Larsen’s Opening: 1.b3 Guide for White & Black

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larsen's opening
Table of Contents

Quick overview

  • 1.b3 or “Larsen’s Opening”, is a hypermodern opening whereby White develops their bishop early on to b2 to launch a long-range attack against Black’s kingside, principally targeting the g7 square.
  • There are two main first moves for Black, 1…d5 and 1…e5. Because White has chosen to control the center from long-range, Black has a lot of flexibility in choosing how to arrange their pieces.

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Lifetime Repertoires: 1. b3

Introduction to Larsen’s Opening

Larsen’s Opening is a hypermodern opening, meaning that control of the center is exerted by pieces rather than central pawn control (e.g 1.e4 or 1.d4). It begins after a 1.b3, which prepares a queenside fianchetto.

The opening is named after Danish Grandmaster Bent Larsen, who was inspired by chess player and theoretician Aron Nimzowitsch. As such, it also bears the name the Nimzowitsch-Larsen Attack or the Nimzo-Larsen Attack.

Larsen initially had great success in the opening in his heyday of the 1960s. The opening fell out of favor after the 1970 USSR vs. Rest of the World Match when Larsen played it against then World Champion Boris Spassky and lost in 17 moves.

Bobby Fischer used the opening on a handful of occasions and won all five games he used it in in 1970. Top players today occasionally employ the opening, including Hikaru Nakamura and Richard Rapport.

Black has two main responses to 1.b3, them being 1.d5 and 1.e5.

The Classical Variation 1…d5

It makes sense for Black to play this or 1…e5 to occupy the center with pawns.

2.Bb2

The Natural continuation for White as they were planning to fianchetto this bishop. White plans to put pressure on the g7 square and this move does that.

2…c5

Black is planning to play d4 if they get a chance and blunt the bishop’s target on g7. In this line, the d4 square is crucial and both sides will be fighting for control of it.

3.e3 Nc6 4.Bb5

What if instead of 3…Nc6 Black plays 3…a6 to prevent the White from playing Bb5 and pinning the knight on c6?

White can play 4.f4 to clamp down on the e5 square, 4…Nc6 5.Nf3 Nf6 6.Be2 e6 7.-0-0 Be7 8.Ne5 Qc7 9.d3 0-0 10.Nd2 Nd7 11.Ndf3

White has completed development without letting d4 happen and still holds a firm grip on the a1-h8 diagonal.

White’s queen will usually go to e1 and then head up to g3 to exert pressure on the g7 square.

4…d6 5.f4, again clamping down on the e5 square. …Nf6 6.Nf3 Bd7 7.0-0

The move order here is quite important actually. For example, if instead 7.d3, …Qa5+ 8.Nc3 d4 1. 9.exd4 cxd4 10.Bxc6 Bxc6 11.Nxd4 Bxg2, and Black is much better off.

7…Be7

White will eventually take the knight on c6 as their light-squared bishop does not really have anywhere to go. From here the plan will be to maneuver the queen to g3 and exert pressure on g7.

Additionally, with the pawn on f4 White can now lift the rook up to also put more pressure on g7. We can see some of these themes at play in the following game:

The Modern Variation 1…e5

The other natural (and the most common) response to Larsen’s Opening.

2.Bb2 Nc6 3.e3

White has played e3 because they would like to get the bishop to b5 and take the knight, and then White could take the e5 pawn.

If we see 3…d5 4.Bb5 Bb6 5.f4 and if Black moves the e-pawn anywhere (say with exf4), White can win the g-pawn and the rook on a8.

If after 5…exf4 6.Bxg7 Qh4+ 7.Kf1, White needs to be patient and not get greedy lest 7…exf3 8.Bxh8?? Qf2#

Thus the main line here is actually 3…Nf6. White continues with 4.Bb5 and from here the moves are somewhat counterintuitive.

4…Bd6 5.Na3 Na5

This seems to break all the opening principles, as the bishop blocks in the d-pawn preventing development of the dark-square bishop. However, if White takes Nxc6, dxc6, and actually the bishop is placed ideally and defends the weak e5 pawn.

5.Na3 violating the principle of “knights on the rim are grim” is in order to maneuver it to c4 and attack the bishop on d6. So Black puts their knight on the rim as well and stops the Nc4 idea.

6.Be2 as there is no justification for the bishop to be on b5. 6…a6 to stop any movements by the knight to b5.

7.c4 0-0 8.Nc2 Re1 9.d3

White has adopted a hedgehog-type looking pawn formation and Black will usually try to break in the middle with d5 or b5.

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Lifetime Repertoires: 1. b3

Summary

Larsen’s opening is an opening full of potential and attack for White. It is an opening that is likely to take your opponents out of prep, so this is an added value for White.

That said, Black can develop in a very flexible manner, and can choose the type of set-up they like. Because it is a flank opening, black is free to establish their pawns in the center.

All in all, exciting games arise from this opening. It is a sound opening with good chances for both sides.

FAQs

How do you play b3 opening?

After 1.b3, the idea is to exert long-range pressure on the g7 square with the bishop fianchettoed to b2.

How good is Larsen’s opening (1.b3)?

Larsen’s opening, though only the sixth-most popular opening, is a very sound opening. In fact, after the first few moves, engines give the opening a completely equal valuation for both sides.

How do you defend Larsen’s opening?

The best way to defend against Larsen’s opening is to make sure your kingside is secure and to not allow any surprise attacks against the g7 square, which is what White is going for in this opening.

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