Bent Larsen’s checkmating attacks

Bent Larsen (1935-2010), the famous Danish Grandmaster, was a fearless player with an original style of play. He could beat anyone on his day, as proved by his victories against various World Champions, including Mikhail Botvinnik, Boris Spassky, Bobby Fischer and Anatoly Karpov. Sean Marsh takes a look at some of his most memorable checkmating attacks.

Unusual Openings

Larsen enjoyed playing unusual openings, such as 1.g3 as White and the Scandinavian Defence (1.e4 d5) as Black – long before the latter enjoyed any degree of popularity. However, the opening he used most famously was 1.b3, which is known as the Nimzo-Larsen Attack, thanks to the theoretical contributions of both Larsen himself and Aron Nimzowitsch. Thanks to Adhiban the move has been hard to avoid recently!

There are two negative memories associated with Larsen. One is the demolition of his 1.b3 by Boris Spassky in the big 1970 match, pitting the Soviet Union against The Rest of the World

The second is Larsen’s 0-6 loss to Bobby Fischer in their 1971 Candidates Match, as part of Fischer’s unstoppable march towards the ultimate title.

Top of the World

What isn’t remembered anywhere near as much is the fact that Larsen had a plus score on board one in the aforementioned 1970 Match of the Century. He won one, drew one and lost one against Spassky, who was the reigning World Champion at the time. Spassky was then ‘rested’ for the fourth and final round, amid speculation that the Soviets did not want to risk the World Champion finishing with a minus score. Larsen defeated the substitute, Leonid Stein, in the final round. His score of 2.5-1.5 on board one was his second major achievement of the match. His first was to claim board one, ahead of Bobby Fischer!

In Honour of Nimzowitsch

Here are some fine checkmates by Bent Larsen, starting in fitting fashion with two examples from the Nimzowitsch Memorial tournament.

Bent Larsen – Efim Geller
Nimzowitsch Memorial
Copenhagen, 1960

White to Play

Geller threatens checkmate in two moves, with 38…Bf1+ and 39…Bxh3 checkmate. Larsen has to act fast. 38.Bc8+ Ka7 39.Qa5+

Geller resigned here (1-0) in view of the checkmate after 39…Kb8 40.Qc7+ Ka8 41.Qb7. The alternative 40.Qb6+ checkmates equally quickly (40…Ka8 41.Qb7 checkmate or 40…Kxc8 41.Qc7 checkmate) as does 40.Nd7+ Kxc8 41.Qc7 checkmate.

Bent Larsen – Bent Kolvig
Nimzowitsch Memorial
Copenhagen, 1960

White to Play

Larsen could trade two rooks for the queen and a pawn here with 18.Rxc7+ but he prefers to checkmate the king with 18.Qxa7! Black resigned (1-0) as 19.Qa8 checkmate will follow whether Black accepts the rook sacrifice or not.

King Hunt

Bent Larsen – Mario Bertok
Zagreb, 1965

White to Play

Bertok has high hopes of promoting his b-pawn to a second queen, but Larsen has a forced checkmate from this position. 54.Qf8+ Qg7 55.g5+ and Black resigned (1-0) due to 55…Kh5 56.Bf3+ Kxh4 57.Qf4 checkmate.

Using the Pin

Bent Larsen – Miguel Colon Romero
San Juan, 1969

White to Play

This game started with Larsen’s trademark 1.b3. The white king is under fire and Black’s powerful threat of 39…Qc2+ must be catered for. Larsen forced checkmate with 39.Qc6+! which takes advantage of the pin on the d-pawn by the rook. Black resigned here. The prettiest line from this position is 39…Kd8 40.Rh8+ Qf8 41.Rxf8+ Ke7 42.Nxg6 checkmate.

Clearing the Line

Bent Larsen – F. Martinez Ibrahim
San Juan, 1969

White to Play

This is an easier example. White checkmates by offering a knight sacrifice to clear the line for queen. 33.Nh6+ and Black resigned. 33…gxh6 34.Qf8 its instant checkmate and 33…Kh8 34.Qf8+ Ng8 35.Qxg8 is checkmate again (as are both 35.Qxg7 and 35.Bxg7).

The game also started with 1.b3 and the influence of the queen’s bishop along the long diagonal is clear to see.

Queenless Checkmate

Bent Larsen – Murray Chandler
Hastings, 1987

White to Play

This is one of Larsen’s greatest games from his latter years. The unusual distribution of material is typical of his style, and here he picks out a wonderful checkmate with… well, this is one for you to try! Hover over SOLUTION below to see the answer.


Chessable Courses

There are many more beautiful checkmating patterns in the
course, The
Checkmate Patterns Manual
, by International Master John Bartholomew and
CraftyRaf. This course won third place in the Chessable Awards for 2020.

There is a shortened, free version of the course here.

See also:

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