Friday, April 24, 2009

Great Rivalries: Petrosian vs. Larsen (Part 4)

Petrosian and Larsen next met over the board in 1960. In 1959, Petrosian had won the 26th Soviet Chess Championship and had finished third in the Candidates' Tournament, behind Tal and Keres. Larsen had been left with the somewhat humiliating task of serving as the second to the fifteen-year-old Fischer in Yugoslavia, a task that reportedly involved reading Tarzan stories to the teenager.

In the small tournament in Beverwijk, Holland, in 1960 (the predecessor of the great Wijk aan Zee and Corus tournaments of more recent years), Petrosian and Larsen tied for first place. But Petrosian prevailed in their head-to-head encounter.

Tigran Petrosian-Bent Larsen
Beverwijk 1960

1. c4 d6 2. d4 e5 3. Nf3 Nd7 4. Nc3 Ngf6 5. e4 Be7 6. Be2 O-O 7. O-O c6

This is the main line of the Old Indian. White has a small advantage, as Black's position is more passive than in the analogous lines of the King's Indian, thanks to the bishop's position on e7 instead of g7. Nevertheless, Black's position is still very solid.

8. d5

Not the most common move--in fact, Re1, Qc2, Be3, h3, and Rb1 are all seen more often in this position--but perhaps played by analogy to the Petrosian variation in the King's Indian? Petrosian closes the center, stabilizing the position and reducing Black's options. In this position, though, Black is able to establish his knight on c5 and White does not seem to gain any advantage.


Keene and Simpole, in Petrosian vs the Elite, mention that 8...c5 is a viable alternative. That move would transpose into a well-known line of the Czech Benoni, but a tempo down for Black. Of course, in such a closed position, one tempo is not particularly important. Still, White should have the edge after 9. a3 Ne8 10. b4.

9. Nd2 a5 10. b3 cxd5?

Keene and Simpole prefer 10...Ne8. That move is certainly possible, but Black's problem is not so much that he has the wrong plan but that he uses the wrong move order. Thus 10...Bd7 11. Rb1 cxd5 12. cxd5 b5! gives Black a good position. Indeed, Larsen would later use this idea when he had the position after 10.b3 a tempo down in a game against Polugaevsky in Bugojno 1982. That game went 11. a3 Bd7 12. Rb1 cxd5 13. cxd5 b5 and Black had no problems.

11. cxd5 Bd7 12. a4!

Now ...b5 is impossible and White has a powerful bind on the queenside light squares.

12...Qb6 13. Ba3 Rfc8 14. Rb1 Qa7 15. Rc1 Rc7 16. Bb5

Threatens to pave the way for an invasion of the light squares by exchanging off a key defender of them, the d7-bishop. If, for example, 16...Ne8 17. Bxd7 Nxd7 18. Nb5 Rxc1 19. Qxc1 Qb8 20. Nc4 and Black is completely tied up. Larsen avoids the exchange and also leaves the White bishop blocking the knight's access to b5.

16...Bg4 17. Qe1 Na6 18. h3 Bh5

This removes the bishop from the defense of the queenside, but 18...Bc8 19. Bxa6! bxa6 (19...Qxa6 20. Nb5 Rxc1 21. Qxc1 Qb6 22. Nc4 Qd8 23. Bxd6 wins) 20. Nc4 leaves White with a dominating position. 18...Bd7 19. Bxd7 Rxd7 20. Nb5 Qb8 21. Nc4 is the sort of thing Larsen was trying to avoid with 16...Bg4.

19. Bxa6!

At first sight, a surprising move, but it clears the way for the knights to occupy c4 and b5. If 19...bxa6, then 20. Nc4 wins the a5-pawn.

19...Qxa6 20. Nc4

Keene and Simpole don't analyze any alternatives to Larsen's exchange sacrifice. Petrosian has established such an effective bind, however, that it is hard to come up with ideas for Black. For example, after 20...Ne8 21. Nb5 Rd7 22. Qe3 Bg6 Black is badly tied up, though I don't see an immediate breakthrough for White. Nevertheless, Petrosian is the last player against whom you would want such a position, so Larsen's decision to lash out, even if his compensation for the exchange is ultimately inadequate, is understandable.

20...Rxc4 21. bxc4
Qxc4 22. f3

White could also try 22. Nb5 Qxa4 23. Bxd6 with a powerful passed d-pawn, but Petrosian's decision to keep things under control is also strong, and characteristic of his play.

22...Ne8 23. Qe2 Qd4+ 24. Kh1

Black has a pawn for the exchange, but has no real positional compensation. He has a temporary initiative on the dark squares, but once White's bishop returns to c1, he will have all of the important dark squares covered. White still has control over the queenside light squares, which he will use to organize an invasion along the b- or c-file.

24...Bg5 25. Rfd1
Qb6 26. Rb1 Qc7 27. Nb5

The establishment of a knight on b5 is a key part of White's strategy. It helps ensure his invasion on the c-file and ties Black to the defense of the d6-pawn. Incidentally, in Petrosian's King's Indian games, where he frequently used the same sort of light-square strategy, I count 26 games in which he landed a knight on b5. In those games, he scored a staggering +22 =4!

28. Bc1 Bd8 29. Be3

Petrosian has beaten back Larsen's attempt at counterplay on the dark squares. Now Larsen is helpless to prevent Petrosian's invasion down the c-file.

29...Bg6 30. g4!

Eliminating any chance of counterplay with ...f5.

30...h5 31. Rbc1 Nf6

If Black exchanges off the dominant White knight with 31...Nc7, White remains in control after 32. Nxc7 Bxc7 33. Qc4 Bd8 34. Rd2 intending Rb2.

32. Rc4 Nh7

Still angling for some counterplay on the kingside dark squares.

33. Rdc1 Bg5 34.
Bxg5 Nxg5 35. Kg2 Qd8 36. Qe3!

Another characteristic "short" move from Petrosian. 36. Rc7 was also completely winning after 36...hg 37. hg f5!? 38. gf Bh5 39. R1c3 or 38. ef Bf7 39. Qd3, but Petrosian does not allow Black even a hint of counterplay. Now if 36...hg 37. hg f5? 38. ef Bf7 39. Nxd6 and Black is crushed. White is also threatening 37. Nxd6, which forces the following weakening of the seventh rank.

36...f6 37. Rc7 Kh7

If 37...Rb8, then 38. Qa7.

38. Rxb7 Rc8 39. Rxc8 Qxc8 40. Rc7
Qf8 41. Qc1 Qd8 42. Qc6 Nxe4 43. Rc8

43. fe Bxe4+ 44. Kh2 also wins, but is not as elegant as Petrosian's choice.

43...Qe7 44. Qa8 Kh6 45. Rc7 1-0

The queen is trapped. A beautiful game by Petrosian.

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