B. Larsen - B. Spassky


Bent Larsen (2775) - Boris V. Spassky (2800) 
Belgrade, (YUG)   USSR versus The World Match;  (2.1)    1970  

[A.J. Goldsby I] 

This game is  NOT  in Chernev's book.  ( [The] "1000 Best Short Games of Chess," by Irving Chernev. )  


However, if this game were in that book, this is the intro I IMAGINE  Chernev would have given it: 

"We are already familiar with the games of this player ... he has played many beautiful and exciting "parties." (Esp. his showpiece with Aftonov.) However this may be his best OTB achievement ... in a career of monumental efforts. This game really sizzles, there are both threatened sacks and ones that actually occur. The final combination is as brilliant as anything in the annals of chess." 


GM Andy Soltis has written an excellent book, "The 100 Best Chess  Games of The 20th Century, Ranked." This is an exceptional book by an exceptional author. (Perhaps this book is the crown jewel in his very long and exceptionally distinguished writing career!) This game is the  ONLY  miniature included in Andy Soltis's book! (That in itself is a tremendous statement!!) Not only this, but the game is ranked number eighteen. (# 18) To be ranked in the 'Top 25' of the Best Games of all time, [period] is an honor I am sure any chess-player would appreciate. 

This is also Game # 59 in (The Mammoth Book Of) "The World's Greatest Chess Games." (By GM John Nunn, Gm J. Emms, and FM G. Burgess.) 
This is a fantastic book containing some of the best chess analysis I have ever seen. And the authors definitely pick out some of the best chess games ever played, then subject them to a level and depth of analysis (and annotation) few authors have even attempted before. I also consider this book to be, "One of The TEN BEST Chess Books Ever Written." (!!!) [ See my web page for more details on the best chess books. )

Let me just say this is one of the most brilliant games ever played. I remember how stunned I was when I first saw it. And it has lost little of its luster and appeal. Easily one of the most brilliant games in the annals of chess. 


This game is in several books that have picked, 
"The Most Beautiful Games of All Time." 


"One of the best games of the last 50 years," writes IM Andy Soltis. 
(In his book, "The Best Chess of Boris Spassky.")

I personally believe this game has got to be in the list of, 
"The Ten Most Beautiful Short Games of Chess Ever Played."


(I have used parenthesis and color coding to denote the variations, sub-variations, sub, sub-variants, etc. While this seems to be a little unwieldy, it has got to be better than the ChessBase method, which features an almost endless use of parenthesis. I think anyone should be able to follow this game. {And the variants.})   

See this game on the "Chess Games" website. 

1. b3, (!?) 

The Nimzovich-Larsen Opening. Larsen's own opening. When he was 
one of the world's Top 5 Players, (The late 1960's); he used this opening 
to routinely crush average GM's. 

Although he does not do too well with it here, Larsen has won many fine 
games with this opening.  Fischer  also used it to crush several strong 
players the later in the same year, most notably GM Henrique Mecking. 

[Larsen's favorite move was: 1.c4, (The English Opening.);  with which 
he won many fine games. ]

2. Bb2 Nc63. c4!?, Introducing a Sicilian-type Pawn structure. 
(With colors reversed.) 

[Maybe safer is: 3.e3!?= ] .

;  Black develops normally. 

4. Nf3!?
,  ('?!') Very sharp and some what risky, but no less so 
than say the "Alekhine's Defence." (Probably 4. d3 was more prudent.)

Trying to entice the KP to advance. 
(But this is a double-edged strategy.) 

[ Best is 4.e3, "=" - LIFE Master  A.J. Goldsby I.  
Or 4...d5; 5.cxd5 Nxd5; "and the position is unclear." - GM John Emms. 
(In the book, "The World's Greatest Chess Games.");  
Or 4.g3 d5; "=/+" GM B. Larsen in the Bulletin. 
(The bulletin of the Match.) ]

5. Nd4 Bc56. Nxc6;  Swapping off a set of pieces. 
(Not a bad idea when you have a cramped position - as White 
is currently experiencing.) 

[ Bad is 6.e3? Bxd4; 7.exd4 d5; ("/+") - GM B. Larsen in the Bulletin. 
Or 6.Nc2!?
d5!; 7.cxd5 Qxd5; 8.Bxf6 gxf6; 9.Nc3 Qf5, "=/+" 
(Maybe - "/+") ... "is good for Black." - IM Soltis. 
Or 10.Ne3
Bxe3; 11.dxe3 Be6; 12.b4!?, The computer gives 
this as nearly equal. (But the endgame may be better for Black.)
 (Or 12.Rc1?! Qa5; 13.Qc2 f5; ("=/+") Black is clearly  
 {at least!} slightly better.) 
The main idea is: 12...Nxb4; 13.Qa4+ Nc6; 14.Qxe4
But after the continuation: 14...Qxe4; 15.Nxe4 0-0-0;  ("=/+")   
Black is at least a little better. (16. NxP/f6?, Nb4!; "-/+".) ]

6...dxc6!;  Breaking the rules,  ("Always capture towards the CENTER!"); 
but the move pressures the squares along the newly half-opened d-file.
 (Nearly all the squares on the d-file are now double attacked.) 

7. e3 Bf58. Qc2 Qe79. Be2!?,  Maybe an unnecessary move. 

[ 9.d4!? exd3; 10.Bxd3 Bxd3; 11.Qxd3 Rd8, ("=/+") 
Or 9.Nc3! 0-0-0; 10.a3! Bd6; 11.b4 c5; 12.b5 Qe6!?; 13.h3 h5; ~ 
{Unclear?} Maybe - "=" {A.J.G.};  Or 9.a3!?; (Unclear?)   This move was 
mentioned as a possibility by both Spassky AND Larsen after the game. ]

; ("=/+" or "/+") Black clearly has the better practical chances, 
as he has developed all of his pieces. (And on fairly good squares.) 

(But Larsen played positions like this all the time and beat people 
with them. Like Lasker, he seemed to enjoy getting an inferior position 
then playing to win it. This was a routine experience for Larsen in the 
last half of the decade of the 1960's when he was maybe the # 2 
or # 3 player in the World.)

10. f4?!
;  (Maybe - '?')  Trying to gain space on the King-side and block 
key lines for White's pieces. (Good idea, wrong application.) 

[10.a3!?; {Unclear?}  Or 10.Bxf6 Qxf611.Nc3, ("=/+") - GM B. Spassky 
... in the Match Bulletin. ]

,  Maybe - '!!' 

(Soltis, Emms, and many other GM's have given this move 
at least one 
[a single]  exclam.) 

Spassky is already planning mayhem. 
{He already threatens possible sacrifices on d2 and e3.}

11. g3
,  This might already be forced. 
(For one thing, it stops Black from playing ...Qh4+.) 

(White already is having a tough time finding a good defense.) 


 [  I analyzed the following line, with the help of the computer, (Junior 6.0.): 
If 11.Bxg7!? Rhg8; 12.Qb2, This may be the best move here. 
( GM Emms gives the variation of: 12.Bb2 Bxe3!; 13.dxe3,  
 Or 13.Bxg4 Rxg4; 14.dxe3 Qh4+; 15.Kf1 Rxg2!!; 16.Qxg2 
 (If 16.Kxg2 Bh3+; 17.Kg1 Qe1#.)   16...Rd1+; 17.Ke2 Bg4+; 
and Black is winning easily. ("-/+")
; 14.Qc3 Qh4+; 15.g3 Rxg3!;  And Black is winning. ("-/+") )

Or Black can play 12...Kb8; 13.Bxg4 Qh4+; 14.g3 Qxg4; 15.Bf6 Rd3
,   - 0.45/11  16...Bxe3!; ("-/+")  Black has great winning attack. 

Or 11.0-0!? Rxd2!!;   (If 11...Qh4!?; - Bulletin.  12.h3 h5; "--->" 
"with a strong attack," according to Larsen.) 
, Probably the best move here. 
( 12.Qxd2? Bxe3+; 13.Kh1 Bxd2; ("-/+") )  12...Nxe3; 13.Qc1 Nxf1+
Qh4!, "--->"  Black obviously has a very strong attack. {A.J.G.} 
Qxh2; 16.Ke1 e3;  ... "leads to total annihilation." - GM J. Emms. 
We continue the analysis: 17.Nf1 Qf2+; 18.Kd1 Rd8+;  with an obvious 
and easy win for Black. ("-/+");

Or 11.Bxg4 Qh4+; 12.g3 Qxg4; ("Black is clearly better," or "/+".) 
...  "leaves White pathetically weak on the light squares." - GM J. Emms. 

;   Probably - '!!'    A very subtle move. 
(And a move not even picked by many of the strongest chess 
analysis engines. Also a move missed by MANY Masters!) 

This is both an extremely simple move and an incredibly complex one. 

Let me explain. The basic idea is pretty simple. Black wants to play 
the basic "lever" of Pawn at h5 to h4 and capture on g3, opening a 
lot of lines on the K-side. (And making the KR on an open file without 
ever having moved!) 

The basic idea is simple, but it results in massive complications that 
not even the best computers of today can solve completely. And it 
takes an incredibly alert tactician to spot such a possibility. 

[ If 11...Rxd2!?; (The Bulletin of the match.) 12.Nxd2 Nxe3; 13.Qc3 Rd8; 
"and Black has a very strong attack," or "--->". ]

12. h3
,  Not much choice here, Larsen must run this pesky Knight off. 

[ Soltis gives some of the fireworks that could have happened after  
the move, 12. Nc3!? I.e., 12.Nc3 Rxd2!!; 13.Kxd2,  

{ Or 13.Qxd2 Bxe3; 14.Qc2, 
GM's Soltis & Emms give the variation: 14.Qd1 Nf2!
; 15.Qc2 Nxh1; 
;  Soltis (and Emms) gives this move an exclam!  

{A better move is: 16...Qc5!; ("-/+") with a winning attack.} 
; 18.Bg2 e3!; Black is winning. ("-/+")   14...Bf2+;  15.Kd2
( 15.Kf1 Ne3+; 16.Kxf2 Nxc2;  "-/+" ), 15...e3+; & Black wins. ("-/+") }

13...Bxe3+; 14.Kd1 Rd8+; 15.Ke1 Bf2+!; 16.Kf1 Ne3+
Nxc2; ("-/+"), and Black wins easily!  ] 


12...h4!!;  Maybe - '!!!'   Spassky attempts to pry open the h-file. 

Another strong player - nearly of GM strength, and part of the Soviet contingent - 
is supposedly have reported to his bosses that Spassky had just blundered a piece 
and now was lost. (I heard this story from an expatriated Russian - who was present 
at this match
- at a World Open one year.) Spassky is offering to sacrifice TWO minor 
pieces with this move! (And of course he will follow this up with a Rook.) 

IM Bernard Cafferty
(in his book, "Boris Spassky:  Master of Tactics."); writes: 
"After this fine move, the hall bubbled over with enthusiasm."  
(The spectators had to be continually quieted.)
Cafferty continues: "B.H. Wood and I, who were sitting in the very 
front rows; feverishly analyzed the acceptance of this offer on a portable,
magnetic set. (Especially the variation after 13. Bxg4.) After some initial 
skepticism our conclusion was that Black should win, but I must admit ...
- in all honesty - that we did not find Spassky's  coup de grace  ...
at move 14." 

"It is incredibly difficult even to visualize Black's spectacular move 
 at this stage, never mind work it out to a forced win. But this is exactly  
 what Spassky does!" - GM John Emms. 
( Black had to calculate ... accurately! ... over 10 moves ahead 
  in most variations. Some of the variations were incredibly 
convoluted! {A.J.G.} ) 

[ The computers give: 12...Nf6; 13.a3 Qe6; 14.b4 Bf8; ("=/+");  
Also possible was: 12...Rxd2!? ; 13.Nxd2 Nxe3 ; 14.Qc3 Rd8; "--->" 
("with a strong attack.") - GM John Nunn. ] 


13.hxg4,  White accepts the offer ... he might as well, 
there is little else he can do. (Esp. against the World Champion!)

[ Soltis analyzes: 13.Bxg4 Bxg4; 14.hxg4 hxg3; 15.Rg1 Rh2!?;  Maybe - '!'

(Several GM's miss - or severely underestimate - the following continuation. 15...Rh1!!;    
 Obviously the same idea as Spassky had in the game. 
; 17.Rg1 Qh4+; 18.Kd1, The best move here, I guess.
(Or 18.Ke2?! Qxg4+; 19.Ke1 Qg3+;  20.Ke2, Is this forced? 
( Or  White could try:  20.Kd1 Qf2; 21.Qxe4 Qxg1+; 22.Kc2 Qf2; ("-/+")

20...Qf3+;  21.Ke1 Be7!?; ("-/+") This wins for Black, but GM Emms 
 missed a better move!  
  {The better move is: 21...Bxe3!; ("-/+")}  
;  This seems to be the strongest, and the move picked by 
virtually all computers.
(The main idea is if RxQ/h1?; Black responds 
by capturing the Rook and promoting to a new Queen.) 

(Perhaps the GM's felt they needed  to "prevent the escape" of the White King, 
 by Kf2. But the analysis will show this is not necessary.) 

 (GM J. Emms gives the variation: 18...Qf2!?; (Instead of 18...Qh1!)  
   19.Qxe4 Qxg1+
; 20.Kc2 Qf2; 21.Qf5+ Kb8; 22.Qxc5!? g1Q;   
; 24.Bxg7 Qxg4; ("-/+"); and ... of course! ... 
    Black is winning easily.

(Or 19.Ke2? Qxg1; 20.Na3 Qh2; ("-/+"); Black wins easily. 
  19...Qxg1+; 20.Kc2 Qf2;  (Or 20...Bxe3!?; ("-/+"))
; 22.Qg5 Rd6!; ("/+")Black is probably winning. ("-/+") 

(Returning to the investigation of the main analysis {Soltis} line.)
, The only move? (There are not a lot of good alternatives here.) 
( GM J. Emms gives the variation: 16.Qc3!? Qh4; 17.Kd1, 
 (Or 17.Na3 Qxg4; and Black is probably winning.); 

; 18.Rxh1 Qxh1+; 19.Kc2 g2; 20.Na3 Qxa1;  
Bxa3!; ("-/+")
;  Or  16.Rxg3?! Qh4; ("-/+")
(Returning to the analysis of Qc1.) 16...Qh4; 17.Kd1 Bxe3!; ("-/+")

Or 13.Nc3!? hxg3!; "--->"  "... with an overwhelming attack for Black." ("-/+") ]  

;  Black has opened the h-file, one of the main ideas of the attack.

,  A seemingly good defense.  (Maybe the only one?) 

[The other alternative was clearly losing for Black. 14.Rxh8?! Rxh8
Rh1; 16.Nc3, ( 16.Ke2? Bxg4+;  and the computer says Black 
gives mate in around 4 moves. "-/+" )
  16...g2; ("-/+");  Black is winning, 
White cannot prevent his opponent from getting a second Queen. ]

;  A truly beautiful and shocking move. 
(And the move literally dozens of GM's failed to anticipate!!)

 GM J. Emms writes: "This move elevates this game onto an altogether 
 different plane. Black sacrifices a whole Rook simply to gain one tempo  
 to push his g-pawn. The one tempo, however, makes all the difference!"

[ Soltis writes: " White had banked on the possible defense of: 
; 15.Rg2 Qh1+; 16.Bf1 Bxg4; 17.Qxe4, "  
Soltis gives no further comment. 
But the computer says Black may still be winning.("-/+")  

GM J. Emms continues the analysis: 17...Rhe8; 18.Be5
{ Or 18.Qc2 Bxe3!; 19.dxe3 Rxe3+; ("-/+") }  
18...f6; ("-/+") 
19.Nc3, Black is clearly better, if not winning. 
(This is also the same analysis given by GM Bent Larsen in 
the Match Bulletin.) ]

15. Rxh1 g2
; ('!')   What all the sacrificing has been about. 

16. Rf1
,  Probably the best. 

[ White could have played: 16.Rg1 Qh4+; 17.Kd1 Qh1!;  ("-/+")
I reached this position analyzing with the computer, but Larsen also   
 gives it in the match bulletin. 
Qxg1+; 19.Kc2 Qe1!;  Obviously the strongest move. 
  (And missed by MOST  {really almost ALL}  commentators.) 

Soltis gives: 19...Qf2!?;  (as does GM J. Emms!)  20.gxf5 Qxe2!
Bb4!; ("-/+")
;  - GM Boris Spassky.
( The following analysis proves that Black is winning here: 
After 21...Bb4; 22.Qxb4 Qd3+; 23.Kd1 g1Q#; 
Also winning is: 21...Qd3+!?
; Analyzed in the match bulletin. 
; 23.Kc3 Bxe3(If 23...a5; - Bulletin. Then 24.Nc2! "=/+")  
; 25.Rd1 Rh8; ("-/+"); - GM Boris Spassky in the Match Bulletin.) 

(Returning to the main analysis line of: 
16. Rg1, Qh4+; 17. Kd1, Qh1!; 18. Qc3, Qxg1+; 19. Kc2, Qe1!)  
Qxe2; 21.Rg1 Bxe3!;  Black is obviously winning, and 
all the stronger programs agree on this. ("-/+") ]  

;   Usually when the Queen enters the attack, it is decisive. 

17. Kd1 gxf1Q+
White Resigns.  0 - 1.  

  [If you still need to see proof; the winning variation for Black is: 
18.Bxf1 Bxg4+; 19.Kc1[](19.Be2 Qh1#) 
20.Qd1 Qxd1#

In response to Issak Linder's third question, (Which game has had the greatest impact on you? 
Which game is your favorite, that is not your own?); Petrosian is to have said that he picked this game!  
 [Linder is a Russian Chess Historian.] 

This is game # 18 in GM A. Soltis's book, "The 100 Best Games of the 20th Century,  Ranked."  
It is also game # 59  in the most excellent book by GM John Nunn, GM John Emms, and FM Graham Burgess. 
{(The Mammoth Book Of) "The World's Greatest Chess Games."}

In writing this, I also consulted the book, "The Best Games of Boris Spassky," by GM Andy Soltis. 

After Sousse, 1967; Bobby Fischer was [reportedly] asked to pick the 50 prettiest games of chess ever played. I am not sure of all the games on that list, but this game was one of the ones that Fischer picked. (He must have added this game to the list at a later time, as this game was not played until 1970.) 


This game is a slightly shortened version of the game as it exists in my database.
(I have shortened it for publication.)

That version also contains virtually all the lines and notes in MCO (a repertoire) of the
Nimzovich - Larsen's Opening . {1. b3.}  (Plus a few quotes from other sources.)
If you would like a copy of that game to study, please contact me.

 (The last major update to this page was: June 2011.  Last save or edit on: Friday, July 22, 2011 11:36 PM .) 

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  Copyright A.J. Goldsby, 1975 - 2010. 
Copyright A.J. Goldsby, 2011.  All rights reserved. 

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