Lessons from Larsen

The best advice you can give a young player is for them to play like Morphy and Tarrasch, and to play the openings they played. But, once your play has reached a certain standard, you need to appreciate more the complex and sometimes contradictory nature of chess. Then you are ready to look at Larsen's games.

He was clearly the one of the strongest players in the world in the 'sixties and 'seventies, and captained the Rest of the World team against the Soviet Union in 1970. And he also has a bold spirit, excellent fighting qualities, superb technique and a fresh approach to the openings. You can learn a lot from a man like that.

Larsen is also a wonderful annotator, and worth reading for his notes alone: for example, his book of the 1978 Karpov-Korchnoi match is excellent reading, and a far cry from the hurried hackwork that usually follows a championship match. His games collection is a joy from start to finish - frank, witty, thorough and the games are full of delights.


Larsen,B - Lengyel,L [C28] Amsterdam (9), 1964

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Nf6 3.Nc3

Not a move to play against everybody: 3...Nxe4! 4. Qh5! may be required.

3...Nc6 4.d3 Bb4 5.Nf3 d6 6.0-0 Bxc3 7.bxc3 Na5 8.Bb3 Nxb3 9.axb3 0-0 10.c4


I remember Michael Stean showing this position and claiming White could play for a win with it, using the extra central Pawn. Larsen had played this before and got just a draw, but wanted to show it was worth a win. But it takes a steady hand...

10...Qe7 11.Nd2 Nd7 12.Qh5 Nc5 13.f4 exf4 14.Rxf4 Qe5 15.Qxe5 dxe5 16.Rf2 Ne6 17.Nf3 f6 18.Be3 a6


19.Nh4 Bd7 20.Nf5 Rae8 21.h3 Rf7 22.Kh2 Nf8 23.g4 Ng6 24.Ng3 Ne7 25.Raf1 Be6 26.Ne2 Nc6 27.Kg3 Nb8 28.Nc3 c6 29.c5 Nd7 30.Na4 Rd8 31.h4 Rdf8 32.Nb2 Rc8 33.Ra1 Kf8 34.Ra4 Ke8 35.Rb4 Rc7 36.c3


36...g6 37.d4 h5 38.g5 fxg5 39.Bxg5 exd4 40.Rxf7 Kxf7 41.cxd4 Nf6 42.Kf4 a5 43.Ra4 Bxb3 44.Rxa5 Ng4 45.Ra3 Be6 46.Nd3 Kg7 47.Ne5 Rc8 48.Be7 Re8 49.Bd6 Nxe5 50.Bxe5+ Kf7 51.Kg5 Bg4 52.Ra1 Re6 53.Rb1 Re7 54.Rf1+ Ke8 55.Kxg6 Kd7 56.Rf4 Be2 57.Bd6 Re6+ 58.Kg5 Bd3 59.Be5 Be2 60.Rf2 Bd3 61.Kf4 Rg6 62.Ke3 Bc4 63.Rf5 Rg1 64.Rxh5 Re1+ 65.Kf4 Bd3 66.Rh7+ Ke6


67.d5+ cxd5 68.exd5+ Kxd5 69.Rd7+ 1-0

Larsen,B - Spassky,B [A03] Amsterdam, 1964


"Most masters have no high opinion (of Bird's Opening), but I chose it for the very reason that they do not play it and do not know it. I know it quite well, and have many original ideas. Now I challenge Spassky with it; let us see what ideas he has to show."

[Spassky too keeps to his own unusual repertoire including the King's Gambit, which for him is no frivolous whim, but a deeply-studied system that he knows and trusts. This is just what we all should do: stick to your openings and they will reward you over time.]

1...d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.e3 g6 4.b4 Bg7 5.Bb2 0-0 6.Be2 Bg4 7.0-0 c6 8.a4 Nbd7 9.Na3 Bxf3 10.Bxf3 Re8 11.d4


11...Ne4 12.Bxe4 dxe4 13.Nc4 Nb6 14.Na5 Nd5 15.Qe1 Qd7 16.c4 Nf6 17.b5 Qc7 18.Rb1 Ng4 19.bxc6 b6 20.Qe2 f5 21.Nb3 Qxc6 22.d5 Qxa4 23.Bxg7 Kxg7 24.Nd4 Rec8 25.h3 Nf6 26.Rfc1 Qd7 27.g4


27...Kf7 28.g5 Ne8 29.Qa2 Nd6 30.h4 Qe8 31.Ne6 Qh8 32.h5 h6 33.Rb2 gxh5 34.Rh2 hxg5 35.Nxg5+ Ke8 36.c5 Rxc5 37.Rxc5 bxc5 38.Qa4+ Kf8 39.Rg2 Re8 40.Qd7 Qh6 41.Qxa7 Qh8 42.Qd7 Qh6 43.Ne6+ Kf7 44.Ng5+ Kf8 45.Kh2 h4 46.Ne6+ Kf7 47.Ng5+ Kf8 48.Kh3 c4 49.Ne6+ Kf7 50.Ng5+ Kf8 51.Rg1


51...c3 52.Qe6 Qxe6 53.dxe6 Kg7 54.Nxe4+ Kh6 55.Nxc3 Ne4 [55...Rd8] 56.Nxe4 fxe4 57.Kxh4 Ra8 58.f5 Ra2 59.Rg8 Rf2 60.Rf8 1-0

Flohr,S - Larsen,B [A56] Copenhagen, 1966

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e5


"If (Black) forgets to do something active, then he will be slowly strangled. Playing this system means that I force myself to play aggressively!"

4.Nc3 d6 5.e4 g6 6.Bd3 Bg7 7.Nge2 Nbd7 8.h3 a6

Black waits for the Bc1 to move before playing Nh5.

9.Be3 Nh5 10.Qd2 [10.g4 Nf4 11.Nxf4 exf4 12.Bxf4 Ne5] 10...0-0 11.g4 Nf4 12.Nxf4 exf4 13.Bxf4 Ne5 14.Be2 b5 15.cxb5 axb5 16.Nxb5 Ra4 17.Nc3 Rd4 18.Qe3 Re8 19.Qg3 g5 20.Be3 Ng6 21.Bb5 Rexe4 22.Nxe4 Rxe4


White gets nervous and flees the centre, but this is out of the frying pan and into the fire.

23.0-0? Rb4 24.Bd3 Be5 25.Qf3 Nh4 26.Qd1 Qf6 27.a3 Nf3+ 28.Kg2 Bxg4 29.axb4 Nh4+ 30.Kg1 Bxd1 31.Rfxd1 cxb4 32.Be4 Bxb2 33.Ra8+ Kg7 34.Rb8 Bc3 35.Rxb4 Nf3+ 36.Bxf3 Qxf3 37.Rd3 Be5 38.Rg4 h6 39.Rd2 Qxh3 40.Rg2 f6 0-1


Bronstein,D - Larsen,B [E75] Amsterdam izt, 1964

1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6

"A move full of fighting spirit and self-confidence. As a matter of fact I believe that Bronstein knows more about the King's Indian than I do but -- come out and fight!"

3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.Be2 0-0 6.Bg5 c5 7.d5 e6 8.Nf3 h6 9.Bf4 exd5 10.exd5 Re8 11.Nd2 Nh5 12.Bg3 Bg4 13.0-0 Nxg3 14.hxg3 Bxe2 15.Nxe2 Bxb2 16.Rb1 Bg7 17.Rxb7 Nd7


The next few moves should be showered with annotation marks, but which ones?

18.Nf4 Nb6 19.Re1 Bc3 20.Ne4 Bxe1 21.Ne6 Bxf2+


22.Kxf2 fxe6 23.Qg4 Rf8+ 24.Kg1 Rf6


25.Qh3?? [25.dxe6 Nxc4! (25...Qf8 26.e7 Rf1+ 27.Kh2 Qf5 28.Qxf5 Rxf5 29.Rxa7! Rb8=; 25...h5 draws 26.e7 Rf1+ 27.Kxf1 Ne3+ 28.Ke2 Nxg4 29.exd8Q+ Rxd8-+] 25...Qf8 26.Ng5 Rf1+ 27.Kh2 Rf5 28.Nxe6 Rh5 29.Qxh5 gxh5 30.Nxf8 Rxf8 0-1

A fabulous ding-dong of a game. Donner annotated this game twice in two days, once giving 22.Kxf2? then again with 22.Kxf2! But if he knew about 25...Nxc4, maybe he would have annotated it a third time, and found a third typographical symbol. Larsen thought that Donner had a lot of courage to correct his first analysis so quickly; I agree.

Larsen,B - Petrosian,T [B39] Santa Monica, 1966

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 g6

"I used to have Black in this position!"

5.Be3 Bg7 6.c4 Nf6 7.Nc3 Ng4 8.Qxg4 Nxd4 9.Qd1 Ne6 10.Qd2 d6 11.Be2 Bd7 12.0-0 0-0 13.Rad1 Bc6 14.Nd5 Re8 15.f4 Nc7 16.f5 Na6 17.Bg4 Nc5 18.fxg6 hxg6 19.Qf2 Rf8


"I have several times used this position to illustrate how the right move is sometime found through elimination."

20.e5! [20.Bxc5?! dxc5 21.Nf6+ (21.Qxc5 Bxd5 22.Rxd5 Qb6 23.b4 Qxc5+ 24.bxc5 "is drawn" ; 21.Qh4 Bxd5 22.Rxd5 e6 is bad, but inspires the game continuation 21...Bxf6 22.Rxd8 Raxd8 with compensation] 20...Bxe5 21.Qh4 Bxd5 22.Rxd5 Ne6? [22...e6 is still worth trying] 23.Rf3 Bf6? [23...f5] 24.Qh6 Bg7


25.Qxg6 The exclamation mark should not be attached to this move, but rather to Rf3; of course it is the current move that makes the previous one possible. 25...Nf4 [25...fxg6 26.Bxe6+ Kh7 27.Rh3+] 26.Rxf4 fxg6 27.Be6+ Rf7 28.Rxf7 Kh8 29.Rg5 b5 30.Rg3 1-0


Eliskases,E - Larsen,B [A96] Mar del Plata, 1958

Larsen tells us that one of the most popular chess excuses is "a cold". Yet this game was played when he had a terrible cold, so what can he say next time? [ Actually Larsen's comments on this game are much more lengthy and amusing, but I would be a cad to reproduce them here and spoil his punchline. ]

1.d4 f5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.g3 e6 4.Bg2 Be7 5.c4 0-0 6.0-0 d6 7.b3 Qe8 8.Bb2 a5 9.a3


9...Nbd7 [9...Qh5] 10.Nbd2 Qh5 11.Re1 Ne4 12.e3 Ndf6 13.Nxe4 fxe4 14.Nd2 Qg6 15.f3 exf3 16.Nxf3 Ng4 17.e4 e5


18.Bc3 Bg5 19.Nxg5 Qxg5 20.Ra2 Qh6 21.Bf3? exd4 22.Bxd4 Ne5 23.Bxe5 dxe5 24.Qd3 Be6 25.a4 Rad8 26.Qe3 Qxe3+ 27.Rxe3 Bh3 28.Ra1 Rd2 29.Rb1 h5 30.Bxh5 Rg2+ 31.Kh1 Rff2 32.Bf3 Rxh2+ 33.Kg1 g5 34.Rbe1 Rb2 35.R1e2 Rhxe2 36.Bxe2 Be6 37.Kf1 Kf8 38.Ke1 Ke7 39.Kd1 Kd6 40.Kc1 Ra2 41.Kb1 Rd2 42.Kc1 Rd4


43.Kc2 Kc5 44.Kc3 c6 45.Bf3 Rd8 46.Be2 Rh8 47.Bf3 Rh3 48.Bg2 Rh2 49.Bf3 Bf7


50.Bg4 [50.g4 Be6] 50...Bh5 51.Bc8 Be2 52.Bxb7 Bg4 53.Rd3 Rg2 54.Bxc6 Kxc6 55.b4 axb4+ 56.Kxb4 Rb2+ 57.Kc3 Re2 58.a5 Rxe4 59.a6 Be6 60.Kb2 Rxc4 61.Ra3 Rb4+ 62.Kc3 Rb8 63.a7 Ra8 64.Ra6+ Kd5 65.Kb4 Bd7 66.Ra1 e4 67.Kc3 Bb5 68.Kd2 Kd4 69.Ra3 g4 70.Rb3 Ba6 71.Rb4+ Bc4 72.Ra4 e3+ 73.Kc2 e2 74.Kd2 Kc5 75.Ra1 Kb6 0-1

Chess Quotes

"Pawns are the skeleton of a chess position"