06 September 2016

1966 Spassky - Larsen

Last week's post, September 1966 'On the Cover', harked back to the 1966 Piatigorsky Cup, won by Spassky despite a strong second-half surge by Fischer. According to the Chess Life report I quoted, 'Spassky was rarely in danger of losing a game'. Thanks to the tournament book, where

Most games were annotated by both players. World Champion Petrosian annotated every game he played in the event; ditto for his title challenger of a few months earlier, Spassky.

we know that isn't true. For three consecutive rounds -- Rd.4: W vs. Larsen, Rd.5: B vs. Portisch, Rd.6: W vs. Najdorf -- Spassky got into trouble and narrowly escaped losing each game. I decided to take a closer look at the Larsen game, because the Dane was a tough opponent, one of those players who makes his opponent earn every half-point.

The diagram below shows four critical positions from that game. In the first position, Spassky played 24.Bb3, and wrote 'The beginning of an incorrect plan after which White loses his advantage. The correct continuation was 24.Bf3'. Larsen agreed that 'the Bishop might be better off on the other diagonal'. The problem with White's move is that the Bishop will be shut out of play on b3.

This is shown in the second position, where Larsen played 28...d5!. The point is that the move 29.Rc6, forking two undefended Pawns, is countered by 29...Re4! 30.Rxe4 dxe4. Spassky, who calculated that the move was only good for a draw (29.Rb4 also draws), was looking for more and played 29.Rd4. He later wrote,

Black's chances appear more favorable after my move. The chief shortcomings of White's position are passiveness, the absence of counterplay, and the unsatisfactory position of the King.

Black was now somewhat better.

Spassky - Larsen, 1966 Piatigorsky Cup, Rd.4

The game was adjourned in the third position. Both players noted that White had a draw with 41.axb5+ axb5 42.Bxc4 dxc4, but Spassky sealed 41.Rc8+, and noted,

After the text Black's chances for a win become quite real.

When the game was continued, White's position steadily worsened, eventually reaching the fourth position. Note that White's Bishop has no moves and keeps the White King confined to the first rank, where it is subject to back rank mates. Both players agreed that 55...f5 would win for Black, but Larsen instead played 55...Kc7, and wrote,

After the text move White can probably hold the game.

The word 'probably' leaves the door open and I'm not convinced that Black played the best moves, but the game was drawn after 80 moves. To play through the entire game or to download the PGN, see...

Boris Spassky vs Bent Larsen; Second Piatigorsky Cup (1966)

...on Chessgames.com. CG tells us,

Classical games: Boris Spassky beat Bent Larsen 19 to 6, with 17 draws

including +4-1=3 in the semifinal of the 1967-69 Candidates Matches.

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