Classic Game – 17 move knock-out – Larsen – Spassky 1970

Larsen - 1. b3 or not 1. b3

See the game below for the solution!

Meet the Players

Many will know Boris Spassky from the famous 1972 world championship match with Bobby Fischer.

Larsen is lesser known but was a very prominent player during the same era.
He was #2 in the world outside the Soviet Union and is also well-known, like Mark Taimanov for being crushed 6-0 by Fischer in the 1971 Candidates Semi-Final. Larsen is another superb and well-regarded player, making Spassky's performance in this game once again a thing of superb ability.

Larsen shouldn't simply be relegated to the history books however. He was a prolific player, winning the Danish championship several times and was a well-respected and feared opponent on the circuit.


That feeling when your pet opening gets mercilessly taken apart!

For those fans of bold, position wide open, go for the throat chess, this is the game for you!

We saw Boris Spassky "blow the doors off" against Bronstein in the famous From Russia with Love game.

Here, Boris shows that against an obscure opening (but a sound one), Larsen had nowhere to run once the fireworks started - and did they!

1. b3 gets a bad reputation from this game but its record in the hands of Fischer and Nimzowitch was very favourable. White seeks to control the dark squares in the centre by utilising the long diagonal and following up with f4. Larsen doesn't quiet act quickly enough in this game and Spassky's control of the centre means it's a brutally short game.

The Game

[Event "USSR vs. Rest of the World"] [Site "Belgrade SRB"] [Date "1970.03.31"] [EventDate "1970.03.29"] [Round "2.1"] [Result "0-1"] [White "Larsen, Bent"] [Black "Spassky, Boris V"] [ECO "A01"] [PlyCount "34"] 1. b3 e5 2. Bb2 Nc6 3. c4 Nf6 4. Nf3 e4 5. Nd4 Bc5 6. Nxc6 {this is almost an idea taken from the earlier games of Nimzowitch in this line. White removes the c6-knight to maintain tighter control over d4 and e5} dxc6 7. e3 Bf5 8. Qc2 Qe7 9. Be2 O-O-O {Black's development is done and white is spending too long on getting the pawn structure just so} 10. f4 Ng4 11. g3 h5 12. h3 h4! {the resulting g pawn is lethal - if white was able to castle here, a lot of the tactics don't work} 13. hxg4 hxg3 14. Rg1 Rh1!! {deflecting the rook back to h1 to win a tempo!} 15. Rxh1 g2 16. Rf1 (16. Rg1 Qh4 17. Kd1 Qh2 {will win the house} 18. Rxg2 Qh1!) Qh4+ 17. Kd1 gxf1=Q+ 0-1
What a game, I'm sure you'll agree!

What can we learn from this game?

Strike while the Iron is hot!

  • Beating wing openings demands strong central play
  • Make the most of a development advantage
  • Strike while the iron's hot!

Central play

In our article about meeting obscure lines against the French, we discovered the key was to take control of the centre as quickly as we could to equalise. 1. b3 is a wing opening but a sound one and relies on good play from white. Larsen didn't play terribly but just not perfectly.

Spassky took good control of the centre early in the game with 1...e5, 2...Nc6, 3...Nf6, 5...Bc5 and 7...Bf5, giving his minor pieces control over all the central squares.

Using a development advantage

As in the game with Bronstein, Larsen doesn't get his pieces into the game quickly enough which Spassky ruthlessly exploits! By move 9(!) Spassky's army is fully engaged and after ...h5, even the quiet rook on h8 is getting involved. By contrast Larsen has spent too long setting up his pawns, that his pieces cannot partipate in the up-coming slaughter!

Strike while the iron's hot!

Spassky and Tal were brilliant at this. Reading that they had a positional advantage, both were more than happy to abandon pieces mid-battle after a higher goal.

12...h4 probably wasn't too emotional a decision for Spassky but 14...Rh1 was one that really will be remembered for a long time!


It would be cruel for Larsen to be remembered only in memory of this game and the 6-0 loss to Bobby Fischer, so we add the follow routine win over Bobby later in 1970:
[Event "Palma de Mallorca Interzonal"] [Site "Palma de Mallorca ESP"] [Date "1970.11.20"] [EventDate "1970.11.09"] [Round "9"] [Result "0-1"] [White "Fischer, Robert James"] [Black "Larsen, Bent"] [ECO "B88"] [WhiteElo "?"] [BlackElo "?"] [PlyCount "104"] 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 d6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bc4 e6 7. Bb3 Be7 8. Be3 O-O 9. Qe2 a6 10. O-O-O Qc7 11. g4 Nd7 12. h4 Nc5 13. g5 b5 14. f3 Bd7 15. Qg2 b4 16. Nce2 Nxb3+ 17. axb3 a5 18. g6 fxg6 19. h5 Nxd4 20. Nxd4 g5 21. Bxg5 Bxg5+ 22. Qxg5 h6 23. Qg4 Rf7 24. Rhg1 a4 {white is in trouble, the black pawns will crash through faster} 25. bxa4 e5 26. Ne6?! (26. Nf5 {looked a better shot!}) Qc4 27. b3 Qxe6 28. Qxe6 Bxe6 29. Rxd6 Re8 30. Rb6 Rxf3 31. Rxb4 Rc8 32. Kb2 Rf2 33. Rc1 Bf7 34. a5 Ra8 35. Rb5 Bxh5 36. Rxe5 Be2 37. Rc5 h5 38. e5 Bf3 39. Kc3 h4 40. Kd3 Re2 41. Rf1 Rd8+ 42. Kc3 Be4 43. Kb4 Rb8+ 44. Ka3 h3 45. e6 Bxc2 46. b4 Re3+ 47. Kb2 Bd3 48. Ra1 Ba6 49. Rc6 Rxb4+ 50. Kc2 Bb7 51. Rc3 Re2+ 52. Kd1 Rg2 0-1
Larsen was no patzer, as seen above - Spassky's talent in this game and the Bronstein game show he really was a worthy World Champion!

...and finally - What do you think?

We've published the From Russia with Love game and this corker but maybe you have an even better Boris Spassky game you'd like to see on the site - let us know in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter