En Passant: Bent Larsen, 1935-2010
Photo © Peter Heine Nielsen
One of the world's best grandmasters of his day, Danish legend Bent Larsen, has died in Buenos Aires, Argentina after a short illness. He was 75.
The six-time Danish Champion and four-time world championship candidate (in 1965, 1968, 1971, and 1977) won three Interzonal tournaments and many, many other international tournaments. His five consecutive first prizes at Havana 1967, Winnipeg 1967, Palma de Mallorca 1967, Sousse 1967 and Monte Carlo 1968 set a record for anyone who was not actually world champion. In 1967 he was also awarded the first Chess Oscar for player of the year.
Larsen was the first player in the western hemisphere to challenge the dominance of Soviet chess after the second world war. In the years leading up to Bobby Fischer's 1972 world title victory, Larsen was often considered a stronger candidate for the championship match than was Fischer.
And indeed when FIDÉ organized a match in 1970 pitting the Soviet Union's best players against the top players from the rest of the world, Larsen protested when Fischer was initially selected for board one. In a rare display of humility Fischer acquiesced, allowing Larsen the top spot and a match-up with world champion Boris Spassky.
However, in an outstanding career with many highs, his most famous low has to have been his 6-0 loss to Fischer in their 1971 Candidates match - the psychological blow from which many believe signaled the beginning of the end for Larsen's ambitions to become world champion; and indeed, it was often said he was never quite the same player after such a demolition job by Fischer.
Since the early 1970s Larsen has lived in Buenos Aires, with his Argentinian-born wife. One of his lasting legacy's to chess will be his outstanding collection of 50 games published in his book, Larsen's Selected Games of Chess 1948-69 (also known as Bent Larsen: Master of Counter-Attack) - a truly superb book and one that should be in everyone's library.
In a further tribute to Bent Larsen here on ICC, next week three Chess.FM shows - Chess Talk with John Watson, Attack with LarryC, and Game of the Week with Joel Benjamin - will be dedicated to the life and times of this truly remarkable chess giant.