A brief biography of - GM Tigran V. Petrosian 

  A cool picture of Petrosian in silhouette.  (gcg_petrosian-pic001.gif, 56 KB)


Tigran Vartanovich Petrosyan, often more commonly spelled PETROSIAN, was born in 1929. (June 17th) 

He was born in the town of Tbilisi, (Russian-Georgia); his parents were of Armenian (Jewish?) descent. He learned the Russian form of checkers (draughts) and backgammon before age four, and he believed that this is what prepared him for chess. (He apparently got his formal introduction to chess when he was somewhere from age six to age eight, although many historians believed it likely he might have seen the game before then.   ---> He had an uncle who was nuts about chess and played the game at every opportunity.) 

Tigran's parents died when he was just a teenager, (16) and he took over his Father's job as caretaker of an officers' home. (This period coincided with the years of devastation that occurred during WWII.) He found comfort and consolation in the game of chess, and began playing as often as possible. In 1946, he moved to Yerevan, and then won the Armenian Championship in 1948. He was urged to move to Moscow to further develop his talent, and he did so in 1949. 

His talent and enthusiasm for chess were unmistakable, in 1951 he won the Championship of the city of Moscow. That year he also came EQUAL SECOND (with Geller and Keres) in the Championship of the {former} U.S.S.R. (This was the national or premier championship at that time.) At the Saltsj÷baden Interzonal in 1952, he tied for second place with Mark Taimanov. (Score: +7, =13) Of course Saltsj÷baden was the scene of one of Alexander Kotov's greatest triumphs. (Kotov's winning score was: +13!!, = 7; Three points ahead of the rest of the field!) He was the youngest of all the Candidates at Neuhausen-Zurich in 1953, one of the three or four strongest tournaments ever played up until that point in chess history. (Petrosian took 5th place.)  

Petrosian - seemingly - for a while did not really shine, although he continued to play successfully in the Interzonal competitions. He played - and qualified in both G÷teberg, 1955 and Portoroz, 1958. (This last event was the one in which Bobby Fischer burst upon the world's chess scene.) Petrosian played solidly in the Candidates tournaments that followed these competitions, but he did not go on to the next stage. 

He continued to score well in other tournaments, he convincingly won {again} the Championship of Moscow in 1956. He also played VERY good and solid chess in the USSR Championships. (1958, second place; 1959, FIRST; {+8, =11} 1960, tied for second; and in 1961, he was again in first place. (+9, =9, -1) (A VERY Impressive run!!! NO other champion ever played in four consecutive USSR championships during that period, and did so well!) 

At the Stockholm Interzonal in Sweden in 1962, he scored an impressive +8, =14; which was good enough to tie for second place. (Bobby Fischer ran away with this one, +13, =9, -0; CLEAR FIRST, 2.5 points ahead of poor Petrosian and Geller.) Fischer faltered in the Candidates Tournament in Curašao, where Petrosian simply continued to play very good, super-solid chess. This time around, he scored  + 8, = 19;  which was just good enough to win the tournament and qualify. 

The match for the World Chess Championship - with GM Mikhail Botvinnik - began in 1963. It was a titanic and nerve-wrenching affair, but eventually Petrosian emerged the victor by the score of + 5, =15, -2. After the match, "he paid tribute to Boleslavsky's 'invaluable help' as his trainer and as his second." - Ken Whyld 

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In 1966, Petrosian became the first FIDE-era player to successfully defend his  WC  title against  Boris Spassky

Petrosian won few tournaments as World Champion, most of the time he was too content to coast with draws. When he did win, he was not impressive, he rarely {never?} dominated a world-class field. 

  •    In 1968, he again won the prestigious tournament  ...  the Championship of Moscow. 

  •    In 1969, he lost the title to Spassky. He also tied for first with Polugayevsky for the   
       USSR Championships, (+ 6, = 16); and he won the playoff as well. (+2, =3, -1.) 

  •    Petrosian was selected as an "automatic" candidate for the next two cycles; in 1971 
       he lost to R.J. Fischer, in 1974 he was defeated by the great chess fighter, GM Vicktor 

  •    In 1975, he again won the strongest tournament on the face of the earth:  
       The USSR Championships.  

  •    In 1979, he won Tallinn with a fairly impressive score of +8, =8. 

  •    "Petrosyan played frequently for Soviet teams, usually with excellent results: in ten Olympiads  
         - from 1958 to 1978 - he won prizes for the highest score six times, and made a remarkable  
         total for the ten events of +79, =50, -1." - Ken Whyld. 
         ( Note: This makes Petrosian one of THE MOST SUCCESSFUL players in that competition, 
          of any player who has played in at least three Olympiads. {A.J.G.} )  

  •    Petrosian wrote for many magazines in the {former} USSR, and also served as editor for 
       more than one. (The magazine called '64' being the most notable example.) 

  •    From 1952 to 1984, Petrosian played in more than 50 strong international tournaments. 
       He won more second prizes, (17) than he did first prizes. {Whyld} 

  •    On August 13th, 1984, (13.08.1984) Petrosian unfortunately passed away, he was only 
       55 years old. The cause of death was reported to be cancer, probably brought on by years 
       of cigarette smoking. 



  1. "The Oxford Companion to Chess," (1992) by David Hooper and Ken Whyld. 

  2. "The Batsford Chess Encyclopedia," (1990) by Nathan Divinsky. 

  3. "The Encyclopedia of Chess," (1970) by Anne Sunnucks.  

  4. Various books that I have on this player ... there are too many to count here. 

  Some observations about Tigran Petrosian  

Here we will discuss many of the MYTHS and misconceptions that I have observed about this player.  


Tigran Petrosian was a great player, Keene and Divinsky, (In their book, "Warriors of The Mind."); rank him as the 10th greatest of all time. Even more important, at least to me, is the fact that the great Irving Chernev ranked him as number six overall. {The # 6 best player of all time} However, Chernev never lived to see the rise of today's stars, players like Ivanchuk, Kramnik, Anand; and although he might have known of Karpov and Kasparov, they had yet to leave their final mark on the chess world. Jeff Sonas only ranks Tigran Petrosian 17th overall, based on his best three-year average. However, this might be one of those cases where the numbers don't tell the whole story. (To me, you definitely should get extra consideration for those games played at the highest level. In WCS matches, Petrosian won more games than he lost.) 

Tigran Petrosian had a reputation as a BORING player, even today this myth persists. I would not describe Petrosian this way, however his penchant for quick and easy draws could certainly be labeled as dull. It is probably more likely that the average player was simply incapable of understanding his style of play. (When I was very young, a member of our chess club lent me a pamphlet of his games, many of these contests were completely un-annotated. I certainly did not understand his games at that age, many left me feeling empty or confused. I certainly did not understand his games - not at that stage of my chess development, anyway.) 

Petrosian WAS the greatest defender who ever lived. (Many chess players have this opinion about him, and it is completely true and accurate. Several have advanced the theory that players like GM Vladimir Kramnik are superior in this regard, however - in my opinion - this has yet to be proven.)  


I have met many players who believed that Petrosian was slow, even slightly stupid! I have heard it said - both in person and on the Internet - that Petrosian was poor at tactics. BOTH of these observations are MYTHS ... ... ... and they are totally and completely incorrect!! 

  •  Petrosian  WAS  hard of hearing. He was also introverted and shy. I am sure that these problems were what led to the observations about his intelligence. (I have personally known many deaf or individuals who were hard of hearing, I taught a chess class at a school for the deaf. The deaf are often perceived to be slow or stupid. I had a relative that everyone thought he was slow, yet when we passed notes, it became obvious that his mind was fine - his hearing was simply very bad. )  

  •  I met a Master at a New York Open back in the 1980's. He personally knew Petrosian, he said he was an extremely intelligent man. (Several other chess notables have confirmed this fact to me.) 

  •  Petrosian was NEVER slow at the chess board! Most of the time, he was ahead of his opponents on the clock. MANY different GM's, players and historians have confirmed to me that during the late 1950's and the early 1960's, Petrosian was ... PROBABLY THE FASTEST AND CERTAINLY ONE OF THE VERY BEST BLITZ PLAYERS IN THE WHOLE WORLD!!! (I personally met one player who played Petrosian a lot of 5-minute blitz games. He said that he was lucky to win one in 20, and many times he would lose on time and Petrosian still had 2 or 3 minutes left on his clock.)  

  •  Most of the time, Petrosian was not interested in a tactical struggle. However, when the need arose, he could be a fearsome tactician. (I have been working on a possible book for years. It will be filled with truly incredible tactical ideas and combinations by none other than Tigran V. Petrosian!!) 

  •  Bobby Fischer confirms that Petrosian was one of the greatest players at prophylaxis who ever lived. He was probably better at preventing whatever idea his opponent was trying to execute, than he was at winning earth-shattering brilliancies. Needless to say, this quality did not endear him to the chess public.  

  •  Petrosian was a great genius and master of POSITIONAL PLAY, this is a point that few will dispute. And as I have shown in at least one example, (vs. Unzicker); his understanding of chess strategy and planning were {also} without peer.  (Many chess historians have already noted that in closed positions, few could equal Petrosian's ability to maneuver and outflank his opponents.)   

  •  I would rank Petrosian as being EASILY in a small group of the finest endgame players who ever lived. Some of the others that would join this very select group would be:  Akiba Rubinstein, Jose R. Capablanca, Vassily Smyslov, and Robert J. ("Bobby") Fischer.  

 Petrosian's Best Games (?) 

A quick list of some of this great player's best games.  

  1. Paul Keres - T. Petrosian;  / (FIDE) Candidates Tournament;  1959. 

  2. T. Petrosian - M. Botvinnik;  / (Game # 5) / World Championship Match /Moscow, USSR;  1963. 

  3. Boris Spassky - T. Petrosian;  / (Game # 07)  / World Championship Match, / Moscow; USSR; 1966. 

  4. T. Petrosian - Boris Spassky; / Game # 10 /  World Championship Match, / Moscow; USSR; 1966.  

  5. Boris Spassky - T. Petrosian;  / (Game # 12) / World Championship Match, / Moscow; USSR; 1969.  

  6. T. Petrosian - B Spassky;  (Game # 20) / World Championship Match, / Moscow; USSR; 1969.   

  7. Tigran Petrosian - Bobby Fischer;  (Game # 02) / (FIDE) Candidates Match / B.A., ARG;  1971.  

  8. GM Garry Kasparov - GM Tigran Petrosian;  / ICT-Masters, / Tilburg; NED; 1981.  

  9. GM Bent Larsen - GM Tigran Petrosian;  /  (FIDE) Olympiad / Havana, CUB; 1966. 

  10. GM T. Petrosian - GM V. Korchnoi; / (FIDE) Candidates Match / 1971.  (Which game?)  

Thanks to "chess-games"  and  {also}  Ray Keene  for this list.   (See his post for Nov. 15th, 2005.)  

    Useful links on this player    

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This page was first created for the Internet in late March of 2005.   It was posted on April 01, 2005.   It was last updated on: 05/30/2013

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