Petrosian was famous for being perhaps the hardest man to beat in world chess. Although he was a brilliant tactician, he largely used that talent to foresee and prevent his opponent’s potential attacks. That meant he conceded more draws than similarly gifted players and struggled to win the top tournaments, but it was a style perfectly suited to match play and helped him to win and hold onto the World Championship title for six years.
Tigran’s difficult childhood coincided with World War II, during which he was left an orphan and survived by sweeping the streets. He learned chess at age eight and moved from Armenia to Moscow when he turned twenty. Although he soon finished second at the 1951 USSR Championship, it took another decade before he really began to stand out from the crowd. He won his first USSR Championship in 1959 and repeated that success in 1961.
His qualification for a World Championship match against Botvinnik was accomplished in typically Petrosian style, without losing in 49 games at the 1962 Interzonal and Candidates tournaments, where he ultimately finished half a point clear of Paul Keres and Efim Geller with Bobby Fischer 3.5 points back (the American champion alleged collusion among the Soviet players). Although Petrosian lost the first game against Botvinnik he eventually ended the Russian’s reign with a convincing 12.5:9.5 victory. Petrosian narrowly defended his title against Boris Spassky in 1966, the first successful title defence since 1934, but eventually lost the title 12.5:10.5 to the same opponent in 1969.
Although mostly known for pure defence Petrosian
also championed the “positional exchange sacrifice”, where a player gives up a
rook for a bishop or knight for strategic purposes. He also established and
edited the best-known Soviet and Russian chess magazine, “64”. He died at the age
of only 55 and remains an Armenian national hero.
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