Mig 
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Larsen on Draws

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To keep the Bent Larsen love-fest going, here is what he wrote about his style and draws in general. (His book, out of print, has three titles. 50 Selected Games, Selected Games of Chess 1948-69, and Master of Counter-Attack. That unnecessary last thanks to the 92 Batsford edition.)

What Larsen wrote 30 years ago is truer now than ever. It's ironic to see him worrying that elite players played too often when we're currently talking about how they don't play very much these days.

I guess I must be called an aggressive player, because I don't like draws! If you look at the scores of the tournaments I have entered, it is quite clear that I have had fewer draws than the average. Again, I do not like the tactic of playing for a draw with Black and for a win with White. In my opinion it makes no sense to praise a master for not losing any games, if he has taken for instance fifth place in the tournament. In most cases he has played with too much caution and too little inspiration, his games have been uninteresting to the public, and many of his opponents have regarded the game against the 'peace-maker' as a welcome rest during an exhausting tournament.

Naturally, it is a different story if the winner of the tournament has avoided losses. To gather enough points for first place he has probably had to take certain risks in some of the games. All the same to go through unbeaten shows class! A good example was Korchnoi's victory in the Mallorca tournament, 1968. But, occasionally, it is more a question of accident to remain unbeaten or lose only a single game, as I have mentioned in connection with my play in Havana, 1967.

Only very seldom have I managed to avoid losses in the big tournaments but on the other hand I do not lose so many half-points! Only very rarely have I drawn half my games in a tournament. If a chess tournament is to be of interest to the public, the attitude of the masters must not be too peaceable. But no doubt part of the problem is that many of the leading masters play too much. To the tournaments they want to enter one has to add those tournaments which their chess federation or some other authority more or less forces them to play.

19 Comments

In particular, he didn't draw a single game in his Candidates Match against Fischer in 1971, all his games were decisive. Viva Larsen!

Murali:

I don't like to flame people, and perhaps you meant your comment as a jest. But I feel the comment, on its face, is simply too mean-spirited to go unremarked.

Larsen was a great chess fighter whose outstanding career was of much greater significance than the lopsided score in one tension-filled match. You might consider showing some respect for a great chess master.

A remark for which I will surely go to Hell: When we were discussing the Larsen Prize at the 2005 US Championship, I said that maybe it should go to Sagalchik for her 0-6 score at the time.

It's Larsen's tragedy to be remembered for the 6-0, the way Bronstein is for the drawn match with Botvinnik. I suppose it's fate for so many greats to be remembered for disasters. Poor Keiseritzky comes to mind too.

I was looking at the historical Linares review at http://www.chessbase.com/newsdetail.asp?newsid=2213 and unless I'm mistaken, Leko could be on his way to do what nobody else have ever managed, going through a whole Linares tournament with only draws.

Spassky in 1985, Leko in 2000 and 2001, and Kasparov in 1998 and 2004 were close with only one decisive game.

However, I now realize that Larsen's result in 1983 was even more spectacular. No draws! Seems to be the only case of 100% decisive games, and I'm pretty sure it won't be repeated in the near future, unless I get invited.

Spassky in 85 was by far the worst of these. His ten draws AVERAGED 22 moves!

I don't know about giving too much credit for not drawing any games when you lose nine and win two!

Harding-Simpole recently reprinted Larsen's games collection under the Batsford title: _Bent Larsen's Best Games of Chess: Master of Counter-Attack_. It's available new from the Barnes and Noble and Amazon websites. Highly recommended.

I do not think that Larsen is remembered for 0-6.
As contrary, it is Fischer who is remembered for beating Larsen 6-0. :-)
In 1970, Larsen played on the first board for the world team in the match vs USSR, because he had outstanding achievements in previous years. He almost certainly was the strongest player of the world at some point in the end of 1960s.

I do not remember Larsen for his 0-6 loss either. Instead, I remember him for his quote, "long variation, wrong variation." It is almost a tautology. It is applicable to nearly all games I know of, video games, pc games, checkers, go, etc. It is applicable in military science too. Also applicable to software development: long code, wrong code. Moreover, it is consistent with the principle of Occam's Razor.

These discussions about Larsen's legacy raise the more general and fascinating question about how one measures the greatness of a chessplayer, or more generally, anyone. I think that question is, like any question pertaining to the worth of a person in history, something that can gain (or lose, if information is lost) meaning and perspective with time. It really isn't a simple thing, the legacy of individuals and how they impact and influence one another.

If a chessplayer as accomplished as Fischer has been came along and made a comment like, "Larsen was more influential and more of an inspiration for me." Such a comment may seem strange, but a comment like, "Nimzovich was more of an influence on me than Emanuel Lasker" would not seem strange if Alekhine said it, even though Nimzovich's professional accomplishments paled next to Lasker's.


"Again, I do not like the tactic of playing for a draw with Black and for a win with White" -- this is one of the things that makes Larsen so unique, in my eyes. If you alter this quote to say, "I do not like the tactic of playing for equality with Black and to preserve the initiative as White," it would be seen as an ultra-unorthodox statement and probably deemed (rightly?) incorrect.

Hey, at least he didn't get any titles taken away from him, didn't have his lifelihood threatened and wasn't subject for political prosecution. Unlike some other 0-6s.

Isn't that Taimanov you're so slyly referring to?
Titles taken away, life threats, political prosecution....
Then you must know something I don't know, cause I only lived in Leningrad for 30 years and played Taimanov like 5 times in the 70's and 80's. He didn't seem to be suffering too much.

Nice piece on draws by Larsen! Hopefully Vladimir Drawnik, oops, Kramnik, will read it - if he's healthy and on one of those spare rest days... :-P

I'll always remember Larsen for 25) Qxg6!! in Larsen-Petrosian, Santa Monica, 1966. What a game.

Yermo,

I hate to argue with you over somebody who you know personally--obviously you have a great advantage. I am only familiar with Taimanov from his memoirs. I got the feeling that he is not an easy person to discombobulate--good-natured, emotionally sanguine. Again I may be wrong. So I don't think he was overwhelmingly fazed, nor did I say he was. He does talk about being accused of helping Fischer, having ability to play abroad threatened and having title taken away. He also mentions being saved from further prosecution, ironically, by Larsen's 0-6 loss, which showed that Bobby Fischer didn't need any help.

I admire Larsen and hate the excess of draws in modern chess. But you have to remember that in the late sixties international tournaments were a mix of GMs, IMs, and even NMs. The elite then was a dozen of soviets, Fischer, Gligoric, Portish and a couple more. All of them won a lot of games of course over the weakest and almost amateur rest of the field. After the match Fischer-Spassky there were a lot more strong professional players and was the begining of GMs only tournamentes. That make players more conservative since they have to conserve energy and make money. So I think, it explains, not justify, the current state of affairs.

Adams gets today's Larsen prize. He went down fighting and deserves credit for his contribution to Kasparov's fine effort. If you want fighting chess, then you've got to praise the fighters, even when they come up short.

Hi Charles,

Although, as you say, "in the late sixties international tournaments were a mix of GMs, IMs, and even NMs", many of those "non-GMs" were of GM strength. Just imagine Rash** Nezhmetdinov and so many interesting, strong players who did not get the GM title, whilst nowadays I hear of so many unknown players and besides their "first-time-heard" surname the fatidic letters "GM"... :-P

If you examine Fischer-Taimanov you see a guy who just cracked and got badly battered. If you look at Fischer-Larsen you see a guy who made his defeat worse by fighting like a cornered wildcat. Which would you rather be? Viva Larsen!

But for goodness sake, pay the players more to win and they will! If organizers would simply make it more profitable to win half your games than to take first with a bucket of draws then we would see exciting chess and the rules would not need to be changed. Top players play to win tournaments because they are not being paid to win games. Pay them to win games and they will play to win games.

This is a bit late, but it's as good a place as any to mention that Larsen's excellent book on the 1978 Karpov-Korchnoi match in Baguio was one of the best chess books I'd ever seen, and was as instrumental as anything else in getting me interested in chess. Thanks, Mr. Larsen, for your wit and engaging writing.

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    This page contains a single entry by Mig published on March 8, 2005 1:38 AM.

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