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Tigran Petrosian: The Wizard of Chess Strategy

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In the previous post I mentioned that when I began to play CC at last I could speak of having a Chess trainer. Indeed it was so. I will never forget the friendship Herr Fritz Oppenrieder, from Heidenau  in the former East Germany , showed to me. A Master of Chess, he played lots of postal games with me, sent East German Chess books to me too and exchanged ideas for some years -I am speaking of the late eighties of the 20th century- . When I came across him -we were paired together in a match- , he lived alone, and he made me realize that if one day he stopped writing that would mean… Well, you can guess. We spoke about Chess, chessplayers -I mentioned him my admiration for his fellow-contryman GM. Uhlmann, we tried openings, and so on. I have always considered him as my Chess Trainer and he seemed happy of finding a “disciple” in the last part of his life. I never knew who took charge of his affairs after his death. I tried to find but had no success at all . This is why I would like to contact GM Uhlmann to try to sheed light on this and ask himif he remembers Herr Fritz Oppenrieder, but so far I have been unable to . – Any ideas?- . Somebody said that a man never dies until the last man who knew him disappears too. In this case, I prefer thinking that my Friend Fritz is still there…

My first Chess book was the collection of Petrosian games by Alberik O’Kelly. I cannot say how many times I will have read the book and replayed the games. But that was my “fire trial” and I began to try to understand the art of positional Chess. That book is one of my treasures.

Petrosian was born in Tbilisi (Georgia, USSR) in an Armenian family. His childhood was far from easy. After 1946 he moved to Erevan (Armenia, USSR) and a few years later he established himself definitively in Moscow. As most other Soviet chessplayers he started to play at the famous Pioneers’ Palace, pride of the Soviet system.

In 1951 he became IM, and in 1953 he achieved the GM title. Many commonplaces and tales has been written and copied from author to author about him. In fact his Chess career is impressive, and his games are full of lessons not only in the field of defence. People speak of him as a “tame” player, a drawish GM, etc. I am going to give a short account of his Chess career:

Petrosian won 4 Soviet Championships: 1959 , 1961, 1969 (tied first) and 1975 losing two games all in all. He was Champion of Armenia, of Georgia, of Moscow, played in many team events with outstanding results, played in ten Chess Olympiads with an overall result of  +78 -1 =50 (losing a single game):  Münich 1958,  Leipzig 1960, Varna 1962, Tel-Aviv 1964,  Havana 1966, Lugano 1968,  Siegen 1970,  Skopje 1972,  Nice 1974 and Buenos Aires 1978. He won  nine team gold medals, one team silver medal and six individual gold medals… He played in Interzonal and Candidates’ Tournaments and reached the World Chess Championship in 1963 by beating no other than Botvinnik by +5 -2 =15.  In 1966 he defeated the challenger Spassky and in 1969 he lost to the same Spassky after being World Champion for nine years. This cannot be the story of a tame chessplayer,  rather of a little understood and greatly misinterpreted one…

Petrosian was an excellent tactician, a strong blitz player who excelled at prophylaxis and preventive thinking, who lost very few games throughout his career. He declared that his aim was “…restriction of the opponent’s possibilities, strategic play over the whole board, gradual tightening of the ring around the enemy king”. He was able to carry out a “constant assessment and reassessment of the hierarchy of the strategic factors” with a broad view free of any sort of prejudices. Of course he showed a tendency for dry positional games, but he was also able to restore to tactics whenever necessary, and mastered the art of the exchange sacrifice. In the same way I must say he, by nature, was a defensive player with all the shades this imply…

You have to be an extremely strong chessplayer to become Champion of the World, Champion of the USSR, to play -and win-  in tens of team events, scores of tournaments, etc. Of course, he preferred closed positions to impose his overwhelming strategical  knowledge without being bothered by sudden tactics. And you must be very good to impose this style on your world-class opponents.

Petrosian could apparently do nothing for hours on end, constantly manoeuvring, with his opponents deprived of any trace of counterplay or even activity. Then, of a sudden , the enemy position collapses and he cashes in on it. He understood the laws of Chess strategy a different way other players did. He never rushed, but manoeuvred back and forth waiting for the least drawback in the opponent’s moves. Once he managed to break the coordination of the opponent’s forces or compel him to commit his position -to defend himself from positional threads-  in one way or another, then the situation was ripe for a deadly attack. Like a Zen monk, he apparently did nothing so that everything would be done. But in Chess this “doing nothing”  is absolutely difficult, because you have to move on your turn. The key lies in his extreme ability to get control of the position depriving the opponent of any possibility of active plans/moves, foreseeing any possible threat well in advance and while keeping one’s position firmly coordinate.

You may like Petrosian’s style or not. But I believe that one should study his games to become a much better chessplayer.

On the other hand, is it possible ,with the present state of Chess, to play like Petrosian?. Well, the matter is not to play like Petrosian but to learn the strategical,positional and defensive lessons he left for us. (You cannot play like Morphy either, but you can learn how attacking ideas and combinations work, for instance.  Please, understand what I say.).

But here a curious thing appears: in correspondence chess, with the intrusion of the programs, many people are trying to find how to play against them -or the opponent aided by them-. Have a try at Petrosian approach to Chess by studying his games and perhaps you could learn a lesson or two… (I have revealed enough!)


W: Furman (0)

B.: Petrosian (1)

USSR Chess Championship 1961

1.  d4 g6 2. e4 Bg7 3. Nf3 d6 4. Nc3 Nf6 5. h3 Nf6 6. Be3 c6 7. Bd3 Qc7 8. 0-0 e5 9. Re1 Nbd7 10.a4 Re8              11. Qd2 b6 12. Rad1 a6 13. Ra1 Bb7 14. de5: de5: 15. Bh6 Qd6 16. Bg7: Kg7: 17. Qe3 b5 18. Bf1 Qb4 19. Nd1 Qe7  20. Nd2 Nc5 21. Nc3 Rad8 22. b4 Ne6 23. Na2 Nd4 24. Qc3 ba4: 25. Bd3 Nh5 26. Nc4 Nf4 27. Bf1 c5              28. bc5: Qc5: 29. Nc1 Bc6 30. Qa3 Qa3: 31. Na3: Nh3: 32. Kh2 Nf2: 33. Bd3 Nb3 34. Rb1 Nc5 35. Rb6 Ncd3: 36. cd3: Nd3: 37. Nd3: Rd3: 38. Rc6: Ra3: 39. Rc7 Re6 40. Ra7 Ra2 41. Re3 Rf6 / White resigns

W.: Petrosian (1)

B.: Stean (0)

Moscow 1975

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cd5: Nd5: 5. e4 Nc3: 6. bc3: Bg7 7. Bc4 0-0 8. Ne2 b6 9. h4 Nc6 10. h5 Na5          11. Bd3 e5 12. hg6: hg6: 13. Bh6 f6 14. Qd2 Qe7 15. 0-0-0 Be6 16. d5 Bd7 17. Rh2 Rf7 18. Rdh1 Re8 19. f4 c6  20. fe5: Qe5: 21. Nf4 g5 22. Ng6 Qd6 23.Bg7: Rg7: 24. e5 Re5: 25. dc6:  Bc6: 26. Ne5: Qe5: 27. Rh8  Kf7       28. Rf1 Be4 29. Qe1  and Black resigned

W.: Petrosian (1)

B.: Guimard (0)

Gothenburg (Itz) 1955

1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 e6 3. d4 d5 4. Nf3 Be7 5. e3 0-0 6. Bd3 dc4: 7. Bc4: c5 8. 0-0 a6 9. a4 Nc6 10. b3 cd4:              11. ed4: Nb4 12. Ne5 Bd7 13. Bb2 Bc6 14. Qd2 Nbd5 15. Nc6: bc6: 16 Na2 Qb8 17 Nc1 Bb4 18. Qc2 Bd6               19. g3 Rd8  20. Qe2 Nb4 21. Rd1 Nfd5 22. Qe4 Be7 23. Ne2 Bf6 24. Kg2 A5 25. Ng1 Qb7 26. Nf3 Rab8                27. Rac1 h6  28. Kg1 Nb6  29. Be2 N6d5 30. Nd2 Bg5 31. Rc5 Be7 32. Ra5: Na2 33. Bd3 g6 34. Qf3 Qc7           35. Rc5 Be7   36. dc5: Nab4  37. Bc4 f5 38. Re1 Qe7 39. Qe2 Re8 40. Nf3 Kh7 41. Qe5 Qc7 42. Qe2 Qe7           43. h4. Nf6 44. Be6: Ne4 45. Nd4 Rbd8 46. h5 Rd4: 47. hg6: Kg6: 48. Bf5 Kf5: 49. Qh5 Ke6 50. Qg4 Kd5      51. Qf5 Qe5 52. Qd7 Kc5: 53. Rc1 Nc3 54. Rc3: Kb6 55. a5 Ka5: 56. Qa7 Kb5 57. Qb7 Ka5 58. Rc1 Rd1             59. Rd1: Qb2: 60. Qa7 Na6 61. b4 Kb4:  62 Qb6  and Black resigned . One of his favourite games. 

“The Art of Doing Nothing…” (A. O’Kelly):

W.: Petrosian (1)

B.: Cardoso (0)

Portoroz (Itz) 1958

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e3 d5 5. a3 Bc3: 6. bc3:  c5 7. cd5: ed5: 8. Bd3 0-0 9. Ne2 Nc6 10. 0-0 Re8         11. f3 cd4 12. cd4 b6 13. Bd2 Bb7 14. Ng3 Rc8 15. Rb1 Rc7 16. Qa4 g6 17. Rfc1 Re6 18. Rc2 Qe8 19. Nf1 Kg7              20. Rbc1 Qd8 21. Bb5 Qa8 22. Bd3 Rd7 23. Ng3 Rdd6 24. Kb1 Nd7 25. Qb3 Qd8 26. Ne2 Qh4 27. Qb2 Nf6         28. Rf1 Re8 29. Bb5 Kg8 30. Qc1 Rc8 31. e4 de4: 32. Bg5 Qh5 33.Ng3 ef3: 34. Nh5: fg2: 35. Rg2: Nh5:             36. Qc4 Nd8 37. Qb4 Re6 38. Kg1 Bg2: 39. Kg2: Re4 40. Kf3 a5 41. Qd2  Black resigned.

A much laboured upon topic has been Nimzowitsch’s influence on Petrosian. In fact Petrosian learnt many things from Nimzowitsch: prophylaxis, overprotection,blockade, attack on same colour square complex, the art of defence, etc. But all that passed through the sieve of the Soviet Chess School and its methods of training/work. It is normal that such a complex personality may create different , sometimes opposite, definitions. Thus while most authors see the Nimzowitsch influence, others have compared him to Capablanca. This is normal: after all, all top chessplayers have absorbed, assimilated and integrated the teachings of their predecessors.

Nimzowitsch would have been proud of the following game, which shows  a trench warfare, overprotection, manoeuvring and the final collapse of the opponent’s position:

W.: Olafsson (0)

B.: Petrosian (1)

Bled 1961

1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Bb4 4. e5 Qd7 5. Qg4 f5 6. Qg3 b6 7. h4 Bb7 8. Bd3 Nc6 9. Ne2 0-0-0 10. Nd2 Nh6    11. a3 Be7 12. Bb5 Rdg8 13. Qd3 Nf7 14. 0-0-0 Kb8 15. Nf4 Qc8 16. Nce2 Ncd8 17. Qb3 c6 18.Bd3 c5 19. dc5: Bc5: 20. Nh3 Ne5: 21. Bf4 Nf7 22. Bb5 Ka8 23. Nd4 Ng6 24. Rb4 ef4: 25. Bd7 Qf8 26. Rd4: e5 27. Rb4 ef4:  28. Rb6: Nfe5 29. Rb7: Kb7: 30. h5 Qd6 31. hg6: Qd7: 32. Qf4 Ng6: / White resigned.

The last game is a strategical masterpiece:

W.: Petrosian (1)

Black: Gufeld (0)

27th USSR Chess Championship 1960

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 0-0 5. Nf3 d6 6. Be2 e5 7. d5 (the “Petrosian Variation”), … Nh5 8. g3 Na6 9. Nd2 (preventing Black’s …Nc5 followed by … a5) ,… Nf6 10. h4!  (prevents 10… Bh6 : 11.h5!),… c6 11. Nb3    (controls c5) … Nc7 12. Bg5  cd5:  (forced to avoid a weak Pawn after White’s dc6)   13. cd5: h6   (By piling up positional threats Petrosian carries out a clever plan: he will play Bf6: eliminating a Knight and then Bxc8 -leaving Black with a passive Bishop + Knight while keeping his beloved Knights to increase his pressure on the enemy’s position. A study in how to handle positions with this type of centre.)    14. Bf6:!   Qf6: 15. Bg4! h5  16. Bc8: Rac8: (Now the plan will be to pose threats against the Queen side .Black will have to defend it at the cost of  breaking his piece coordination)   17. Qe2 Bh6 18. Na5 Rb8 19. 0-0 Rfc8  (better was …Ng7 and open up the position.But Petrosian’s ability causes his opponents to commit mistakes. Here Black is  enticed into playing on the Q-side passively, instead of defending counterattacking on the K-side. Gufeld was an excellent tactician and an expert in the King’s Indian…)   20. a4 Qd8 21. Nc4 Ne8 22. Ra2 Qc7 23. b3 Qd7 24. Kg2   (White places his pieces on white squares to get control of them because of the lack of Black c8 Bishop Please note how Petrosian attacks  using those squares: occupying c6, attacking d6, etc.)   Rc5?! 25. Rb1 Rcc8 26. Rc2 Nc7 27. Rbb2 Rf8 28. b4 Ne8 29. a5 Ng7 30. a6! ba6 31. Na5 f5 32. Nc6 Rbe8 33. Nb1!  Kh7 34. Rb3 fe4 35. Qe4: Rf5 36. Ra3 Qb7 37. Nc3 Ref8 38. Qc4 Rf3 39. Ra6: Be3 40. Ne4 Bh6 41. Ra7: and Black resigned. 



Written by QChess

April 2, 2012 at 12:48 pm

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