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Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Thrilling Days of Yesteryear and the Rise of Bent Larsen

     On the old television program, The Lone Ranger, the announcer introduced each episode with, “In the early days of the western United States, a masked man and an Indian rode the plains, searching for truth and justice. Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when from out of the past come the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!” 
     1956 was a thrilling year in chess. It saw Bobby Fischer beat Donald Byrne in the Game of the Century. There was the great Amsterdam Candidates Tournament that was won by Smyslov and the 23rd Soviet Championship, won by Taimanov in a playoff against Spassky and Averbach. Also in 1956, the chess program on a MANIAC I (Mathematical Analyzer, Numerical Integrator, and Computer or Mathematical Analyzer, Numerator, Integrator, and Computer), was designed and built by a team headed by John von Neumann and Nicholas Metropolis at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory.  Then there was the 12th Olympiad at Moscow
     After Larsen finished his course at the technical university he went to Hanko, Finland to play in a small tournament, but his play wasn't very good even though he shared first place with Ratanen. From there he went to Gijon, Spain where he won convincingly ahead of Klaus Darga, Albrec O'Kelly de Galway, J.H. Donner and some of the best Spanish players. After that he rushed back to Copenhagen where he played in a small training tournament and scored +7 -0 =2 to finish first ahead of the East German player Fuchs. From there it was on to Moscow for the Olympiad.
     Thirty-four countries took part in 12th Chess Olympiad held in Moscow and Soviet authorities treated the event with extreme seriousness because they wanted to prove the superiority of their Communist regime over the decadent West. There were 197 players, including 20 GMs and 35 IMs, from all over the world, including newcomers from Mongolia, Puerto Rico, Iran and India. The Red Army Central Theater was the venue.

      Denmark did well, qualifying for the “A” Final and Larsen himself was impressive. He had some winning chances against Botvinnik, but could “only” manage a draw. His final score of 14-4 was the top score on Board 1 and it earned him the Grandmaster title. Even Larsen himself was surprised at the result commenting, “This is the only tournament in which I have taken part in which I played better than I had previously expected or thought possible beforehand.” 
     As a result of his success he became popular in Denmark and traveled the country giving simuls and went back to the university. He also received an invitation to the important Hastings Christmas Tournament where, because of fatigue, he played risky chess, but still only lost one game (to Olafsson) and managed to share first with Gligorich ahead of Olafsson and O'Kelly. This victory cemented his reputation and confirmed that his result in Moscow had been no accident. 
     Thus, 1956 was an important year not only for Larsen, but the rest of the chess world.  Larsen (4 March 1935 – 9 September 2010) had become the first Western player to pose a serious challenge to the Soviet Union's dominance in chess.
     One of Larsen's finest efforts was his win over Gligorich. The game is instructive because it features pretty clear cut themes: control of the d5 square and it's becoming an outpost for white's N, and attack on fr and the advantage of an open file. Games like this, with few tactics, are very instructive. If only chess were as simple as Larsen makes it appear in this game.

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