A Fresh Reappraisal of a Chess Original
Review by Michael Ciamarra
Petrosian: Move by Move, by IM Thomas Engqvist, Everyman Chess 2014, Paperback, 392 pp., $29.95 (ChessCafe Price $25.46); Ebook (ChessCafe Price $21.95)
Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian (1929 – 1984), the Ninth World Chess Champion, wrote, “It is certainly no secret that the best and probably the only road to mastery in chess is profound study of the games played by chess masters.” What better journey on the “road to mastery” than to study and assimilate techniques from none other than – Petrosian’s own games?
Petrosian: Move by Move, is Swedish International Master Thomas Engqvist’s first published chess book. He is an accomplished coach of junior players and has spent many years studying the life and games of Tigran Petrosian.
Engqvist makes no apologies; he is an unabashed Petrosian fan. His joy and enthusiasm for “Iron Tigran” is infectious and shines forth in sparkling prose. The reader immediately is captivated by Engqvist’s excitement and admiration of his subject.
Engqvist anticipates our question as to why write another book on Petrosian. In addition to the valuable teaching format of Everyman’s Move by Move series, Engqvist believes a “clearer and updated picture of Petrosian’s style,” and his, indeed, considerable, “contributions to the chess world” was overdue.
Sixty, thoroughly annotated games of the Petrosian are featured. Each game, in chronological order of Petrosian’s career, is carefully chosen by Engqvist as a fully interactive, structured chess lesson. Indeed, with Everyman’s Move by Move series, the format attempts to recreate chess lessons with poignant questions asked regarding openings, middlegames, tactics, strategic, positional and strategic themes, and endgames. The reader is challenged constantly to explore the positions at critical moments.
Engqvist’s carefully placed questions throughout the games were no doubt tested with his students. Engqvist’s sensitive, patient chess coaching comes through at exactly the moment where a chess student may begin to feel lost. The chess coach in him makes sure that the student fully understands what is happening in the game before jointly moving forward.
The contents are as follows:
- Early Years (4 games)
- The Move to Moscow (13 games)
- Strongest Period (13 games)
- Life as World Champion (9 games)
- Later Career (21 games)
The bibliography provides one of the finest inventories of Petrosian books and Petrosian related materials I have seen. And Engqvist spends considerable time in his introduction sorting through the various interpretations of Petrosian’s style of play and what the reader can expect to learn.
Petrosian offered his own assessment, “What I value more than anything in chess is logic. I am firmly convinced that in chess there is nothing accidental. This is my credo. I believe only in logical ‘correct’ play.”
Petrosian’s description evidently did not completely satisfy his contemporaries. They offered sometimes contradictory summations of the then World Champion’s style of play. Engqvist attempts to synthesize these varying assessments.
Max Euwe wrote, “Petrosian is one of the most accomplished strategists in the history of chess, but in contrast to his colleagues he scores most of his positional victories not by intuition but by precise calculation. He is at home is all sorts of positions. He can attack with élan and has registered many successes by mating attacks after the Queens have gone. Equally, Petrosian is a past master of defense….” Euwe, a former world champion himself, and having played every world champion from Lasker to Fischer, comes closes to an objective overview.
Engqvist offers similar insights, “Petrosian was a formidable defensive player, but to be that good in the art of defense you must paradoxically be a very good attacking player.” Petrosian’s uncanny sense of prophylaxis, Engqvist says, was “being able to withstand an attack before his opponent had even thought about the attack.” In fact, it was this trait that Bobby Fischer famously declared that Petrosian “..has a knack of snuffing out such dreams twenty moves before they event enter his opponent’s head!”
Engvist concludes that, “His almost perfect intuition of how to attain maximum harmony and flexibility between his pieces may be unsurpassed to this day.” ‘Maximum harmony and flexibility’ is the recurring theme throughout all of Petrosian’s games.
Engqvist briefly reviews Petrosian’s impact on chess psychology. “He was above all an expert in the art of waiting for the opponent’s mistakes. Even in clearly won positions he had the ability to show patience and not to hurry.”
There are occasional ‘flaws’ in Petrosian’s play, “sometimes he waited too long, instead of forcing the play in his favor.” Again, Bobby Fischer’s observation that Petrosian “likes to play cat-and-mouse, hoping that his opponents will go wrong in the absence of a direct threat,” is reaffirmed 45 years later.
Engqvist continues his introduction with the various; nuanced ways Petrosian handled the pieces and pawns. This narrative was very unique and adds to the ‘intellectual property’ of the author. He gives us new insights that are not found elsewhere. The knight becomes a skillful weapon in Petrosian’s hands and the rook is deployed with computer like precision in a number of games. Petrosian himself attributed his deep, positional understanding and skillful coordination of pieces to his reading of Nimzowitsch’s Chess Praxis.
If you are looking for the human interest biography of Petrosian, then this is not the book. Engqvist gives a mere summary of the life and career of the Ninth World Champion. Vik Vasiliev’s, Tigran Petrosian: his Life and Games, and Kasparov’s, My Great Predecessors, Part III are better choices for the life story.
Each game is introduced with a chess theme, an anecdote, or the competitive importance of the game itself. Engqvist lists several of his favorite Petrosian games in the introduction, one of which is the following (given mostly without notes):
Argentina vs. USSR, Buenos Aires 1954
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 d6 6.Be2 e5 7.Nb3 Be7 8.0-0 0-0 9.Be3 Be6 10.Bf3 a5 11.Nd5 Bxd5 12.exd5 Nb8 13.a4 Nbd7 14.Be2 Nb6 15.c4 Nbd7 16.Nd2 Ne8 17.Kh1 Bg5 18.Bxg5 Qxg5 19.Ra3 Qe7 20.Rh3 Nef6 21.Bd3 g6 22.Re1 Qd8 23.b3 Kg7 24.Nf1 Nc5 25.Bc2 Nfd7 26.Qd2 Rh8 27.Ng3 h5 28.Ne2 Nf6 29.Ng1 Re8 30.Rhe3 Ng4 31.R3e2 Qb6 32.f3 Nf6 33.Re3 Ncd7 34.Ne2 h4 35.Ng1 Rh8 36.Nh3 Rae8 37.Qc3 Qb4 38.Qxb4 axb4 39.Nf2 Nc5 40.Kg1 Reg8 41.g4 hxg3 42.hxg3 Nh5 43.Nh1 f5 44.R3e2 Rh7 45.Rh2 Rgh8 46.Rh3 Nf6 47.Rxh7+ Nxh7 48.Nf2 Ng5 49.Kg2??
49.Bd1 is necessary with the intention of 49…Nxb3 50.f4.
Exercise (combination alert): Black to move and win!
Answer: 49…Rh2+ 0-1
An incredible game, impossible to emulate, showing Petrosian’s extraordinary skill of how to seize control of a complex of weak, dark squares. Moves like 20…Nef6, 25…Rh8 and 40…Rdg8 are necessary to understand to be able to build up a picture of how Petrosian’s brain might have been working. We can see his characteristic enigmatic play in several games. Just look, indeed, at the next one.
Your reviewer particularly liked the little known game, Petrosian v Reshevsky, Lugano Olympiad, 1968, where “maximum harmony and flexibility” was the signature motif. Here is the conclusion of the game:
Lugano Olympiad 1968
Exercise: Black plans a future attack with …Rb8,…b6-b5,…a7-a5, and …b5-b4. Can you find a preventive manoeuvre (maneuver) to undermine its effect?
Typically Petrosian prevents threats which hadn’t even occurred in Reshevsky’s head. If so he would certainly have played the rook to b8 already with his 28th move. Now the white king moves to the kingside at just the right moment.
29…Rb8 30.Ke1 b5 31.Kf1 a5 32.Kg2 a4
Reshevsky blocks the queenside and hopes that White will not manage to break through on the kingside. The disadvantage is that Black doesn’t have any counterplay whatever associated with the breakthrough …b5-b4. It’s too late for 32…b4? , though. After 33.axb4 axb4 34.Ra1 White gets the attack first.; Instead, a flexible waiting move is 32…Qf8, but White still keeps the positional initiative after 33.Ne5+ Nxe5 34.Qxe5 Re8 35.f3 Qh8 36.g4.
Question:Does White aim for an exchange of queens or does he want to play with all his major pieces?
Answer: 34.Qxe5! Qxe5 35.fxe5
The rook ending is more advantageous for White when Black cannot play …b5-b4 anymore. White’s rook is more active than its counterpart and White’s king will soon be more active as well.
Preparing a timely g4-g5.
36…Ke7 37.g4 fxg4
The best move. Other moves are clearly worse:
a) 37…Rg8? is a mistake, losing a pawn after the sequence 38.Rxh6 fxg4 39.f4 followed by Kg3 and picking up the pawn.
b) 37…f4? 38.g5 Rg8 (or 38…h5 39.Rh4 Kf7 40.Rxf4+ Kg6 41.Rf6+, winning) 39.Rxh6 Rxg5+ 40.Kh2 Rg3 41.Rh3 Rg7 42.Rh4 Rf7 43.Kh3 and White wins the f4-pawn or the b5-pawn.
38.fxg4 Rg8 39.Kh3
Exercise: (critical decision/calculation): Is the position a draw or a win for White?
Answer:The best try to draw the game is one of:
a) 39…Kf7 40.Rf1+ Kg7 41.Kh4 (or 41.Rf6 Rf8 42.Rxe6 Rf2 and Black’s counterplay results in a draw) 41…Kh7 42.Rf7+ Rg7 43.Rf8 Rg8 44.Rxg8 Kxg8 45.Kh5 Kh7 46.g5 hxg5 47.Kxg5 Kg7.
b) 39…Rg5 with the idea of …h6-h5. One possible variation is 40.Kh4 Kf7 41.Rf1+ Kg7 42.Rf6 Rg6 and the game is a draw.
In the game, Reshevsky played a losing move.
It looks natural to place the rook on the only open file, but this is just another illustration that rook endings are difficult endings.
40.Kg3 Rh8 41.Kh4 Rg8 42.Rf1 1-0
White plans 43.Rf6 or 43.Rf4 followed by 44.Kh5. A brilliant game typical of Petrosian’s patient and unforced style.
Engqvist avails himself of Rybka and Houdini in his annotations. He does not do so to tarnish annotators of the long past, but to improve upon and offer, in some cases, wholly new evaluations. Every game is annotated with exceptional care and quality. The reader is not overwhelmed with myriads of variations of computer generated variations. The relevant, suggested variation can be studied easily and with great profit in the navigable ebook format.
The Petrosian classics are here: Petrosian v Taimanov, Moscow, 1955, which is one of the most remarkable strategic games Petrosian ever played; Keres v Petrosian, Candidates, 1959; and the Kasparov v Petrosian, Tilbury, 1981 game, which was the subject of detailed analysis by Kasparov in My Great Predecessors, Part III, and in Colin Crouch’s masterpiece How to Defend in Chess. As with all of these games, Engqvist adds new ideas and improves even upon Kasparov’s 2004 analysis. Many lesser known Petrosian games are also found in Petrosian: Move by Move.
Readers might be struck by the fact that missing are several of the ‘classics,’ for example: Petrosian v Smyslov, Moscow 1961; Petrosian v Spassky, Game 10, World Championship Match 1966, Petrosian v Spassky, Moscow 1971.
Engvquist’s role as a chess coach is to find the most memorable, instructive games with the greatest learning value and impact, not necessarily assemble the best game collection of the Ninth World Champion. For that, the bibliography is replete with references. If he had his way, however, Engqvist would have no doubt tripled the number of games published in his book!
There are a few minor peccadilloes with style. Engqvist acquits himself admirably recognizing that English is not his native language. Everyman’s editors will need to tighten it up in a few places. That said, those hiccups are minuscule and in no way detracts from Engqvist’s monumental contribution to contemporary chess literature.
Convenience of navigation
With regard to the ebook, the CBV file works with any of the ChessBase-family of products; the PGN with the Everyman Chess Viewer on Apple and Android products, as well as any PGN viewer.
Engqvist gives us a rare treat and a genuine, sympathetic understanding of one of chess’ greats who nowadays tends to gets lost in the shuffle! Chess students would do well to study the classics as Magnus Carlsen has advised. Engqvist ambitiously assures his readers, “I can guarantee that a diligent study of Petrosian’s games will increase your playing strength and enrich your play…” with a winsome smile, no doubt, adds, “and, above all, put your opponents at a serious disadvantage if they haven’t read this book.”
Is he convincing? Yes! The book has already made the short list for the English Chess Federation’s 2014 book of the Year. Enjoy your journey on the road to chess mastery with the games of “Iron Tigran” and Thomas Engqvist as your GPS guide.
My assessment of this book:
Order Petrosian: Move by Move
by Thomas Engqvist
Order Petrosian: Move by Move (Ebook)
by Thomas Engqvist
© 2014 ChessEdu.org. All Rights Reserved.