Chess notes

By Harold Dondis and Patrick Wolff
September 20, 2010

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Bent Larsen, a Danish grandmaster, one of the world’s leading players in the 1960s and ’70s and a witty commentator on chess, passed away Sept. 9 at the age of 75. He was Denmark’s greatest player, born and raised in small towns in the Jutland area, and learning chess from a boyhood friend. In his latter years, he moved to Buenos Aires with his second wife, Laura Benedini, and this is where he passed away.

In the early ’60s, he elected to adopt risky openings, sometimes from the 19th century, as a surprise to his adversaries and he was very successful with them. He was six-time Danish champion and he won three interzonal tournaments and qualified to play for the world championship four times. He won the first “Chess Oscar’’ in 1967 for his four tournament wins that year. He reached his peak from 1967 to 1970, winning eight out of nine tourneys and being chosen to play first board (ahead of the great Bobby Fischer) in the famed 1970 “Soviet Union vs. Rest of the World’’ team match. However, in Denver in 1971 he lost to Fischer by a score of 6-0. He could have drawn the last game by perpetual check but elected to play on. He blamed his loss on the hot climate and the high altitude of the Mile High City.

Larsen was a witty writer and conversationalist. He found his humorous roots in declaring, tongue in cheek, that the Philidor defense 1.e4-e5 1. Nf3, d6 was safe in a pamphlet titled “Why Not the Philidor?’’ useful at least to avoid the devilish Ruy Lopez. The Philidor, however, has plunged in popularity since.

Readers can play over some of his remarkable accomplishments in his publication “Larsen’s Selected Games.’’ He details his rise toward the top of the chess world and comments on his style in a number of essays. He said he was averse to draws, and indeed Lubomir Kavalek reports that Larsen invariably replied “No, thank you’’ when offered a half point.

Larsen’s three attempts to win the world championship were defeated in the Candidate matches, first by Mikhail Tal in 1965, then by Boris Spassky in 1968, and in the aforementioned match with Fischer in 1971. He was, of course, the proponent of 1. b3, named the Larsen Opening after him, considered an effective though unusual opening.

Still, Larsen was unable to precisely characterize his style. He seems to have emphasized a variety of motifs, the use of half open files, exchange sacrifices, imprisonment of pieces, and the constructive use of the a and b pawns. He liked flank attacks, avoided Isolanis, and did not think of himself as a combinational player. However, all this adds up to the fact that Larsen was an individualist, a votary of pleasantries, and an artist of imposing stature.

Brevity: A. Lilienthal v. L. Shamkovich (c. 1951) 1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.Nf3 Nf6 5.Bg5 h6 6.Bxf6 Qxf6 7.Qb3 Nd7 8.e4 dxe4 9.Nxe4 Qf4 10.Bd3 Be7 11.0-0 0-0 12.Rfe1 b6 13.Bc2 Bb7 14.Qd3 Qc7 15.Ng3 Nf6 16.Ne5 Rfd8 17.Nh5 Kf8 18.Qg3 Ne8 19.Nxg7, 1-0 (As 19. . .Nxg7 20.Ng6+ fxg6 21.Qxc7 wins Black’s queen)

Winners: Boylston Octads #2: 1st Howard Goldowsky 2.5-.5, 2d-3d Fangru Jiang and Siddharth Arun 2-1; Octad 3: 1st Vanu Teodorescu and Sandeep Vallemudi, 2-1.

Coming events: Sept. 21, Boylston CC Annual Blitz Challenge, and Sept. 25, BCC $10 Open, both at 240B Elm St., Somerville, Sept. 24, Waltham CC Sukkot Open, G/60 (two rounds); IBM building cafeteria, 404 Wyman St., Waltham.