Review of Defend Like Petrosian by Alexey Bezgodov

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Defend Like Petrosian by Alexey Bezgodov New in Chess 2020 272pp

If you’re a regular reader of this blog then you’re aware of the fact that I am a big fan of the Soviet era of chess. So any time I get a chance to read a book about a Soviet World Champion I take it.

For a long time it felt to me like the ninth world champion, Tigran Petrosian, was quite overlooked by chess literature. He would often be referred to as “dry” or “boring” in conversations I’ve had with various chess players over the years. Lately, however, it seems like chess authors and publishers are giving Petrosian his due.

This book is one of many which have come out over the past few years covering the life and games of the late champion.

The book is presented in two parts. Part I is called “Descent and Evolution” and starts essentially at the beginning of Tigran’s career and runs through the end of his life. In this section you see the growth of “Iron Tigran,” a nickname which was bestowed on him due to the incredible difficulty of claiming a victory against him.

In Part I games are given headers which describe the main takeaways from the game to come. Examples include: Exchange sacrifice, the first well known example; What is meant by weak squares and diagonals?; An inappropriate pawn thrust; and A light-square thriller.

Part II is called “Tigran against the titans” and breaks down his performances against several of the all time greats from his era. This section is split into 14 chapters and covers matchup against Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Fischer, Spassky, Karpov, Kasparov, Korchnoi, Keres, Larsen, Gligoric, Geller, Bronstein, and Portisch.

Part II contains the same sort of pre-game headers mentioned above. Again these often serve as a guidepost of what’s to come.

Annotations are a very balanced combination of verbal and variation analysis.

Here is nice example of that from the first part of the book. The game is Olafsson – Petrosian Bled 1959. Here is the position after 16.a4

Here Petrosian plays 16…Nc6

“A clear tactical illusion. Only taking into account the weakening of b4, TP momentarily forgot about the centre. Black is fine after the logical 16…c5! 17.a5 c4 18.axb6 Rxb6 19.e4 Bf4 20.Rc2 Rab8=”

Another example, this time from Part II’s chapter on Petrosian vs Kasparov. This is from the game Kasparov – Petrosian Moscow 1981. Here White has just played 35.Qf6+??

“White could win after the automatic pawn push 35.f6! After at least winning the pawn on e5, White’s numerous pawns would overwhelm the enemy defences.”

As I have written about multiple times in the past, the verbal parts of game analysis are more important than the variations. Variations will change over time as computers gain strength, but the verbal explanations will always be instructional for years to come.

This book is very instructive and will make a welcome addition to the library of any player who is either looking to improve or who is a fan of Petrosian himself.

Til next time,

Chris Wainscott

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