By Davide Nastasio
This book appeared first in Russian under the title: “Strategia Nadejnosti” (the strategy of soundness) about thirty years ago. In the beginning of the book there are a few articles written by different authors: Krogius and Gligoric to mention some of the most known names. They are interesting because each article paints the champion under a different light; but the most interesting one, in my opinion, is the one authored by Nikolai Tarasov, which is a short biography of the young Petrosian. I always knew that Petrosian was heavily influenced by Nimzowitsch. What I didn’t know, and I came to know thanks to this book, is that during the war he met Bronstein (who was also living in Tbisili) and had a big influence on him. At that time, Bronstein was one of the best in the world, and at the top of his game. In fact, just a few years after the war ended, in 1951, Bronstein would become a challenger to the world title.
The other mentor Petrosian had was Archil Ebralidze, who introduced Petrosian to the positional style and Capablanca’s virtuoso technique.
This game between the two mentors is quite interesting because Ebralidze was winning but made a mistake, and Bronstein, being one of the deadliest tacticians, immediately took advantage of it and won the game.
However, Petrosian decided to follow the path of Ebralidze and learn from Nimzowitsch and Capablanca, yet he was also full of admiration for Bronstein.
Here we can see Petrosian winning against the mentor in a drawish endgame where Black commits a minor mistake at move 38th, and then Petrosian is able to find the way to win.
(Black should have played 38…Rg4; to draw, but we don’t know if he was short on time.)
The book is made up of sixteen chapters, which are divided per years. The first chapter covers the period from 1945 to 1948, and so on, until the last chapter which covers the period from 1979 to 1982. Three chapters are dedicated to those special years in which Petrosian won the world championship, defended it successfully, and then lost it to Spassky. Then there is an appendix by the famous endgame specialist GM Karsten Mueller.
I was pleased by this book because it is part biography, and part a game collection annotated by Petrosian. In the biographical part we can learn about what formed him as a chess player, for example that between 13 and 15 he played a lot of blindfold chess against the most talented young player in his city. Or we can learn what his advice is related to study, and how to learn chess. So first I read the prose of each paragraph, and then I delved into the games. A part which I’m forgetting, but it is very important, is that all these champions didn’t come out of nowhere; they came out of chess clubs that they attended assiduously. The colorful name for such a chess club, under the communist dictatorial regime, was The Palace of the Pioneers. The point, however, is that Fischer, on the other side of the world, wouldn’t come out from a vacuum, but through exposure to chess culture, and practice in a chess club.
The chess club then has also other important features, which is to teach respect for the older players, and also learn not to be afraid of them. Practically forms the heart of the community of our beloved sport. Then of course, in that hard time for everyone, the Palace of the Pioneers would provide also a chess library.
Through the historical information we can gather from such book, we can make larger connections which open our minds. For example Petrosian is the player one MUST study if he wants to learn how to play against weaknesses, but who is the other player we should study, that is also an example of such style? Karpov is the player to study too, because in him we see a better version of Petrosian, and Kasparov learned the lesson too. But the historic correlation is not finished. Ebralidze, Petrosian’s first coach, loved the Caro-Kann. Who else loved the Caro-Kann? Once more: Karpov.
For what other reasons we would like to study Petrosian’s games? Petrosian was the king of the exchange sacrifice, and likely his games are the best tutorial for learning it.
There are a total of 111 annotated games in the book, and about 10 positions. Speaking of games, where to start to watch the games? For me the choice was easy. Everyone knows that one of the greatest chess masterpieces is Zurich 1953, by Bronstein. Larsen said that if one comments those games he could virtually attain a grandmaster understanding, and in fact Larsen did so. Also Najdorf wrote his own book on those titan battles in Zurich 1953. So I began to peruse the Petrosian’s games from chapter 3 which is dedicated to those years. From that chapter we come to know how he prepared for Zurich 1953, and this is of great interest for the competing player.
I’d like to close this review with one of the battles that Petrosian has annotated himself inside this book, which comes from such prestigious tournament. Notice how this young 24 years old man wins a former world champion.