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Larsen's Opening

Larsen's Opening
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Moves 1.b3
ECO A01
Named after Bent Larsen
Parent Flank opening
Synonym(s) Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack
Nimzo-Larsen Attack
Queen's Fianchetto Opening

Larsen's Opening (also called the Queen's Fianchetto Opening) is a chess opening starting with the move:

1. b3

It is named after the Danish grandmaster Bent Larsen. Larsen was inspired by the example of the great Latvian-Danish player and theoretician Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935), who often played 1.Nf3 followed by 2.b3, which is sometimes called the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack. It is classified under the A01 code in the Encyclopaedia of Chess Openings.

The flank opening move 1.b3 prepares to fianchetto the queen's bishop where it will help control the central squares in hypermodern fashion and put useful pressure on Black's kingside. The b2-bishop is often a source of recurring irritation for Black, who should not treat it lightly.

Although Bent Larsen was initially very successful with this opening, it suffered a setback in the 1970 USSR vs. Rest of the World match in Belgrade, in which Larsen played this opening against reigning World Champion Boris Spassky and lost in 17 moves. (Of the 42 games between Spassky and Larsen, Spassky won overall with 19 wins, 6 losses, and 17 draws.) Larsen was also decisively defeated when playing this opening against Rosendo Balinas, Jr. at Manila in 1975.

Notably, the opening received interest from Bobby Fischer the same year, who employed 1.b3 on at least five occasions, winning all five, including games with GMs Filip and Mecking (Palma de Mallorca 1970 Interzonal), GM Tukmakov (Buenos Aires 1970), and GM Andersson (Siegen 1970).

Popularity

The move 1.b3 is less popular than 1.g3 (Benko's Opening), which prepares a quick kingside castling. According to ChessBase, 1.b3 ranks sixth in popularity out of the possible twenty first moves while the fifth-ranking 1.g3 is about three times as popular. Larsen frequently used unconventional openings of this sort. He believed it to be an advantage in that Black, usually unfamiliar with such openings, is forced to rely on his own abilities instead of relying on memorized, well-analyzed moves of more common White openings.

The relative unpopularity of 1.b3 compared to 1.g3, is probably because with 2.Bg2, the move c4 is often played later to strengthen the fianchettoed bishop's diagonal; whereas if f4 is played to strengthen the bishop's diagonal after 1.b3 and 2.Bb2, it weakens the kingside - the usual destination for White's king when castling.

Main lines

Black has several options to meet 1.b3. The most common are:

Less common lines include:

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.b3

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1.Nf3 Nf6 2.b3 d5 3.Bb2

1.Nf3 Nf6 2.b3 is a similar opening. Nimzowitsch preferred to make the knight move first. Black may play 2...d5 (given below) or 2...g6. After 2...d5, White usually plays 3.Bb2. With this move, Black usually plays 3...e6.

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1.Nf3 Nf6 2.b3 g6 3.g3 Bg7 4.Bb2

After 2...g6, White can play 3.g3, 3.Bb2, or 3.c4. The move 3.g3 is the same as 2.g3 g6 3.b3, which gives Reti Opening (A05) or King's Indian, Fianchetto without c4 (A49). With move 3.Bb2, Black usually plays 3...Bg7. White may play 4.g3 or 4.c4; 4.e3 is also possible. With move 3.c4, Black usually plays 3...Bg7. Then White will play 4.Bb2.

Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack (A06)

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1.Nf3 d5 2.b3

The opening 1.Nf3 d5 2.b3 (ECO A06) is called the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack. It can be derived from 1.b3, but 1.Nf3 is more usual. Common replies for Black are 2...c5, 2...Nf6, and 2...Bg4. 2...Nf6 is not that great for the usual reasons that Black should not make ...d5 and ...Nf6. 2...c5 is more common although 2...Bg4 is also possible. For each, White can play 3.Bb2 or 3.e3. Then 3.Bb2 can be followed by 4.e3.

Example games

Larsen vs. Eley, 1972

1.b3 e5 2.Bb2 Nc6 3.e3 Nf6 4.Bb5 d6 5.Ne2 Bd7 6.0-0 Be7 7.f4 e4 8.Ng3 0-0 9.Bxc6 bxc6 10.c4 d5 11.Nc3 Re8 12.Rc1 Bg4 13.Nce2 Nd7 14.h3 Be2 15.Qxe2 Nc5 16.Qg4 g6 17.f5 Nd3 18.fxg6 hxg6 19.Rf7 Kf7 20.Rf1 Bf6 21.Bxf6 1-0

Keene vs. Kovacevic, 1973

1.Nf3 d5 2.b3 Bg4 3.Bb2 Nd7 4.g3 Bxf3 5.exf3 Ngf6 6.f4 e6 7.Bg2 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.d3 a5 10.a4 c6 11.Nd2 b5 12.Qe2 bxa4 13.Rxa4 Nb6 14.Ra2 a4 15.Rfa1 axb3 16.Rxa8 Nxa8 17.Nxb3 Nb6 18.f5 exf5 19.Nd4 Qd7 20.Bh3 g6 21.Bxf5 gxf5 22.Ra7 Qxa7 23.Nxc6 Qd7 24.Nxe7 Kg7 25.Qh5 1-0

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