“I am deeply assured that there is nothing coincidental in chess, though it still remains just a game,” said the ninth World Chess Champion, Armenian grandmaster Tigran Petrosian. His play was indeed clearly thought-out and weighed. He calculated combinations many moves ahead, taking into account not only his but also the opponent’s positions.
In chess, he sometimes was overly peace-loving, preferring technical methods to open confrontation. Some people would even think that he lacks “fighting” qualities. This opinion was incorrect since Petrosian respected and overestimated his opponents, even if they were clearly weaker players than him.
There is nothing coincidental in chess, as Petrosian said… One day, he defeated Boris Spassky, a prominent chess grandmaster, the tenth World Chess Champion.
Petrosian got first acquainted with chess in a Young Pioneer camp. Initially, he played both chess and checkers, but he would give preference to chess after meeting the young chess players at the Tbilisi Young Pioneer Palace. His mentor became Archil Ebralidze, at the time the coach of other future skillful chess players. At first, Ebralidze underestimated the talent of Petrosian. However, Petrosian would be able to not only meet his mentor’s hopes but also exceed his expectations.
Making the first steps of his career, Petrosian demonstrated entertaining positional play. Of course, he was also a great tactician, being able to quickly figure out the opponent’s moves. Petrosian knew when to sacrifice a piece as well. An outstanding chess player, Petrosian was considering logic the most important component of chess.
Tigran Petrosian has been engaged in chess most of his life. His skill has been increasing from competition to competition. He was a favorite of many of his colleagues who initially hadn’t viewed him as their opponent. However, recognizing the threat of Petrosian’s skill, his friends ceased to support him and even cheered for his contenders.
At the XIX USSR Championship in 1951, Petrosian showed an excellent result, placing second ahead of Mikhail Botvinnik and Vasily Smyslov. At the Interzonal in the following year in Stockholm, Petrosian placed fifth and was awarded the Grandmaster title.
Petrosian’s play was characterized by his remarkably subtle understanding of the opportunities of his and the opponent’s positions. A careful player, he was able to defend even the most difficult positions. His impenetrable defensive playstyle earned him the nickname “Iron Tigran.”
He also utilized resourceful competition tactics, which allowed him to distribute his energy and put even effort in every game of the 1962 Candidates Tournament. Going through 27 rounds unbeaten, Petrosian would leave behind such grandmasters as Paul Keres, Robert Fischer, and Viktor Korchnoi.
In 1963, Petrosian would win the Chess World Championship against Mikhail Botvinnik, winning five games, losing two, and drawing fifteen. Petrosian hadn’t been very confident in his success, but long, intensive training yielded its results.
At the 1966 World Championship, Petrosian demonstrated one of his most impressive performances. In the final against Spassky, each difficult position made Petrosian more cunning. Some people disliked his reasonable and restrained playstyle with a few number of combinations. However, Petrosian reached the heights of his career thanks to his famous manner of play.
During Petrosian’s games at World Championships, huge screens – chess boards displayed his matches in Yerevan, the capital of the then Armenian SSR. Each of his moves was reported from Moscow, and the common people eagerly awaited the end of his chess duels. Petrosian’s triumphs were widely celebrated in the capital. In fact, after his victories, Petrosian first visited Yerevan where he has always been a favored and expected guest.
In 1969, Petrosian lost the World title to Boris Spassky. Petrosian would later acknowledge that he lost to a worthy opponent. Even after this defeat, Petrosian continued to participate in the following World Championship cycles. He would become the winner of the Interzonals in Biel (1976) and Rio-de-Janeiro (1979), as well as several Candidate matches.
Overall, over the years of his career, Petrosian became a USSR champion four times, nine times won as a member of the USSR team at chess Olympiads, and eight times at European team championships. He has also headed the creative team of the weekly “64.”
Petrosian’s chess career wasn’t bounded by his personal performances. At some point of his life, he opened a chess school that would make many renowned grandmasters, youth world champions, and other world-class chess players.
In his core, Petrosian was a modest person. And even after becoming a World Champion, he remained the same for the next six years, winning another World Champion title in 1966 in a final match against Boris Spassky. Having lost the World Champion title in 1969, Petrosian wasn’t very worried about his defeat, clearly realizing that he can’t be a champion forever.
Petrosian was also a cheerful and a tenderhearted person. The main feature of his character was consistency. He was faithful to his family, his habits, as well as his favorite sports club and society “Spartak”. He was particularly fond of football. If his chess games fell on the same day as the club’s football matches, Petrosian would quickly draw the game to make it to the match in time.
Tigran Petrosian was also a decent ping pong player and even played for the team of “Spartak.” He also liked to play backgammon. In fact, he appeared more excited during his backgammon plays, worrying about his every loss, as if this game has been the purpose of his life.
An interesting incident is known from Petrosian’s life. During one of the “Spartak’s” games, Petrosian’s wife Rona was approached by the adjutant of the minister of defense with a question: “What do we need to do for Petrosian to move to CDKA [Frunze Central House of Red Army sports academy]?” Rona answered: “A four-room apartment.” Her answer was dictated by the fact that they at the time lived in a two-room apartment, even though they had two children.
The game ended, the adjutant disappeared, and Petrosian’s wife forgot about the doubtful meeting. However, on the next match of the club, the same adjutant approached Rona again and offered her to have a look at the requested apartment. Rona hadn’t told her husband about the incident, so she had to tell him this time.
Petrosian said in response, solving all the doubts of his wife: “Alright. I will agree to the offer and will move to CDKA. However, today, I will switch clubs for an apartment, and tomorrow, I will choose a young woman instead of you. Now think if I should move to CDKA…”
In spite of his busyness, Petrosian has always found time for his friends and family. He loved to accept guests at his home. He was a good singer and an enthusiast of literature and painting. But he loved to spend his time in the garden most of all. As Rona acknowledged, Petrosian used to say: “If I was paid the same amount, I would give up on chess and become a gardener.”
On June 17 this year, Petrosian would turn 89. He died of stomach cancer in 1984 and was buried in the Armenian Cemetery in Moscow. Every year, a fresh bouquet is laid on the grave of the great grandmaster…