My Bookshelf: "Larsen's Selected Games of Chess"

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | 2012. nov. 29.
  • | 14872 megtekintés
  • | 25 hozzászólás

A reader commented on my last article asking to review Larsen’s Selected Games of Chess, and I thought it would be a good idea, because this is one of my favorite books.


Bent Larsen was a Danish grandmaster and – being a few years ahead of Fischer – the West’s best hope to compete with the Soviets. He is famous for his imaginative and rather eccentric play. At his highest he was third in the world by rating. He played multiple candidates matches for the world title.

This book is a simple game collection with some autobiographical prose at the start of each chapter. It is chronological, so you can see his development as a chess player.

I think players of any level could enjoy and benefit from this book, from almost complete beginners up to the top players. The notes to the games are simple yet meaningful.

Where I got it

This is a tough one, because I can’t really remember. All I know is that it has a connection to Alaska in it – on the first page is written the name “Bill McGeary”. McGeary is a master who at some point lived in Alaska. In fact, he was the first master I ever played, in probably my third or fourth tournament – I was rated about 1300 at the time. We played in the last round in a small tournament in Anchorage. He needed only a draw to win the tournament, but considering that he was rated 900 points higher than me, you would expect him to play for a win. Some time early in the game, I was nervous and scratching a scab on my arm. It started to bleed slightly, so I went to wash it off. Then McGeary, apparently disturbed by this, decided to offer me a draw. Maybe I should try that more often.

Most likely I bought the book at Title Wave Used Books in Anchorage, where I got many chess books.

What’s good about it

The best quality of this book is that it lets the games speak for themselves. The comments are very apt and cleanly explain the games. At certain points there is a fair amount of analysis, but remember that Larsen was the one who said “long variation – wrong variation”. The student learns mostly ideas and positional themes from this book – in particular, unusual positional themes. Here is an excerpt that illustrates this (I have changed the descriptive notation to algebraic):

Black has Rook and Bishop against Queen, normally not quite enough. But the position is not normal. Notice what few possibilities there are for White to do something active. There are practically no weak points in the black camp, and if White plays passively he will find himself in a very difficult position after Black's doubling of Rooks on the b-file. He can just manage to protect his b-pawns, but then a black Rook can go to b4, attacking the white e-pawn, and perhaps next moving to d4, vacating b4 for the other Rook. A breakthrough with ...c4 is also possible. 

Black's 19th move completely ruined the white King's-side pawns. On the other hand it allowed White on free move, of which he now takes advantage for a counter-attack, sacrificing a pawn to get a passed pawn.

(White now played 21.b4 to create a passed a-pawn - which was his best chance - but in the end Larsen won a fantastic game.)

How it impacted me

Essentially I think this book helped my positional understanding greatly. There are lots of sharp games and a few quiet games, but throughout all of it Larsen finds subtle positional factors which prove brutally decisive in the tactical complications.

An Excerpt

The following is part of game 21, Larsen's game as white against T.D. van Scheltinga. We will start after move 27:

At this moment the Dutch master Spanjaard entered the tournament hall. he askd Donner if anything interesting was going on, and the grandmaster said 'Yes, Larsen has a lost game!'

I am sure that this was a correct evaluation of my position. Up to now Black has played better in this game, but the situation is still so difficult for both sides that it can be useful to take advice from the words of a famous French general: "My centre is broken, my flanks are retreating, I attack!'

Spanjaard sat down right next to our table - he is very shortsighted - to see the drama.

Against 28.Qh6 Black has several good continuations. The simplest is 28...Qf7 29.e6 Bxh6 with a favourable ending, and 29...Qf6 is even stronger. Looking at such variations as these you realize that something very special must be done. 27...Bg4 is a threat. Maybe, quietly sacrifice the exchange and play on. There is a pawn for it, but it is not inviting. 

However, fantastic combinations are hidden in this position. In the middle of all the misery it must be remembered that White's position is not hopeless. At this juncture he is a pawn up: he has strong center pawns: the black King is not very well protected by pawns. 

Slowly you see the counterchances - and play...

Any downsides?

It’s hard to think of real serious downsides to this book. It was well written, with a great selection of nice games, and genuine comments. One technical downside is that it is written in descriptive notation (i.e. P-KNt4) which could be a problem for some. I don’t know if there is an algebraic version.

What should you eat while reading this book?

My family is mostly Danish, so I am tempted to say “aebelskiver” or some other Danish food that we used to eat. But I think just a bottle of red wine would be most ideal. 


  • 4 év ezelőtt


    quote-Excellent choice of books so far and very nicely written reviews.  The "what to eat" segment adds a nice unique touch.

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    You made a mistake for the opponents in the second diagram. It is Bent Larsen versus van Scheltinga, Beverwijk 1964. However you indicated all the comments of Bent Larsen. I like the book of Bent Larsen.        

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    I bet "Zurich '53" is next.

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    MrProfit, my book is the original one copyright 1969. Since Bent Larsen's forword is dated autumn 1969, my book was published as early as you could possibly publish it. Thus it must be first edition.

    Anyway, algebraic notation has always been used in Denmark as far as I know, and it has existed or been been around for ages. It was developped by Philipp Stamma who lived c.1705–55. Reference:

    Descriptive notation has mainly been used in English and Spanish speaking countries according to Wikipedia. References:

    Algebraic notation:

    Descriptive notation:

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    BlueKnightShade I don't dispute that the English version is a translation from the original Danish version. What I was saying is the orginal Danish version was probably written in descriptive notation and would have later been rewritten as algebraic in Danish. I say this because at the time of the orginal publication descriptive notation was the standard language. Algebraic Notation did not become standard until the late 70's which was several years after the book was first published.

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    The book has been republished severel times under different names. A few years ago the book was republished with some extra materiel, games and articles. But I am not sure this version was published in English. Some places this book is listed as volume 1. Indicating that a volume 2 was planned with games from the later years. Unfortunately that never happened before Larsen passed away.

    I love this book and I do beveive it is one of the best game collection books.

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    MrProfit, I took another look at the book and also googled the matter. The book was original written in Danish with algebraic notation. The English version is a translation.

    You can see it here on

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    I first learned to read chess in descriptive notation.  Maybe that is why I don't see what the big deal is for algebraic.  They are both pretty simple to understand.  Or maybe I'm just old.  

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    Sounds like a good book

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    While I really appreciate the contribution that Bent Larsen provided to the world of chess, the mere fact that this book is only written in descriptive notation has always prevented me from reading it.

    Also BlueKnightShade your copy in Danish that is written in algebraic notation would have been translated from the original descriptive notation version since descriptive notation was the standard chess language at the time the book was written.

  • 4 év ezelőtt



  • 4 év ezelőtt


    any other books you would recommend? i'm intrigued to know what your book collection looks like

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    that game between larsen and schetinga is amazing.hats off to bent larsen. larsen is a great chess mind.he,too,is my favorite.

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    Larsen's book is an absolute classic.  These days too many know Larsen only for losing to Fischer in the Canidates match and taking the famous beating from Spassky in the 1970 U.S.S.R. vs the world match. Though people tend to forget that he won the board one match 2 and a half to 1 and a half when he won game 3 vs. Spassky and then beat Stein in the final game.

    He was a legitimately great player as well as a fantastic writer.  His win vs. Petrosian in the second Piatogarsky Cup is the "Evergreen" game of its era in my view. Also, before the debacle in the Canidate's match (and let's face it, everyone was losing to Bobby in that period) his score vs. Fischer was two wins, four losses, and one draw.  Did you know that he  handed Anatoly Karpov one of his rare defeats as world champion in Montreal 1979 and did it with black using the Center Counter defense?

    Excellent choice of books so far and very nicely written reviews.  The "what to eat" segment adds a nice unique touch.

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    Nice stuff there! I wish someone would reprint Larsen’s games collection so a new generation could enjoy it! I would very much like to hear an in depth review from a titled player on all the works of Eugene Znosko-Borovsky

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    Then McGeary, apparently disturbed by this, decided to offer me a draw. Maybe I should try that more often.


    Great Review!

  • 4 év ezelőtt

    IM Silman

    During the final years of Larsen's life (he was living in Buenos Aires, Argentina), I tried hard to convince him to write another book of his life and games. Sadly, it didn't work out. In my view, Tal and Larsen were the two greatest chess writers ever - they both wrote with a very rare mix of authority, creativity, charm, energy, and humor.

    I view Larsen's Selected Games of Chess to be one of the top three chess books ever written (along with Tal's two classics). It was later reprinted by Batsford (a paperback) with the title, Bent Larsen Master of Counter-Attack.

    Bryan Smith should be thanked for bringing this Larsen masterpiece to the public's attention.

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    "What should you eat while reading this book?"


  • 4 év ezelőtt


    IMBryanSmith wrote:

    "One technical downside is that it is written in descriptive notation (i.e. P-KNt4) which could be a problem for some. I don’t know if there is an algebraic version."

    I didn't even know that there existed a book by Bent Larsen with descriptive notation. I have "Larsen's Selected Games of Chess" with algebraic notation, but my book is in Danish. I guess that it was original written in Danish with algebraic notation, but that is a plain guess, and then it was probably translated into English and the notation translated into descriptive notation, maybe because there was an audience for that kind of notation. Who knows?

    Anyway in Danish chess books the notation is always algebraic, I haven't seen one that wasn't.

    Bent Larsen's style of writing is really great not just in this book but also in other books he wrote.

  • 4 év ezelőtt


    Great review. How about Chess Fundamentals by Capablanca

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