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Book Review: Bent Larsen’s Best Games – Fighting Chess with the Great Dane

By Davide Nastasio

I love history and I love chess history even more. However, in order to make sense for me, chess history combines all the different characters from among different decades and centuries. Some players are legends because they are beyond human standards, like Fischer, and some are minor characters in this cosmic drama we call human life.

Bent Larsen is a world class player who lived in an era where professional chess players were few, mainly starving or sacrificing their lives for the love of Caissa. While there was financial reward for the players in the Soviet Union and even fame and love from the masses for those in Russia, for those in the west life was definitely more difficult. This is one of the first main ideas outlined in the book. Larsen had the chance to have a good life and become an engineer, instead he choose to become a chess player in a time when such a profession didn’t give the financial reward GMs, of that level, typically obtain today.

Just to better understand the world in which Larsen and Fischer lived, we need to say that young players in the former Soviet Union were “completely nurtured,” which means they would have trainers, coaches, training tournaments, seconds (since, in that time, games were adjourned and a player needed a second to analyze through the night) and so on. Fischer and Larsen didn’t have any of this type of training and were living on meager tournament prizes, simul displays, and the articles they wrote.

Davide Bent Larsen Book Jacket November 2014

Although the title indicates that the book contains Larsen’s “best games,” Larsen himself never thought these were his “best” games. In fact, the games he commented on came out under different sources and they were mainly called “selected games” or “difficult decisions” because Larsen believed it was too relative to use the term “best games” because for every player “best games” means something different.

In the book there are 124 games commented on by Larsen, with four provided in the introduction, which was written by three different authors as an article previously published by New in Chess. My understanding is that the first 51 games are commented with a similar prose to one book Larsen published in the 1970’s, while the games therein after are from different sources, magazine articles, or annotated quite later.

One of the aspects I appreciate is that there are mostly text comments with variations only when needed. I like this format because I dislike long variations. But this book has many other positive aspects. Of the thirty-nine (39) chapters, most deal with the important, high level tournaments Larsen participated in throughout his life. Crosstables from the tournaments are included, which not only list all players in the tournament, but also provide the context in which to see how Larsen performed in that particular tournament. Most chapters also include several pictures of Larsen in different stages of his life.

I’ve long wanted to have a collection of Larsen’s games in algebraic notation. Unfortunately, the previous books that I found on the market were all descriptive. This book is good for players rated 1200 to 2400, since it covers many different openings, and, of course, a whole range of middle game ideas and tactics.

Larsen is clearly a cosmopolitan character. He lived everywhere—toward the middle of his life he moved to Argentina, a wonderful country for him because this is where he met his second wife. Larsen’s writing style is pleasant and he has nice anecdotes and also some nice judgment. For example, Larsen describes how Bronstein lost against him, which signaled the moment when Bronstein was no longer able to compete at the top level for becoming one of the world champion contenders. The book delves deeper into showing how chess is truly a hard sport and how psychology plays a big part of the game, especially at the top level.

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I’d like to present a few games from the book that I particularly enjoyed. For Larsen’s superb annotations, please refer to the book. In general, from just these few games, it is possible to see that Larsen was able to play many different openings and there are many strategic themes, for example, how to exploit the space advantage to win a game, or attack on the kingside, or how to totally paralyze the opponent.

Note: On page 35 of the book, the game Olafsson vs Larsen is catalogued as a Grunfeld Indian defense; however, for me, it is a Sicilian Najdorf. Perhaps it was just an error of the editor. (Georgia Chess News Editor’s note: We do make those kind of mistakes!)

 

 

 

 

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