A tribute to Bent Larsen

Position No. 6125: White to play and win. From the game Vladimir Belov-Jakov Geller, Russian Championship, Irkutsk 2010.

Solution to Position No. 6124: Black wins with 1…Bg4! 2 Nxg4 Qxh5+ 3 Bh3 (or 3 Qh3 Rxg4) Ne5!, as 4 Qg2 Nxg4 and 4 Qxf4 Qxh3+ 5 Nh2 Nd3 lead to mate.

Danish grandmaster Bent Larsen died Sept. 9 at age 75 in Buenos Aires, his home since the 1970s. Larsen was the most successful tournament player of the late 1960s, when he rose to third in the world behind Boris Spassky and Bobby Fischer. Only losses to those two stars in Candidates matches kept him from playing for the world championship.

Larsen had a lively mind and strong opinions, enabling him to speak knowledgeably about many subjects in more than a half dozen languages. Among chessplayers, he stood out for his fondness for discarded openings and his disdain for draws. He popularized 1 b3, now called Larsen’s Opening. Typically, he used it irregularly over a four-year period and abandoned it when opponents began to take it seriously.


Larsen visited this country frequently, taking first prize in the 1968 U.S. Open in Aspen, Colorado, and the 1974 World Open in New York. The most successful of his four appearances in California was his 71/2-11/2 performance in Lone Pine in 1978, the highest score in that tournament’s history.

I had the privilege of playing him in two tournaments and a simultaneous exhibition. He was both frank and gracious, the epitome of a professional player.

International news

Alexey Shirov of Spain won the Shanghai Masters, scoring three wins and three draws against elite grandmasters. Levon Aronian of Armenia and former world champion Vladimir Kramnik of Russia tied for second place, each with one win, one loss and four draws. Wang Hao of China was fourth, with three losses and three draws. Kramnik defeated Aronian in a blitz playoff for second place.


Shirov and Kramnik qualify for the Grand Slam Final, a double round robin starting Oct. 9 in Bilbao, Spain. World champion Viswanathan Anand of India and top-ranked Magnus Carlsen of Norway provide the opposition in what should be the strongest event of 2010.

The 39th Chess Olympiad begins Tuesday in Khanty-Mansiysk, a small Siberian city in Russia. Teams from more than 120 countries are expected to participate in the World Chess Federation’s premier team event.

Local news

Chess Palace, 12872 Valley View St. in Garden Grove, will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a party and a five-round tournament of 30-minute games on Sept. 26. See for details.

The California Youth Chess League plans a fundraising dinner on Sept. 25 in Newhall to benefit Sean’s Fund. The fund, which distributes chess equipment to youngsters in hospitals, was inspired by Sean Reader, a CYCL champion who died of leukemia at age 12 in 2006. For more information, see

Games of the week

GM Bent Larsen (Denmark)-GM Tigran Petrosian (U.S.S.R.), Piatigorsky Cup, Santa Monica 1966: 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 g6 The Accelerated Fianchetto, a variation of the Sicilian Defense that Larsen often used as Black. 5 Be3 Bg7 6 c4 The Maroczy Bind. Nf6 7 Nc3 Ng4 8 Qxg4 Nxd4 9 Qd1 Ne6 10 Qd2 Some prefer 10 Rc1, intending 11 b4. d6 11 Be2 Bd7 12 0-0 0-0 13 Rad1 Bc6 14 Nd5 Re8? Timid. As Black, Larsen won a game with 14…Nc5 15 f3 a5 16 Bd4?! Bxd4+ 17 Qxd4 e5! 18 Qd2 Ne6, taking command of d4. 15 f4 Nc7 More passivity. Petrosian feared 15…Nc5 16 e5 Nd7 17 Nb4. 16 f5 Na6 17 Bg4 Later Larsen claimed that 17 b4! Nb8 18 b5! was strongest. Nc5 18 fxg6 hxg6 19 Qf2 Rf8 20 e5!? Ingenious, but Black can resist. White should settle for the gain of a pawn by 20 Bxc5 dxc5 21 Qxc5. Larsen wrote that 21…Bxd5 22 Rxd5 Qb6 would draw, which is true, but 22 b4! Qb6 23 cxd5 improves. Bxe5 21 Qh4 Bxd5 22 Rxd5 One point is that 22…e6 drops material to 23 Qxd8 Rfxd8 24 Rxe5 dxe5 25 Bxc5, although 25…Rac8 should be all right for Black. Petrosian’s suggestion of 22…Ne4 23 Bf3 Nf6 24 Rb5 d5 should survive too. Ne6 23 Rf3 Bf6?? This is the real mistake. Instead, 23…f5 24 Rh3 Ng7 holds. Then 25 Qh7+ Kf7 26 Rh6 fxg4 27 Qg6+ Kg8 only draws, while 25 Bf3 Kf7! 26 Rb5 Rh8 leads to a tenable endgame. 24 Qh6 Bg7 25 Qxg6! The most famous move of Larsen’s career, a Queen sacrifice against the world champion. Nf4 White calculated 25…fxg6 26 Bxe6+ Kh7 27 Rh3+ Bh6 28 Bxh6 Rf5 29 Rxf5 gxf5 30 Bf7, winning. Or, if 25…Nc7, then 26 Qxg7+ mates. 26 Rxf4 fxg6 27 Be6+ Rf7 28 Rxf7 Kh8 Against 28…Be5, simplest is recovering material by 29 Rf5+ Kg7 30 Rfxe5. 29 Rg5! b5 30 Rg3, Black Resigns.

GM Svetozar Gligorich (Yugoslavia)-GM Bent Larsen (Denmark), Havana 1967: 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 e6 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e3 Rubinstein’s system against the Nimzo-Indian Defense. b6 5 Bd3 Bb7 6 Nf3 Ne4 7 0-0 As 7…Nxc3?! 8 bxc3 Bxc3 9 Rb1 is too dangerous for Black. f5 8 Bxe4?! Either 8 Qc2 or 8 Ne5!? 0-0 9 Nxe4 fxe4 10 Bc2 should give White an edge. fxe4 9 Nd2 Bxc3 10 bxc3 0-0 11 Qg4 Rf5! Relying on 12 Nxe4?? h5. Gligorich finds the best reply but doesn’t quite equalize. 12 d5! Rg5 13 Qf4 exd5 14 cxd5 Bxd5 15 c4 Bc6 16 Nxe4 Rg6 Black eyes g2 from two directions, but White can defend. 17 Bb2 Na6 18 f3 Not bad, although Larsen preferred 18 Ng3. Nb4! 19 Bc3 White could seek counterplay from 19 Rad1! Nxa2 20 h4 or 19 Rad1! Qe7 20 Qxc7. The latter variation might continue 20…Bxe4 21 fxe4 Qxe4 22 Rd2 Qxe3+ 23 Rdf2 Nd3 24 Qxd7, threatening 25 Qd5+. Nd3 20 Qf5 Qh4! White would not mind 20…Qe7 21 Nf6+ Rxf6 22 Qxd3. 21 Nf6+?! Larsen dismissed 21 Rad1 with 21…Nc5 22 Nxc5 Rf8, but White can hang on by 23 Qc2 Rxf3 24 Nxd7 Rxf1+ 25 Rxf1 Bxd7 (not 25…Rxg2+?? 26 Qxg2 Bxg2 27 Rf8 mate) 26 Rf4. gxf6 22 Qxd3 Rh6 23 h3 Kf7 Seeing 24 e4? Rg8 25 Kh1 Qxh3+. 24 Rf2? Losing. Black’s advantage would remain small after 24 Be1 Qh5 25 Rc1 Rg8 26 h4 Rhg6 27 Rc2. Rg8 25 Kf1 Useless is 25 Qf5 Rg5. Rxg2! Larsen claimed he foresaw this shot when he chose 20…Qh4. 26 Rxg2 Qxh3 27 e4 Else 27…Bxf3 wins. For example, 27 Kg1 Bxf3 28 Qf1 loses to 28…Bxg2 29 Qxg2 Rg6. Rg6, White Resigns. The finish would be 28 Qe2 Qh1+ 29 Kf2 Rxg2+.


GM Bobby Fischer (U.S.A.)-GM Bent Larsen (Denmark), Interzonal, Palma de Mallorca 1970: 1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 Nc6 6 Bc4 e6 7 Bb3 Be7 8 Be3 0-0 9 Qe2 The Velimirovich Attack against the Sicilian Defense. Fischer scored only 1-2 with it, but 3-1 (including two wins against Larsen) with 9 0-0. a6 10 0-0-0 Qc7 11 g4 Nd7 At the time, a new alternative to 11…Nxd4 and 11…Na5. 12 h4 Larsen’s recommendation of 12 f4 Nc5 13 f5 has hardly been tested. Theory calls 12 Nf5!? Nc5! equal. Nc5 13 g5 b5 14 f3? Too slow. White must charge ahead with 14 h5 b4 15 Na4 Nxe4 16 g6. Bd7 Also good is 14…b4 15 Na4 Na5. 15 Qg2 b4 16 Nce2 Nxb3+ 17 axb3 Black is faster after 17 Nxb3 a5 18 Nbd4 a4. a5 18 g6 fxg6 19 h5 Nxd4 20 Nxd4 g5! Black does not care about the extra pawn. He wants to open the a-file and to exert pressure on f3. 21 Bxg5 No better is 21 h6 g6! 22 Bxg5 because of 22…Bxg5+ 23 Qxg5 e5 24 Nf5 Bxf5 25 exf5 Rxf5. Bxg5+ 22 Qxg5 h6! A very handy interpolation. White would get counterchances from 22…e5?! 23 Rhg1 Rf7 24 Nf5 Bxf5 25 exf5 a4 26 bxa4 Rxa4 27 h6. 23 Qg4 Trying to salvage the game with tricks, such as 23…e5? 24 Ne6. Neither 23 Qe7 Rf7 24 Nxe6 Qc8 nor 23 Qg2 e5 offers any hope. Rf7! As 24 Nxe6 drops material to 24…Qc8 25 Rxd6 Re7. 24 Rhg1 a4! Avoiding 24…e5?! 25 Ne6 Qc8? 26 Rxd6 Re7?, when 27 Qxg7+! would win for White. 25 bxa4 This time, 25 Nxe6 Qc8 26 Rxd6 loses to 26…axb3. e5! Not so clear is 25…Rxa4? 26 Nb3. 26 Ne6 Entering a piece-down endgame. If 26 Nf5 Bxf5 27 exf5 Rxa4, White’s exposed King and loose pawns foretell a middlegame loss. Qc4! Another precise move. Larsen had to foresee checkmate after 27 Rxd6 b3 28 c3 Rxa4 29 Qxg7+ Rxg7 30 Rxg7+ Kh8 31 Rdxd7 Qf1+ 32 Kd2 Qf2+ 33 Kd3 Qxf3+. 27 b3 Qxe6 28 Qxe6 Bxe6 29 Rxd6 Re8 30 Rb6 Rxf3 31 Rxb4 Rc8 32 Kb2 Similar is 32 c4 Bf7. Rf2 33 Rc1 Bf7 34 a5 Ra8 Perhaps 34…Bxh5 35 Rb5 Bg6 36 Rxe5 Kf7 is a shorter path to victory. 35 Rb5 Bxh5 36 Rxe5 Be2 Black plans to restrain White’s passers while advancing the h-pawn. 37 Rc5 h5 38 e5 Or 38 Rh1 Rf4 39 e5 h4. Bf3 39 Kc3 h4 40 Kd3 Re2 41 Rf1 Rd8+ 42 Kc3 Be4 43 Kb4 Rb8+ 44 Ka3 h3 45 e6 Counting on 45…h2 46 Re5, although 46…Rf2! would win anyway. Bxc2 46 b4 Re3+ 47 Kb2 Bd3 48 Ra1 Most players would resign here. This was Fischer’s only loss of the 23-round tournament. Ba6 49 Rc6 Rxb4+ 50 Kc2 Bb7 51 Rc3 Re2+ 52 Kd1 Rg2, White Resigns.

GM Anatoly Karpov (U.S.S.R.)-GM Bent Larsen (Denmark), Tilburg 1980: 1 e4 e5 2 Nf3 Nf6 The drawish Petroff Defense, but Larsen does not aim for a draw! 3 d4 Nxe4 4 Bd3 d5 5 Nxe5 Nd7 6 Qe2 Risky. Today’s theory concentrates on 6 Nxd7 Bxd7 7 0-0. Nxe5 7 Bxe4 As 7 dxe5 Nc5 does not worry Black. dxe4 8 Qxe4 Be6 9 Qxe5 Also 9 dxe5 Bd5 10 Qg4 h5 11 Qh3 Qe7! gives Black fine compensation. Qd7 10 0-0 0-0-0 Black has easy development and two active Bishops. White’s position is surprisingly difficult. 11 Be3 Bb4 Avoiding 11…Bd6 12 Qa5. Now Black expects 12 a3 f6 13 Qg3 Bd6. 12 Nc3?! f6 13 Qg3?! Larsen suggested 13 Qf4. Bxc3 14 bxc3 h5! 15 h4 g5! The world champion has been thoroughly outplayed. Understandably, he rejects 16 hxg5 h4 17 Qh2 h3 18 g3 fxg5 19 Bxg5 Rde8 20 f3 Qc6, when he has problems at c3, f3, and e2. But his choice leads to intolerable passivity. 16 f3 Rdg8 17 Rf2 Qc6 18 Bd2 g4 Next …Be6-d5 will take aim at g2. 19 f4 Bc4 20 d5 Else Black doubles Rooks on the e-file and invades at e2. Bxd5 21 f5 Re8 22 a3 Re4 23 Re1 Rhe8 24 Rxe4 Rxe4 25 Kh2 Qc5 26 Bf4 Re1 27 Bd2 Ra1 28 Qe3 Qd6+ Less persuasive is 28…Qxe3? 29 Bxe3 Rxa3 30 Bd4. 29 Rf4 b6 30 c4 Larsen planned to refute 30 Qe8+ Kb7 31 Qxh5 with 31…Bf3!, threatening 32…Qxd2 and 32…g3+. Bxc4 31 Qd4 Qxd4 32 Rxd4 White has no real hope of saving the game, but he can prolong it. Bb5 33 Bh6 Rxa3 34 Bg7 Bd7 35 Rf4 Not 35 Bxf6? because 35…g3+ will mate. Ra5 36 Bxf6 Bxf5 37 c3 Be6 38 Kg3 Rd5 39 Re4 Kd7 40 Be5 Rd2 41 Kf4 Rxg2 42 Kg5 After 42 Bxc7 Rf2+! 43 Kg5 (as 43 Ke3 Rf3+ 44 Kd2 Bf5 costs White more material) Rf5+ 44 Kg6 Kxc7 45 Rxe6 Rc5, Black can advance his passers. Rc2 43 Kxh5 g3 44 Bxg3 Rxc3 45 Be5 Rc4 46 Re3 Bd5 47 Ra3 Ke6 48 Bg3 Kf5! Welcoming 49 Rxa7 Rc6!, with unstoppable mate. 49 Kh6 a5 50 Kg7 Kg4 51 Kf6 a4 52 Re3 Bf3 53 Be1 Rc1 54 Re7 Kh3 55 Bd2 Rc4 56 Re3 Kg2 57 Be1 Rc1 58 Bd2 Rd1 59 Bc3 c5 60 Re7 b5 61 Be5 White can leave Black with the a-pawn and “wrong Bishop” by 61 Re5 b4 62 Rxc5 bxc3 63 Rxc3, but 63…Ra1 64 Ke5 a3 will promote the pawn anyway. a3 62 Rh7 b4 63 h5 b3 64 h6 b2 65 Rg7+ Kf2 66 Bg3+ Or 66 h7 Rh1. Ke3, White Resigns.