Today is Armenian chess player Tigran Petrosyan's birthday
Tigran Petrosian was a Soviet Armenian Grandmaster, and World Chess Champion from 1963 to 1969. He was nicknamed "Iron Tigran" due to his almost impenetrable defensive playing style, which emphasised safety above all else.
Petrosian was a Candidate for the World Championship on eight occasions (1953, 1956, 1959, 1962, 1971, 1974, 1977 and 1980). He won the World Championship in 1963 (against Mikhail Botvinnik), successfully defended it in 1966—against Boris Spassky—and lost it to Spassky in 1969. Thus he was the defending World Champion or a World Championship Candidate in ten consecutive three-year cycles. He won the Soviet Championship four times (1959, 1961, 1969, and 1975).
Petrosian was born to Armenian parents on June 17, 1929 in Tiflis, Georgian SSR (modern-day Georgia). As a young boy, Petrosian was an excellent student and enjoyed studying, as did his brother Hmayak and sister Vartoosh. He learned to play chess at the age of 8, though his illiterate father Vartan encouraged him to continue studying, as he thought chess was unlikely to bring his son any success as a career. Petrosian was orphaned during World War II and was forced to sweep streets to earn a living. It was about this time that his hearing began to deteriorate, a problem that afflicted him throughout his life. In a 1969 interview with Time magazine, he recalled:
I started sweeping streets in the middle of the winter and it was horrible. Of course there were no machines then, so we had to do everything by hand. Some of the older men helped me out. I was a weak boy. And I was ashamed of being a street sweeper—that's natural, I suppose. It wasn't so bad in the early morning when the streets were empty, but when it got light and the crowds came out I really hated it. I got sick and missed a year in school. We had a babushka, a sister of my father, and she really saved me. She gave me bread to eat when I was sick and hungry. That's when this trouble with my hearing started. I don't remember how it all happened. Things aren't very clear from that time.
He used his rations to buy Chess Praxis by Danish grandmaster Aron Nimzowitsch, a book which Petrosian later stated had the greatest influence on him as a chess player. He also purchased The Art of Sacrifice in Chess by Rudolf Spielmann. The other player to have had an early effect on Petrosian's chess was José Raúl Capablanca. At age 12 he began training at the Tiflis Palace of Pioneers under the tutelage of Archil Ebralidze. Ebralidze was a supporter of Nimzowitsch and Capablanca, and his scientific approach to chess discouraged wild tactics and dubious combinations. As a result, Petrosian developed a repertoire of solid positional openings, such as the Caro–Kann Defence. After training at the Palace of Pioneers for just one year, he defeated visiting Soviet grandmaster Salo Flohr at a simultaneous exhibition.
By 1946, Petrosian had earned the title of Candidate Master. In that year alone, he drew against Grandmaster Paul Keres at the Georgian Chess Championship, then moved to Yerevan where he won the Armenian Chess Championship and the USSR Junior Chess Championship. Petrosian earned the title of Master during the 1947 USSR Chess Championship, though he failed to qualify for the finals. He set about to improve his game by studying Nimzowitsch's My System and by moving to Moscow to seek greater competition.
After moving to Moscow in 1949, Petrosian's career as a chess player advanced rapidly and his results in Soviet events steadily improved. He placed second in the 1951 Soviet Championship, thereby earning the title of international master. It was in this tournament that Petrosian faced world champion Botvinnik for the first time. Playing White, after obtaining a slightly inferior position from the opening, he defended through two adjournments and eleven total hours of play to obtain a draw. Petrosian's result in this event qualified him for the Interzonal the following year in Stockholm. He earned the title of Grandmaster by coming in second in the Stockholm tournament, and qualified for the 1953 Candidates Tournament.
Petrosian placed fifth in the 1953 Candidates Tournament, a result which marked the beginning of a stagnant period in his career. He seemed content drawing against weaker players and maintaining his title of Grandmaster rather than improving his chess or making an attempt at becoming World Champion. This attitude was illustrated by his result in the 1955 USSR Championship: out of 19 games played, Petrosian was undefeated, but won only four games and drew the rest, with each of the draws lasting twenty moves or less. Although his consistent playing ensured decent tournament results, it was looked down upon by the public and by Soviet chess media and authorities. Near the end of the event, journalist Vasily Panov wrote the following comment about the tournament contenders: "Real chances of victory, besides Botvinnik and Smyslov, up to round 15, are held by Geller, Spassky and Taimanov. I deliberately exclude Petrosian from the group, since from the very first rounds the latter has made it clear that he is playing for an easier, but also honorable conquest—a place in the interzonal quartet."
This period of complacency ended with the 1957 USSR Championship, where out of 21 games played, Petrosian won seven, lost four, and drew the remaining 10. Although this result was only good enough for seventh place in a field of 22 competitors, his more ambitious approach to tournament play was met with great appreciation from the Soviet chess community. He went on to win his first USSR Championship in 1959, and later that year in the Candidates Tournament he defeated Paul Keres with a display of his often-overlooked tactical abilities. Petrosian was awarded the title of Master of Sport of the USSR in 1960, and won a second Soviet title in 1961. His excellent playing continued through 1962 when he qualified for the Candidates Tournament for what would be his first World Championship match.
Upon becoming World Champion, Petrosian campaigned for the publication of a chess newspaper for the entire Soviet Union rather than just Moscow. This newspaper became known as 64. Petrosian studied for a degree of Master of Philosophical Science at Yerevan State University; his thesis, dated 1968, was titled "Chess Logic, Some Problems of the Logic of Chess Thought".
Three years after Petrosian had earned the title of World Chess Champion, he was challenged by Boris Spassky. Petrosian defended his title by winning rather than drawing the match, a feat that had not been accomplished since Alexander Alekhine defeated Efim Bogoljubov in the 1934 World Championship. However, Spassky would defeat Efim Geller, Bent Larsen and Viktor Korchnoi in the next candidates cycle earning a rematch with Petrosian, at Moscow 1969. Spassky won the match by 12½–10½.
Petrosian died of stomach cancer in 1984 in Moscow and is buried in the Moscow Armenian Cemetery. In 1987, World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov unveiled a memorial at Petrosian's grave which depicts the laurel wreath of World Champion and an image contained within a crown of the sun shining above the twin peaks of Mount Ararat – the national symbol of Petrosian's Armenian homeland. On 7 July 2006, a monument honoring Petrosian was opened in the Davtashen district of Yerevan, in the street named after Petrosian.
Petrosian was not selected for the Soviet Olympiad side until 1958; he had already been a Candidate twice by that time. But he then made ten straight Soviet Olympiad teams from 1958 to 1978, won nine team gold medals, one team silver medal, and six individual gold medals.
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