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Monday, April 27, 2015

Bent Larsen's Favorite Chess Books

     The other day I came across an old interview with Bent Larsen in which he was asked about his favorite chess books and I always find it interesting to see what books, if any, GM's read. 
      I once spent a few minutes at a booksellers stall at a major tournament just observing what books players gravitated towards and the results were not surprising. Lower rated players spent a lot of time fondling opening books while masters browsed best game collections, tournament books and endgame books. Very few players looked at middlegame books which in those days were mostly on strategy.
     Jørgen (I never knew he went by his middle name!) Bent Larsen (4 March 1935 – 9 September 2010) was a Danish Grandmaster and author who was known for his imaginative and unorthodox style of play and he was the first Western player to pose a serious challenge to the Soviet Union's dominance. Up until the emergence of Magnus Carlsen, Larsen was considered the strongest player ever from Scandinavia.
     Larsen was a six time Danish Champion and a Candidate for the World Chess Championship four times and won many games from seven World Champions: Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tahl, Petrosian, Spassky, Fischer, and Karpov, but had lifetime minus scores against them.
     He suffered from diabetes and died in 2010 from a cerebral hemorrhage. Larsen was a highly imaginative player who was always willing to try unorthodox ideas and to take risks, especially in the opening. He often played dubious openings and was always willing to complicate things even if it meant risking loss. His style allowed him to be extremely effective against weaker opponents but against his peers, such strategy was less successful.
     He was one of the very few modern grandmasters to have employed Bird's Opening and he introduced 1.b3 which came to be known as Larsen's Opening into mainline theory of his day. He also revived the almost Bishop's Opening and the Philidor Defense. He was the first top player to successfully use the Grand Prix Attack against the Sicilian Defense (1.e4 c5 2.f4), he frequently employed Alekhine's Defense and played a major roll in reviving the Scandinavian Defense when he used it to defeat World Champion Anatoly Karpov in 1979.  He also contributed to a rare sideline of the Caro–Kann (1.e4 c6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nf6 5.Nxf6+ gxf6).
     In the interview when asked what book he would take to a desert island, he said he'd take London 1883 or some other old tournament book.
     The London 1883 tournament was a strong one which had most of the leading players of the day. It was won by Zukertort ahead of Steinitz (with 19 points). One curious fact about this tournament: Zukertort was assured of first place with three rounds to go (his score was 22-1!!) when he lost his last three games against relatively weak players. This was the tournament that established Zukertort as a rival to Steinitz' to claim to be the best player in the world and resulted in the 1886 World Championship 1886 match between them. two (the first official World Chess Championship match). The event was a double round-robin tournament. The tournament also introduced the use of the double-sided chess clock, manufactured by T.B. Wilson of Manchester.
     Larsen listed as his other favorite chess books:

New York 1889 by Steinitz. The sixth American Chess Congress was held in New York in 1889 and was a 20-man double round-robin tournament making it one of the longest tournaments in history. The event was won by Mikhail Chigorin and Max Weiss both of whom finished with a score of 29 but Chigorin defeated Weiss in their individual game. The top American finisher was Lipschütz, who took sixth place. Under rules that reigning World Champion Wilhelm Steinitz helped to develop, the winner was to be regarded as World Champion for the time being, but must be prepared to face a challenge from the second- or third-placed competitor within a month. Mikhail Chigorin and Max Weiss tied for first, and remained tied after drawing all four games of a playoff. Weiss was not interested in playing a championship match, but Isidor Gunsberg, the third place finisher, exercised his right and challenged Chigorin to a World Championship match. In 1890, he drew a first-to-10-wins match against Chigorin (9-9 with five draws).
My System by Nimzovich
Selected Games by Paul Keres
Munninghoff's book on Jan Hein Donner. Donner (July 6, 1927 – November 27, 1988) was a Dutch grandmaster and writer. Born in The Hague, he won the Dutch Championship in 1954, 1957, and 1958. On August 24, 1983 Donner suffered a stroke, which he wrote happened "just in time, because when you are 56 you do not play chess as well as you did when you were 26".
     After surviving the stroke, he went to live in Vreugdehof, which he described as "a kind of nursing-home". He was unable to walk, but had learned to type with one finger, and wrote for NRC Handelsblad and Schaaknieuws.  GM Lubosh Kavalek once noted that Donner was a chain smoker, as was Kavalek, and when they played the board disappeared in a cloud of smoke. Kavalek observed that both of them were under the illusion that cigarettes calmed their nerves and stimulated them to make good moves.
    Another book Larsen mentioned as a favorite was a book by Arman titled Marcel Duchamp Plays and Wins. I know nothing of this one.

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