Tigran Petrosian (1929-1984)
by Bill Wall, 2021

Tigran Petrosian (1929-1984)

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Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian was born in Tiflis (Tbilisi), Soviet Georgia, on June 17, 1929 to Armenian parents. His illiterate father was a refugee from Turkey. [source: Chess Life & Review, May 1976, pp.271-273]

He learned the game of chess from his parents when he was 8 years old. He won a few junior events and local tournaments in Tbilisi.

At 12 years old, Petrosian began training at the Tiflis Palace of Pioneers. His first coach was Archil Ebralidze (1908-1960), a chess master who won the Georgian Championship in 1938, 1939, 1941, and 1946.

In the fall of 1942, Petrosian was able to draw with Salo Flohr in a simul. That year he made friends with David Bronstein and used his breakfast money to buy chess books. [source: Soltis, Soviet Chess: 1917-1991, 1999, p. 207]

His parents died in 1945, when he was 16. He was forced to sweep streets to earn a living, starving and was losing his hearing. After his parents died in Tiflis, Petrosian moved 160 miles to Yerevan, Armenia.

In 1945, he won the chess championship of Georgia.

In 1946, he won the 5th USSR Junior Championship, scoring 14 out of 15.

In 1946, he went on his own to live in Yereven, Armenia. That year he won the Armenian championship and became a Candidate Master. He repeated winning the Armenian championship in 1948.

In 1947, he played in the USSR Chess Championship, but failed to qualify for the finals. He was awarded the Master title.

In 1949, Petrosian moved to Moscow and began winning more tournaments. On the 1949 ranking list, he was tied for 39th place.

In 1950, Petrosian moved to Moscow. Thanks to the Spartak sports society, Petrosian was given a salary and an apartment. He was also trained by Andor Lilienthal that helped him develop his chess style.

In December 1950, Petrosian tied for 12th-13th in the 18th Soviet Championship, held in Moscow. Paul Keres won the event.

In 1951, he won the Moscow championship.

In 1951, he played in the 19th USSR championship, held in Moscow. He took second place, behind Paul Keres.

At the Saltsjobaden interzonal in 1952, Petrosian took second place, behind Alexander Kotov, with 7 wins and 13 draws.

In October 1953, Petrosian took 5th place in the powerful 2nd Candidates Tournament in Neuhausen-Zurich with 6 wins, 18 draws, and 4 loses. At age 24, he was the youngest in this event. The event was won by Vasily Smyslov.

In May 1954, a chess match between the USSR and Argentina took place in Buenos Aires. Petrosian played Board 6 and scored 3.5-1.5 against Pilnik.

In June 1954, a chess match between the USSR and USA took place at the Hotel Roosevelt in Manhattan. Petrosian played board 7. He opponent was Arthur Bisguier. Petrosian won 2 and drew 2 against Bisguier. Petrosian was the youngest of the Soviet team at age 24. He was described as Russia's Capablanca.

In July 1954, a chess match between the USSR and Great Britain was played in London. The USSR team won 18.5 to 1.5. Petrosian played Board 6 and won his games.

In March 1955, Petrosian took 3rd-6th in the 22nd Soviet Championship, held in Moscow, Geller and Smyslov tied for 1st place. Petrosian did not lose a single game.

In 1955, a chess match between the USSR and USA took place in Moscow. Petrosian defeated Israel Horowitz and Max Pavey on Board 6.

At the next interzonal, Gothenburg 1955, he came in fourth place with 5 wins and 15 draws.

In 1956, he shared third place in the Amsterdam Candidates tournament with 3 wins, 13 draws, and 2 losses. That year he also won the Moscow championship.

In February 1957, Petrosian tied for 7th-8th in the 24th Soviet Championship, held in Moscow. Tal won the event.

In February 1958, Petrosian took 2nd place in the 25th Soviet Championship, held in Riga. Tal won the event.

Petrosian shared 3rd place at the 1958 Portoroz Interzonal and came 3rd in the following Candidates' tournament. He took 2nd place in the 1958 USSR championship, behind Mikhail Tal.

In 1958, Petrosian played 2nd reserve board for the USSR team in the Chess Olympiad. He won 8, drew 5, and lost none.

In 1959 Petrosian won the USSR championship with 8 wins and 11 draws.

In 1960 he took second in the USSR championship, behind Victor Korchnoi with 10 wins, 7 draws, and 2 losses. In recognition of his chess, he was named a Master of Sport of the USSR by the Committee on Physical Culture and Sports.

In 1960, Petrosian played 2nd reserve board for the USSR team in the Chess Olympiad. He won 11, drew 2, and lost none.

In February, 1961 Petrosian won the 28th USSR championship in Moscow with 9 wins, 9 draws, and 1 loss.

In October 1961, Petrosian tied for 3rd, behind Tal and Fischer, at the International Jubilee Grandmaster Tournament held at Bled, Yugoslavia. Petrosian lost to Fischer and Portisch.

At the Stockholm Interzonal in 1962 Petrosian shared second place (with Geller) with 8 wins and 14 draws. The event was won by Bobby Fischer.

In June 1962, Petrosian took first place at the Curacao Candidates tournament (Fischer took 4th) to become the challenger for the world chess championship. He won 8, drew 19, and lost none. He was the only undefeated player. Bobby Fischer later charged that the Soviet players, including Petrosian, prearranged their games that generally resulted in draws. Every one of the games between the three leading Soviets was drawn in from 7 to 27 moves. [sources: The Knoxville News, Aug 16, 1962, p. 33 and The Baytown Sun (Texas), Sep 9, 1962, p. 4]

Back in Russia, Petrosian is a newspaperman when not playing tournament chess. Petrosian said that the Curacao Candidates was the hardest tournament he ever played. When asked about his chances with Botvinik, Petrosian said, "It's a funny thing. We both live in the same district of the same city [Moscow], but we have rarely played together. I last played him seven years ago and I think he plays better than ever now." [source: The San Bernardino County Sun, June 28, 1962, p. 21]

In 1962, Petrosian played Board 2 for the USSR team in the Chess Olympiad. He won 8, drew 2, and lost none.

From 1963 to 1966, Petrosian was the chief editor of the monthly Soviet chess magazine, SHAKHMATNAYA MOSKVA. Petrosian made more money as a journalist than he did at playing chess, even as world champion.

In March-May 1963, Petrosian played 51-year-old Mikhail Botvinnik for the world championship and won with 5 wins, 15 draws, and 2 losses. Petrosian said he trained for the match by skiing two or three hours a day. Petrosian's second was Isaac Boleslavsky (1919-1977). The event was held at Estrada Theatre in Moscow with 2,000 in the audience and hundreds of thousands watched the event on Russian television. [source: The Brandon Sun (Manitoba), May 29, 1963, p. 17]

When Petrosian returned in triumph to Armenia, he and his wife, Rona, was greeted by more than 100,000 people in the city square. All the people also chipped in 10 rubles. For half an hour the collection boxes were passed until over a million rubles were collected to Petrosain and his family. He never had to be poor again. [source: Soltis, Soviet Chess: 1917-1991,1999. p. 261]

In July 1963, Petrosian tied for first place at the First Piatigorsky Cup at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles with Paul Keres. He scored 4 wins, 9 draws, and 1 loss (to Svetozar Gligoric in round 2). Petrosian and Keres shared the $2,600 first place prize. Paul Keres said the Petrosian "has an unpleasant quality for his opponents — he hates to lose." Keres said that Petrosian's rule is "safety first," He first tries to guarantee a draw, the proceeds to look for victory. Isaac Kashdan said that Petrosian "searched out his opponent's weaknesses, the counter-punches." Petrosian was the first world champion from the USSR to compete in an American tournament. [source: The Fresno Bee, July 7, 1963]

In 1964 Petrosian tied with Paul Keres at Buenos Aires, scoring 8 wins and 9 draws.

In November 1964, Petrosian played 1st Board for the USSR in the 16th Chess Olympiad, held in Tel Aviv. He won 6, drew 7, and lost none.

In 1964 the first unofficial international rating list was published by Arpad Elo. The top two players, with a 2690 rating, were Tigran Petrosian and Bobby Fischer.

In April-June 1966 Petrosian played Boris Spassky and became the first world champion since Steinitz to defeat his challenger to remain world champion. Petrosian had won 4 games, drew 17, and lost 3. He received $2,000 for his efforts, as well as a five-room apartment in the center of Moscow, a car, and a chauffeur.

In July-August 1966, Petrosian played in the 2nd Piatigorsky Cup, held at the Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. He tied for 6th-7th place. The event was won by Boris Spassky, with Bobby Fischer taking 2nd place.

In 1966, he played Board 1 for the USSR team in the Chess Olympiad in Havana. He won 10, drew 3, and lost none. During the event, Petrosian played Fidel Castro and the game ended a draw. Castro said of Petrosian, "Besides being a chess master, you are a great diplomat." [source: Waco New Tribune, Nov 21, 1866, p. 16] Petrosian made the best first-board score and won the gold medal.

Petrosian won the Moscow championship for the third time in 1968 with 6 wins and 9 draws.

In 1968 Petrosian received his Masters degree from Ereven University. His dissertation was entitled, 'Chess Logic.'

From 1968 to 1977, Petrosian was the chief editor of the weekly chess and checker magazine, 64. It had a circulation of 100,000.

In 1968, he played Board 1 for the USSR team in the Chess Olympiad. He won 9, drew 3, and lost none.

In 1969, the Soviet Chess Federation had its own rating system. Petrosian was ranked #1, and Spassky was ranked #2.

In April-June 1969, Petrosian met Boris Spassky again for the world championship, but lost the title with 4 wins, 13 draws, and 6 losses. Petrosian lost his title on his 40th birthday, June 17.

In November-December 1969, Petrosian took 2nd, behind Larsen, at Palma de Mallorca. This was the strongest chess tournament in 1969.

In late 1969 Petrosian again won the USSR chess championship with 6 wins and 16 draws.

In March-April, Petrosian played Board 2 in the YSSR vs. Rest of the World match in Belgrade. His opponent was Bobby Fischer. Fischer beat him in the first 2 games, and drew the next 2 games. Petrosian had the worst score for the USSR team.

In 1970, he played Board 2 for the USSR team in the Chess Olympiad. He won 6, drew 8, and lost none.

In May 1971 Petrosian defeated GM Robert Huebner of Germany with 1 win and 6 draws in the quarter-finals Candidates match in Seville, Spain. Petrosian won the 7th game after Huebner overlooked a winning move, became demoralized after he saw the mistake, resigned, burst into tears, and withdrew from the match. Huebner said he was bothered by the loud street noises. Petrosian merely turned his hearing aid down.

In July 1971, Petrosian defeated Victor Korchnoi with 1 win and 9 draws in the semi-finals match.

In October 1971, Petrosian lost to Bobby Fischer in Buenos Aires (Petrosian wanted to play in Athens). He had won 1 game (game 2 of the match), drawn 3 games, and lost 4 games in a row. When Petrosian lost his match to Fischer, his wife put the blame on his trainer, Alexei Suetin, and slapped him. Fischer got $7,500 for his victory and Petrosian got $4,500.

In November-December 1971, Petrosian played in the Alekhine Memorial in Moscow. He tied for 4th-5th place. Anatoly Karpov and Leonid Stein tied for 1st place. Petrosian's only loss was to Vassily Smyslov.

In 1972 Petrosian tied for first place at the Church's Fried Chicken International Tournament in San Antonio, Texas with Anatoly Karpov and Lajos Portisch. Petrosian took home $2,333 for his share of 1st place prize money.

At the 1972 Skopje Olympiad, Petrosian played Board 1 for the USSR team. Petrosian lost his one and only game on time (and his only loss in Olympiad events) to Robert Huebner. When he was later told that the incident had been shown on TV, he said, "If I had known that, I would definitely smashed the clock." He won 6, drew 9, and lost 1 in the event.

Petrosian tied for first place with Albin Planinc at Amsterdam 1973 and tied for first with Leonid Stein at Las Palmas.

In October 1973, Petrosian tied for 2nd-6th place in the 41st Soviet championship. The event was won by Boris Spassky.

In 1974 Petrosian defeated Lajos Portisch, but lost to Victor Korchnoi in the Candidates matches. He took 2nd place at Milan 1974.

In 1974, he played Board 3 on the USSR team in the 21st Chess Olympiad in Nice. He won 11 and drew 3.

Petrosian took 2nd at Manila 1975.

In October-November 1975, Petrosian took 6th-7th place in the Alekhine Memorial in Moscow. His only loss was to Korchnoi. The event was won by Geller.

Between 1968 and 1975, Petrosian never lost more than a single game in any tournament he played in.

At the Biel interzonal in 1976, Petrosian took second, behind Bent Larsen, with 6 wins, 12 draws, and 1 loss.

In 1976, Tigran Petrosian and Vasily Smyslov were the first two Soviets to play in the Louis D. Statham Masters-Plus tournament at Lone Pine. Petrosian won Lone Pine in 1976. It was Petrosian's first Swiss tournament ever. Petrosian took home $8,650 for his efforts.

In November-December 1976, Petrosian tied for 3rd-4th in the 44th Soviet Championship. The event was won by Anatoly Karpov.

In March 1977, Petrosian lost to Korchnoi in the quarter-final Candidates match, held in Italy. That match was played behind a bullet-proof screen.

In July 1977, Petrosian was fired as editor of 64.

In 1978, he played Board 2 on the USSR team at the Chess Olympiad. He won 3, drew 6, and lost none.

In 1979 he took first at Tallinn with 8 wins and 8 draws. He then tied for first place with Huebner and Portisch at the 1979 Rio de Janeiro interzonal.

In 1980 Petrosian again lost to Korchnoi in the quarter-final Candidates match. Afterwards, he took first place at Las Palmas 1980.

In ten chess Olympiads, Petrosian won prizes for the highest score six times, scoring 79 wins, 50 draws, and 1 loss.

In 1983, Petrosian developed cancer, but did not think it was terminal.

He died from cancer on August 13, 1984 in Moscow. He was 55.

Petrosian played over 2,500 games, winning over 62 percent of the time. His peak Elo rating was 2680. He drew more than half his total games, a higher fraction than any other world champion.

Petrosian won 13, drew 45, and lost 11 world championship games.

T. Petrosian - Necsesov, Tbilisi 1944 1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Nxe5 d6 4.Nf3 Nxe4 5.Qe2 Qe7 6.d3 Nf6 7.Bg5 Qxe2+ 8.Bxe2 Be7 9.Nc3 c6 10.O-O-O O-O 11.Rhe1 Bf5 12.Nd4 Bg6 13.Bg4 Bd8 14.Bc8 Bb6 15.Bxb7 Bxd4 16.Bxa8 1-0

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