chessbase india logo

Iron Tigran: Clash of the Cavalries!

by Srinath Narayanan - 21/03/2017

'There have been many instances in history when an inspired cavalry charge disrupts the momentum of a battle,'writes Srinath Narayanan who thinks Tigran Petrosian is one of the greatest players of chess, ever. He dissects the play of the former world champion in the first of his planned series of 'tribute' to Iron Tigran. Enjoy.

Iron Tigran: Clash of the Cavalries!

"During tournament analysis sessions players all speak at once, but whenever Petrosian said anything, everyone would shut up and listen." – Yasser Seirawan


There is no doubt, at least not anymore, that Tigran Petrosian took chess understanding to a whole new level. Tigran was born on June 17, 1929, and passed away on August 13, 1984. He was a Soviet Armenian grandmaster, and World Chess Champion from 1963 to 1969.


Although he remains no more, his games continue to teach eager youngsters like me to play good chess. I also understand that many players simply cannot afford to hire a good coach, and besides, 'good coaches' themselves are quite rare these days. This article is for all my friends who are willing to learn and inch closer to chess mastery.

Welcome to the world of 'Tigran the Ninth'.

As a mark of respect, I will keep my words to the minimum in today's article and let the former world champion's moves do the talking.

Reshevsky-Petrosian, Candidates Zurich, 1953

Let us begin with a game from the famous Zurich Tournament 1953, the tournament book of which is considered an all-time classic (it was written by David Bronstein).


Let us first look at two important moments...

A very logical positional operation. Petrosian always strove to improve his pieces while trying to impede opponent from executing their plan.

Petrosian's famous exchange sac!

Tal: 'This purely positional sacrifice (a quiet move, without any checks or obvious threats!) made an indelible impression on me.' Let me explain the whole game to you:

[Event "Zuerich ct"]
[Site "Zuerich"]
[Date "1953.08.31"]
[Round "2"]
[White "Reshevsky, Samuel Herman"]
[Black "Petrosian, Tigran V"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "E58"]
[Annotator "NS"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "r2q1rk1/p4ppp/1pn2n2/3p4/2pP2b1/P1P1PN2/1BB2PPP/R2Q1RK1 w - - 0 13"]
[PlyCount "57"]
[EventDate "1953.08.30"]
[EventType "tourn"]
[EventRounds "30"]
[EventCountry "SUI"]
[SourceTitle "My Great Pred III"]
[Source "ChessBase"]
[SourceDate "2005.01.01"]
[SourceVersion "1"]
[SourceVersionDate "2005.01.01"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
{[#]} 13. Qe1 {This was among the first games of Petrosian that really
impressed me.} Ne4 (13... Bxf3 14. gxf3 Qd7 {looks more modern. Although White
has two bishops, he can only use bishop effectively, as advancing the pawn on
one colour will obstruct the bishop of the other colour.}) 14. Nd2 Nxd2 15.
Qxd2 Bh5 16. f3 Bg6 {A very logical positional operation. Petrosian always
strove to improve his pieces while trying to impede opponent from executing
their plan.} 17. e4 Qd7 18. Rae1 dxe4 19. fxe4 Rfe8 20. Qf4 (20. a4 {would
attempt to activate the b2 bishop and impede Black's queenside counterplay,
however, it fails to} Ne5 $1 21. Ba3 Nd3 22. Bxd3 cxd3 23. Qxd3 Qxa4) 20... b5
{apart from kick-starting queenside counterplay, this also prevents a4, Ba3.}
21. Bd1 Re7 22. Bg4 Qe8 23. e5 a5 24. Re3 Rd8 25. Rfe1 Re6 $3 {Tal: 'This
purely positional sacrifice (a quiet move, without any checks or obvious
threats!) made an indelible impression on me.' Srinath: The whole point of
Black's strategy!! This game had the exact same impression on me as it had on
Tal! It turns out that, even though a rook is supposedly stronger than a minor
piece, in this particular situation, it is not clear why the rooks are
necessarily stronger. Rooks need open lines to function at their full strength.
White has the f-file, with no tangible targets. Apart from this, the remaining
minor piece, the b2-bishop appears inept. Although technically a sacrifice, it
appears more of an exchange to what is White's best piece.} (25... Ra7 26. e6
f6 27. Bf3 Ne7 28. a4 bxa4 29. Ba3 {is too unpleasant for Black}) 26. a4 $32 (
26. h4 {/\ h4-h5, Rg3}) 26... Ne7 {Black's strong steed begins to gallop
towards d5 like Bucephalus once did.....} (26... b4 27. d5 Rxd5 28. Bxe6 fxe6
29. Qxc4) 27. Bxe6 fxe6 28. Qf1 (28. Qf2 Nd5 29. Rf3 b4) 28... Nd5 29. Rf3 Bd3
30. Rxd3 cxd3 31. Qxd3 b4 32. cxb4 axb4 33. a5 Ra8 34. Ra1 Qc6 35. Bc1 Qc7 36.
a6 Qb6 37. Bd2 b3 38. Qc4 h6 39. h3 b2 40. Rb1 Kh8 41. Be1 {The knight stands
strong till the end....} 1/2-1/2


Bucephalus—the horse of Alexander the Great

Tal-Petrosian, Soviet Ch. 1958

There have been many instances in history when an inspired cavalry charge disrupts the momentum of a battle. Here's another such example.
[Event "URS-ch25"]
[Site "Riga"]
[Date "1958.01.07"]
[Round "?"]
[White "Tal, Mihail"]
[Black "Petrosian, Tigran V"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "C97"]
[Annotator "NS"]
[SetUp "1"]
[FEN "1r3rk1/2q1bppp/p4n2/P1pPp3/RpP1P3/4B2P/1P1N2P1/3QR1K1 b - - 0 24"]
[PlyCount "43"]
[EventDate "1958.??.??"]
[EventRounds "17"]
[EventCountry "LAT"]
[SourceTitle "Mikhail Tal 8th WC"]
[Source "Convekta"]
[SourceDate "2004.01.01"]
[SourceVersion "1"]
[SourceVersionDate "2004.01.01"]
[SourceQuality "1"]
{[#]} 24... Rbd8 $5 {Petrosian says: 'White has a great positional advantage.
He effectively has an extra, protected passed pawn at d5, and in the endgame
it may play a decisive role. Black could have satisfied himself with passive
defence - ... Bd6, ... Nd7, ...f7-f6,...Rf7,... Bf8 and so on, but against
good play by White he would sooner or later have ended up in a difficult
position. And here I managed to devise a rather interesting plan of defence.'}
(My friend Gavi Siddayya from Karnataka suggested 24... Ne8 $5 Digging deeper, I think 25. Nb3 g6 26. Bh6 Ng7 {was also, another plan of
defence. The knight eyes d4, via f5 after the f5 pawn break.} 27. Qd3 Bd6 {
of course White is better, but Black pins his hopes on the f5 break and the
ensuing counter-chances. I believe the position to be tenable.}) 25. Qf3 Rd6
26. Nb3 Nd7 {having fixed one weakness and protecting the a5 pawn, White
shifts his focus on to the kingside.} 27. Raa1 Rg6 28. Rf1 Bd6 29. h4 {
targetting Black's most active piece....and preparing to drive him/it away.}
Qd8 30. h5 Rf6 31. Qg4 Rf4 $1 {There have been many instances in history, when
an inspired cavalry charge disrupts the momentum of a battle. Here's another
such example.} 32. Bxf4 (32. Rxf4 $142 {would've made sure White had an
advantage, while not changing the nature of the game too much.} exf4 33. Bxf4
Ne5 34. Qg3 Re8 35. h6 g6 36. Rf1 f6 {concretely looks better for White, but
if I was calculating this from the 32nd move in my head with limited time, it
would probably appear as if Black is holding a fortress.}) 32... exf4 33. Nd2
Ne5 34. Qxf4 $2 {unleashing the monster on d6. Having weakened the kingside
with h4-h5, the tables now turn. Every little thing has consequences.} (34. Qf5
$142 f3 (34... g6 {would weaken the f6 square.} 35. Qxf4 Nxc4 36. e5 Nxe5 37.
Ne4 $18 {would be calamitious for Black.}) 35. Nxf3 $16) 34... Nxc4 35. e5 $5
Nxe5 $1 ({not even thinking about winning back the exchange with} 35... Nxd2
36. exd6 Nxf1 37. Rxf1 h6 38. b3 $1 $16 {the passed d-pawns and the way
White's pieces function stand above other factors in this position.}) 36. Ne4 {
with the idea 37.h6! but then maybe Qf5 first to provoke g6?} h6 37. Rae1 $2 (
37. b3 $1 {preventing c4-Nd3.}) 37... Bb8 $1 {with the idea 38... Nd3} 38. Rd1
c4 {And now Black is better. It's interesting how Black's pieces have
transformed. The bishop will stand unopposed on the a7-g1 diagonal, while the
knight is prepared to cut the rook on d1 from d3, thereby reducing the impact
of White's d5-paser as well. Again, h4-h5, a move that looked so tempting and
innocious, has clear consequences!} 39. d6 Nd3 40. Qg4 Ba7+ 41. Kh1 f5 $1 42.
Nf6+ Kh8 (42... Qxf6 43. Qxc4+) 43. Qxc4 Nxb2 44. Qxa6 Nxd1 45. Qxa7 Qxd6 {
With the help of past analysis and the useful tool of getting instant
evaluation of engine, it is abundantly clear that Black has a sizeable
advantage. Rejuvenated by the adjournment after 40 moves, Tal showed his
resourcefulness and salvaged a draw.} 1/2-1/2


So, what do we infer from the passage of this game?

Well, exchange sacrifice, yes. Or a simple cavalry exchange, highlighting the 'relative value of pieces' in different circumstances. The rooks aren't more useful than minor pieces in every single situation. As the wise in India have learned from their lessons, sometimes, camels with fire on their hump can trample a horde of war elephants! [Ed. Note: This reference will be elaborated upon in a future article.]


Moving on to more practical matters: Are these concepts useful in your tournament games? Oh, yes. In the last tournament that I played in—the Aeroflot Open 2017—I was able to use Petrosian's teachings in more than one ways. Here is one small example:

Ferenc Berkes-Srinath Narayanan

Decision point! What should Black play here? Decide between 15...Bxe5 and 15...Nxd4.

It was as if I could see the ninth world champion point me towards the right move! Luckily, I listened to him and...

My opponent avoided this move but the critical line that was a part of my calculations in this game was 16.Nc4 to which Black has to play 16...Qb4, when after 17.Bxa8, Black has full compensation. It was important to calculate this because, otherwise, Black will just suffer if I chose the alternative (as shown in the game)!
[Event "Aeroflot Open"]
[Site "?"]
[Date "2017.02.23"]
[Round "3"]
[White "Berkes, Ferenc"]
[Black "Srinath, Narayanan"]
[Result "1/2-1/2"]
[ECO "A46"]
[WhiteElo "2648"]
[BlackElo "2474"]
[Annotator "Srinath,Narayanan"]
[PlyCount "47"]
[EventDate "2017.02.??"]
[EventCountry "IND"]
[SourceDate "2003.06.08"]
{My opponent played so many, so many different variations that I decided to
just go out there and play over the board without spending much time on pre
game preparation.} 1. d4 Nf6 2. Nf3 e6 3. Bg5 c5 4. e3 cxd4 (4... h6 5. Bh4 {
is often included.}) 5. exd4 b6 6. Bd3 Bb7 7. O-O Be7 8. c4 d5 {I played
quickly up to this point.} (8... O-O 9. Nc3 d5 10. Bxf6 Bxf6 11. cxd5 exd5 {
is another position which I had played five years ago, although I didn't
remember during the game.}) 9. Bxf6 Bxf6 10. cxd5 Bxd5 {I was trying to find
solutions using logic instead of purely depending on concrete calculation.} 11.
Nc3 {My opponent had played instantly up to this point and I was scared that I
had fallen into some deep preparation.} Nc6 {(15) again logical chess.} (11...
O-O 12. Nxd5 Qxd5 13. Qc2 $18) (11... Bc6 {Aside from concrete calculations,
c6 belongs to the knight anyway.} 12. d5 (12. Qe2 O-O 13. Rad1 {is just better
for White according to Stockfish.}) 12... exd5 13. Re1+ Kf8 {I didn't feel
comfortable at all here, but stockfish says =(0.00) at lower depths before
increasing the advantage for White.}) 12. Nxd5 Qxd5 13. Re1 O-O 14. Be4 Qd6 15.
Ne5 {My opponent still had all his time while I had spent around 30 minutes.}
Nxd4 {(17)} (15... Bxe5 16. dxe5 Qxd1 17. Raxd1 Rac8 18. f4 {seems so
obviously better for White, although defensible. In any case, it was an option
only if all else convincingly failed.} (18. Rd7 Nxe5 19. Rxa7) 18... g5 19. g3
$14) 16. Ng4 {My opponent spent 31 minutes on this move, during which period I
think I managed to calculate almost all the concrete lines.} (16. Nc4 {was the
main move in my calculation and I couldn't help but relating with Petrosian
again!} Qb4 17. Bxa8 Qxc4 (17... Rxa8 {it seemed like Black had full
compensation in both variations.})) 16... Rad8 17. Nxf6+ gxf6 18. Qh5 (18.
Bxh7+ Kxh7 19. Qh5+ Kg7 20. Qg4+ Kh7 21. Re3 Nf5 $11) 18... f5 {I played
rather quickly as I had used my opponent's time to calculate and the
variations were all relatively forced.} 19. Qg5+ Kh8 20. Qf6+ Kg8 21. Re3 Ne2+
$1 22. Rxe2 fxe4 23. Qg5+ Kh8 24. Qf6+ {I was surprised when my opponent chose
to end the game here, though, as looking at the rating difference, I thought he
might just play the 5 vs 5 for a long time anyway.} (24. Qf6+ Kg8 25. Rxe4 Qd1+
26. Re1 Qd4 27. Qg5+ Kh8 {is completely equal, but I thought he might just
make moves here.}) 1/2-1/2



Srinath Narayanan is an International Master with 5 GM norms. This is the first in a series of articles focussed on chess history that will be published whenever he is not playing tournaments.

Contact Us