I was just 15-years-old in 1997.
The guy on the right.
It was my first year of study – chess had absolutely possessed me – with all of my spare time was spent at my chessboard playing over games by Morphy, Anderssen, Capablanca, Alekhine and of course, the legendary Bobby Fischer.
This was long before the internet had taken grip of every aspect of our lives.
Within a few months my irrational passion for chess was raising a few eyebrows.
It didn’t matter what time of the day family friends visited our home, I’d be sitting there at the table with a cup of tea, playing over games from a chess book.
And on one of these days I was sitting at the table, eyes glued to the chessboard, and from out of nowhere a crisp, thick new book burst into my vision, thumping onto the kitchen table in front of me.
“Here’s one for you to borrow”, a family friend named Hakim announced to me.
I’d never seen it before, but I’d heard of the famous author, and obviously wasted no time tearing the book open to have a look.
This book became my constant companion for several months afterward, no matter where I went!
Suffice to say that Fischer’s masterpiece made a huge impression on my chess and helped me to raise my level significantly as well.
I can remember one of the most interesting games in the book was one of Bobby’s matchups with the brilliant defensive player Tigran Petrosian.
Bobby and his formidable Armenian opponent were matched up to play in round 13 of the 1958 Interzonal tournament, and from what he wrote in the book, Petrosian’s style made a big impression on him.
I’d read somewhere that Petrosian was mostly a dull defensive player, but after seeing such praise from Bobby Fischer I was curious about him.
So pretty soon I looked deeper into “Iron Tigran”, especially his matches with Spassky and Botvinnik, and paying attention to his interesting playing style.
Tigran Petrosian: Playing Style
According to Wikipedia, Petrosian’s playing style is best described as:
Petrosian was a conservative, cautious, and highly defensive chess player who was strongly influenced by Aron Nimzowitsch’s idea of prophylaxis.
He made more effort to prevent his opponent’s offensive capabilities than he did to make use of his own.
He very rarely went on the offensive unless he felt his position was completely secure.
He usually won by playing consistently until his aggressive opponent made a mistake, securing the win by capitalizing upon this mistake without revealing any weaknesses of his own.
This sounds like a pretty good description, although it somehow lacks color.
What I eventually found to be my favorite parts of Petrosian’s style was the way he handled passed pawns…often with a single bishop supporting a rolling pawn phalanx which overwhelmed the defending army.
The way he’d prevent opponent’s plans before they even thought of them and mostly…
…the way he frequently sacrificed the exchange for positional domination.
And so after a lot of preparation, we come finally upon the point of this post.
Tigran Petrosian: Exchange Sacrifices
Petrosian had such a unique understanding of positional chess, that he singlehandedly invented a new strategic imbalance in chess…and studying this contribution personally taught me a LOT.
Garry Kasparov described Petrosian’s contribution as:
Petrosian introduced the exchange sacrifice for the sake of ‘quality of position’, where the time factor, which is so important in the play of Alekhine and Tal, plays hardly any role.
Even today, very few players can operate confidently at the board with such abstract concepts.
Before Petrosian no one had studied this.
By sacrificing the exchange ‘just like that’, for certain long term advantages, in positions with disrupted material balance, he discovered latent resources that few were capable of seeing and properly evaluating.
Now I’m going to show you my favorite examples from Petrosian’s play.
Pay attention to how often he ends up with a bishop supporting unstoppable passed pawns!
Are you starting to see a theme here? 🙂
But these dudes getting crushed are nobodies, right?
‘Iron’ Tigran couldn’t get away with that nonsense against serious opponents, could he?
Well, look at the way he imposes his will on Boris Spassky in their 1969 World Championship Match!
And AGAIN…the compensation is… connected passed pawns supported by a bishop!
Beautiful and highly instructive play.
I’m sure by now you agree.
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You read that right, I have a PGN database of TWENTY FOUR games where Petrosian played a killer exchange sac.
And if you’re one of the VIPs on my mailing list. you can download it right now and begin looking through the games.
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