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Kavalek - Larsen Match

Bent Larsen6/8(+5 -1 =2)[games]
Lubomir Kavalek2/8(+1 -5 =2)[games] Chess Event Description
Kavalek - Larsen (1970)

This match between grandmasters Bent Larsen and Lubomir Kavalek was of eight games up. It was played in Solingen, a city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany from 30th May to 7th June 1970, and sponsored by the Solingen Chess Club. Solingen was one of the top German chess clubs, supported by a rich sponsor. In 1971, they would become the winner of the West German club championship. (1) Larsen's 5-1 victory over this strong grandmaster has been generally forgotten, but it is a fine example of his fighting play in his best form. Larsen was 34 years old and Kavalek 26. Larsen was the 5th equal with Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian (2650) and Kavalek was 58th (2510) on the Elo rating list issued for July 1970. (2)

The players

Bent Larsen was at the peak of his form in the period 1967-1971 (3) and was considered as a serious world championship candidate. In a consecutive run of ten very strong grandmaster events between August 1967 and March 1970, he only had twice failed to win first prize: at Palma de Mallorca (1968), coming second equal with Boris Spassky behind Viktor Korchnoi, and at the Spassky - Larsen Candidates Semifinal (1968) (Malmö, July 1968). Larsen's chain of victories in strong tournaments was:

Havana (1967) - ahead of Mark Taimanov and Vasily Smyslov
Winnipeg (1967) - shared with Klaus Viktor Darga ahead of Paul Keres and Spassky
Sousse Interzonal (1967) - ahead of Korchnoi, Efim Geller and Svetozar Gligoric
Palma de Mallorca (1967) - ahead of Mikhail Botvinnik, Smyslov and Lajos Portisch
Monte Carlo (1968) - ahead of Botvinnik, Smyslov and Vlastimil Hort
US Open (1968) - ahead of Pal Benko and Walter Shawn Browne
Büsum (1969) - ahead of Lev Polugaevsky, Mathias Gerusel and Gligoric
Palma de Mallorca (1969) - ahead of Petrosian, Korchnoi, Hort and Spassky
Lugano (1970) - a point ahead of Fridrik Olafsson and 3½ points ahead of Kavalek in 7th place

In this period he also defeated Portisch (Larsen - Portisch Candidates Quarterfinal (1968)) and Mikhail Tal (Larsen - Tal 3rd place Candidates Playoff (1969)), and was joint 2nd with Robert Huebner and Geller behind Robert James Fischer at the Palma de Mallorca Interzonal (1970), as the only player able to defeat Fischer in the competition (Fischer vs Larsen, 1970).

"Living on his nerves .... Bent Larsen of Denmark added one more excellent first prize to his laurels when he outdistanced at Palma de Mallorca in December a field containing the last two world champions and 15 other masters and grandmasters of high calibre. The manner in which he won was very typical. His method is in complete contrast to that of almost all the other leading players of the world. The 12 points he scored were made up of ten wins, four draws and three losses. Compare this score with the two world champions. Both went through unbeaten. Petrosian (the "ex”) had six wins, eleven draws. Spassky, the world champion today, had three wins and fourteen draws! To lose three games in a tournament of this calibre yet finish first, is a fantastic feat .... The shock of seeing victory, virtually earned, by mental toil spread over two days, turned into defeat in a moment, would stun most players. It only seems to make Larsen play better. It is not that he lacks feeling — I have witnessed the pain in his eyes — but he has a marvellous spirit of determination, a gift for summoning up the very best in himself, in the teeth of adversity. Anyway, at Palma, as so often, he came back, time and time again, to thrash opponents ..." (4)

"Larsen was working hard. After losing to Boris Spassky at Leiden, Larsen replied: 'I have to sleep, for at least three months'. That is what his wife also declared to us, albeit Larsen plans to play a match against Grandmaster Kavalek at the end of May. Then he wants to take a holiday until the Olympiad, which is held in September in Siegen." (5) Larsen having qualified for the Candidates quarterfinals, found himself facing Wolfgang Uhlmann in the Larsen - Uhlmann Candidates Quarterfinal (1971) (Las Palmas, 13-30 May). He took first board ahead of Fischer in the USSR vs. Rest of the World (1970) (March 29th and April 4th) tying with Spassky and defeating substitute Leonid Stein, but lost 0-6 to Fischer in Denver, July 1971.

Lubomir Kavalek had fled Czechoslovakia after the Warsaw Pact invasion (Wikipedia article: Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia) and had been stateless since August 1968. "... Ludek Pachman is languishing in a Czech gaol for the offence of campaigning against the occupation of his country by Russian, Polish and other forces ... Another Czech Grand Master Kavalek went with Pachman to the chess Olympiad at Lugano. Each of them declined to play in the Czech national team there, because of the situation in their country. Kavalek went on to Holland, where he has played with success in matches and tournaments and is no doubt reasonably happy. Pachman went back to Czechoslovakia ..." (6) These were very difficult times for Kavalek. The Czechoslovak Chess Federation made life difficult for him protesting that he still played under the Czechoslovak flag. After leaving Czechoslovakia, Kavalek lodged in Munich and played in Holland and West Germany. He defeated the Dutch Champion Hans Ree 7-3 (Eersel 1969) in a match and had achieved some solid results against top-class competition. He had been 9th at IBM Amsterdam (1969), 10th at San Juan (1969) and 4th at Hoogovens (1970).

Kavalek was re-establishing his life and career. In July 1970 he emigrated to the USA to live in Washington DC. His rating made him second to Fischer in the American lists and by the mid-1970's he would rise into the top 20 in world rankings. Despite losing this match, Kavalek began to achieve better results as he created a new life in the West. At his next tournament, Caracas (1970) (June-July), he represented the USCF. "When you ... have no country to go home to, you feel all at sea. But when I came out of the sea to Caracas and saw the American flag on my chess table, I knew I was firmly on the ground". (7)

The progress of the match

"Larsen proved much the superior in a slugging encounter in which both players were out to win every game." (8)

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Larsen 1 ½ 1 1 1 0 1 ½ 6 Kavalek 0 ½ 0 0 0 1 0 ½ 2

Progressive score:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Larsen 1 1½ 2½ 3½ 4½ 4½ 5½ 6 Kavalek 0 ½ ½ ½ ½ 1½ 1½ 2

Larsen had White in the odd-numbered games.

The games

Game 1 - Larsen came out of the opening in which his opponent defended with a Sicilian Kan, with an edge that persisted in the middlegame. Larsen had good piece play with a Rook and two Bishops for a Queen and two pawns. Close to the time control, Larsen blundered and should have lost, but Kavalek missed his chance and blundered in return to lose the first game of the match.

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Larsen played 37.Ke1? which could have allowed 37...Qf3! winning.

Game 2 - Larsen, defending his first Black of the match, chose the Caro Kann. This did not indicate that he planned to play conservatively and sit on his one-point lead. He played a sharp line castling on the Queen-side despite knowing that his pawns would be shattered in front of his King. Larsen single-mindedly pursued a King-side attack, but Kavalek held his nerve and the game ended in drawn Rook and Pawn ending in which Larsen was a pawn up.

Game 3 - "The difference in strength between a world-class player and an international grandmaster was clear in the recent Larsen - Kavalek match ... One of the best games in this match was the third game in which both masters suffered from chess blindness in the critical position. Kavalek, who had built up his position out of the opening, then spoiled all his chances with a single move, and Larsen was there as quick as a flash with his response." (9)

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Game 4 - Larsen defended with an Alekhine Defence, but transposed into it from 1...Nc6. It seems that two points up he was feeling confident enough to put psychological pressure on his opponent. Larsen achieved a good position from the opening and won a pawn. Towards the end of play, Larsen became careless. Whilst playing in an aggressive fashion, he overlooked or discounted several promising lines for Kavalek.

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Here Larsen has just played 33...Qh4 now 35.Bxg6! is very strong: 34.Bxg6 Nxg6 35.Rxg6+ Kh7 36.Bg5 Qe4 37.Rh6+

Game 5 - This was Larsen's fourth win of the match and was voted as the tenth best game in Informator Vol. 9. Larsen played aggressively against his opponent's Kings Indian Defence. On move 10, he sacrificed a pawn for an open <h> file. Kavelek's King side disintegrated in front of his King. Larsen established Rooks on <g1> and <h1> with his Queen menacing the Black monarch. Position after White's 17th move:

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Larsen continued play was an onslaught in which he temporarily sacrificed his Queen. Kavelek managed to swap off material but was left with a cramped position and Larsen's dangerous passed <h> pawn.

Game 6 - Having lost three successive games and scored one draw so far, Kavalek gathered himself and won the sixth game with White. His first win was well played and one in which he fully exploited Larsen's carelessness in an equal position. With little material remaining, Kavelek sacrificed a Pawn for control of the Black squares around his opponent's King. Larsen, a piece down, made a final and desperate effort to queen his <d> pawn,

click for larger view

but could not achieve his goal as Kavalek's threats against his King were too strong and immediate.

Game 7 - "Time trouble was probably the factor that contributed most to Kavalek's defeat in the Rook and Pawn ending of the seventh game but it cropped up in most of the other games too." (10) Position after Black's 34th move:

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Game 8 - Kavalek played cautiously and Larsen after playing his defence in an innovative fashion to equalise did not feel any need to unbalance the position and so ended the match four points ahead. (11)


(1) Chess, vol. 36, September 1971, p. 379.
(2) FIDE rating list July 1970 (
(3) Chessmetrics profile Bent Larsen (
(4) Baruch Harold Wood in Illustrated London News, 21st February 1970, p. 41.
(5) De tijd, 29th April 1970.
(6) Baruch Wood in Illustrated London News, 15th November 1969, p. 43.
(7) Chess Life and Review, September 1970, p. 483.
(8) Los Angeles Times, 6th September 1970.
(9) Trouw, 5th December 1970.
(10) Chess, vol. 36, September 1970.
(11) See Game 58 in Revolution in the 70s. Part One, by Garry Kasparov.

This text and original research by User: Chessical. Game 7 added to Database to complete the collection.

 page 1 of 1; 8 games  PGN Download 
Game  ResultMoves YearEvent/LocaleOpening
1. Larsen vs Kavalek 1-0451970Kavalek - LarsenB42 Sicilian, Kan
2. Larsen vs Kavalek 1-0611970Kavalek - LarsenA45 Queen's Pawn Game
3. Kavalek vs Larsen 1-0381970Kavalek - LarsenB14 Caro-Kann, Panov-Botvinnik Attack
4. Larsen vs Kavalek 1-0431970Kavalek - LarsenE90 King's Indian
5. Kavalek vs Larsen ½-½491970Kavalek - LarsenB10 Caro-Kann
6. Larsen vs Kavalek 1-0331970Kavalek - LarsenE90 King's Indian
7. Kavalek vs Larsen 0-1431970Kavalek - LarsenB04 Alekhine's Defense, Modern
8. Kavalek vs Larsen ½-½311970Kavalek - LarsenB45 Sicilian, Taimanov
  REFINE SEARCH:   White wins (1-0) | Black wins (0-1) | Draws (1/2-1/2)  

Kibitzer's Corner
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: Many, many thanks to User: Chessical for his industry and artistry in making this match-page.

User: Chessical makes a list of Larsen's great results in 1967 to 1970.

Along with this match, it shows how very strong Larsen was when he and Fischer met in 1971.

The syllogism, "Fischer won 6-0 therefore Larsen was weak" in not correct. Larsen was very, very strong but too optimistic.

The games of this match are full of exciting chess. The result is one of Larsen's best efforts and I am surprised that I had never heard of it before. Thanks again, <Chessical>.

Jul-29-18  Howard: Neither had I ! And I thought I was pretty familiar with Larsen's career.

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