Kindred’s Special: A Look at the 9th World Champion, Tigran Petrosian

Born in Tiflis on 17th June, 1929, of Armenian parents, Tigran Petrosian enjoyed play in the yards of a block of flats where he lived. When eight years old, he was noticed by a chess teacher, Barbara Zargarian, who saw his quickness and intelligence, teaching him the moves and opening to him a door into a world where he was to achieve great things.

Young Tigran, like many children who show promise in chess, joined the Pioneers in the Chess Section. In 1942 GM Flohr gave a simultaneous and like Botvinnik years before winning from Capablanca did likewise against Flohr.

1945 was the beginning of his long journey distinguishing himself in the Youth Championship, gained the rank of candidate master and soon won the Georgia Championship. He achieved draws with both Keres and Mikenas showing he was growing in strength.

1946 he decided to live in Erevan, the capital of Armenia. Erevan was a town founded in 670 B.C. The new champion was given a nickname: “the chess tiger” and an additional title of later on “the Russian Capablanca.”

1947 he was awarded the master title, moved to Moscow that meant he would mix with many of the best players in the Soviet Union that was a rich proving ground for his steady advancement. His initial try in the finals of the16th Championship was unsuccessful.

One of his inspirations was Dr. Nimzowitch and MY SYSTEM was one of his favorite books. He had a style that was deceptively deep and his comrades encouraged him to work harder and build a fighting spirit. His efforts found him finishing with 7.5 points out of 19 and 16th place his lst USSR Championship in 1949.

Then, in 1951 he had a major breakthrough winning the Moscow Championship showing excellent results and all marveled at his finding the best moves so quickly just like Capablanca. In five minute chess, there was no equal. He defeated everyone including Najdorf who considered himself the best in the world at blitz play.

With hard work and study a slow and steady climb saw vast improvement in his game. In the 18th championship he finished 12-13 place with 8 points and in the 19th championship he shared 2nd with Geller behind Paul Keres.

A tidbit account by Flohr noted that the two game loss at the beginning of the 19th championship prompted a devotee had Petrosian paged and the caller exclaimed to him: “Who gave you the right to lose?” That phone call must have awakened the tiger who went on to achieve his best result todate.

With the 1953 Candidates tournament, Petrosian began his fight toward the world championship. He came 5th, scoring 15 points out of 28 but critics pointed out to him that none of his victories were against the top 7-places.

Petrosian was included with a Soviet team that visited several countries during 1954. He made a big hit with an Armenian community in Montevideo, Argentina. His popularity was assured when he consented to sing an Armenian song at the town chess club having a fine voice.

The 1956 Amsterdam Candidates tournament again left him short taking a tie 3rd-7th place finish with 9.5-8.5. The tragedy for him was leaving his Queen “en prise” against Bronstein in a winning position. Had he won the games where he had technical winning positions and failed to score the full point, he would have been the challenger instead of Smyslov against Botvinnik.

After a long road of near misses and what might have beens, Petrosian finally broke through and clinched lst place in the 1959 USSR Championship but again fell short in the Candidates taking 3rd behind lst Tal and 2nd Keres. It was a brilliant performance by Mikhail Tal! Then in 1960 he took 2nd place with Geller behind Victor Korchnoi in the 27th USSR Championship tournament. He again won the 28th USSR Championship, making sure of his place in the 1962 Stockholm Interzonal. Although he finished tied with Geller for 2nd-3rd while Fischer won with a 2.5 point margin. However, Petrosian did not lose a game. Later that year, he won the Candidates Tournament at Curacao thus earning the right to battle Mikhail Botvinnik for the world title.

Here is a detailed record of Petrosian’s climb to the top:

  • 1945  2nd Tiflis Chamlpionship
  • lst Championship of Georgia
  • lst-3rd USSR Youth Championship
  • 1946 lst Armenian Championship
  • 1947 4th Prelims USSR Championship
  • 1949 2nd-3rd in Prelims of USSR Championship
  • 1950 3rd Moscow Championship
  • 2nd-3rd Prelims USSR Championship
  • 1951 lst Moscow Championship
  • lst Prelims USSR Championship
  • 2nd-3rd USSR Championship
  • 1952 2nd-3rd Stockholm Interzonal
  • 1953 2nd Bucharest
  • 5th Zurich Candidates
  • 1954 4th-5th USSR Championship
  • 1955 3rd-4th USSR Championship
  • 3rd Goteberg Interzonal
  • 1956 3rd-7th Amsterdam Candidates
  • lst Prelims USSR Championship
  • 1st-2nd Moscow Championship
  • 1957 lst Prelims USSR Championship
  • 1958 2nd USSR Championship
  • 3rd-5th Portoroz International
  • 1959 lst 26th USSR Championship
  • 3rd Candidates, Yugoslavia
  • 1960 lst-2nd Beverwyk
  • 2nd-3rd 27th USSR Championship
  • lst Copenhagen
  • 1961 lst 28th USSR Championship
  • 2nd Zurich
  • 1962 2nd-3rd Stockholm interzonal
  • lst Curacao Candidates
  • 1963 Defeated Botvinnik for World Championship title
  • Result in match points – 5 wins, 2 losses, 15 draws = 12.5-9.5

At this point lets return to 1946 when he won the Armenian Championship and present a game that shows youth and vitality. Fear not, later on I will show some of his exceptional games during his rise and while World Champion and ex-champ.

This game played early in his career development shows the understanding of strategic principles that future study, practice, patience, determination and prodding by chess pals led to the highest award in chess.

The name “Indian” was coined in 1924 by Tartakover whose book iNDISCH appeared in Berlin, Germany. Thus, King’s Indian Defense (Fianchettoing Bg7) and Old Indian Defense (Be7) found great favor by the Soviet masters who early on recognized its imbalanced features as challenging white right from the opening. Still some debate about its origin suggests the term originated earlier but who knows?

                     Kalantas     (White)   vs  Tigran Petrosian  (Black)

                                   Old Indian Defense

1.d4  Nf6  2.c4  d6  3.Nc3  e5

At this point I favor Dr. Emmanuel Lasker’s view that Knights should be developed so why not 4. Nf3 to recapture should black take the pawn. Also, white achieves little by exchanging with 4.dxe5 dxe5 5.Qxd8+ Kxd8. The point is that black will play c6 defending d5 and move his King to c7 where it will be quite safe and well positioned.

4.e4  exd4  5.Qxd4  Nc6  6. Qd2 g6

Note the consequence of Qxd4 as black gains a tempo and while white has a little better space at the moment, his pieces have little coordination for any meaningful plan.

7.g3  Bg7  8.Bg2  0-0  9.Nge2  Ne5!

Deserving an ! as it has a two-fold threat. TP immediate zeroing in on the c4 pawn sets up the following tactical shot.

10.b3  Bh3

Made possible by the hole at f3 since 11.Bxh3 allows Nf3+ forking King and Queen.

11.0-0  Re8  12.f3  Bxg2  13.Kxg2  Nfd7

TP starts a Capablancian strategy to play on both sides of the board. At the same time, he frees the f-file for the pawn to eventually join in the operation against the center.


An alternative might be 14.Bb2 followed by Rad1.

14..a5  15.Rad1  a4!

A strategic imbalancing as if now 16.Nxa4  Nxc4 17.bxc4 Rxa4 leaving white in a miserable state.

16.Qc1  axb3  17.axb3  Qc8

A mysterious Q move that is very logical and Nimzowitch like. TP aims to apply added pressure against the center and the Q will go to b7 which has the added feature of opposing the enemy King in that long diagonal.


Just using my square count I here would favor Nd4. This move may be a miscalculation of a plan but it seems to remove this N from the action. It also reminds me of a Knight on the Rim, looks dim. Worth some consideration maybe is then to answer…b6 with 19.Nb5 Qb7 20.Bxd6 cxd6 21.Nxd6 forking Q and R. White gets a Rook and two Pawns for a Bishop and Knight.

18…b6  19.Nec3  Qb7 20.Nb5  f5!  21.exf5  Nxf3!

Now, 22.Rxf3?  Re2+ wins.

22.Rd5  Nfe5  23.Kh3  Nf6  24.Rdd1  Neg4  25.Nd4  Ne3  26.Rf3  Nfg4

Simply threatening Bxd4 and Qxf3 to follow.

27.Rd3  Qxf3  White resigns.  0-1.

After 28.Nxf3  Nf2+  29.Kh4  Bf6+  30.Ng5  Ng2# (mate).

In summation: what can I say about this game? Again the use of just one tempo gained by the defense created a tense situation for white. For example, if instead of 7.g3 he had tried 7.b3 Bg7, 8.Bb2 0-0, 9.Bd3 and white seems to be on the way to completing development and consolidating his position where his space edge might prevail him an edge.Black must play energetically and sharply having this opportunity by 9…Ng4. White might consider 10.Nf3, 10. 0-0-0, 10.Nge2 all of which seem to give black good play. Try using your chess program play out variations from this position after move 9 after you analyze the play yourself.

End of Part I of The Petrosian apprenticeship.




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