- The Washington Times - Friday, March 19, 2004

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 control.

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 active.

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


1. e4c521. Nxb7Nd4

2. Nc3e622. Qd3Qb6

3. Nf3a623. Rxc1Rxa4

4. g3b524. Na5e5

5. d4cxd425. Nc4Qb5

6. Nxd4Bb726. Be3Rc8

7. Bg2Nf627. Bxd4exd4

8. Qe2Qb628. Bf1Qc5

9. Nb3Qc729. Rc2Rc7

10. 0-0d630. Ne3Qa7

11. a4b431. Rxc7Qxc7

12. Na2Nc632. Nf5Qc5

13. Bd2a533. Qb3Rb4

14. Rfc1Be734. Qa2Rb8

15. c3bxc335. Qd2g6

16. Nxc30-036. Nh6+Kg7

17. Nd5Qd837. h4Rb1

18. Nxf6+Bxf638. Ng4Qc1

19. Qb5Bxb239. Qxd4+Black

20. Nxa5Bxc1resigns

U.S.S.R.-West Germany Match, Hamburg, Germany, 1960


1. d4Nf629. Kf1Kf8

2. Nf3e630. h4h5

3. Bg5d531. R1c2Kh7

4. c4c632. Ke1Kg8

5. Qc2Be733. Kd1Kh7

6. e30-034. Kc1Kg8

7. Nc3h635. Kb1Kh7

8. Bf4Nbd736. Qe2Qb7

9. cxd5cxd537. Rc1Kg7

10. Bd3a638. Qb5Qa8

11. 0-0b539. f4Kh7

12. a4b440. Qe2Qb7

13. Na2Ne841. g4hxg4

14. Nc1a542. Qxg4Qe7

15. Nb3Ba643. h5Qf6

16. Bxa6Rxa644. Ka2Kg7

17. Qd3Ra745. hxg6Qxg6

18. Rfc1Nd646. Qh4Be7

19. Bxd6Bxd647. Qf2Kf8

20. Rc6Nb848. Nd2Rb7

21. Rc2Nd749. Nb3Ra7

22. Rac1Nb650. Qh2Bf6

23. Qb5Nc451. Rc8Rad7

24. Nfd2Nxd252. Nc5b3+

25. Rxd2Qa852. Kxb3Rd6

26. Rdc2Rd854. f5Rb6+

27. Rc6g655. Ka2Black

28. g3Kg7resigns

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

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