The Tactical Side of Petrosian You Didn't Know About!
The ninth world champion, Tigran Petrosian (1929-1984), is frequently perceived as the patriarch of defense and positional play. There is a tendency to believe that most of his games feature protracted, yawn-inducing stages of maneuvering in which Petrosian gradually exploits an imperceptible structural defect in his opponent's camp.
There is no denying that his play usually lacked the pizzazz of Tal or Kasparov and that he was rather fond of quick draws. Consequently, many players tend to view Petrosian as a somewhat one-sided player who avoided tactics at all costs. However, after closely studying many of his games, I have come to the conclusion that Petrosian was one of the greatest tacticians of all time.
This is certainly a drastic opinion, but I believe that a close inspection of his games will reveal his stunning calculational ability and tactical vision.
Buckle up, dear reader, and prepare to witness the caged tiger beneath the peaceful facade!
Because of the abundance of material (!), I have decided to divide this article into two parts. Today, we will deal with Petrosian's attacking ability, and next Friday's article will be devoted to his combinational vision.
Some of the featured games can be found in Petrosian's best games collection, Стратегия Надежности ("The Strategy of Reliability" — the book is out of print and available only in Russian; even the title is practically untranslatable!). If you speak Russian and are able to hunt down a copy, I highly recommend it!
In our first game, Petrosian whips up a deadly attack out of nowhere and steamrolls one of the strongest and hardest-to-beat grandmasters of the 20th century. Skeptics: take heed!
Not bad, huh? Notice how patiently and steadily Petrosian built up the attack, inducing one concession after another until Taimanov's position simply fell apart. Put simply, Petrosian made the incredibly subtle look easy.
In case you were wondering, every one of his moves starting at move 14 matches Houdini's top choice (and somehow I don't think he was cheating).
Another magical display! ...Bg1-h2-g3 is one of the finest attacking maneuvers I have ever seen. Petrosian's handling of the opening was definitely subpar, but even Tal would have been envious of his queen sacrifice and mating attack.
Petrosian's positional exchange sacrifices are well-known, but he exhibited the same amazing detachment toward material when attacking. In the following game, my favorite Petrosian attack, he vanquishes none other than Boris Spassky in a beautiful sacrificial display.
The final sequence (culminating with 30.Qh8+) was certainly flashy, but the real work was done much earlier. To precisely assess the consequences of the exchange sacrifice on f1, Petrosian had to utilize his accurate intuition and display profound calculation — as usual, he performed both tasks impeccably.
These games are only the tip of the iceberg: Petrosian conducted many, many more brilliant attacks against the strongest grandmasters of his day.
Next week, we will continue our exploration of his tactical adventures.
RELATED STUDY MATERIAL
- Read GM Naroditsky's last article, How to Steal a Chess Game.
- Watch GM Roman Dzindzichashvili's Greatest Chess Minds video on Spassky.
- Play a match between Petrosian and Spassky in the Chess Mentor.
- Practice your Petrosian-like combinations in the Tactics Trainer.
- Looking for articles with deeper analysis? Try our magazine: The Master's Bulletin.