In Honor of Iron Tigran

Maybe I was too young – just 11 years old – or not yet hooked on chess enough to visit the candidates tournament that was held in 1956 in Amsterdam, but I must have read newspaper reports and somewhat later I read the tournament book by Euwe and Mühring (Das Kandidatenturnier für die Weltmeisterschaft 1956), which made me a fan of Tigran Petrosian.

How well he had played and how unlucky he had been during the first five rounds. In round two, in a totally winning position against Bronstein, he didn’t notice that his queen had been attacked and just left it en prise. In the next round, he missed an easy win against Smyslov, the same happened against Spassky in round four, and in round five against Panno he overlooked the possibility to win a pawn.

He had squandered 2½ points in these first 5 rounds, showing great strategy on the way. At the end of the tournament he had scored 9½ points in 18 games, which gave him a shared third place behind Smyslov and Keres.

I was most impressed by his game against Spassky. Gaining space on the queenside in a flank opening, then attacking Black’s stronghold on e5 from left and right, forcing Black to move his pawn to e4, and finally breaking up Black’s pawn chain with a well-timed g3-g4. I found it a beautiful strategy which I have tried to emulate in my own games many times.

The general and justified praise for Petrosian as a defender – “He could spot a threat three rounds in advance” – may have obscured the many other things he was capable of.

In the first half of November, the Petrosian Memorial, won by Alexander Grischuk, was played in Moscow. The sponsor was Tashir, a group of Armenian business enterprises, and the president of the organizing committee was the Armenian president Serzh Sarkisian, who is also the president of the Armenian Chess Federation.

It was announced that the Tahir Group would publish a new edition of a collection of articles and TV-lectures by Petrosian which was originally published in Russian with the simple title Shakhmatny Lektsi (Chess Lessons). There is an English edition from 1990, Petrosian’s Legacy.

It is a very interesting book. Browsing through it recently, I found a brief appearance of a young candidate master, Volodya Chuchelov, who nowadays is well-known as coach of Fabiano Caruana and former coach of Anish Giri and many other strong players.

Young Volodya has demonstrated and commented on a game he won in a clock simul against Yuri Razuvaev. “Well done!” says Petrosian. “You have played this game convincingly enough. The final attack was especially good.”

A curious consultation game was played during a training camp near Moscow for the Olympiad in Helsinki in 1952. Ten stars came together for a game that in my view confirms the maxim that too many fine cooks will spoil the broth. At least the broth brewed by the white side.

At the start of the game the white pieces were conducted by Averbakh, Geller, Petrosian and Taimanov, the black pieces by Keres, Kotov and Tolush. After a while, Boleslavsky joined the black team and later Botvinnik and Smyslov came into the “white” room, at a moment when White’s prospects were already bleak. Apart from the game viewer here, the game can also be found on, as Taimanov-Boleslavsky, 1952 consultation game.

Botvinnik was present at the training camp, but he would not play at the Olympiad. In his book Achieving the Aim he explained how that came about. Originally he had decided against taking part, because of the strenuous schedule, but then the Soviet chess authorities had persuaded him to go to Helsinki to negotiate with the Finnish organizers.

They were reluctant to change their schedule, but even more reluctant to do without the world champion, so they gave in to Botvinnik’s demands. He would play at the Olympiad.

But then an unexpected obstacle was put in his way. At the training camp Botvinnik’s colleagues had come to the conclusion that he was off form and should not be in the team.

Botvinnik writes: “That night I could not get to sleep. In the morning I went into the bathroom and saw Smyslov cleaning his teeth. ‘Vasily Vasiliyevich, it’s reported that you consider that I do not know how to play chess?’ Smyslov spent a very long time cleaning his teeth, and answered quietly, ‘I didn’t know that it would all come out.’ Such a frank answer could only come from Smyslov!”

In Helsinki at the Olympiad it was announced that Botvinnik was ill. The true state of affairs, that his teammates had considered the world champion unfit for service, might have evoked disbelief.

But Botvinnik would have his revenge at the Soviet championship at the end of 1952, where, as he writes, “the ‘ill’ champion who had lost the ability to play chess was fortunate enough to score four points against the five Helsinki team members (Kotov was not competing, Smyslov and Boleslavsky drew with me). Yet time smooths over everything. Already by the next Olympiad, at Amsterdam, 1954, I had good relations with the other team members.”

To come back to the star-studded consultation game of 1952, in Petrosian’s Legacy the extensive annotations are taken from a notebook of Lev Abramovich, a chess master, arbiter, correspondence player and chess official, who during the game moved from the white room to the black room and back, taking notes of the deliberations he witnessed. Of course he couldn’t be everywhere at the same time, but he penned down many interesting variations.

I think White was a bit handicapped in this game, because there were at least two players in the group, Mark Taimanov and Tigran Petrosian, who in this very sharp opening variation had much more affinity with the black side.

Click to play through the games.



Amsterdam 1956

Team Petrosian-Team Keres
Consultation Game 1952