Vlastimil Hort: Bent Larsen

by Vlastimil Hort
2/28/2018 – Bent Larsen was born 83 years ago, on March 4, 1935, in Tilsted, a small village in Denmark. He never had a trainer but became one of the best players in the world. "If in hell, then first class," was his motto. Vlastimil Hort knew him well. | Photo: Harry Pot/ Nationaal Archief NL

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"If in hell, then first class"

Bent Larsen (1935 – 2010) and a strong round-robin tournament

Moscow, 1962 - The festive opening ceremony and the drawing of lots took place in the Central Chess Club. Even though the non-Soviet players drew small numbers (which gave them one more game with White) they finished at the lower part of the table. I was by far the youngest player in this prestigious tournament. A talkative Dane was also there. We both had the same goal, namely to crib something from the Russian elite players. During our conversation I noticed that my knowledge of English was as bad as my knowledge of the English: 1.c4. The tournament table is remarkable and noteworthy.

Rg. Name Country 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Pts.
1 Yuri L Averbakh
 
  1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 10.0 / 15
2 Evgeni Vasiukov
 
0   ½ 0 1 1 ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ ½ ½ 9.5 / 15
3 David Ionovich Bronstein
 
½ ½   ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 1 1 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 9.0 / 15
4 Andor Lilienthal
 
½ 1 ½   ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 1 9.0 / 15
5 Leonid Alexandrovic Shamkovich
 
½ 0 1 ½   0 0 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 9.0 / 15
6 Gedeon Barcza
 
½ 0 ½ ½ 1   1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 9.0 / 15
7 Vlastimil Hort
 
½ ½ ½ ½ 1 0   ½ ½ 1 0 1 ½ 0 ½ ½ 7.5 / 15
8 Bent Larsen
 
0 0 1 0 0 ½ ½   1 0 1 0 1 1 1 ½ 7.5 / 15
9 Anatoly A Bykhovsky
 
½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0   1 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 7.5 / 15
10 Felix N Ignatiev
 
½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 1 0   ½ ½ 0 1 1 1 7.5 / 15
11 Vladimir Pavlovich Simagin
 
½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 0 ½ ½   ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 7.5 / 15
12 Nikola Bochev Padevsky
 
0 0 ½ 1 0 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ ½   ½ 0 1 1 7.0 / 15
13 Mikhail Jr Yudovich
 
½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 0 1 ½ ½   ½ ½ 1 6.5 / 15
14 Peter Dely
 
0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 1 0 0 0 1 1 ½   ½ 0 5.5 / 15
15 Lev Solomonovich Aronin
 
½ ½ ½ 0 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½   1 5.0 / 15
16 R Veid
 
0 ½ 0 0 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 0 0 0 1 0   3.0 / 15

Moscow 1962

Bent Larsen and Vlastimil Hort, Moscow 1962

Bent Larsen and Vlastimil Hort, Moscow 1962 | Photo: Vlastimil Hort

At this time Bent still studied but was also working part-time for Danish Broadcasting. There he was an all-rounder in matters of culture and history. When the chess goddess Caissa made him burn all bridges to the civilian world of work is hard to say. The great individualist and self-taught man could achieve much more and more tangible things in chess.

Hard-working, his typewriter was rattling till late at night. All his comments, chess works, ideas or inspirations bear the imprint of his originality. Chess theory was enriched by his exceptional creativity. Because of him, the games of the past masters enjoyed a reincarnation. Larsen's opening 1.b3, the Open Variation in the Spanish — where did the Dane get the energy to sit on so many chairs? An eternal, invincible optimist. With a slight advantage he was already winning, in worse positions, a draw was always still in reach. It was feast or famine wherever he appeared.

Dear Bent, since our last encounter, 1962 in Moscow, a lot has happened in world politics. In our games, the two of us have always fought down to the last pawn, like the two little bears on the famous postcard. Calm and optimism have never been mine, thus I desperately try to emulate your philosophy of life. You might well have been a professor at the Charles University in Prague. The lecture hall would have been filled to capacity.

Your recommendations?

1. If you have to go to hell after all, then only first class.

2. Everyone should believe in Karl Marx until completing the thirtieth year of life, but who then still keeps his marxist convictions is a fool.

3. These small Czechs like small checks.

Yes, the last wisdom was alluding to and criticising my peacefulness in positions which he believed I should have played to the bitter end.

Dear Bent, I assure you that I took your recommendations very much to heart. When I travel, then often first class, politically, my position is à la droite, and as a small Czech I like the big checks with lots of zeros at the end best.

Palma de Mallorca 1969

In a strong tournament in Palma de Mallorca 1969 Larsen lost his first three games. "That does not matter," the eternal optimist said to me. "I feel fine and I will win the tournament anyway." I was speechless.

Rg. Title Name Country 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Pts.
1 GM Bent Larsen
 
  ½ 1 0 0 1 0 1 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 1 12.0
2 GM Tigran V Petrosian
 
½   ½ 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 1   ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 11.0
3 GM Viktor Lvovich Kortschnoj
 
0 ½   1 ½ 1 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 1 10.5
4 GM Vlastimil Hort
 
1 0 0   ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 1 1 10.5
5 GM Boris Vasilievich Spassky
 
1 ½ ½ ½   ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 10.0
6 GM Jesus Diez del Corral
 
0 0 0 0 ½   ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 9.5
7 GM Henrique Mecking
 
1 0 0 ½ ½ ½   0 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 9.0
8 GM Oscar Panno
 
0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 1   ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 1 9.0
9 GM Miguel Najdorf
 
0 0 ½ ½ ½ 1 0 ½   ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 8.5
10 GM Bruno Parma
 
½   ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½   ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 8.0
11 GM Wolfgang Unzicker
 
0 ½ 0 1 ½ ½ ½ 0 0 ½   ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 8.0
12 GM Laszlo Szabo
 
½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½   ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 0 8.0
13 GM Arturo Pomar Salamanca
 
½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½   ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 7.5
14 GM Jonathan Penrose
 
0 0 0 0 0 ½ 1 1 0 ½ ½ 0 ½   1 ½ ½ ½ 6.5
15 GM Milko Georgiev Bobotsov
 
0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 0   ½ 1 0 6.5
16 GM Mato Damjanovic
 
0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ ½   ½ ½ 6.5
17 IM Roman Toran Albero
 
0 0 1 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 ½   ½ 6.0
18 IM Antonio Angel Medina Garcia
 
0 ½ 0 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 0 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½   5.0

San Antonio 1972

San Antonio 1972. Church's Fried Chicken Tournament. During the opening ceremony, the participants sit together at a big table. "The first prize is too high," Petrosian complains. We, the other players, agreed because we were also in favour of a milder scaling of the prize-fund. But the organisers did not change anything. Why? Bent Larsen was the only one who was against a different prize-fund. He came to San Antonio to bring the big first prize home. Does chess have something of Russian Roulette?

Rg. Name 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Pts.
1 Anatoly Karpov   ½ 0 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 10.5 / 15
2 Tigran V Petrosian ½   ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 10.5 / 15
3 Lajos Portisch 1 ½   0 1 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 10.5 / 15
4 Svetozar Gligoric 0 0 1   ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 10.0 / 15
5 Paul Keres ½ ½ 0 ½   1 ½ 1 1 1 0 ½ ½ 1 1 ½ 9.5 / 15
6 Vlastimil Hort ½ ½ 0 ½ 0   ½ 1 0 ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 1 9.0 / 15
7 Duncan Suttles 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½   ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 9.0 / 15
8 Henrique Mecking ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 0 ½   1 ½ ½ 1 1 1 ½ 1 8.5 / 15
9 Bent Larsen ½ 0 0 ½ 0 1 ½ 0   1 1 0 1 1 1 1 8.5 / 15
10 Donald Byrne 0 ½ ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ 0   1 0 ½ 1 1 1 7.0 / 15
11 Larry Melvyn Evans ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 ½ 0 0   ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 6.5 / 15
12 Walter Shawn Browne 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 0 1 1 ½   1 0 0 1 6.5 / 15
13 Julio P Kaplan ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 0 0 0 0 ½ 1 0   1 ½ 0 5.0 / 15
14 Mario Campos Lopez 0 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 1 0   1 ½ 3.5 / 15
15 Anthony Fred Saidy 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 0 ½ 1 ½ 0   1 3.5 / 15
16 Kenneth Ray Smith 0 0 0 0 ½ 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 ½ 0   2.0 / 15

Anatoly Karpov and Bent Larsen in round 3 of Church’s Fried Chicken International Chess Tournament, November 21, 1972. | Photo: San Antonio Express-News Collection, MS 360: E-0026-127-30

A small Cessna with four people on board, flying from Gatwick to Eindhoven where the organisers of the Tilburg tournament were already waiting for us. Larsen was in a very good mood because he had just won the BBC TV Tournament in Brighton. He beat me in the fifth blitz game of the finals, and he was a well-known and popular commentator for TV. But back then transmission technology was still in its infancy. Therefore, a "catman", dressed in black from top to toe, had to manually move the pieces on the demonstration board. This forced the commentators to pay fiendishly fierce attention to the synchronisation.

On the airplane, Bent just talked and talked without break, just as he had done in the TV studio of Brighton. He sat in front, next to the pilot, while I used the whole stock of vomit bags in the back. It was stuffy in the Cessna, up and down, thunderstorm. Thank God we were on solid ground again after landing. "These small Czechs don't like small Cessnas", Bent joked afterwards. I had to laugh but secretly decided to try to win our next game in Tilburg at all costs.

 

Here's what I think about the game after many years and with a certain amount of distance: Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy is famous. If Hamlet had been a chess player, he might have said "to be two or not to be two". Because in chess the pawn b2 is ususally poisoned. In our game 33…Ra1 would have been "to be" and winning for me. Unfortunately, with my move 33… Bh5 I opted for "not to be".

Belgrade 1970

USSR against the Rest of the World. Bent Larsen played on board one which Fischer, to everyone's surprise, had agreed to concede to him. Both Fischer and Larsen won on their boards (Larsen 2½ / 4, Fischer 3.0 / 4). Though the second round game Larsen 0-1 Spassky is quite famous and was published in chess magazines everywhere and entered chess history as an all-time classic, I think that Larsen still showed outstanding chess in Belgrade.

In the third round game, Larsen levelled the score by winning with Black against Spassky. Spassky must have sensed that Larsen was in top form. Therefore, he did not mind at all to let bench-warmer Leonid Stein play the last game with Black. Was Spassky afraid of a humiliation? At any rate, Larsen played superbly and in the game the Soviet substitute did not see any light at the end of the tunnel.

Drawing of Larsen

"Bent Larsen" | Drawing by Otakar Masek

 

Drawing of Spassky

"Boris Spassky", | Drawing by Otakar Masek

 

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Leonid Stein drawing

"Leonid Stein" | Drawing by Otakar Masek

 

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I am also impressed by a rather unknown game by Larsen (Jelen-Larsen), played in the tournament Ljubljana/Portoroz 1972. Sometimes I dream of the cheekiness of Black's king. Then, the well-known melody of the Radetzky March, which the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra always gives as an encore to New Year, comes to my mind.

 
Rg. Title Name Country 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Pkt.
1 GM Bent Larsen
 
  ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ 0 1 1 ½ 1 1 1 1 9.5 / 13
2 GM Vlastimil Hort
 
½   ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 1 1 9.0 / 13
3 GM Vladimir A Savon
 
½ ½   ½ 0 1 ½ 1 ½ 1 1 ½ 1 ½ 8.5 / 13
4 GM Bruno Parma
 
½ ½ ½   ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 1 ½ ½ ½ ½ 7.5 / 13
5 GM Vitaly Tseshkovsky
 
0 ½ 1 ½   ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ ½ 0 1 1 7.5 / 13
6 GM Gennadi Sosonko
 
½ 0 0 ½ ½   ½ ½ 1 ½ 1 1 ½ ½ 7.0 / 13
7 GM Bojan Kurajica
 
1 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½   0 ½ ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 7.0 / 13
8 GM Svetozar Gligoric
 
0 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 1   1 ½ ½ ½ 0 ½ 5.5 / 13
9 GM Albin Planinc
 
0 ½ ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 0   ½ 0 1 1 1 5.5 / 13
10 GM Enver Bukic
 
½ ½ 0 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½   ½ ½ 0 1 5.5 / 13
11 GM Gyula Sax
 
0 0 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 ½   1 0 ½ 5.0 / 13
12 IM Iztok Jelen
 
0 0 ½ ½ 1 0 0 ½ 0 ½ 0   1 1 5.0 / 13
13 IM Janez Barle
 
0 0 0 ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 0 1 1 0   ½ 5.0 / 13
14 GM Gudmundur Sigurjonsson
 
0 0 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ ½ 0 0 ½ 0 ½   3.5 / 13

He was never one for grandmaster draws! His chess calling card is impressive! In the 60s Bent Larsen is, without a doubt, the best player from the West. Even the Soviet Chess Power was afraid of the wild Viking. He qualifies no less than four times for the Candidates. He wins a whole number of super-tournaments. In January 1971 he reaches an Elo-rating of 2660, which is a clear indicator of today's Elo-inflation.

His way — or flight — from Denmark via the Canary Islands (Las Palmas) to Argentina can be compared to the fate of the famous French actor Gérard Depardieu. Neither of them wanted to pay the unjustifiably high taxes in their home countries. Larsen chose the West, Depardieu the East. I only hope he invested his savings well in his new home. By the way, the Argentine steaks are of the highest quality. Not to mention the Argentine tango, Milonga.

Today's FIDE does nothing, really nothing at all, against the huge inflation of Elo-ratings and Grandmaster titles. There are many grandmasters who have not even won one single tournament of medium strength and only once in their life made weak norms. Maybe the FIDE will one day introduce what is reasonable: the super-grandmaster title.

"Even post mortem, you, dear Bent,  will, of course, sit in the front row!"

Translation from German: Johannes Fischer

Update March 1st:  Our regular contributor Prof. Nagesh Havanur checked contemporary reports and found out Lajos Portisch has a point. In an email to ChessBase he writes: Do check p.66 of Chess Life & Review, February 1973. Under S.B. score Portisch finished with 76.75, Petrosian with 72.75 and Karpov with 70.25 points. No official tie-breaking was done and all the three received equal prizes. The initial tournament table on p.8 in the January issue shows the winners in the alphabetical order. That's what we find in the article by Hort.

Links




Vlastimil Hort was born January 12, 1944, in Kladno, Czechoslovakia. In the 1970s he was one of the world's best players and a World Championship candidate. In 1979 he moved to West Germany where he still lives. Hort is an excellent blindfold player, a prolific author and a popular chess commentator.
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CMPonCB CMPonCB 3/2/2018 03:50
Correction: Portoroz-Ljubljana tournament should be 1977 as in the game box, not 1972 as given in the main body text.
koko48 koko48 3/1/2018 07:30
@chessbibliophile Thanks for answering!

The prizes weren't quite as high as I expected from Petrosian's comment, but I suppose in 1972 that was some decent coin

@Despipeptide I agree, I would also love to read an article on that epic 1970 USSR vs Rest of World Match....which the USSR won by an uncomfortable (and unusually slim) margin
Depsipeptide Depsipeptide 3/1/2018 07:22
GM Hort is too modest in describing the USSR v Rest of the World match. He had a fine performance himself against Polugaevsky and in fact his 1st round win was voted the game of the round! Perhaps he can write a separate article about the match ... The Jelen v Larsen game is annotated in detail in Speelman's book, Best Chess Games 1970–1980
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 3/1/2018 05:20
First Prize: $4000
Second Prize: $2000
Third Prize: $1000
The total amount of $ 7000 was equally divided between Portisch, Petrosian and Karpov, each taking home $2,333.
(Chess Life & Review, February 1973 issue)
This is open to correction by GM Portisch or any of the surviving participants in the tournament.
koko48 koko48 3/1/2018 03:18
I'm curious, and I'll ask you GM Portisch since you won the tournament ;-) ...though anyone can answer....

How much was the first prize at San Antonio 1972, that Petrosian thought was "too high"?

This was the first major tournament held in the US after Fischer won the WC, so I imagine prize funds must have skyrocketed

I'm also curious how much was second and third prize
koko48 koko48 2/28/2018 11:32
"In the 60s Bent Larsen is, without a doubt, the best player from the West."

Second best player perhaps. Fischer was the higher ELO rated player in the 1960s, and had the higher performance rating throughout the decade as well if I'm not mistaken
anandymous anandymous 2/28/2018 09:35
GM Portisch has written a very entertaining book on the Ruy Lopez (mainly from Black's perspective), full of Hort-like anecdotes (along with chess instruction, of course). Would like to see further writing from him on his experiences, etc, as well.
Petrarlsen Petrarlsen 2/28/2018 06:07
@ Johannes Fischer : And wouldn't it be possible to correct the San Antonio tournament's crosstable to have it reflect the most logical final ranking ?
Denix Denix 2/28/2018 03:34
We agree with you GM Lajos Portisch
L Portisch L Portisch 2/28/2018 11:08
I am surprised to see the crosstable of San Antonio. Although the first three prizes were shared, the Berger-Sonneborn system-which was the customary method to decide the placing in a tie in those years-clearly shoud have given me the victory. Lajos Portisch
emilios1 emilios1 2/28/2018 09:31
Enjoyed a lot these stories and anecdotes about the Great Dane . Just one thing: Stein was outright winning in that game in Belgrade-1970.
Sergio Estremera Sergio Estremera 2/28/2018 08:36
Sergio Estremera Just now
Great article by Vlastimil Hort!
One suggestion: On the tournaments crosstables, would be interesting to respect the historical flags: soviet for russians, Czechoslovakian for Hort and so on
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