Friday, April 17, 2009

Great Rivalries: Petrosian vs. Larsen (Part 1)

I have been reading Larsen's game collection and recently looked at his two victories over Petrosian from the great Second Piatigorsky Cup tournament in 1966.

Incidentally, my copy of this book, the 2003 reprint by Hardinge Simpole, is called "Bent Larsen's Best Games of Chess: Master of Counter Attack." This book was originally published, in Danish, as "50 Udvalgte partier, 1948-1969," in 1969. I believe that a literal translation of this title is "50 Selected Games, 1948-1969." An English translation, called "Larsen's Selected Games of Chess, 1948-1969," appeared the next year. Batsford then reissued it as "Bent Larsen: Master of Counter-Attack: Larsen's Selected Games of Chess 1948-1969," in 1992.

I mention all of this because on page 99, Larsen writes the following: "It is not by chance that the title of this book makes no reference to "best games"--for where do you find two chess players who agree which games are best? Which do you rate highest, courage or foresight? Imagination or precision? Poetry or prose? Music or mathematics?" All of which sounds ridiculous when the book you are holding in your hands in fact does make reference to "best games" in the title. Does a publisher really think that it will sell more copies of a collection of "best games" than of "selected games?"

While I'm on the topic, what is with these "Master of ..." books? The Batsford Larsen book was the predecessor of the recent Everyman Chess series, which includes:

Alexander Alekhine: Master of Attack
Boris Spassky: Master of Initiative
Rudolf Spielmann: Master of Invention

Actually, now that I look at the Everyman Chess web site, I see that the full titles of these books are in fact "The Masters: Alexander Alekhine Master of Attack," etc.

Can a great chess player be summed up in one word? If so, are these words the correct choices?

Having played through the games in the Larsen book, I submit that "Master of Counter-Attack" is a serious misnomer. I have always thought that counter-attacking in chess involved luring your opponent into over-extending himself in an attack and then responding with an attack of your own. In other words, you cannot counter-attack until your opponent has first attacked you. My favorite example of such play is Geller-Euwe, Zurich Candidates' Tournament 1953. Of the all-time greats, Lasker and Korchnoi seem to have the styles best described as "counter-attacking."

Larsen, at least in the games in this collection, is all about fighting for the initiative from the start. I'll post some examples later.

And I will also get back to the alleged topic of this post, the games between Petrosian and Larsen, later.

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