The 9th World Chess Champion Tigran Petrosian was nicknamed “the Iron Tigran” and “the Chess Lefty”. He got the first nickname for his unsurpassed skills in defense, while he was called “Lefty” for his unusual way of playing, which had been taking aback his most sophisticated opponents for decades.
He was hardly the darling of fortune: his mother died when he was a child, and his father, who worked as a cleaner at the officers’ community centre in Tbilisi, died soon as well. In the 1940s, Tigran took up chess, learning how to play the game from his mentor Archil Ebralidze at the community centre of the pioneer organisation in Tbilisi. Ebralidze was a big fan of Jose Capablanca, and Petrosian also became a life-long admirer of the great Cuban master, whom Tigran always sought to emulate.
When World War II ended in 1945, the 16-year old Petrosian put his name on the map by winning the junior chess championship of the USSR (and repeating his success for a second time the following year). 5 years later, Tigran Petrosian, who had by then moved to Moscow, split the second and the third prize with Efim Geller in the male Chess Championship of the USSR. In 1953, he took part in the Candidates Tournament in Zurich where he finished 5th.
A few more years went by, and Petrosian went for the World Chess Champion title in earnest. Twice (in 1959 and 1961) he won the USSR Chess Championship, demonstrating deep knowledge of setup, excelling at end-game, and putting up a skillful defense (every time he lost it was treated as a sensation). Eventually, his hour struck in 1962 at the Candidates Tournament on the island of Curaçao. Petrosian finished first without losing a single game out of 27(!), and earned the right to challenge the reigning champion Mikhail Botvinnik.
Mikhail Botvinnik was the patriarch of the Soviet chess school at the time, yet the 33-year old Tigran Petrosian won the match in 1963 with a score of 12.5 to 9.5, which made him the new World Chess champion. Moreover, for the next six years, just like his favorite master Casablanca, Petrosian had been remaining the reigning champion. In 1966, he defended the title against Boris Spassky with a score of 12.5 to 11.5. Three years later, he got dethroned by the same Spasskywith a score of 10.5 to 12.5.
For many years to come, however, Tigran Petrosian was regarded as one of the most formidable chess players on the planet: he won the USSR Champion title twice in 1969 and 1975, won the major international tournaments and the candidate matches. In 1979, at the age of 50(!), he won the Interzonal tournament (together with Portisch and Huebner).
Petrosian holds a multitude of impressive records. He completed six USSR Championships without a single loss. As a member of Team USSR at the 10 World Chess Olympics (between 1958 and 1978), he achieved an unprecedented result of 79 victories, 50 draws and just one loss. At his peak Tigran Petrosian was truly unbeatable. What he valued the most in chess was logic. “I’m convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that there are no accidents in chess, and this is the principle I live by. I really like only those games where I followed the logic of the setup... I believe only in the logical, straightforward chess game,” the 9th World Chess Champion wrote.
He wrote a lot of articles, was chief editor of the “64” Magazine, started his own chess school and proved to be a gifted teacher. Tigran Petrosian died in Moscow in August 1984 at the age of just 55.