Chess: Honor peerless Petrosian

Washington Times, DC
March 20 2004

Honor peerless Petrosian

By David R. Sands

Armenian chess enthusiasts this month organized a strong invitational
event to mark the 75th anniversary of the birth of the late, great
Soviet world champion Tigran Petrosian. Petrosian, born in Georgia of
Armenian parents, was world champion from 1963 to 1969, losing the
title to Boris Spassky.
Armenian GM Karen Asrian won the tournament with a 6-3 score, but
Petrosian’s namesake, 20-year-old Armenian IM Tigran L. Petrosian,
did quite well for himself, finishing with an even 41/2-41/2 score
despite being the second-lowest-rated player in the field. The
international master pinned a loss on Russian GM Mikhail Kobalia in
Round 4, outplaying his higher-rated opponent for much of the game
and surviving a blunder-filled scramble just before the first time
In a Kan Sicilian, White’s 16. Nxc3 0-0 17. Nd5!? is an almost
standard Sicilian motif. Petrosian gets the better game if Black
accepts on 17…exd5?! 18. exd5 Rfe8 19. dxc6 Ba6 20. Qf3, with the
White c-pawn clogging Black’s game. Black sidesteps that with
17…Qd8 18. Nxf6+ Bxf6, but White boldly enters a tactically
complicated line that gives him a comfortable advantage.
Thus: 19. Qb5! Bxb2 20. Nxa5!? (bold or foolhardy, depending on
your tastes, as 20. Qxb7 Bxc1 21. Rxc1 Ne5 22. Nd4 looks like a safer
way to obtain an edge) Bxc1 21. Nxb7 Nd4! (perhaps the only way to
remain in the fight) 22. Qd3 Qb6 23. Rxc1 Rxa4 24. Na5. White has two
bishops for a rook and pawn, but Kobalia at least has eliminated
White’s queen-side pawns.
Better for Black would have been 25…Qb3!, eliminating one of
the bishops on 26. Qxb3 Nxb3 27. Rb1 Nxd2 28. Nxd2 Rd4 29. Nf1 f5.
Black’s center and king-side become problems after the game’s
25…Qb5?! (the pins of the White knight along the diagonal and the
c-file prove transitory) 26. Be3 Rc8 27. Bxd4 exd4 28. Bf1! Qc5 29.
Rc2! Rc7 30. Ne3, and White’s pieces suddenly become much more
Petrosian drives the Black rook back and then switches abruptly
to the other flank with 34. Qa2 Rb8 35. Qd2!, with the threat of 36.
Qg5 g6 37. Ne7+ Kg7 38. Nd5. But it looks as if both players were
short of time as the position grows critical.
There followed 35…g6 36. Nh6+ Kg7 37. h4?? (trying to open more
lines, but overlooking that the knight is precariously perched; 37.
Ng4! keeps the focus on Black’s numerous weak king-side squares)
Rb1?? (returning the favor; on 37…Qh5!, White’s best now appears to
be 38. Nxf7 Kxf7 39. Qxd4 Rb1 40. Qxd6 Qb5 41. Qc7+ Ke6 42. Qc8+,
with a draw) 38. Ng4.
The knight has escaped, and White must simply work his bishop
into the attack. Still a move short of time control, Kobalia makes
things simple with a second oversight: 38…Qc1? 39. Qxd4+, losing a
pawn outright and leaving his king in the lurch. Black resigns.
The real Tigran Petrosian is the chess equivalent of a
postgraduate degree, a player with a style so distinctive and subtle
that it baffled even many strong players of his day. Though
criticized for being too cautious, Petrosian actually was a superb
tactician, a world-class speed player and the one Soviet grandmaster
even Bobby Fischer unreservedly admired.
Consider today’s diagrammed position from Petrosian’s win over
strong West German GM Wolfgang Unzicker in a 1960 team match, three
years before he wrested the world crown from Mikhail Botvinnik.
White’s strategy here is given close scrutiny in American IM John
Watson’s brilliant 1999 treatise “Secrets of Modern Chess Strategy,”
a book in which Petrosian games are cited frequently.
As Watson notes, White has a distinct advantage on the queen-side
but no clear avenue for penetration. Petrosian’s uncanny solution:
transfer his king from g1 to a2(!), pound open some lines on the
newly vacated king-side, and then shift back to the c-file when
Black’s forces have been diverted.
The execution includes some nice tactical points. If, for
example, 38…Qxb5, White wins with 39. axb5 a4 40. b6 Rad7 41. Na5
Ra8 42. Rxd6! Rxd6 43. b7 Rb8 44. Rc8 Rd8 45. Rxd8 Rxd8 46. Nc6. The
opening of the g- and h-files causes Unzicker no end of headaches, as
he must constantly guard against getting his queen pinned and against
an invasion by the White queen at h8.
With Black badly tied up, the action shifts back to the c-file,
now with devastating impact: 50. Qh2! Bf6 51. Rc8! Rad7 52. Nc5! b3+
(desperation) 53. Kxb3 Rd6 54. f5! (threatening both the queen and
55. Qxd6) Rb6+ 55. Ka2. Since 55…Qxf5 56. Rxd8+ Bxd8 57. Nd7+ picks
off the rook, Black resigns.

Tigran Petrosian Memorial Tournament, Stepanakert,
Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia, March 2004
Petrosian Kobalia
1. e4 c5 21. Nxb7 Nd4
2. Nc3 e6 22. Qd3 Qb6
3. Nf3 a6 23. Rxc1 Rxa4
4. g3 b5 24. Na5 e5
5. d4 cxd4 25. Nc4 Qb5
6. Nxd4 Bb7 26. Be3 Rc8
7. Bg2 Nf6 27. Bxd4 exd4
8. Qe2 Qb6 28. Bf1 Qc5
9. Nb3 Qc7 29. Rc2 Rc7
10. 0-0 d6 30. Ne3 Qa7
11. a4 b4 31. Rxc7 Qxc7
12. Na2 Nc6 32. Nf5 Qc5
13. Bd2 a5 33. Qb3 Rb4
14. Rfc1 Be7 34. Qa2 Rb8
15. c3 bxc3 35. Qd2 g6
16. Nxc3 0-0 36. Nh6+ Kg7
17. Nd5 Qd8 37. h4 Rb1
18. Nxf6+ Bxf6 38. Ng4 Qc1
19. Qb5 Bxb2 39. Qxd4+ Black
20. Nxa5 Bxc1 resigns

U.S.S.R.-West Germany Match, Hamburg, Germany, 1960
Petrosian Unzicker
1. d4 Nf6 29. Kf1 Kf8
2. Nf3 e6 30. h4 h5
3. Bg5 d5 31. R1c2 Kh7
4. c4 c6 32. Ke1 Kg8
5. Qc2 Be7 33. Kd1 Kh7
6. e3 0-0 34. Kc1 Kg8
7. Nc3 h6 35. Kb1 Kh7
8. Bf4 Nbd7 36. Qe2 Qb7
9. cxd5 cxd5 37. Rc1 Kg7
10. Bd3 a6 38. Qb5 Qa8
11. 0-0 b5 39. f4 Kh7
12. a4 b4 40. Qe2 Qb7
13. Na2 Ne8 41. g4 hxg4
14. Nc1 a5 42. Qxg4 Qe7
15. Nb3 Ba6 43. h5 Qf6
16. Bxa6 Rxa6 44. Ka2 Kg7
17. Qd3 Ra7 45. hxg6 Qxg6
18. Rfc1 Nd6 46. Qh4 Be7
19. Bxd6 Bxd6 47. Qf2 Kf8
20. Rc6 Nb8 48. Nd2 Rb7
21. Rc2 Nd7 49. Nb3 Ra7
22. Rac1 Nb6 50. Qh2 Bf6
23. Qb5 Nc4 51. Rc8 Rad7
24. Nfd2 Nxd2 52. Nc5 b3+
25. Rxd2 Qa8 52. Kxb3 Rd6
26. Rdc2 Rd8 54. f5 Rb6+
27. Rc6 g6 55. Ka2 Black
28. g3 Kg7 resigns

David R. Sands can be reached at 202/636-3178 or by e-mail at
[email protected].