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Larsen - Geller 3rd place Candidates Playoff Match

Bent Larsen5/9(+3 -2 =4)[games]
Efim Geller4/9(+2 -3 =4)[games] Chess Event Description
Larsen - Geller 3rd place Candidates Playoff (1966)

Geller and Larsen had advanced from the Amsterdam Interzonal (1964). They had then been defeated the year after in their semifinal matches, Geller losing to Boris Spassky, and Larsen to Mikhail Tal (Spassky - Geller Candidates Semifinal (1965) and Tal - Larsen Candidates Semifinal (1965)). FIDE decreed that the third place had to be resolved as it did not want both players to qualify directly for the next cycle. (1) A match was necessary, the winner of which would be seeded into the next Interzonal. According to the commentary in K.S.U.–Nyt, if Larsen won the match, he would not need one of the Danish Chess Union’s zonal places, and they would be able to send two other players. (2) Consequently, this 3rd place playoff was arranged in Copenhagen, Denmark in March 1966.


The Danish GM Bent Larsen (31) and the Soviet GM Efim Geller (41). Geller was ranked as 8th in the world and Larsen 16th on the Chessmetrics January 1966 rating list. (3) They had played only once before and Larsen had won; he considered the game Larsen vs Geller, 1960 one of his best according to an interview in Chess Life (December 1968, p. 436).

The late 1960’s was the period of Larsen’s ascendancy in which he challenged Robert James Fischer as the number one Western player. Larsen turned in a series of career bests from the time of this match: Second Piatigorsky Cup (1966) (3rd), Winnipeg (1967) (=1st), Sousse Interzonal (1967) (1st), Palma de Mallorca (1967) (1st), Havana (Capablanca Memorial) (1967) (1st), Palma de Mallorca (1968) (=2nd), Monte Carlo (1968) (1st), Palma de Mallorca (1969) (1st), Larsen - Tal 3rd place Candidates Playoff (1969) (5½–2½ victor), and Palma de Mallorca Interzonal (1970) (=2nd).

Geller had played in all the Candidates series since 1953, and was an elite Soviet player. He was playing very successfully around the time of this match. He was equal first with Lajos Portisch at Hoogovens (1965), second in Havana (1965), first in Kislovodsk (1966), second in USSR Championship (1966/67), and first in Gothenburg (1967/68).


The German master Alfred Brinckmann was the arbiter. Geller had the experienced grandmaster Salomon Flohr as his second, whereas Larsen chose not to have any second. (2, 4) "If there is time enough for both adjournment analysis and sleep, I find seconds only useful as life guards (keeping disturbances away), shoe shiners and errand boys. I would not like to rely on analysis by somebody else." (4)


The match was sponsored by the Copenhagen Chess Association as part of their 100 year jubilee celebration. It took place in Copenhagen in a building of the Gutenberghus Publishers, i. e. at their offices in Montergade 5. The match was advertised as being between 10th–25th March 1966. It was to be the best of eight games. (2, 5) If the match was tied at 4-4, it would then go into a further four games "sudden death" period. The first player to win a game would win the match. If these games were all drawn, the drawing of lots would decide the third place in the Candidates series. (2)


Game 1 - Thursday 10th March, 1966
Game 2 - Friday 11th March, 1966
Adjournments - Saturday 12th March, 1966
Game 3 - Sunday 13th March, 1966
Game 4 - Monday 14th March, 1966
Adjournments - Tuesday 15th March, 1966
Free day - Wednesday 16th March, 1966
Game 5 - Thursday 17th March, 1966
Game 6 - Friday 18th March, 1966
Adjournments - Saturday 19th March, 1966
Game 7 - Sunday 20th March, 1966
Adjournments - Monday 21st March, 1966
Game 8 - Tuesday 22nd March, 1966
Adjournments - Wednesday 23rd March, 1966 (2)

It seems that in a deviation from the published schedule, the 8th game took place a day early on the 21st March. This is shown on the envelope used for the adjournment of that game on 21/03/1966:

After the match, a consultation game took place on Danish radio between Larsen and Jens Enevoldsen and Geller and Flohr. (6)

Progress of the match

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 1 GM Larsen 1 0 ½ ½ 1 ½ ½ 0 1 5 2 GM Geller 0 1 ½ ½ 0 ½ ½ 1 0 4

The match was very tight and closely contested. Larsen took the lead twice and overall he seemed to have the initiative throughout the match. He was very careful in his choice of the openings, using non-theoretical lines as White, and unexpected defences as Black.

Game One – Larsen innovated, avoiding all the open Sicilian main lines by avoiding an early <d4>. He had used this set up once before - in Larsen vs Tringov, 1964. Brinckmann, the match referee, reported that Geller thought about his 14th move for almost an hour. (7) Geller was under persistent pressure, and on move 22, he lost a piece through a tactical oversight:

click for larger view

In playing 21...Red8, Geller overlooked 22.f3 winning. He continued to play on with a Pawn for a Bishop in what was a technical exercise for Larsen until mate was inevitable.

Game Two – The second game was main line theory, a Sicilian Richter-Rauzer. It was not an established part of Larsen’s tournament repertoire. Geller was familiar with the system as Black and his experience told as he created pressure against the Black centre. This time, in a sharp position, it was Larsen who blundered by overlooking a tactic.

Game Three – The third game was more steadily played; a Closed Sicilian which was drawn at the time control.

Game Four – Geller took an early draw as White, in a main-line theory Open Spanish. Geller was perhaps both shocked and unprepared for this opening. Larsen rarely played the Open defence with either colour, and would not play this variation again until Ljubojevic vs Larsen, 1981. Geller did not have this variation in his regular repertoire either, and had played the position only once before, achieving a draw against Alexey Suetin in the 25th Soviet Championship - Suetin vs Geller, 1958.

Game Five – The rest seemed to help Larsen more. He won the fifth game by again using a non-theoretical system - a Reti with a K-side fianchetto, which he had never employed before. At move 41, Geller offered a draw, which Larsen declined. (8) Larsen proceeded to outplay Geller in a R v N with pawns endgame. He eventually forced resignation after he won Geller's knight.

Game Six – Geller again played 9.Qe2 against the Spanish Open defence, and a hard fought game ended with the draw in a R+P endgame. According to the Danish player Eigil Pedersen, "Now Larsen was due to have Black again, but in the meantime, I had a brief conversation with the grandmaster about the Open variation of the Spanish game and had referred him to Ekstrom's analysis in Tidskrift för Schack 1965. I sent that issue of the magazine to him; he liked the variation and used it in the Sixth game." (8)

Game Seven – This was a second successive draw, this time with Geller equalising quickly as Black in a King’s Indian. Larsen, using a system occasionally used by Viktor Korchnoi, traded a Bishop, Rook and a Pawn for his Queen but Geller was never in danger of losing.

Game Eight - This was a long drawn out Queen's Gambit Declined. Larsen played a rare line of defence, but played it imprecisely. Geller eventually broke through on the Q-side and Larsen resigned, unable to prevent Geller queening his b-pawn. "But in this game, Larsen was a little too satisfied for only a draw, and after a mere 15 moves he stood poorly and then after an unfortunate Queen move he lost several pawns. Admittedly, he continued playing until the game was adjourned, but it was hopeless." (8)

The score was now equal with Geller to have the White pieces in the ninth game. Tied at 4-4, the match now entered a "sudden death phase". "Good advice was in short supply. The players first tried to get the World Chess Federation's concession that both players would move on to the Interzonal tournament by sharing third place, but this was, of course, rejected. There was now a playoff, so that each successive game was decisive. The players drew lots for colour. Geller drew white for the ninth game, and this of course could give the Danish player goose-bumps all over his chess body." (8)

Game Nine - The first "sudden death" game was at the same time control. It was a Closed Catalan, and a game of manoeuvre. For once Geller was playing a system he had used before, but he did not achieve any advantage. The game was actually decided by a blunder. Geller made a simple mistake in time pressure at the time control (he had about half-a-minute left on his clock). His second, Flohr, was heard to exclaim "It’s all over!" immediately seeing the forced continuation which would win Larsen a pawn and then the game in short order. (9)

"Strangely enough Geller had become tired of playing 1.e2-e4 (due to the Swedish analysis of the Spanish?) Instead, he chose the Catalan system, but this suited Larsen perfectly, who during the time when he was studying to become a grandmaster did not play anything else! It was an exciting game where Geller felt obligated to play for the win, while Larsen played solidly. But when Larsen finally got the chance of counter-play he hit hard. At the time-control, the game was as good as settled as a Danish victory 5-4. Geller played on for a few more moves in a hopeless position and could thereafter be the first to congratulate Bent Larsen as the winner of the third place in the Candidates with the right to progress directly into the next inter-zonal tournament." (8)

Larsen had won by 5-4. This was the first time a Soviet grandmaster had lost a match to a Western player.

World championship progress

Geller qualified anyway, from the USSR Championship (1966/67) zonal tournament, and both players advanced from the Sousse Interzonal (1967). But then they were defeated by Spassky on his way to the world championship: Spassky - Geller Candidates Quarterfinal (1968) and Spassky - Larsen Candidates Semifinal (1968).

Match book

Salo Flohr, Petrosjan bleibt Weltmeister!: die Zweikämpfe Larsen-Geller und Petrosjan-Spassky (Petrosian remains world champion!). Publisher: W. ten Have, Amsterdam 1967.


(1) The Canberra Times, Wednesday 29 June 1966, p. 21.
(2) K.S.U.–Nyt, Nr. 2 (83), February 1966 (Copenhagen Chess Union news sheet) (
(4) C. H. O’D. Alexander interview with Larsen on pages 86-94 of A Book of Chess, London 1973.
(5) Gino di Felice, Chess Results 1964-1967: A Comprehensive Record with 1,204 Tournaments (McFarland 30 May 2013), p. 322.
(6) Visir (Iceland), 10 September 1966, p. 206.
(7) De Telegraaf (Holland), 28 May 1966, p. 35.
(8) Tidskrift för Schack, April–May 1966, match report by Eigil Pedersen, pp. 102-103.
(9) Tidskrift för Schack, April–May 1966, p. 112.

This text by: User: Chessical.

 page 1 of 1; 9 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Larsen vs Geller 1-0591966Larsen - Geller 3rd place Candidates PlayoffB50 Sicilian
2. Geller vs Larsen 1-0431966Larsen - Geller 3rd place Candidates PlayoffB69 Sicilian, Richter-Rauzer Attack, 7...a6 Defense, 11.Bxf6
3. Larsen vs Geller  ½-½421966Larsen - Geller 3rd place Candidates PlayoffA07 King's Indian Attack
4. Geller vs Larsen  ½-½191966Larsen - Geller 3rd place Candidates PlayoffC81 Ruy Lopez, Open, Howell Attack
5. Larsen vs Geller 1-0731966Larsen - Geller 3rd place Candidates PlayoffA04 Reti Opening
6. Geller vs Larsen ½-½571966Larsen - Geller 3rd place Candidates PlayoffC81 Ruy Lopez, Open, Howell Attack
7. Larsen vs Geller  ½-½341966Larsen - Geller 3rd place Candidates PlayoffE60 King's Indian Defense
8. Geller vs Larsen 1-0701966Larsen - Geller 3rd place Candidates PlayoffD63 Queen's Gambit Declined, Orthodox Defense
9. Geller vs Larsen 0-1441966Larsen - Geller 3rd place Candidates PlayoffE08 Catalan, Closed
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  RookFile: Geller was a great player but did have some losses in match play to folks like Keres and Larsen. For that reason, I think Keres would be above him in the discussion of "best player never to be champ."

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