Iron Tigran: Clash of the Cavalries!

by Srinath Narayanan
3/22/2017 – "There have been many instances in history when an inspired cavalry charge disrupts the momentum of a battle," writes International Master Srinath Narayanan who thinks Tigran Petrosian is one of the greatest players of chess, ever. He dissects the play of the former world champion in the first of his planned series of articles on chess history. He tees off with an ode to the Iron Tigran. Enjoy.

"During tournament analysis sessions players all speak at once, but whenever Petrosian said anything, everyone would shut up and listen." – Yasser Seirawan

There is no doubt, at least not anymore, that Tigran Petrosian took chess understanding to a whole new level. Tigran was born on June 17, 1929, and passed away on August 13, 1984. He was a Soviet Armenian grandmaster, and World Chess Champion from 1963 to 1969.

Although he remains no more, his games continue to teach generation to generation to play good chess. I also understand that many players simply cannot afford to hire a good coach, and besides, 'good coaches' themselves are quite rare these days. This article is for all my friends who are willing to learn and inch closer to chess mastery.

Welcome to the world of 'Tigran the Ninth'.

As a mark of respect, I will keep my words to a minimum in today's article and let the former world champion's moves do the talking.

Reshevsky-Petrosian, Candidates Zurich, 1953

Let's begin with a game from the famous Zurich Tournament 1953, the tournament book of which is considered an all-time classic (it was written by David Bronstein).

Let us first look at two important moments...

A very logical positional operation. Petrosian always strove to improve his pieces while trying to impede the opponent from executing his plan.

Petrosian's famous exchange sac!

Tal: 'This purely positional sacrifice (a quiet move, without any checks or obvious threats!) made an indelible impression on me.' Let me explain the critical part of the game to you:

[Event "Zuerich ct"] [Site "Zuerich"] [Date "1953.08.31"] [Round "2"] [White "Reshevsky, Samuel Herman"] [Black "Petrosian, Tigran V"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "E58"] [Annotator "NS"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "r2q1rk1/p4ppp/1pn2n2/3p4/2pP2b1/P1P1PN2/1BB2PPP/R2Q1RK1 w - - 0 13"] [PlyCount "57"] [EventDate "1953.08.30"] [EventType "tourn"] [EventRounds "30"] [EventCountry "SUI"] [SourceTitle "My Great Pred III"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "2005.01.01"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2005.01.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] {[#]} 13. Qe1 {This was among the first games of Petrosian that really impressed me.} Ne4 (13... Bxf3 14. gxf3 Qd7 {looks more modern. Although White has two bishops, he can only use bishop effectively, as advancing the pawn on one colour will obstruct the bishop of the other colour.}) 14. Nd2 Nxd2 15. Qxd2 Bh5 16. f3 Bg6 {A very logical positional operation. Petrosian always strove to improve his pieces while trying to impede opponent from executing their plan.} 17. e4 Qd7 18. Rae1 dxe4 19. fxe4 Rfe8 20. Qf4 (20. a4 {would attempt to activate the b2 bishop and impede Black's queenside counterplay, however, it fails to} Ne5 $1 21. Ba3 Nd3 22. Bxd3 cxd3 23. Qxd3 Qxa4) 20... b5 {apart from kick-starting queenside counter-play, this also prevents a4,Ba3.} 21. Bd1 Re7 22. Bg4 Qe8 23. e5 a5 24. Re3 Rd8 25. Rfe1 Re6 $3 {Tal: 'This purely positional sacrifice (a quiet move, without any checks or obvious threats!) made an indelible impression on me.' Srinath: The whole point of Black's strategy!! This game had the exact same impression on me as it had on Tal! It turns out that, even though a rook is supposedly stronger than a minor piece, in this particular situation, it is not clear why the rooks are necessarily stronger. Rooks need open lines to function at their full strength. White has the f-file, with no tangible targets. Apart from this, the remaining minor piece, the b2-bishop appears inept. Although technically a sacrifice, it appears more of an exchange to what is White's best piece.} (25... Ra7 26. e6 f6 27. Bf3 Ne7 28. a4 bxa4 29. Ba3 {is too unpleasant for Black}) 26. a4 $32 ( 26. h4 {/\ h4-h5, Rg3}) 26... Ne7 {Black's strong steed begins to gallop towards d5 like Buccephalus once did.....} (26... b4 27. d5 Rxd5 28. Bxe6 fxe6 29. Qxc4) 27. Bxe6 fxe6 28. Qf1 (28. Qf2 Nd5 29. Rf3 b4) 28... Nd5 29. Rf3 Bd3 30. Rxd3 cxd3 31. Qxd3 b4 32. cxb4 axb4 33. a5 Ra8 34. Ra1 Qc6 35. Bc1 Qc7 36. a6 Qb6 37. Bd2 b3 38. Qc4 h6 39. h3 b2 40. Rb1 Kh8 41. Be1 {The knight stands strong till the end....} 1/2-1/2

Bucephalus—the horse of Alexander the Great

Tal-Petrosian, Soviet Ch. 1958

There have been many instances in history when an inspired cavalry charge disrupts the momentum of a battle. Here's another such example.

[Event "URS-ch25"] [Site "Riga"] [Date "1958.01.07"] [Round "?"] [White "Tal, Mihail"] [Black "Petrosian, Tigran V"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "C97"] [Annotator "NS"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "1r3rk1/2q1bppp/p4n2/P1pPp3/RpP1P3/4B2P/1P1N2P1/3QR1K1 b - - 0 24"] [PlyCount "43"] [EventDate "1958.??.??"] [EventRounds "17"] [EventCountry "LAT"] [SourceTitle "Mikhail Tal 8th WC"] [Source "Convekta"] [SourceDate "2004.01.01"] [SourceVersion "1"] [SourceVersionDate "2004.01.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] {[#]} 24... Rbd8 $5 {Petrosian says: 'White has a great positional advantage. He effectively has an extra, protected passed pawn at d5, and in the endgame it may play a decisive role. Black could have satisfied himself with passive defence - ... Bd6, ... Nd7, ...f7-f6,...Rf7,... Bf8 and so on, but against good play by White he would sooner or later have ended up in a difficult position. And here I managed to devise a rather interesting plan of defence.'} (24... Ne8 $5 25. Nb3 g6 26. Bh6 Ng7 {was in my opinion, another plan of defence. The knight eyes d4, via f5 after the f5 pawn break.} 27. Qd3 Bd6 { of course White is better, but Black pins his hopes on the f5 break and the ensuing counter-chances. I believe the position to be tenable.}) 25. Qf3 Rd6 26. Nb3 Nd7 {having fixed one weakness and protecting the a5 pawn, White shifts his focus on to the kingside.} 27. Raa1 Rg6 28. Rf1 Bd6 29. h4 { targetting Black's most active piece....and preparing to drive him/it away.} Qd8 30. h5 Rf6 31. Qg4 Rf4 $1 {There have been many instances in history, when an inspired cavalry charge disrupts the momentum of a battle. Here's another such example.} 32. Bxf4 (32. Rxf4 $142 {would've made sure White had an advantage, while not changing the nature of the game too much.} exf4 33. Bxf4 Ne5 34. Qg3 Re8 35. h6 g6 36. Rf1 f6 {concretely looks better for White, but if I was calculating this from the 32nd move in my head with limited time, it would probably appear as if Black is holding a fortress.}) 32... exf4 33. Nd2 Ne5 34. Qxf4 $2 {unleashing the monster on d6. Having weakened the kingside with h4-h5, the tables now turn. Every little thing has consequences.} (34. Qf5 $142 f3 (34... g6 {would weaken the f6 square.} 35. Qxf4 Nxc4 36. e5 Nxe5 37. Ne4 $18 {would be calamitious for Black.}) 35. Nxf3 $16) 34... Nxc4 35. e5 $5 Nxe5 $1 ({not even thinking about winning back the exchange with} 35... Nxd2 36. exd6 Nxf1 37. Rxf1 h6 38. b3 $1 $16 {the passed d-pawns and the way White's pieces function stand above other factors in this position.}) 36. Ne4 { with the idea 37.h6! but then maybe Qf5 first to provoke g6?} h6 37. Rae1 $2 ( 37. b3 $1 {preventing c4-Nd3.}) 37... Bb8 $1 {with the idea 38... Nd3} 38. Rd1 c4 {And now Black is better. It's interesting how Black's pieces have transformed. The bishop will stand unopposed on the a7-g1 diagonal, while the knight is prepared to cut the rook on d1 from d3, thereby reducing the impact of White's d5-paser as well. Again, h4-h5, a move that looked so tempting and innocious, has clear consequences!} 39. d6 Nd3 40. Qg4 Ba7+ 41. Kh1 f5 $1 42. Nf6+ Kh8 (42... Qxf6 43. Qxc4+) 43. Qxc4 Nxb2 44. Qxa6 Nxd1 45. Qxa7 Qxd6 { With the help of past analysis and the useful tool of getting instant evaluation of engine, it is abundantly clear that Black has a sizeable advantage. Rejuvenated by the adjournment after 40 moves, Tal showed his resourcefulness and salvaged a draw. So, what do we infer from the passage of this game? Well, exchange sacrifice, yes. Or a simple cavalry exchange, highlighting the 'relative value of pieces' in different circumstances. The rooks aren't more useful than minor pieces in every single situation. As the wise in India have learned from their lessons, sometimes, a camel with a fire on it's hump can trample a horde of war elephants!} 1/2-1/2

 

So, what do we infer from the passage of this game?

Well, exchange sacrifice, yes. Or a simple cavalry exchange, highlighting the 'relative value of pieces' in different circumstances. The rooks aren't more useful than minor pieces in every single situation. As the wise in India have learned from their lessons, sometimes, camels with fire on their hump can trample a horde of war elephants! [Ed. Note: This reference will be elaborated upon in a future article.]

Moving on to more practical matters: Are these concepts useful in your tournament games? Oh, yes. In the last tournament that I played in—the Aeroflot Open 2017—I was able to use Petrosian's teachings in more than one ways. Here is one small example:

Ferenc Berkes-Srinath Narayanan

Decision point! What should Black play here? Decide between 15...Bxe5 and 15...Nxd4.

It was as if I could see the ninth world champion point me towards the right move! Luckily, I listened to him and...

My opponent avoided this move but the critical line that was a part of my calculations in this game was 16.Nc4 to which Black has to play 16...Qb4, when after 17.Bxa8, Black has full compensation. It was important to calculate this because, otherwise, Black will just suffer if I chose the alternative (as shown in the game)!

[Event "Aeroflot Open"] [Site "?"] [Date "2017.02.23"] [Round "3"] [White "Berkes, Ferenc"] [Black "Srinath, Narayanan"] [Result "1/2-1/2"] [ECO "A46"] [WhiteElo "2648"] [BlackElo "2474"] [Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"] [PlyCount "47"] [EventDate "2017.02.??"] [EventCountry "IND"] [SourceDate "2003.06.08"] {My opponent played so many, so many different variations that I decided to just go out there and play over the board without spending much time on pre-game preparation.} 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bg5 c5 4. e3 cxd4 (4... h6 5. Bh4 { is often included.}) 5. exd4 b6 6. Bd3 Bb7 7. O-O Be7 8. c4 d5 {I played quickly up to this point.} (8... O-O 9. Nc3 d5 10. Bxf6 Bxf6 11. cxd5 exd5 { is another position which I had played five years ago, although I didn't remember during the game.}) 9. Bxf6 Bxf6 10. cxd5 Bxd5 {I was trying to find solutions using logic instead of purely depending on concrete calculation.} 11. Nc3 {My opponent had played instantly up to this point and I was scared that I had fallen into some deep preparation.} Nc6 {(15) again logical chess.} (11... O-O 12. Nxd5 Qxd5 13. Qc2 $18) (11... Bc6 {Aside from concrete calculations, c6 belongs to the knight anyway.} 12. d5 (12. Qe2 O-O 13. Rad1 {is just better for White according to Stockfish.}) 12... exd5 13. Re1+ Kf8 {I didn't feel comfortable at all here, but stockfish says =(0.00) at lower depths before increasing the advantage for White.}) 12. Nxd5 Qxd5 13. Re1 O-O 14. Be4 Qd6 15. Ne5 {My opponent still had all his time while I had spent around 30 minutes.} Nxd4 {(17)} (15... Bxe5 16. dxe5 Qxd1 17. Raxd1 Rac8 18. f4 {seems so obviously better for White, although defensible. In any case, it was an option only if all else convincingly failed.} (18. Rd7 Nxe5 19. Rxa7) 18... g5 19. g3 $14) 16. Ng4 {My opponent spent 31 minutes on this move, during which period I think I managed to calculate almost all the concrete lines.} (16. Nc4 {was the main move in my calculation and I couldn't help but relating with Petrosian again!} Qb4 17. Bxa8 Qxc4 (17... Rxa8 {it seemed like Black had full compensation in both variations.})) 16... Rad8 17. Nxf6+ gxf6 18. Qh5 (18. Bxh7+ Kxh7 19. Qh5+ Kg7 20. Qg4+ Kh7 21. Re3 Nf5 $11) 18... f5 {I played rather quickly as I had used my opponent's time to calculate and the variations were all relatively forced.} 19. Qg5+ Kh8 20. Qf6+ Kg8 21. Re3 Ne2+ $1 22. Rxe2 fxe4 23. Qg5+ Kh8 24. Qf6+ {I was surprised when my opponent chose to end the game here, though, as looking at the rating difference, I thought he might just play the 5 vs 5 for a long time anyway.} (24. Qf6+ Kg8 25. Rxe4 Qd1+ 26. Re1 Qd4 27. Qg5+ Kh8 {is completely equal, but I thought he might just make moves here.}) 1/2-1/2

This is the first in a series of articles focussed on chess history brought to you by ChessBase India. Srinath Narayanan will narrate these stories whenever he is not playing tournaments.


Srinath Narayanan is a 23-year-old Indian Grandmaster. A former World Under 12 champion, at the age of fourteen he became an IM and had shown surprising and unswerving loyalty to the title ever since, until March 2017, when he crossed the 2500 mark and completed the requirements to become a grandmaster. He loves chess and likes to play in tournaments all around the globe. He is a critical thinker and enjoys to think deeply not only about chess but life itself. In 2017, he co-founded ChessMine with the mission to make chess a financially powerful sport.
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NBZ NBZ 3/23/2017 12:10
Interesting article! Couple of comments: 1. In the Reshevsky game, it would be nice to mention that Reshevsky soon sacrificed the exchange back [Bd3 Rxd3!] which is a nice example of a countersac. 2. The Petrosian/Tal game seems to be missing several moves.
JiraiyaSama JiraiyaSama 3/23/2017 12:41
@NBZ: Thank you for the pointer. The moves have been added. :)
turok turok 3/23/2017 06:04
fischer sure throttled him in 1971 ouch
Rambus Rambus 3/23/2017 12:37
"Throttled" is a little unfair. Fischer was then at his peak & Tigran was past his prime. It's like saying Tal throttled Fischer in the 1959 Candidates, when Tal was approaching his prime & Fischer was still a teen.
turok turok 3/24/2017 06:30
throttled is throttled no matter the age
LITTLEBLITZ10 LITTLEBLITZ10 3/24/2017 08:09
Yes! I can also throttle G. Kasparov. (If I am alive when he dies).
valu831 valu831 3/25/2017 09:12
turok, don't be bitter, and try to stay on topic.
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