Petrosian Learns from Capablanca

Petrosian Learns from Capablanca


Dear chess lovers, some reflections on a positional theme- the minority attack in the Queen's Gambit Declined. In 1963, Tigran V. Petrosian challenged Mikhail Botvinnik for the World Championship and succeeded in winning the match!

With the Black pieces, Petrosian played the Queen's Gambit accepted 5 times, in games 2,6,8,10 and 16, and drew all of them. He also played the Queen's Gambit Declined in games 12, 14 and 18. Game 12 was a draw, Botvinnik won game 14, and Petrosian won game 18. 

Against Petrosian's Queen's Gambit Declined Botvinnik used the Exchange Variation, followed by Bf4:

Now, Black's problem in this opening is the development of his light-squared bishop. White has solved the problem of his own dark-squared bishop by developing it to f4, outside the pawn chain. Petrosian chose to bring his own bishop to f5, which prompts White to attack with g4, gaining space and time, and challenging Black's development scheme right away.

Now, in the Exchange Variation, a typical strategy for White will be to mount an attack on the Queenside, which traditionally is called the Minority Attack:

White will try to advance his pawn to b5, and if possible, exchange on c6, creating a weakness in the Black camp. If Black exchanges on b5, he opens lines for White on the Queenside.....

Here with look at a stem game, Steinitz-Lee, London 1899:

Some players, like Flohr, became quite proficient in using this system....

In the 14th game of the 1927 World Championship Match, Capablanca devised a maneuver to neutralize the Minority Attack; his idea is that a Knight on d6 would strengthen the b5 square, and thus take the sting out of White's plan....

Many years later, in 1963, Petrosian adopted a similar plan as a counter to Botvinnik's system in the Bf4 Exchange Variation....

All the great Soviet Masters had great chess culture, and studied the technique of the old Masters, all the way from Chigorin to Alekhine. It pays to study these games!

Best wishes to everyone on their chess journey!

P.S.- Addendum, February 20, 2021

I have been reflecting on this post and its content, so I would like to add some additional thoughts and notes.

In the 1963 World Championship Match, by game 11 Petrosian had played the Queen's Gambit Accepted four times with the black pieces, drawing all those games, and had a one-point advantage in the match.

On game 12, for reasons that I do not fully understand yet, Petrosian decided to play the Queen's Gambit Declined, and had to face Botvinnik's favorite system, the Exchange Variation. 

Against Botvinnik's expected setup with g4 and h3, Petrosian played the paradoxical ....h5 early in the opening, and managed to draw the game after a difficult defense, in which Botvinnik might have missed a wining maneuver. I wanted to offer you all a little bit of insight into not only game 12, but all three games in which the Queen's Gambit Declined were played (games 12, 14 and 18), because I believe that Petrosian's loss in game 14 might have spurred him to look back and find Capablanca's solution- bring the knight to d6!

So here we go....this is game 12, the first game in the match where the QGD is played. Petrosian is up by one point. Comments by GM Salo Flohr.

The next game, game 14, is the last game that Botvinnik won in this match. Petrosian avoids his ...h5 idea from game 12. Here is game 14, with notes from Gm Shamkovich:

It seems that Petrosian lost the thread of the game in game 14. After game 14, the score was even. In game 15, Petrosian had a dominating position and Botvinnik, looking for activity, exchanged Queens but allowed his pawn chain to be weakened permanently. Petrosian was able to out-maneuver Botvinnik in the resulting positions and win the game:

For game 18, Petrosian played the Queen's Gambit Declined with Black, and threw in the Nd7-b6-c4-d6 maneuver early in the opening, achieving the Capablanca formation, and went on to win the game! Here is game 18, with notes by GM Suetin, a known theory expert and Petrosian's second and trainer until 1971.

So, this is as far as we go today. I hope you enjoy the games with comments.