Kindred’s Special: The Enigmatic Armenian–Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian Apprenticeship

USSR JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIP, Leningrad, 1946 saw two future Grandmasters do battle on the 64-squares. The opening choice by Black was quite popular as it was one of Botvinnik’s weapons when he was out to win.  It suited Black who was always going for complex positions and fighting chess. So set up your pieces and be prepared to see the fur fly!  The initial moves of 1. d4 e6 is interesting because if White plays 2.e4, then Black can play the French with 2…d5. 

White:  Tigran Petrosian    Black:  Victor Korchnoi    Opening:  Dutch Defense -The Stonewall Variation

1. d4  e6  2. Nf3  f5  3. g3  Nf6  4. Bg2  d5  5. O-O Bd6 6. c4  c6  7. b3  O-O  8. Ba3 Forces the exchange so f4 fangs are pulled.

8. … Bxa3  9. Nxa3 Cedes a tempo to White, but even more, the pawn structure assures White more control over the dark squares and the glaring square e5 now becomes an outpost target for White.

9. Nxa3  Qe8 This thematic Queen sortie to the King-side ala h5 is too slow.

10. Nc2  Qh5  11. Qc1  Ne4  12. Nce1 g5  13. Nd3  Nd7  14. Nfe5  Kh8  15. f3  Nd6  16. e4!  White recognizes that opening the position through pawn exchanges will benefit only him because the black Rook and Bishop remain undeveloped. Korchnoi now attempts to release the crampt position by exchanging a Knight and then central pawns to relieve the tension but Petrosian is like a boa constrictor.

16. … Nf7  17. cxd5  Ndxe5  18. dxe5  cxd5  19. exd5  exd5  20. f4  Rd8  21. Qc7  b6  22. fxg5  Ba6  23. Nf4  Resigns. (1-0).

In this game, Petrosian meets Tolush, a famous ICCF player in the USSR Championship, Moscow, 1950. Tolush came 3rd behind Keres in this event.

White: Tigran Petrosian   Black:  Tolush   Opening:  Queen’s Gambit Declined

1. Nf3  Nf6  2. c4  e6  3. Nc3  d5  4. d4  c6  5. cxd5  Release of central tension was a common ploy of Petrosian who sets the pawn structure called the Carlsbad formation b7,c6,d5.  One plan of action against this pawn structure is called the ‘minority attack’ with a Q-wing pawn roll up.  However, Petrosian has a different idea in mind.

5. … exd5  6. Qc2  Bd6? Due to the later withdrawal of this Bishop to e7, it was appropo to play it here. Also feasible is 6. … Bg4, 7. Bg5 Be7 8. e3  Nbd7 9. Bd3 Bh5 planning Bg6. The point here is that Black saves a tempo as compared to this game line.  Time and space are important factors in chess.

7. Bg5  O-O  8. e3  Bg4  9. Ne5 A nice outpost for the Knight!

9. … Bh5  10. f4  Qa5 The Queen sets up the pin on the Knight but nothing else seems feasible. Maybe 10. … Qe8 eyeing e3 should White play 11. Bxf6? Black has to meet the strong pawn push g4.  After 10. … Qe8, best might be 11. Be2  Bxe2  12. Qxe2 with strong K-side action coming soon.

11. Bd3  h6?! Not a good choice, but no moves really offer adequate defense. Black might try 11. … Ne4 but runs into something like 12. Bxe4  dxe4  13. O-O with excellent prospects.

12. Bxf6! Removing this defensive Knight leaves the K-side almost naked of cover.  Also note that Black’s reply is forced which adds to White’s attack.

12. … gxf6  13. g4  fxe5 14. fxe5  Be7  15. O-O-O!  Bg5  16. gxh5  Kh8 Necessary is 16. … Qc7 intending to defend the 7th rank.

17. Qf2  f5  18. h4  Be7  19. Qf4  Resigns (1-0).

The London System is a solid line that builds slowly in dynamic force. Petrosian illustrates here in Gagra, 1952 one of Black’s defense plans that originally evolve from a fluid pawn structure.

White: Kotov  Black: Tigran Petrosian   Opening: London System

1. Nf3  Nf6  2. d4  g6  3. Bf4 White adopts the London System. In the 1924 New York tournament, Lasker vs Reti started 1. Nf3 d5 2. g3  Nf6  3. Bg2 Bf5 4. c4 c6 with curtailing the fianchetto’s mobility.  White ddopting the black plan there, has some choice here. One is to set up a pawn structure c3,d4,e3 that features a defensive set up initially with the aim of a central break and often leading to a K-side assault on the enemy King position.  The danger of the London System is shown here in this battle so artfully demonstrated by Petrosian.

3. … Bg7  4. e3  O-O  5. Nbd2 c5  6. c3  cxd4  7. exd4  Nc6  8. h3 Intending to preserve the Bishop while guarding g4.  A good alternative would be 8. Be2 which is a standard London System piece set up.

8. …d6  9. Nc4?! The problem with this Knight sortie is it is not in keeping with the principles of the London System.

9. …  b5  10. Ne3  b4  Putting pressure the Q-side. White should now retain the London System structure with 11. Bb5 or even 11. c4, intending to meet …d5 with c5. Instead, Kotov tries,

11. d5  bxc3!!  Suddenly facing the damage limit effect by 12. bxc3 Nh5 13. Rc1  Nxf4  14. dxc6 Qa5  15. Qd2 Be6, or; 13. Bg5  Bxc3+ winning the Exchange.

12. dxc6  cxb2  13. Rb1  Ne4! With the main threat of 14… Bc3+.

14. Bd3  Qa5+ 15. Kf1  Ba6  16. Nc4 Bxc4  17. Bxc4 Nc3  18. Qd2  Qa4 19. Bd3  Nxb1 29.Bxb1  Rfc8 21. g3  Rxc6  22. Kg2 Rac8  Black has control of the important c-file.

23. Bh6  Rc1  24. Bxg7  Rxh1  25. Kxh1 Rc1+ 26. Kg2  Rxb1  27. Qh6  The last breath of hope trying for Bf8 winning with Qg7 mate.  But Black has everything under control.

27. … Qd1  28.  g4  Qh1+  29. Kg3  Rg1+ 30. Resigns (0-1).

Is there no bravado in chess?  The pawn works it’s way to b2 and never gets a chance for promotion!


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