Portrait of a World Champion

Tigran Petrosian (17 June 1929 - 13 August 1984)

Tigran Petrosian

World Champion between 1963 and 1969. He was born to Armenian parents in Tbilisi, Georgia. His parents died during the war and at one point young Tigran was forced to work as a caretaker to support his family. He progressed in chess relatively rapidly, though his progress was obtained in stages, and it was in no way meteoric. His mentor at this early stage was A. S. Ebralidze, who encouraged Petrosian to follow the principles of Capablanca and Nimzowitsch in his play.

In 1946 Petrosian won the Armenian Championship and in the next four years competed regularly in the USSR Championship preliminaries. His next important success was in 1951 when he won the Moscow title and shared second place in the USSR Championship. This qualified him for the World Title cycle.

In Zurich, in 1953, Petrosian took part in his first Candidates Tournament and placed fifth. Three years later in Amsterdam he shared third place. After some lacklustre achievements, Petrosian experienced improved results, starting with his triumph in the 26th USSR Championship in 1959. That same year, he placed sole third in the 1959 Candidates. In 1962 at the Candidates Tournament in Curacao, he scored +8 -0 =19 and grabbed first place, half a point ahead of Keres and Geller. This victory enabled him to challenge Botvinnik for the World Title.

Petrosian's victory over Botvinnik in the 1963 World Title was a convincing one, though critics felt that the victory was achieved in part due to Petrosian being eighteen years Botvinnik's junior.

His first title defence was in 1966. Against Spassky he scored +4 -3 =17, thus making Petrosian the first World Champion to win a title match outright since Alekhine's win against Bogoljubow in 1934. Petrosian succumbed to Spassky in 1969. Until game 17 the score was equal, but Petrosian collapsed in the final phase, ultimately losing to the score of +4 -6 =13.

Besides several tournament successes, mention should also be made of his fascinating lifetime Olympic performance. He represented the USSR in 1958 (2nd Reserve), 1960 (2nd Reserve), 1962 (Board 2), 1964 (Board 1), 1966 (Board 1), 1968 (Board 1), 1970 (Board 2), 1972 (Board 1), and 1974 (Board 4) - losing one game (to Huebner at Skopje 1972) in all from these nine Olympiads!

Petrosian was editor of the weekly magazine 64. He also completed his doctoral thesis, Chess Logic, Some Problems of Logic Of Chess Thought, which gained him a Master of Philosophical Science.

Petrosian died of stomach cancer in 1984 in Moscow. He is buried in the Moscow Armenian Cemetery. In 1987, Garry Kasparov unveiled a memorial at Petrosian's grave. It depicts the World Champion's laurel wreath and an image contained within a crown of the sun shining above the twin peaks of Mount Ararat – Armenia's National Symbol. On 7 July 2006, a monument honouring Petrosian was opened in the Davtashen district of Yerevan, in the street named after Petrosian.

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