Reports | March 04, 2010 20:51

Bent Larsen turns 75

Larsen 75Today is the 75th birthday of the legendary Bent Larsen, the strongest Danish grandmaster in history and together with Bobby Fischer the "Best of the West", before this title went to Jan Timman. We're congratulating with unique photos from the past and present.

Photo: Peter Heine Nielsen

His full name is Jørgen Bent Larsen. He was born March 4, 1935 in Thisted, Denmark. Larsen has been a six-time Danish champion, and a Candidate for the World Chess Championship on four occasions: 1965, 1968, 1971, and 1977. He won three Interzonal tournaments: Amsterdam 1964, Sousse 1967, and Biel 1976.

Larsen is considered to be the strongest chess player ever born in Denmark, and strongest in Scandinavia at least until the emergence of Magnus Carlsen. Larsen won several dozen major international tournaments during his career, and was awarded the first Chess Oscar in 1967. Since the early 1970s, he has lived for part of the year in Las Palmas and in Buenos Aires, with his Argentinian-born wife.

Larsen became an International Grandmaster in 1956 with his gold-medal performance on board one at the Moscow Olympiad. He scored his first major individual international success by winning Mar del Plata 1958 with 12/15.

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.

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

He experimented with e.g. Bird's Opening (1. f4) and 1.b3, which is called the Larsen Opening or the Nimzo-Larsen Attack. Next Saturday a big rapid tournament will be held in the center of Copenhagen, with amongst others GM Lars Bo Hansen, GM Jonny Hector and GM Sune Berg Hansen. All games in the first round must start with 1.b3.

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 Kasparov.com 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.

In Buenos Aires, January 2010 | Photo Peter Heine Nielsen

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. It inspired us to ask the organizer of the Chess960 tournament in Mainz to invite Larsen.

For this article we used Wikipedia which has a large entry with much more details on Bent Larsen.

In 1950 Skakbladet had an annotation competition, and the winning game had the honour of being annotated game no. 2,500 in the magazine since its inception in 1904. The winner was Bent Larsen, and the editor with great political correctness told how, by a strange coincidence game no. 2,500 was won by an ordinary, totally unknown representative of the ordinary Danish club players. The winner was Bent Larsen - and the editor was never allowed to forget!

Ahead of the World Junior Championship in Copenhagen 1953, arguably the strongest ever, IM Jens Enevoldsen suggested a training match of six games between him and Larsen. He told me later that his plan was that it should end as a 3-3 draw so you historically you could say, that the old master passed the scepter to the future.

Enevoldsen was in fact very lucky that the match was still equal ahead of the last game which was a seasaw game with the players alternately better. Larsen went wrong in a better position, and disaster threatened Enevoldsen - he had a clear win, but if he won, who would ever remember the match.

So, he offered a draw that Larsen of course accepted though he didn't understand a thing. Explanation followed when Enevoldsom immediately demonstrated the forced win, and even if a well behaved Larsen never said anything, Enevoldsen knew that he was furious, - and I never think that he forgave me!

I have had many experiences with Larsen, and I published his tournament book about the great victory in Manila 1973 on my small hobby publishing firm. It is but a very small part of a fantastic production of books and articles that still continues. Imagine what it means to a small country to have had authors like Niemzowitsch, Enevoldsen, and Bent Larsen ....!

Larsen emigrated from Denmark after a controversy with tax people and a growing dissatisfaction with the way the Danish state moved politically but he never quit his good relations to the ordinary Danish chess players - or his bad relations to the Danish Chess Federation that probably has never treated him like the world star he has been and is until these latest years.

There are lots of other memories but I would like to share one of his lesser known openings with you, played as white against Miguel Quinteros in Orense 1975. Never move you pawns too often in the opening. You know that but what do you think about...

1.c4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.e4 d6 4.Nc3 Nc6 5.Be3 e5 6.d5 Nce7 7.g4 Nf6 8.f3 h5? 9.g5 Nh7 10.Qd2 f5 11.h4 Nf8 12.c5 a6 13.b4 Nd7 14.a4 O-O 15.a5


White won from this position as a matter of simple tecnique.

Svend Novrup,
President of Association Internationale de la Presse Echiquenne

To celebrate Larsen's 75th birthday, the Danish Chess Federation has dedicated a special edition of Skakbladet to the great master. The magazine can be downloaded at http://www.dsu.dk/skakblad/sb2010/larsen.pdf (in Danish only).

Skakbladet

Tonight Larsen will be celebrated both in Copenhagen, Aarhus and in Koege in various arrangements. We already mentioned the rapid tournament next Saturday. In connection with the strongest chess tournament in Denmark, the Politiken Cup, GM Peter Svidler (Russia) and the leading Danish player, GM Peter Heine Nielsen, will play a combined rapid and blitz match in honour of Bent Larsen. The match takes place in Elsinore August 2-5. From October 11 till 22, ten Grandmasters will play Bent Larsen’s 75th year birthday tournament in Koege. The players are still to be announced.

Three points ahead, Buenos Aires 1979

Making a speech at the closing dinner for Nimzowitsch Memorial, Næstved 1985. | Photo Thorbjørn Rosenlund

A portrait from 1988 | Photo Thorbjørn Rosenlund

Danish Championship 1994 v. IM Klaus Berg | Photo Thorbjørn Rosenlund

In a boxing-ring with heavyweight World Champion Brian Nielsen, 1996 in Copehagen | Photo Thorbjørn Rosenlund

Member of honour, 1998, with The Danish Chess Federation at that time, Søren Bech Hansen | Photo Thorbjørn Rosenlund

With the Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Niels Helveg Petersen (a strong amateur chess-player himself), 1999 | Photo Thorbjørn Rosenlund

In Buenos Aires, January 2010 | Photo Peter Heine Nielsen

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Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of ChessVibes.com, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.

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Comments

Rob Brown's picture

So Larsen blames the heat and misty vision for his merciless drubbing at the hands of RJF. Hmmmm. Must have been the symptoms of an influenza afflicting all the world's to GMs at that time. It seems as if everyone who faced Bobby over the board when he was at the height of his powers suffered from the heat and had trouble seeing the board.

Mads's picture

(In Danish, sorry!)

Kære Bent Larsen.

Et stort tillykke med den oval (= halvrunde) dag og mange tak for alt, hvad du har gjort for dansk skak!
Vi håber du får mange gode år endnu!

M.v.h.
Hele Skakdanmark

chess's picture

hey on the picture should be a computer with a chess program on the screen, not word:)
they should play all rounds 1.b3 :((

Paul's picture

What a guy- his book "good move guide" was a leap forward in my chess:)

Jens Kristiansen's picture

Nice article to celebrate my personal chess idol and mentor and good friend for decades.
But I have to correct you: From 1965-1973 Bent Larsen was beyond dispute the strongest tournament player, not only in the West, but on the whole planet!
Last evenning, at a Larsen-birthday-celebration-party i the Copenhagen Chess Club Øbro, I spoke with Bent via Skype, interviewing him for the assembly. He is in rather good shape, compared to his age, and still working a lot on chess. Just for the time being he is occupied with the old russian master Dus-Chotimirsky, about whom Bent is reading a biography - in russian!
Did you know that Dus-Chotimirsky was the one who came up with the name "The Dragon" for a certain line in the Sicilian? Bent told us about it last night.
The birthday present to Bent from the Danish Chess Federation was a PC, delivered personally in Buenos Ayres by no less than Peter Heine Nielsen, who is also on very friendly terms with him. The first photo shows Bent with the very first computer he has ever owned, and he has still not learned to work with chess programs.
And he still refuses to get an internet connection. But we have not given up our attempts to pursuade him...

Eiae's picture

I agree with Jens. Larsen was by far the best tournament player back then.

Frank van T's picture

I only really learned how to play chess studying the batsford classic 'Bent Larsen, master of counter attack' - aged 14 I was constantly hoping to sac my queen playing the black side of the saemisch variation; picked up the idea 1.e4 c5 2.c4 d6 3.Nf3 Bg4! as he played against Bernstein and I started to play the variation 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nf3 Bg7 4.g3 0-0 5.Bg2 d6 6.0-0 Nbd7 7.Qc2!? e5 8.Rd1 Re8 9.Nc3 c6 10.e4 etc. to take on e5 following up with c5 a la Larsen. Of course I did not really understand much of his play, but it was a start. I particularly liked his vivid, ironic commentaries and stories about the way some decisions were made. A huge impression of creative chess made his Bg4! move with black in his game against Taimanov - refuting a sacrifice by putting a piece that could be taken with check en prise.

I would like to thank Bent Larsen for opening up new horizons in chess.

david's picture

Bents crushing by Fischer isnt fair to the level of play he was capable of. While Fischer maybe was sronger, had larsen beaten him, or had fischer not participated larsen would have been world champ in 1972

sundararajan ganesan's picture

Sure, Bobby was a genius. His antics (like the notorious John McEnroe of tennis)coupled wih his genius outplayed even great players like Larsen and Taimanov. well, Larsen belongs to the breed of gentleman-chess players like spassky.

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