Tigran Petrosian And The Queen's Indian

Tigran Petrosian And The Queen's Indian

| 20 | Opening Theory

Tigran Petrosian, the ninth world champion, gained the title in his 1963 match with Mikhail Botvinnik. Thus the Botvinnik era came to a close, since the automatic rematch clause (which allowed Botvinnik to regain the championship after one year from Vassily Smyslov and Mikhail Tal) had ended.

Petrosian had an unusual and (some would say) "twisted" style. By nature he played very quietly, specializing in closed openings and making many draws. But he had a great ability to both provoke and anticipate attacks, leading his opponents to take positional risks. When they had run afoul of the positional truth, Petrosian was merciless in his smooth execution.

A couple of lines in which Petrosian specialized are named after him: the Petrosian Variation of the King's Indian, and the same of the Queen's Indian. We will be examining the latter in this article.

As with many other lines named after world champions and other great players, Petrosian was not actually the first player to use the move 4.a3. It had been played a number of times before, including by Aron Nimzowitsch, the grandfather of the Queen's Indian/ Nimzo-Indian complex himself. I suppose it is logical that Nimzowitsch would play this move as White, preventing his own specialty ...Bb4.

However, Petrosian was one of the first top players to use 4.a3 consistently and with resolve. Probably in most earlier games, this move -- which hardly seems critical, spending a tempo just to stop Black's move -- was played as a surprise weapon. But Petrosian saw in this move an objective value, and popularized it to such an extent that it became the main alternative to 4.g3.

At first, the justification of the Petrosian Variation seems very obscure: to admit that the Nimzo-Indian is a great opening, and that White should be content to play a non-developing move, allowing Black a variety of development plans with a virtual tempo up. For instance, Black can play an early ...d5, hoping to reach a Queen's Gambit with the hardly useful move a3 played instead of a healthy developing move; or Black can play an early ...c5, aiming to reach a Benoni, again with the semi-useless a3 move; or Black can play a variety of other strictly Queen's Indian ideas, always with a virtual tempo up.

But eventually it became evident, largely from Petrosian's own games, that concrete factors allowed White to seek an advantage after each of Black's responses. In particular, the a3 move might be a wasted tempo, but Black has a lot of difficulty justifying the ...b6 and ...Bb7 development of the bishop when he is unable to establish control over e4. White has also, by not playing g3, maintained greater flexibility of the light-squared bishop. It becomes usual to develop it on the f1-a6 diagonal, by e3 (or e4).

Additionally, the Carlsbad structures that arise if Black plays ...d5 and meets cxd5 with ...exd5 are not necessarily a walk in the park. Compared to the normal pawn structure, here Black has played ...b6, weakening his position on the c-file.

Thus in the move 4.a3 Petrosian saw his chess soul: a prophylactic move, which also provokes the opponent to take action. And if Black does not take action, White will gain a straightforward advantage in the center. It is not surprising that this opening was named after him.

It also shows the evolution of chess from the early 20th century, when such a move would be met only with criticism.

Petrosian first began using his a3 move after the inclusion of the moves Nc3 and ...Bb7, which gave his opponents the possibility of playing ...Bb4. Perhaps Petrosian was not initially ready to play a3 on move four, when Black retained the possibility of different developments of the light-squared bishop (e.g. ...Ba6).

In 1961 he won a very nice game against Smyslov, utilizing subtle positional pressure in a symmetrical structure to induce weaknesses across the board.

In 1968 Petrosian won a very beautiful and instructive game against Bent Larsen. Larsen decided to head into a kind of Benoni with the inclusion of the moves a3 and ...b6. Almost impossibly delicate preparations by Petrosian led to a sudden onslaught. The method Petrosian used looks like jujitsu.

Petrosian's use of the 4.a3 move led to the variation being adopted by many of the world's best players. Later, Garry Kasparov used it many times to win some famous games. Other world champions like Anatoly Karpov and Vladimir Kramnik also used 4.a3. In a sense, the acceptance of this move marks a shift in chess theory from earlier days, when such a non-developing move would be frowned on. The justifications are subtle and depend on concrete analysis rather than general considerations. In fact, the move a3 can now be found in a variety of different openings, for instance:

 Both of these are considered legitimate tries for advantage.

More from GM BryanSmith
Magnus Carlsen And The Nimzo-Indian Defense

Magnus Carlsen And The Nimzo-Indian Defense

Vishy Anand And The Semi-Slav Defense

Vishy Anand And The Semi-Slav Defense