Zurich 1953: Tigran Petrosian, The "Iron Tiger".

Sep 2, 2009, 7:34 PM |

Born in Tbilisi, Georgia ( USSR) on June 17, 1929, made him 24 at the time of the candidates match of Zurich in 1953. He learned the came of chess at eight after entering a local chess school in his home town.

He had some impressive results at the age of 16, when he shared 1st-3rd place at the 4th USSR Junior championship at Leningrad in 1945. A year following, Petrosian won the title of Armenian Champion. At 17 he was already competing for candidates matches but didn’t quite make it in the big leagues until he moved to Moscow in 1949. In 1951 he won the Moscow tournament. In 1952, he was titled international Gandmaster and also got married to Rona Yakovlevna Avinezar.

He earned his nickname “Iron Tiger” because of his reputation of having impenetrable defenses which guaranteed safety above all else. This is most obvious in his solid and cautious still of play at Zurich. In round 9 against, Szabo, he plays a solid Orthodox QGD Tartakower variation. He slowly builds up a solid center and baits White with two central pawns. This causes white to exchange on the wrong square leaving white with a weakened knight and dark squares. The Tiger pounces as he builds a huge canon on the c-file and eats one of White’s pieces.

With white against. Euwe in round 10, he plays the Reti. Instead of playing to control c4, Petrosian shifts gear and focuses on e4. Euwe plays overly cautious and passive. This allows White to gain control of the center and, in particular, the d-file. After a series of exchanges, he finds a better endgame and wins.

In round 19, he plays white against Gligoric’s King’s Indian Defense. The game takes on a familiar kingside space advantage for Black versus a queenside space advantage for white seen in these KID positions. Around move 18, however, Petrosian lures Gligoric to open the King side. Gligoric plays a safer bet by dropping pawns on the queen side to open up for attacking potential but under time pressure, Gligoric didn’t play a sharp line involving a rook sacrifice in the position. This was all Petrosian needed to secure the point.


Gligoric played 37...Rda4. Bronstein saw this line 37...Rxe4 38 fxe4 Nxe4 39. Qe1 is necessary to stop 39...Nd2+ 40. Ka1 Rxa2+ 41. Kxa2 Qa8#


In round 24, facing Szabo again, but this time, with the White pieces, Petrosian uses a very contemporary approach in this Reti game. In the first 10 moves, he plays moves like Qa4+, h4 and Rb1 all to get to a favorable middle game. Szabo sacrifices the f-pawn to open up the file and keep White’s king on the center. This doesn’t slow down the Tiger. He manages to “entomb” Black’s bishop which Szabo tries to recover with a knight sacrifice to open the game up. No luck, the Tiger pounces on his wounded prey.

In round 26, Petrosian demonstrates his pioneering spirit and plays what appears to be the first instance of a King’s Indian Attack. Bronstein views this as “ an excellent illustration of Petrosian’s style: its highly individual positional pattern and its logical consistency combine to create a harmonious whole and artistic achievement.” Considering this was never really seen in competition before, it was truly a novelty sprung on an unsuspecting Stahlberg.

He score +6 -4 =18 to finish in 5th place.


He was a Candidate for the World Championship on eight occasions (1953, 1956, 1959, 1962, 1971, 1974, 1977 and 1980). In the 1963 World Championship cycle, he won the Candidates tournament at Curaçao in 1962, then in 1963 he defeated Mikhail Botvinnik 12.5–9.5 to become World Chess Champion. 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 by defeating Boris Spassky 12.5–11.5. He was the first World Champion to win a title match while champion since Alekhine beat Bogoljubov in 1934. He lost it in 1969 (to Spassky). Thus he was the defending World Champion or a World Champion candidate in ten consecutive three-year cycles.

In 1968, he was granted a PhD from Yerevan State University for his thesis, "Chess Logic".
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).

His legacy remains for being one of the best players pioneering the theory of prophylaxis, years after Aron Nimzowitsch. His style of play was often highly strategical, notable for anticipating opponents' possible attacks, and he based many of his games on avoidance of error, content with accumulating small advantages.

Petrosian died of stomach cancer in 1984 in Moscow. Petrosian is buried in Vagankovo Cemetery and in 1987 13th World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov unveiled a memorial in the cemetery at Petrosian's grave ( pictured here with Spassky)which depicts the laurel wreath of world champion and an image contained within a crown of the sun shining above the twin peaks of Mount Ararat - the national symbol of Petrosian's native Armenia.