Who Suggested 1. b3 ??

Who Suggested 1. b3 ??

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The Danish grandmaster Bent Larsen (1935- ) has enjoyed playing out-of-favor chess openings since he was a child.  This trait began around the age of 12 when he read a book that said modern chess masters were cowards for avoiding the King’s Gambit.  “Naturally,” Larsen wrote years later in his own book Larsen’s Selected Games of Chess 1948—1949, “I did not like to be a chicken and, until about 1952, the favorite opening of the romantic chess masters was also mine.”

Indeed, it seems to me that anyone who opens their game with 1. b3 is not at all cowardly.  Larsen’s Opening, as this brave foray is called, is sometimes referred to by Larsen himself as the “Baby Orangutan”, since the Orangutan Opening is 1. b4. 

Bent 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.  For example, Petar Trifunovic wrote in 1966 that “the title of ‘best player in the Western world’ doesn’t officially exist, but the press has conferred this honor upon [Larsen] and the chess public confirms it.”  This sentiment was also expressed by Gligoric and Tal, and Petrosian regarded Larsen as “no less a dangerous candidate for the chess throne” than Fischer.  Robert Byrne described Larsen as a “genius of the game.”

Thus, when the two met in a tournament in 1966 in Santa Monica, their two games were regarded by many as an unofficial world title.  Larsen stunned everyone by defeating Fischer in the first game in 30 moves, although Fischer took the second.  Here is Larsen’s defeat of the future world champion.

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 felt slighted enough to protest when Fischer was initially selected for board one.  In a rare display of humility Fischer acquiesced, allowing Larsen the lead position.  In that match, Larsen played the Larsen against Boris Spassky.  By defeating Larsen at his own opening, Spassky demonstrated why he was the reigning world champion.  Click here for a commentary of that game.

Although that game shows Larsen losing at the Larsen, here is a game that shows him winning with the Larsen.  In this contest, Larsen plays the Hungarian grandmaster Judit Polgár, who is certainly no easy opponent.  She is the strongest woman in the history of the game, and one of the best in the world today of either gender.

Note to the gentle reader:  This blog is one of a continuing series that discusses the players whose names grace many openings.  Here are the links to these blogs published to date:

The Names behind the Openings, Part 1

Bird to Bogo

Caro, Kann and Chigorin – Openings Players

Evans and Göring: Gambiteers

Who was Giuoco Piano?

A Greenfield Opening