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Larsen - Uhlmann Candidates Quarterfinal 1971
Compiled by Tabanus

Larsen and Uhlmann qualified from the Palma de Mallorca Interzonal (1970). The other quarterfinal matches were the Petrosian - Hübner Candidates Quarterfinal (1971), Korchnoi - Geller Candidates Quarterfinal (1971) and Fischer - Taimanov Candidates Quarterfinal (1971). The draw for pairings was held at the banquet after the Interzonal. (1) Each match would be decided over 10 games, (1) or if tied at 5-5, a maximum of 14 games. (2) The competition was held in order to select a challenger for Boris Spassky, the World Champion.

The contest in Las Palmas (Gran Canaria, Spain) took place in the Real Club Náutico, (3) in the halls of the well-known yacht club. (4, 5) The sponsor was the Caja Insular de Ahorros de Gran Canaria and the organizer the Federación de Ajedrez de Las Palmas. Match director was <Pierre Joly Dumesnil>, (5) and chief arbiter was <Armin Heintze>, (5, 6) president of the DDR Chess Federation (1964-1978). He was assisted by <Manuel Quevedo> and <John Van Bookel>. (5) Lots of spectators followed the action on closed circuit television and large demonstration boards. (7) Larsen was considered the favorite, (1) although he had played no serious chess since the Interzonal. He had felt he needed a rest after playing over a hundred games in a short timespan, but was unsure of his form after such a lengthy break. He had won the Palma de Mallorca (1969) tournament, played on board 1 in USSR vs. Rest of the World (1970) and achieved a World #3 ranking. (8) Uhlmann was ranked as #19. (8) His last international tournament had been Hastings (1970/71). He finished two points clear of the field at the zonal tournament in Raach (1969). Before the match, Larsen had defeated Uhlmann 3 to 2, with 3 draws. Uhlmann used the French Defense almost exclusively in reply to 1.e4, and some people considered this a weakness. Larsen was optimistic: "I will be the next world champion." (9)

Game 1:

Larsen sometimes played uncommon openings. In the first game, he gave his queen for two rooks. Uhlmann was not worse, but in a tense position he made an incorrect knight sacrifice (34...Nxg3?). Larsen brought back a displaced rook, just in time to stop Uhlmann's h-pawn. In Game 2, Uhlmann tried to "outplay" Larsen in a Symmetrical English. Under increasing pressure, Larsen blundered on move 23. (10) Larsen regarded Uhlmann as stubborn, in that he attached more importance to his own habits and preferences than to the psychology of his opponent, or the needs of the occasion. It was therefore possible to predict that the German would stick to his lifelong favorite French Defence and prepare accordingly. He wondered if Uhlmann would even play the same line that he espoused when they last met at the Interzonal. He got his wish in Game 3, when the 3...c5 variation of the Tarrasch Variation arrived on the board. Uhlmann was prepared to defend an isolated queen pawn, but Larsen liked such positions from the other side of the board. (11) He again gave the queen for two rooks, but this time his rooks got stuck in front of Uhlmann's pawns. In Game 4, Larsen tried a line of play that has his name, the "improved Meran" or Larsen Variation (8...Bb7) of the Semi-Slav Defense. A well prepared Uhlmann deviated from Uhlmann vs Larsen, 1968, ended a rook up and was winning. Only to blunder famously:

click for larger view

31.Nf3?? Qf4+! 32.Kg1 Nxf3+ 33.Rxf3 Rd1+ 34.Kf2 Qxh4+ 35.g3 Qh2+ 36.Ke3 Qd2+ 37.Ke4 Qd5+ 38.Ke3 Rd3+ 0-1

Game 5 was a Tarrasch French again: a short draw. Game 6 saw Larsen's "improved Meran" again, this time with the better 12...Nxc5. It was not clear to Uhlmann (and anyone in 1971) how to meet this move, or if it should be allowed in the first place (Black completely equalizes). Larsen finished him off with a beautiful cross pin. (12) Game 7 reached the same position as in Game 1, until Larsen played 10.Nd2. The play was typical of the Reti Opening, and posed Uhlmann no problems. In Game 8, Larsen switched to the Grünfeld Defense. Ahead by two points, he could have exchanged down to a likely draw at move 24, but in an inexplicable attempt to obtain Uhlmann's queen for two rooks, he lost two pawns and the game. (10) Buoyed with success, Uhlmann may have had hopes to draw Game 9, and level the score with the white pieces in the next. He essayed the French Defense for a third time. The game was adjourned in a better positon for Larsen, who had bishop versus knight and chances of a passed pawn on the queenside. Uhlmann hung on until he allowed a pawn race to conclude in Larsen's favor.

Real Club Náutico, Las Palmas, 13-30 May 1971

Elo 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Pts 1 GM Larsen 2660 1 0 ½ 1 ½ 1 ½ 0 1 5½ 2 GM Uhlmann 2580 0 1 ½ 0 ½ 0 ½ 1 0 3½

Larsen advanced to the Fischer - Larsen Candidates Semifinal (1971).

Peter Hugh Clarke noted in BCM that this was, in duration, the longest of the quarterfinals. But as with the others, it was the favorite who came out on top. Indeed, none of the victors conceded their opponent the lead at any stage. For Larsen, it was only his brave counterattack in Game 4 that prevented such a setback and from then on, he appeared to be in control of his destiny. He was always steady with the white pieces and broke Uhlmann’s resistence in Game 9 with some typical endgame mastery. (13) Like Robert James Fischer, he had the ability to exchange down to endings that gained him a clear, enduring advantage and then play them out like a war of attrition. It was nevertheless a close contest, and Uhlmann could take some comfort from his performance. It had been a major step forward for him to reach the Candidates matches and there were reasons for him to believe he might one day return. Larsen showed a great fighting spirit; his confidence, courage and determination once more at the forefront. Since 1965, he had succeeded in five out of seven Candidates matches. Only a handful of Soviet stars could claim to have bettered such a record. (14)

1) Harry Golombek in The Times 2 Jan 1971 p. 18.

2) Leeuwarder Courant 14 May 1971 p. 13, with no mention of what would happen in case of 7-7.

3) (ca. 1965) and (2013).

4) ABC Sevilla 14 May 1971 p. 75.

5) Jaque 4 p. 5 (

6) La Vanguardia 13 May 1971 p. 39.

7) ABC Sevilla 16 May 1971 p. 62.

8) FIDE Rating List January 1971 (

9) Larry Melvyn Evans in Sports Illustrated 21 June 1971 (

10) Impressions from analyzing with Stockfish 5.

11) Bent Larsen in Chess Life & Review, September 1971, p. 496.

12) The pin was Chessgames' Thursday puzzle 11 August 2005.

13) It should perhaps be noted that Uhlmann could have held the draw as late as with 57...Na3.

14) British Chess Magazine, August 1971, pp. 269-274.

Original collections: Game Collection: WCC Index (Larsen-Uhlmann 1971) by User: Hesam7 and Game Collection: Larsen - Uhlmann Candidates Quarterfinal 1971 by User: Tabanus. The last paragraph and parts of the above was written by User: Paint My Dragon. Game dates are from various Spanish, Dutch and American newspapers. Thanks to User: OhioChessFan for improving the English.

Game 1 May 13
Larsen vs Uhlmann, 1971 
(A00) Uncommon Opening, 44 moves, 1-0

Game 2 May 15
Uhlmann vs Larsen, 1971 
(A37) English, Symmetrical, 46 moves, 1-0

Game 3 May 18
Larsen vs Uhlmann, 1971 
(C07) French, Tarrasch, 44 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 4 May 20
Uhlmann vs Larsen, 1971 
(D47) Queen's Gambit Declined Semi-Slav, 38 moves, 0-1

Game 5 May 21
Larsen vs Uhlmann, 1971
(C07) French, Tarrasch, 17 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 6 May 23
Uhlmann vs Larsen, 1971 
(D47) Queen's Gambit Declined Semi-Slav, 36 moves, 0-1

Game 7 May 25
Larsen vs Uhlmann, 1971
(A05) Reti Opening, 44 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game 8 May 27
Uhlmann vs Larsen, 1971 
(D98) Grunfeld, Russian, 41 moves, 1-0

Game 9 May 30
Larsen vs Uhlmann, 1971 
(C07) French, Tarrasch, 64 moves, 1-0

9 games

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