SPRAGGETT ON CHESS
BENT LARSEN: ANTI-HERO OF CHESS
The sad news in the chess world is that Grandmaster Bent Larsen has passed away yesterday at the age of 75. Considered the best non-Soviet player in the world towards the end of the 1960’s–Bobby Fischer even had to concede 1st board in the USSR vs World match in the spring of 1970–even today’s stars would be proud to have accumulated the tournament record of this great player.
Winner of not less than 3 interzonals (Amsterdam 1964, Sousse 1967 and Biel 1976), 4-times Candidate for the world championship, and winner of dozens of the strongest international tournaments in the 1960’s and 1970’s. It was only Karpov who later would have a better tournament record.
Botvinnik playing Larsen at Monaco 1968. Larsen won the tournament
Bent was also a great writer. He is reputed to have become the world’s first millionaire amongst chess players in the 1960’s by the shear number of paid chess columns he had sindicated in the chess world. So sought out were his chess columns that he actually found himself spending more time at tournaments writing into the wee hours of the night than actually playing and preparing. Often players asked to not be housed on the same floor of the hotel as Larsen, because his type-writer was constantly working!
Amongst my favourite chess books I count a number of Larsen’s efforts. Perhaps the book that helped me progress the most was the odd Zoom 001 (Zero Hour For Operative Opening Models), co-written with Zeuthen. For a period of a couple of months in the early 1980’s (as I became the best player on the North American Tournament circuit) I would carry this book with me everywhere!
In the early 1970’s Larsen’s chess strength started to decline: he had developed diabetes. This, I believe, stopped cold any serious hopes he might have had to become World Champion. Bent continued to win tournaments for some time afterwards, and he remained a ferocious competitor, but his body was less and less willing to give him the energy that he needed to play long, tough games.
I can not say that Larsen was ever one of my favourite stars when I was an up and coming player–with Fischer and Tal playing such beautiful aggressive chess who could compare to them?–but I have to admit that I held great admiration for his chess and especially his person. Perhaps there is no other modern player whose games I have learned more from.
Larsen with Fischer in 1966, joking around. The Piatgorski’s watch on with amusement.
I did a number of interviews with Larsen, including one during the 1979 Tournament of Stars event, for a book that I co-wrote with a number of Montreal amateurs. I remember being so impressed with the depth of his knowledge of chess history, especially of Steinitz and Lasker.
In 1984 we were both playing in the New York International, held immediately after the New York Open (which yours truly won ). At this time Bent’s health had noticeably declined and –fearing that he might not live much longer–he was the only famous grandmaster who I asked for his autograph! I did not have a book of Larsen with me, so I asked him to sign a copy of a book of Rubinstein’s best games! I still prize this today!
A famous photo of Tal, Larsen and Spassky waiting at the airport on the way to some tournament.
Larsen was not your usual superstar. He was modest and cultured, speaking numerous languages and capable of knowledgeably conversing on dozens of topics–nothing to do with chess! And he often played in Open tournaments in the US and Canada, not being worried about his rating or of losing to some amateur. Today there are few amongst the elite of the chess world who could fill Larsen’s shoes.
I intend to write ,in the near future, a longer article on the enormous successes and contributions to chess made by Bent Larsen.
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS