16 September 2010

'The Sun Will Be Bright in the Morning'

On hearing of the death of Bent Larsen, I turned to his annotations in the tournament book of the 1966 Piatigorsky Cup. There is much wisdom to be gleaned in his notes and much to be discovered about the Dane himself in the notes of his opponents. The section on Larsen in the book's introduction by Gregor Piatigorsky is also a gem.

Many years ago my wife wrote, 'I met in Los Angeles a very young man named Larsen. What a chess player! What a bubbling personality. Fabulous. He will go far.'

To make predictions (which were seldom realized) and to rave, had always been strictly my department in the family, and I knew at once that my good wife would not trespass this territory without solid reason. And right she was. Soon everyone witnessed a new star being born. There were no astronomers to discover it. A chess player has to create his own star, to name it, to earn it, and to place it according to its worth.

Larsen did all these with as little inventive originality as all the other true stars in the world of chess. With blood-sweat-sacrifice and another little ingredient some people call 'genius'.

In every chess gathering Larsen was discussed, admired, and criticized. At one time mostly criticized; 'I don't think much of his playing.' 'But you lost to him.' 'Only because I underestimated him.' 'But you lost to him again!' 'True, but this time only because I overestimated him.'

But everyone soon agreed that a loss to Larsen is dishonor to none! The eminent master, exuberant and fascinating, was one of the great heroes in this tournament. To see him analyze his game, still vibrant after a brilliant win, was a memorable experience.

His sparkling vitality and his friendliness had a special charm. Even his self-assurance which one spectator mistook for excessive self-esteem (he will not die of an inferiority complex) could not make him less attractive. Though emotional and not self-sparing he kept good humor and he showed remarkable endurance throughout the grueling tournament.

Only once I noticed a trace of tiredness and sadness on his face. As if sensing my thought he said with a smile, 'The sun will be bright in the morning'. It was.

What about his chess?

Ivkov, rd.1: 'Before my game with Larsen, Najdorf had asked me: "What would Larsen reply if you offered him a draw in advance?" It was not difficult to answer that question, because the combativeness of Larsen, that fearless Viking of the chess board, is very well known to me. Our encounters have always been eventful and hard fought, played to the bitter end.'

Najdorf, rd.5: 'Larsen is one of the great players against whom it is impossible to make any kind of preparation. He plays sharply in any variation.'

Everyone remembers that Spassky won the double round robin tournament and that Fischer finished second after ending the first half in next to last place. How many remember that Larsen finished third? He beat reigning World Champion Petrosian in both games and won a total of seven, equalling Fischer's count.

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