home. We spoke for an entire afternoon and I collected probably one of my most interesting interviews ever.

Unfortunately the year 2010 was (and is) rather complicated for me and I never found the time to edit the material, even though I had promised it to a couple magazines.

I'll try to make up for the lost time now, in memory of a wildly intelligent mind.


Gordon's picture

RIP Larsen

Nietzsche's picture

This is SO sad!! RIP Larsen. Goodbye from Denmark :-(

Barthod's picture

A greast Master and Man

Alessandro Granaldi's picture

RIP Bent..Shining star of the Chess universe

Nima's picture

A great fighter and original player. A sad loss. Anyone knows if an English version of the PDF document is available?

Frank van T's picture

One of the best chess books I ever read as a child and helped me a lot
was Bent Larsen Master of Counter-Attack. His comments were always
a lot of fun to read.

EB.'s picture

Had the good fortune to see him play at the Caird Hall in Dundee many years ago. thanks for the memories. Still trying to play the Larsen variation of the semi-slav. Eliza.

NBC's picture

@Nima: There's no translation as far as I know (It would be a lot of work to do so, but certainly worthwhile). New in Chess 4/2010 had an several-page article which overlapped a bit with the danish version.

plukovník's picture


Someone's picture

Google translator lets you upload such pdf files and translates the text to English (formatting/images lost though)

misja's picture

May Larsen's fabulous games inspire generations to come!

Luca B's picture

He is my favourite player. His games... original, his style ...unique, his comments ...entertaining, his ideas ...deep, his passion for the game... unlimited.

Now you can cross swords again with Bobby, and crush him!

Thanks Bent you will be missed.


Henk de Jager's picture

A great loss. He was a remarkable man and player, and a great chess writer. One of the last of the Romantics, together maybe with Timman, Belyavsky and Morozevich in the modern era. The world has become a little poorer with the passing away of Bent Larsen.

Daaim Shabazz's picture

It is perhaps unfair that he will be known for his fiasco against Fischer, but he contributed so much in terms of opening understanding and challenged traditional thinking with his novel approach to openings.

Armando Scharlau's picture

Tchau Bent, sua matéria foi, mas suas idéias e seu jeito impar de jogar o bom jogo permanecerão.

Paul's picture

What a guy, respect. Thanks Larsen!!

Professor David Clark's picture

You truly inspired me as a youth and I played many 1.b3...

Thank you.

You were a true giant in the chess world.

noyb's picture

My thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, family and many friends. I am grateful for the many hours of joy he gave me in playing over his masterpieces. He will be sorely missed.

Grant's picture

RIP Mr Larsen: Probably my favorite piece of chess writing is the chapter you wrote for “How To Open A Chess Game”, which somehow manages to be insightful, idiosyncratic, humorous and delightful!

Niranjan's picture

RIP Larsen!

Matias Remus's picture

We argentinians were honored to welcome players like Najdorf, and later on Larsen. He was really a great, and it's very sad that he's left us. Rest in peace Bent

Gilgamesh James's picture

RIP Bent!!! All the guys are open wide there to you.
Just keep playng in your unique style.


Nima's picture

@ NBC and Someone


Jens Kristiansen's picture

Bent, could be that your body could not stand it any longer. That ´is it. Never mind, Bent, you will live in our minds as long as there is chess. long as there are still frank, outspoking people, who dot want to be put in convienent boxes.
Bent was just Bent! No one over, no under, no one at his level.

chandler's picture

Could you please link to other sites (as you'd done when Lilienthal resigned)?

For example, Spraggett's blog has a very good (personal) article on Larsen (


Brian Wall's picture

I was in the audience for Games 4 and 6 of Fischer-Larsen in Denver and later met him at IM Watson's Chess House in 1974 in Denver. I played Larsen's Opening thousands of times based on the analysis of Gligoric in Chess Life and Review. Watson told Larsen Brian likes to use his rookpawns a lot like him. Just last month I remembered how Larsen said, 1 ...c5 wins a pawn against Ken Smith so I beat the Smith-Morra Gambit of Ted Doykos. Larry Turner just sent me Larsen's selected games last month. I remember Bent had a hude noggin and wondered if big brains needed big houses like Mr. Potato Head. The totally uncompromising spirit of Fischer and Larsen shook up the Russians and even today people always admire pure fighters that always hate draws like Topalov, Ivanchuk, Ponomariev, etc. RIP Bent Larsen and let's all take care of his loyal wife of 30 years.

bernd's picture

A wonderful player, a wonderful writer. Goodbye, Bent!

Mehr's picture

Bent Larsen was the first GM I saw in my life. I saw him during Nordic Chess Championship 1992 in Östersunds / Sweden.
He was talking to one of local organizers in Danish. I realized that he was very polite and humble during the conversation. At that time I was new to the chess and had no Idea who this man was. I felt it was remarkable that he was the oldest GM among others. Strangely I was feeling that he would have won that championship only if he had been younger. Later years when I read more about Larsen I knew the first impression had been right.

Carsten's picture

Good biography.

Win against Anand 1992 is missing:

I will miss the monthly article in skabladet. I always used to read it at first.

Omar Trujillo's picture

"... Over the next 45 years Larsen won numerous international competitions, including three Interzonal tournaments: Amsterdam 1964, Sousse 1967 and Biel 1976. For many years it was generally agreed that he was the world’s best tournament player...."

I remember In 1967, Havana, Bent Larsen won the VI Edition "Capablanca in Memoriam". (The Capablanca Memorial is a tournament commemorating José Raúl Capablanca y Graupera (1888–1942), the greatest Cuban chess master, who was World Champion from 1921 to 1927.)
And he played in 17th Chess Olympiad: Havana 1966. I remember his game with GM Florin Gheorghiu (Romania) that time.

RIP Bent Larsen.

albert einstein sayings's picture

Good write-up. I definitely appreciate this website.

Continue the good work!

Calvin Amari's picture

At one of my very first chess tounaments in 1975, I purchased from a vendor the book 'How to Open a Chess Game,' which is now out of print. I read it immediately. While there is much to recommend the book, at the time I was particularly impressed by Bent Larsen's chapter. For whatever reason, I've recently spotted various references to and quotes from that chapter in current articles and books. I was somewhat surprised that, after so many years, I vividly recalled every reference and quote I encountered. Because of these reminders, I dug out the book and reread the entire thing. After this review, I'm inclined to say that Larsen's chapter is the most provocatively brilliant piece of chess writing that I have ever encountered. Period. Full stop. No qualifications. Perhaps the most famous argument from this chapter is that White's trade his of d-pawn for Black's c-pawn in the Sicilian is justified only by White banking on Black falling for a cheap trick. If that goal is unsuccessful or unrealistic, the pawn trade is strategically unsound. This is just one of the many gems in this sparkling essay, so many of which have informed my opinions for lo these many years. Larsen will long be remembered not only as a formidable player, but also as a ingeniously profound thinker.

Rod  Large's picture

Bent stayed a week with us in London in 1989. A lovely charming funny and reflective man. Sorrow is with us, goodbye Bent.

Kenroy Smith's picture

Bent Larsen's name will continue to be repeated by all people all over the world, his games will be used for analysis and recreational purposes and his legacy will live on as long as their is life on earth, and a tournament bearing his name will soon be put on! May his life of chess inspire us to achieve greatest in the feats of life.

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