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Bent Larsen celebrates his 70th birthday tomorrow. An idol for his combative chess and equally fiery personality, the Great Dane was a tournament world champion if ever there was one. (He even had a prize named for him at the 2005 US Championship.) His risky play was poorly suited for long matches, but he outstripped Fischer, Spassky, and his other peers when it came to tournament titles. Viva Bent! I spoke with Larsen several times in Buenos Aires, where he resides with his Argentine wife. He was/is still passionate about chess, but disgusted with how age and bouts of ill health have decreased his acumen. He made an even score in the 2004 Pinamar tournament. Of course he drew only one game of eleven!

After the initial 10 minutes explaining that I'm not joking about what I do for a living, I often spend time talking about how top-level chess is a young person's game today. The statistical peak is similar to that of tennis. If you feel your chess has declined with age, please share your thoughts.


Meant to post that yesterday, started it and forgot after going out to dinner. Sorry, Bent!

Mig, Would you be so kind posting the interview with Bent? Don't really see many interviews with him in print. Thanks and keep up the good work! Feel bad
that you had to have your ears assaulted to get a story with those chess gals;-) Bruce

No interviews, just casual conversation at tournaments. I wasn't writing on chess the first time we met in Mar del Plata in, I think 1995. We were both playing in the tournament. The next time was in 1998. Not sure why I didn't talk to him on the record, but the opportunity didn't arise. I know he wasn't very well at the time, although it didn't stop him from tying for first!

Bent was a great player to follow, sorry that he's not able to be so active now. I've noticed that it's harder to learn now (age 38) but I'm still able to improve my play.

I'm 41, and I have finally got my FIDE rating over 2200 (2201 to be exact). Of course, this may be due to inflation. I have the impression that I was much sharper 20 years ago, but I knew diddly squat about endings.

Lastly, about Bent Larsen. His book of games (50 Selected games?) is wonderful. Its a pity the last game is from 1969. I know he wrote some more books in Danish, but they were never translated. Hint to publishers!

I suspect only the top end chess players would notice a decline in their ability similar to the way an Olympic runner would notice he or she can no longer set the times they used to. A 45 year old casual runner though may still be running their circuit in the same time or even better times than he/she were doing 25 years ago. These runners, like most of us casual chess players, have not pushed themselves to the limit so there is always room for improvement if desired.

My chess memory is not as good as it was 25 years ago but that may be because I took 15 years off, and I've only started chess up again in the past two years. If our casual runner took 15 years off and then tried to run again they would certainly notice a decline especially if they suffered a myocardial infarction. It does not mean the decline was from age, just from disuse.

Granted, at some point we will notice a decline in at least physical ability if not mental ability but I believe the decline happens far later than what we suppose. Most people rust out from inactivity far too early then blame the rust on age. It seems we expect to decline, then look for decline, then just give up, 'cos, afterall, you can't fight age.

Mig, got any links to some of Bent Larsen's best tournament games through the years?

Nothing Google can't find faster. Don't know of any offhand. I'll take this opportunity for a smooth plug by saying this week's Black Belt uses his games for the tactics visualization section...

I had a short conversation with Bent yesterday, who still seems to be going strong.

For once ill be very oldfashioned and recommend not studying his game via the net, but to get a copy of his " 50 seleced games"

Not only does one get an impression on Bents understanding of chess, but his personal wit as well.

Sadly it is out of print in English and not easy to find. Keene's outfit has an overpriced reprint, but I haven't seen it so can't speak of the quality. It's just called "Best Games of Chess" in English. There is also "Master of counterattack". I believe the content is the same as the original "Selected games 48-69".

Great book. I went over it recently when looking for good quotes from Larsen regarding drawishness when I wrote the article about the Larsen Prize at the US Championship.

I can't resist to mention my total admiration for Bent's book and idea "Zoom 001 - Zero Hour for Operative Opening Models".

I wasted my own youth trying to learn chess by learning theory lines by heart. In the end I stopped playing at all at age 19 or so.

When I returned to the 64 squares at age 35 I found ZOOM 001 (still possible to buy in Scandinavia) which is more a less a comprehensive opening book without theory! Learn by games and pattern recognition, not theory! is the books mantra and it is just lovely.

Time for someone to write "ZOOM 002"?

Jens Petersson
Stockholm, Sweden

Just want to say that I love Bent Larsen too, very much.

One of my best memories from my chessplaying days is from North Bay, Canada 1995, when Bent, myself and some more players shared a townhouse. We'd make sandwiches and salads, open a bottle of wine and let Bent take over the conversation. What a great man!

Yermo...was that the event that was held at Nipissing University/Canadore College?? Since I lived a 5 minute walk away I'd drop by to see what was going on, but at the time I was not following most of the modern chess players too closely...although I was cheering on Kevin Spraggett. Now I find out that Bent Larsen was there too and I missed him!! I would have recognized Bent Larsen's name from when I studied his games years prior.

The first time I met Larsen was in a banquet in 1997, I took my copy of "Bent larsen: The fighter" and he signed it "To Pedro, the fighter". :-)

The last time I saw him was last December 2005, in a smaller dinner, when he showed a small audience of correspondence chess players how he beat Hugo Spangenberg with Black some years ago, in a nice game he was lost but he pklayed psychologically to make Hugo play a certain number of moves Larsen had seen and which amde him win. Then he signed two magazines for some Danish friends. A great meeting!

Yes, that's the event.

In 1997 just a few days before the danish campionship a group of friends held a dinner for Bent in a bar they owned a that time. His wife was there too. We were about 40 - 50 chessplayers and after the meal Bent held a small speech and played a 2 game rapid match with Copenhagen chesslegend Jørgen Hvenekilde. Bent won 1½-½ and ca. 50$! During the games the audience cheered like at a ball-game and made comments to the game. We all got rather p...It´was a great evening!

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Competitive chess players typically peak by age 43, but top players’ skills decline with age at slower rates than those of less accomplished players. It is true that older players have stored more knowledge than their younger counterparts, but their ability to activate that knowledge slows with age. The good news is that the age of peak playing has increased since similar studies conducted in 1986 by Arpad Elo, suggesting that as a population we are aging better. This means that a master player at 65 will still play as well as when he was 21. Hope this news will encourage any avid chess players in their 40s!
Brandon - http://www.doubledowncasino.com

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on March 3, 2005 4:54 PM.

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