Tigran Petrosian

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Tigran Petrosian (Armenian Տիգրան Պետրոսյան; June 17, 1929 – August 13,1984) was a former world chess champion. Due to Russification in the Soviet Union he is also known as Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian (Russian Тигран Вартанович Петросян). His nickname was "Iron Tigran", because of his almost impenetrable defense, which guaranteed safety above all else (Vasiliev 1974:27) and (Kasparov 2004:7, 16, 62, 80).


An ethnic Armenian, Petrosian was born in the village Mulki of Aragatsotn region, Armenia, and lived during his childhood in the city of Tbilisi, Georgia, USSR. Most of his life he lived in the Russian capital, Moscow. He learned the game of chess at the age of eight. A significant step for Petrosian was moving to Moscow in 1949, and he began to play and win many tournaments there. He won the 1951 tournament in Moscow, and began to show steady progress.

His results in the triennial Candidates Tournament, held to determine the challenger to the world champion, showed a steady improvement: fifth at Zürich in 1953, equal third at Amsterdam in 1956, third in Yugoslavia in 1959, and first at Curaçao in 1962. In 1963 he defeated Mikhail Botvinnik 12.5–9.5 to become world chess champion. His patient, defensive style frustrated Botvinnik, who only needed to make one risky move for Petrosian to punish him. Petrosian is the only player to go through the Interzonal and the Candidates process undefeated on the way to the world championship match.

Petrosian defended his title in 1966, defeating Boris Spassky 12.5–11.5, the first World Champion to win a title match while champion since Alekhine beat Bogoljubov in 1934. In 1968, he was granted an M.Phil. from Yerevan University for his thesis, "Chess Logic". He was also the chief editor of the chess magazine, "Shakhmatnaya Moskva" from 1963–66. In 1969 Spassky got his revenge, winning by 12.5–10.5 and taking the title.

He was the only player to win a game against Bobby Fischer during the latter's 1971 Candidates matches, finally bringing an end to Fischer's amazing streak of twenty consecutive wins (seven to finish the 1970 Palma de Mallorca Interzonal, six against Taimanov, six against Larsen, and the first game in their match).

Some of his late successes included victory in the 1979 Paul Keres Memorial tournament in Tallinn (12/16 without a loss, ahead of Tal, Bronstein and others), shared first place (with Portisch and Huebner) in the Rio de Janeiro Interzonal the same year, and 2nd place in Tilburg in 1981, half a point behind the winner Beliavsky. It was here that he played his last famous victory, a miraculous escape vs. the young Garry Kasparov [1]. Petrosian died of stomach cancer in August 1984.

Chess heritage

He has two major opening systems named after him: the Petrosian variation of the King's Indian Defence (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. Nf3 O-O 6. Be2 e5 7. d5) and the Petrosian system in the Queen's Indian Defense (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. a3). A variation of the Caro-Kann defense also bears his name, along with former world champion Vassily Smyslov; the Petrosian–Smyslov variation (1. e4 c6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 dxe4 4. Nxe4 Nd7).

He is most famous for being one of the best players pioneering the theory of prophylaxis, years after Aron Nimzowitsch. He also was an expert in the art of the exchange sacrifice, a move in chess when you purposely sacrifice a superior piece in order to obtain a long-term positional advantage. His pioneering work in this particular tactic is widely used by top grandmasters today.

His style of play was often highly strategical, notable for anticipating opponent's possible attacks and he based many of his games on avoidance of error, content with accumulating small advantages. His games are now widely used for instruction in chess schools around the world.

Notable chess games


  • In those years, it was easier to win the Soviet Championship than a game against "iron Tigran".Lev Polugaevsky (Kasparov 2004:80).

Further reading

  • World Chess Champions by Edward G. Winter, editor. 1981 ISBN 0-08-024094-1
  • Twelve Great Chess Players and Their Best Games by Irving Chernev; Dover; August 1995. ISBN 0-486-28674-6

preceded by
Mikhail Botvinnik
succeeded by
Boris Spassky


  • Garry Kasparov (2004). On my Great Predecessors, Volume 3. Everyman. ISBN 1-85744-371-3

External links