Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Petrosian vs Spassky, Leningrad 1960

The tenth world champion Boris Spassky has written very little about chess. No game collection -- just some contributions to the Santa Monica 1966 tournament book, a contribution to a book on the Sicilian Najdorf, a few articles in obscure Soviet magazines, and that's about it. In this context he once described himself as a “lazy Russian bear.”

While browsing through the 1960 Soviet Yearbook the other day, I came across a rare set of annotations by Spassky, these to his game with Tigran Petrosian from the 27th USSR Championship in Leningrad. The lazy Russian bear had come out of hibernation!

Curiously, this is one of only three decisive games between Spassky and Petrosian from tournament play. Petrosian won again at the 1971 Alekhine Memorial in Moscow, and Spassky took a measure of revenge at the 1975 USSR Team Championship in Riga.

From now on the comments are by Boris Spassky.

Petrosian,T - Spassky,B
27th USSR Championship
Leningrad 1960

Before this game the two opponents had met eight times and even though most of the games had featured a sharp struggle, each one had ended in a draw. This time both players again went for a win and finally managed to break out of the “vicious circle” of draws.

1.d4 Nf6 2.Nf3 g6 3.c4 Bg7 4.Nc3 0–0 5.e4 d6 6.Be2 e5 7.0–0

This was a bit of a surprise for me. In this position Petrosian usually plays 7.d5.

7...Nbd7 8.Re1 c6 9.d5

With this move White closes the centre and also significantly reduces the activity of his opponent's dark-squared bishop. This advance is usually connected with a pawn storm on the queenside. At the same time one should also note the negative aspects of the move. Because Black now obtains a comfortable post for his knight – the square c5 – and because the pawn tension around the square e5 has been released, Black can now advantageously prepare the advance f7-f5.

9...Nc5 10.Bf1 a5 11.Bg5

The beginning of a definite plan. By pinning the Black knight, White prevents his opponent from preparing the advance f7-f5. At the same time he intends to transfer his own knight from f3 to d2 and later to b3. And if Black drives the enemy bishop to g3 by playing h7-h6 and g6-g5, then White will be able to bring it back into play after f2-f3. However, in the present situation this plan does not turn out successfully because of Black's 13th move.

11...h6 12.Bh4 g5 13.Bg3 Bg4! 14.Re3

White prepares to move his queen out of the pin. If he does this immediately by playing, say, 14.Qc2, then 14...Bxf3 15.gxf3 is very unpleasant for White because the bishop on g3 is left out of play. However, the move in the game involves a loss of time and with his 14th move Black begins an active plan of attack against e4, the stronghold of White's position.

14...b5! 15.dxc6

The strongest continuation. After 15.cxb5 cxd5 16.Nxd5 (if 16.exd5 then 16...e4, etc.) 16...Nfxe4 Black obtains good play.

15...b4 16.Nb5

16.Nd5 is also not dangerous for Black because of 16...Nfxe4 17.c7 Qe8 with good play.

16...Nfxe4 (diagram)

A very complicated position has arisen, one that is not easy to assess. White has a passed c-pawn and a strong knight on b5 threatening the backward pawn on d6. Black for his part has compensation in the form of a pawn majority in the centre and the strong position of his minor pieces. In addition White has to reckon with the advance of the enemy f-pawn.


It was better to play 17.Bd3 immediately, and if 17...f5 then to sacrifice the exchange with 18.Bxe4 fxe4 19.Rxe4 Nxe4 20.Qd5 followed by 21.Qxe4 with approximately equal chances due the strong position of the knight on b5 and the dangerous passed c-pawn.


A mistake, relinquishing Black's advantage. Correct was 17...Qd7! If White replies 18.Bd3 then there follows 18...f5. In this situation the exchange sacrifice is not good for White; for example 19.Bxe4 19...fxe4 20.Rxe4 Nxe4 21.Qd5+ Be6 22.Qxe4 d5! with advantage. Instead of 20.Rxe4 White can play 20.h3 but even then 20...Be6 (20...Bh5 21.Nxe5!) 21.Nd2 d5 would give Black the better game.

If White does not take on e4 but plays 19.Bc2, then 19...Nf6 is possible. In view of the threat of f5-f4 White would have to sacrifice a piece with 20.Qxd6 Qxd6 21.Nxd6. However, after 21...e4 and 22…f4 Black would get the advantage.

18.Bd3 Nxg3

The exchange of an active knight for a bishop that has no prospects appears to be illogical. On the other hand it is not clear how Black can fight for an advantage. For example, if 18...f5 then 19.Bxe4 fxe4 20.Rxe4 Nxe4 21.Qd5+ gives White satisfactory play. Or 18...Nf6 19.Nxd6! and the queen cannot take the knight because of 20.Bh7+.

With the move in the game I marked out a plan that was based on an incorrect assessment of the position.

19.hxg3 f5

Black overestimates the strength of his centre pawns. After the game Petrosian suggested 19...Rac8 followed by 20...Rxc7. In that case Black would have a pawn and two active bishops for the exchange.


Consolidating White's advantage. The attack on the d6-pawn is very unpleasant. What should Black do now? If 20...e4 then 21.Qd5+ Kh8 22.Nfd4 with the threat of 23.f3 and White stands better. Or 20...Ra6 21.Qd5+ Kh8 22.Nh2 f4 (22...Bh5 23.Bxf5!) 23.Nxg4 fxe3 24.Nxe3 with an excellent position for the sacrificed exchange.

20...f4 21.gxf4 gxf4 22.Re1 Ra6 23.Be4 h5?

This “active” move only worsens Black's position. It was time to think about how to get rid of the enemy pawn on c7. Deserving attention was 23...Bd7 with the threat of Bxb5 25.cxb5 Rb6. In that case Black could successfully carry on the struggle.

24.Qc2 Qf6 25.Nd2 h4

The advance of this pawn holds absolutely no danger for White.

26.f3 Bc8 27.Bd5+ Kh8 28.Ne4

White has established a blockade on the central squares, and as a result Black's forces are completely paralysed.


Still laying some hopes on the h-pawn.

29.Re2 h3 30.gxh3 Rf5 31.Rh2 a4 32.h4 b3 33.axb3 axb3 34.Qd1 Rxa1 35.Qxa1 Black resigns (1-0)

White threatens 36.Nexd6. Black can only parry this threat with 35...Nxe4. Then 36.Bxe4 Rf8 37.Qd1 puts him in a completely helpless position.

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Port Coquitlam, British Columbia, Canada
National master (Canada) since 1984. B.C. Champion 1977 and 1984. Runner-up 1991 and 2002. B.C. Open Champion 1972 and 1982. B.C. U/14 Champion 1964-65-66. Mikhail Botvinnik once wrote that publishing your analytical work forces you to be accurate because it exposes you to criticism. Hence this blog.