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Tigran Petrosian
Tigran Petrosian.jpg
Full name Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian
Country  Soviet Union
Born June 17, 1929(1929-06-17)
Tbilisi, Georgia, Transcaucasian SFSR, USSR
Died August 13, 1984 (aged 55)
Moscow, Russian SFSR, USSR
Title Grandmaster
World Champion 1963-1969
Peak rating 2645 (July 1972)
This article uses algebraic notation to describe chess moves.

Tigran Petrosian (Armenian: Տիգրան Պետրոսյան) (June 17, 1929 – August 13, 1984) was World Chess Champion from 1963 to 1969.

He is often known by the Russian version of his name, Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian (Russian: Тигран Вартанович Петросян). He was nicknamed "Iron Tigran" due to his playing style because of his almost impenetrable defence, which emphasised safety above all else.[1] He was a Candidate for the World Championship on eight occasions (1953, 1956, 1959, 1962, 1971, 1974, 1977 and 1980). He won the world championship in 1963 (against Botvinnik), successfully defended it in 1966 (against Spassky), and lost it in 1969 (to Spassky). Thus he was the defending World Champion or a World Championship candidate in ten consecutive three-year cycles. He won the Soviet Championship four times (1959, 1961, 1969, and 1975). He was arguably the hardest player to beat in the history of chess.[2]


Early years

A Soviet Armenian, Petrosian was born in the city of Tbilisi, Georgia, Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, USSR[3] and spent most of his childhood there. He learned the game of chess at the age of eight, after entering a local chess school at the Tbilisi Pioneer's Palace (currently known as Tbilisi Children's Palace). Petrosian's first coach was Archil Ebralidze.

Petrosian's first important result was a shared 1st-3rd place at the 4th USSR Junior Championship, Leningrad 1945, with 11/15; he tied with Y. Vasilchuk and A. Reshko. In the 6th Armenian Championship, Yerevan 1946, Petrosian won the title with 9/10. But that same year at Leningrad for the Candidates to Masters event, he could only make 6.5/15 for a shared 8th-11th place. In the 7th Georgian Championship, Tbilisi 1946, Petrosian scored 12.5/19, and was second among Georgians; the winner Paul Keres (18/19) played hors concours ("far ahead of the competition"), and conceded just two draws, one of them to Petrosian. He failed badly at the USSR Championship semi-final, Tbilisi 1946, with just 6/17, for a shared 16th-17th place. Petrosian claimed the title in the 5th USSR Junior Championship, Leningrad 1946, with an unbeaten 14/15. In the 1947 Armenian Championship, Petrosian shared 2nd-4th places, with 8.5/11, behind Igor Bondarevsky, who played hors concours. In the 1948 Championship of Caucasian Republics, Petrosian placed 2nd with 9/12, behind winner Vladimir Makogonov. In the 8th Armenian Championship of 1948, Petrosian shared the title on 12.5/13 with Genrikh Kasparian.

Despite growing up and starting his chess career in Georgia, Petrosian was regarded by his Soviet teammates as Armenian. For example when Bobby Fischer said he intended to beat "all the Russians" at the Bled 1961 tournament, Paul Keres told him that there were no Russians in the tournament: Mikhail Tal was a Latvian, Petrosian an Armenian, Efim Geller a Ukrainian, and Keres himself was an Estonian.[4] Western publications described Petrosian as an Armenian.[5]

Moves to Moscow, Grandmaster

A significant step for Petrosian was moving to Moscow in 1949, where he began to play and win many tournaments. Moscow, along with Leningrad and Kiev, was one of the three major Soviet chess cities. He won the 1951 tournament in Moscow, and began to show steady progress. By 1952 Petrosian became a Soviet and international Grandmaster in chess. Prior to taking up chess full time though, Petrosian was a caretaker and a road sweeper.[6] In 1952, he married Rona Yakovlevna Avinezar, a translator who was active in chess circles.

World title Candidate

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.

World Champion

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. 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 shared first place with Paul Keres at the Piatigorsky Cup, Los Angeles 1963, his first tournament after winning the championship.

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

Olympiads and Team Championships

Petrosian was not selected for the Soviet Olympiad side until 1958; he had already been a Candidate twice by that time. But he then made ten straight Soviet Olympiad teams from 1958 to 1978, won nine team gold medals, one team silver medal, and six individual gold medals.
His overall performance in Olympiad play is impressive: +78 =50 −1 (only one game lost out of 139 played), for 79.8 per cent, the third all-time best performance after Mikhail Tal and Anatoly Karpov.[7] His Olympiad results are the following.

  • Munich 1958, 2nd reserve, 10.5/13 (+8 =5 −0), board and team gold medals;
  • Leipzig 1960, 2nd reserve, 12/13 (+11 =2 −0), board and team gold medals;
  • Varna 1962, board 2, 10/12 (+8 =4 −0), board and team gold medals;
  • Tel Aviv 1964, board 1, 9.5/13 (+6 =7 −0), team gold medal;
  • Havana 1966, board 1, 11.5/13 (+10 =3 −0), board and team gold medals;
  • Lugano 1968, board 1, 10.5/12 (+9 =3 −0), board and team gold medals;
  • Siegen 1970, board 2, 10/14 (+6 =8 −0), team gold medal;
  • Skopje 1972, board 1, 10.5/16 (+6 =9 −1), team gold medal;
  • Nice 1974, board 4, 12.5/14 (+11 =3 −0), board and team gold medals;
  • Buenos Aires 1978, board 2, 6/9 (+3 =6 −0), team silver medal.

Petrosian also made the Soviet side for every European Team Championship held while he was alive, a total of eight selections, from 1957 to 1983. He won eight team gold medals, and four board gold medals. His totals in Euroteams play, according to, are (+15 =37 −0), for 64.4 per cent.[7] His Euroteams results follow.

  • Vienna 1957, board 6, 4/5 (+3 =2 −0), board and team gold medals;
  • Oberhausen 1961, board 4, 6/8 (+4 =4 −0), board and team gold medals;
  • Hamburg 1965, board 1, 6/10 (+2 =8 −0), board and team gold medals;
  • Kapfenberg 1970, board 1, 3.5/6 (+1 =5 −0), team gold medal;
  • Bath, Somerset 1973, board 2, 4.5/7 (+2 =5 −0), board and team gold medals;
  • Moscow 1977, board 2, 3.5/6 (+1 =5 −0), team gold medal;
  • Skara 1980, board 3, 2.5/5 (+0 =5 −0), team gold medal;
  • Plovdiv 1983, board 3 3.5/5 (+2 =3 −0), team gold medal.

Later career

Along with a number of other Soviet Chess champions, he signed a petition condemning the actions of the defector Viktor Korchnoi in 1976. It was the continuation of a bitter feud between the two, dating back at least to their 1974 Candidates semi-final match which Petrosian withdrew from after five games while trailing 3.5-1.5 (+3−1=1). His match with Korchnoi in 1977 saw the two former colleagues refuse to shake hands or speak to each other. They even demanded separate eating and toilet facilities. Petrosian went on to lose the match and was subsequently fired as editor of Russia's largest chess magazine, 64. His detractors condemned his reluctance to attack and some put it down to a lack of courage. At this point however, Botvinnik spoke out on his behalf, stating that he only attacked when he felt secure and his greatest strength was in defence.[6]

Some of his late successes included victories at Lone Pine 1976 and 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 Hübner) in the Rio de Janeiro Interzonal the same year, and second 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 against the young Garry Kasparov.[8] 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 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.

Chess legacy

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 Defence (1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 4. a3).

He is most famous for being one of the best exponents of 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. His games are now widely used for instruction in chess schools around the world. He was also the chief editor of the chess magazine, "Shakhmatnaya Moskva" ("The Chess Moscow") from 1963–66.


  • In those years, it was easier to win the Soviet Championship than a game against "Iron Tigran".Lev Polugaevsky[9]
  • It is to Petrosian's advantage that his opponents never know when he is suddenly going to play like Mikhail Tal. - Boris Spassky
  • He [Petrosian] has an incredible tactical view, and a wonderful sense of the danger... No matter how much you think deep... He will "smell" any kind of danger 20 moves before! - Robert Fischer
  • We can call Petrosian the first defender with a capital D. He was the first person to demonstrate that it is possible to defend virtually every position. Petrosian contributed a defensive element to chess - an element that is being developed more and more today. He showed that chess contains an enormous number of resources, including defensive ones. - Vladimir Kramnik[10]
  • Chess is a game by its form, an art by its content and a science by the difficulty of gaining mastery in it. Chess can convey as much happiness as a good book or work of music can. However, it is necessary to learn to play well and only afterwards will one experience real delight. - Tigran Petrosian
  • I'm absolutely convinced that in chess - although it remains a game - there is nothing accidental. And this is my credo. I like only those chess games, in which I have played in accordance with the position requirements... I believe only in logical and right game. - Tigran Petrosian[11]


  1. ^ Vasiliev 1974:27 and Kasparov 2004:7, 16, 62, 80
  2. ^ (Edmonds & Eidinow 2004:48)
  3. ^ Georgian Soviet Encyclopedia, Vol. 8, Tbilisi, 1984, pp. 51
  4. ^ Larry Evans (October 1996). "The Tragedy of Paul Keres". Chess Life: 40.  
  5. ^
  6. ^ a b "Chess" Magazine - September 1984
  7. ^ a b Petrosian, Tigran team chess records at
  8. ^ Kasparov–Petrosian, Tilburg 1981 at
  9. ^ Kasparov 2004, p. 80
  10. ^ Kramnik Interview: From Steinitz to Kasparov, 2005, Official Site
  11. ^ Chess Champion of the World Tigran Petrosian


External links

Preceded by
Mikhail Botvinnik
World Chess Champion
Succeeded by
Boris Spassky


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Tigran Petrosian chess player


  • "One must beware of unnecessary excitement."
  • "Some consider that when I play I am excessively cautious, but it seems to me that the question may be a different one. I try to avoid chance. Those who rely on chance should play cards or roulette. Chess is something quite different."
  • "They say my chess games should be more interesting. I could be more interesting - and also lose."
  • "It does not really matter, as long as it is an extra one." (on which was his favorite chess piece)
  • "I know I am not on form when the best move is not the one that first comes to my mind."


  • "With the initiative Petrosian often played like a python, squeezing and squeezing the victim until he was almost happy to resign. When the chances were balanced, Petrosian was like a mongoose deflecting every thrust." – Larry Parr
  • "Petrosian was a player who spent more time considering his opponent’s possibilities than his own." – Paul Keres
  • "He was perfectly aware that by losing half a point in some tournament he could anger his bosses, thereby cutting himself off from international competitions. It happened to some of his colleagues - the far more daring Tal, for example - and Petrosian did not want to be just another victim at the hands of Baturinsky, Krogius and the like. Therefore all his fantastic talent was eaten up by never-ending calculations - he knew exactly, long before the tournament, with whom he would draw the games and whom he would beat. Today's formula of a super-pragmatic chess player "plus 4, or plus 5" started with Petrosian." – Lev Khariton
  • "It was really hard to play Tigran. The thing is that he had a somewhat different understanding of positional play. He went deeper into it than usual, and myself, a universal player, did not completely understand Tigran’s way and depth of judgment, although I was judging all positions well." – Mikhail Botvinnik (on their '63 match)
  • "The depth of Tigran’s approach to chess is the direct consequence of his clear mind and his rare insight into general aspects of chess, into subtleties of chess tactics and strategy. Petrosian performed a special kind of art in creating harmonious positions that were full of life, where apparent absence of superficial dynamism was compensated by enormous inner energy. Every subtle change in the position was always taken into consideration in the context of a complex strategy that was not obvious to his opponents." – Garry Kasparov
Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

Tigran Petrosian[1] (Tbilisi, Georgia, 17 June 1929 – Moscow, 13 August 1984) was World Chess Champion from 1963 to 1969. He was born to Armenian parents, and brought up in the capital of Armenia, Yerevan.[2]p103

Petrosian got the USSR national master title in 1947, and his chess improved rapidly when he moved to Moscow that year. By coming second in the 1951 USSR championship he qualified for the FIDE Interzonal tournament in Stockholm next year. There he qualified for the World Championship Candidates tournament in Zurich 1953. He came fifth, and was awarded the title of International Grandmaster.[3]p299

File:314 Armenian Stamps-T
Tigran Petrosian special issue

Years followed when he made no visible progress, and others had the chance to challenge for the world title. Vasily Smyslov and Mikhail Tal both won the world title, yet lost it back to Botvinnik in return matches. At last, in 1962, Tigran won the Candidates tournament, and became the new challenger to Botvinnik. Petrosian also won the immensely strong Soviet Championship four times, in 1959 (Tbilisi), 1961 (Moscow), 1969 (Moscow), and 1975 (Yerevan).[4]p118


The World Championship

Before the title match started, FIDE changes the regulations to remove the return match clause. It had been criticised for giving Botvinnik too great an advantage over his rivals.

In the match Petrosian started shakily, losing the first game and just escaping with a draw in the second game. From then on he was in control, and won the match (best of 24 games) by +5 –2 =15. In 1966 he defended the title against Boris Spassky, and won 12½–11½. The victory was rather more emphatic than the score suggests. In 1969 Spassky was again the challenger, and this time Petrosian lost 10½–12½.

Petrosian played in every world championship cycle from 1951 to 1980, when he lost a quarter-final match against his old enemy, Viktor Korchnoi.[4]


Petrosian's record in Chess Olympiads was unsurpassed.[2] He played for the USSR in nine Olympiads, and this is a summary of his overall results: +79 –1 =50.[5]p156–8

Style, personality

Petrosian was one of those players who set out to stifle the opponent's chances before they take action themselves. He was a student of Nimzovich's ideas of prophylaxis. Capablanca was another such player, but his chess was pure and simple. Petrosian's was profound and complex. He has been much admired by grandmasters, but was not so popular with lesser players. Like Capablanca, he was somewhat lazy, and did not strive to win every game. At his peak, he was the best player in the world at manoeuvring in complex positions, and an outstanding endgame player.[3]p300


  1. Armenian: Տիգրան Պետրոսյան; Russian: Тигран Петросян.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Keene, Raymond 1981. Tigran Petrosian. In Winter E.G. (ed) World chess champions. Pergamon, Oxford.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hooper D. and Whyld K. 1992. The Oxford companion to chess. 2nd ed, Oxford University Press.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Whyld, Kenneth 1986. Chess: the records. Guiness, Enfield, Middlesex.
  5. Winter E.G. (ed) World chess champions. Pergamon, Oxford.

Other sources

  • Keene, Ray and Simpole, Julian 2009. Petrosian vs the Elite: 71 victories by the master of manoeuvre 1946–1983. Batsford, London. ISBN 0-71349-049-7
  • Shekhtman Eduard 1991. The games of Tigran Petrosian. transl. Kenneth P. Neat, 2 vols, Pergamon, Oxford. All his recorded games, some with annotations.
  • Vasiliev, Viktor 1974. Tigran Petrosian: his life and games. Batsford. ISBN 4871878139 .


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