Friday 10 September 2010

Bent Larsen (1935-2010)

Some very sad news: the great Danish player Bent Larsen (4 iii 1935 - 9 ix 2010) is no more. In the second half of the 1960s his light shone as bright as Bobby Fischer, brighter at times, as these two vied to be considered the leading western challenger to the Soviet stranglehold on the world title. 

Larsen won no fewer than three interzonals, in 1964 (Amsterdam - where the photo was taken), 1967 (Sousse) and 1976 (Biel), and played on top board ahead of Fischer for the Rest of the World in the so-called 'Match of the Century' against the Soviet Union in 1970. 

He was also Fischer's rival as a chess writer, bringing out his hugely influential English language edition of 50 Selected Games around the time Fischer's legendary My Sixty Memorable Games was published. Larsen's aspirations to the world title were cut short when he suffered a calamitous 0-6 defeat to Fischer in the Candidates' semi-final in 1971, and with the subsequent rise of Anatoly Karpov, but he remained a top-flight grandmaster for many years and one whose fighting attitude to the game and opening ideas remain influential to this day. 

I remembered ordering his Larsen's 50 Selected Games of Chess 1948-69 and Fischer's Sixty Memorable Games at the same time and having them arrive in the same package. I can even tell you the day they arrived because I wrote it on the inside cover - 14 September 1970, forty years ago less four days. The simultaneous arrival of Fischer and Larsen on my doormat created a problem - which to read first? A real dilemma which I only half-solved by dipping into one and then sampling the other for an hour or two. As dilemmas go, it was a very happy one, of course. They remain two of my three favourite chess books of all time (the third being Donner's The King). Tonight I shall sit down in my favourite chair, with the well-loved, red dust-jacketed volume and fondly remind myself of the great man via his own words and moves. R.I.P.

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