Defend Like Petrosian – Alexey Bezgodov, New in Chess

The author of this book shows his commitment, and love for Petrosian, when in the Introduction he reveals he has spent 18 months studying Petrosian’s games.

Often I read or hear questions asking about secrets for improving fast in chess. But I never hear someone saying: “I spent the last 18 months studying deeply the games of a world champion,” as secret for chess improvement, and surely such method could definitely be beneficial for everyone’s chess.

Yes, this is the real secret: to be consistent in chess, and study continuously. Petrosian as champion has been labeled a master of the defense, however, he was also good with sacrifices, likely calculated more correctly than Tal’s one. From what I learned when watching some of Petrosian’s games, before having the chance to peruse this wonderful book, I discovered Petrosian was also a master of the exchange sacrifice. Thanks to it Petrosian could block the opponent, granting himself a draw instead of a painful loss.

I might be wrong, but I believe champions like Karpov are just a Petrosian version 2.0.

From hearing different anecdotes about Petrosian, the one which stick to my memory was the one relative to him going to sleep with a copy of Nimzowitsch My Praxis.

I remember how he read the book without using the board, and how he memorized the games, and even criticized many of Nimzowitsch’s errors, obviously in a very kind way. This is another chess secret, find a classic book, and study the games till those games become a second nature, a part of yourself, and then one can go beyond the teacher, and synthesize a new chess understanding. 

Here we can see a further learning moment, before reading this book, one could spend at least a couple of months on Nimzowtisch’s chess praxis, learn the games, the ideas, and then pass to this book, and open the eyes to the similarities between these two players.

Bezgodov in one of the lists made in the introduction about the similarities of play between Nimzowitsch and Petrosian mentions the preference for knights over bishops. This list made by 7 different points, could be a good starting point to compare the two champions.

I mentioned few methods for learning, because often chess players don’t understand the richness of the chess world, in giving us so many tools to improve, if only we apply our imagination to it.

The theme of this book is quite focused, and relative to show the development of Petrosian’s defensive skills. The first part of the book deals with the evolution of Petrosian’s defensive skills as player, from his first game till the last. The second part is dealing with the encounters with the top players of the world, and how he defended himself. In the second part we see all the greatest chess players: Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal, Fischer, the three K: Korchnoi, Karpov, Kasparov etc.

The first game presented in the book was played in 1946, when Petrosian was 18, and it is a well known example of exchange sacrifice.

Throughout the book, the author, very wisely, stops and ask some questions, like in the following position:

White just played 23.Bxe4, how should Black take back?

Here the entire game, of course inside the book there is a detailed commentary to the game:

 

As we can see Petrosian won the game thanks to the idea of creating an unstoppable central pawn avalanche, which is also the answer to the above diagram. Now we could try as exercise to discover if in other previous games such idea was used. Because this is the richness of chess, the fact we have our own time machine, and we can focus on every chess game played in history and replay it on our chess boards, or our screens… hundred of years later.

This is a classical game everyone should know, with the same theme, the central avalanche brought forward to the extreme:

 

Now if you reached up to here reading the review I must tell you a secret about this book, which makes it worth buy it, because it totally differs from other chess books praising and idolizing a champion.

In this book you will see loss after loss by Petrosian! Generally when an author makes a book about a top player or world champion, the 90% or more of games are won by that champion. Instead in this book there are lot of memorable losses! Yet, I believe everyone can learn more from the commentary upon these lost games, than from many won games. Why?

Because the author tries to find out the reason that game was lost, and hence it becomes a possible lesson/warning upon our own tournament games, and the reasons we could lose.

But let me prove it to you, in the second part of the book we have different chapters:

Chapter 1 vs Botvinnik. 5 games, Petrosian lost 3 and drew 2.

Chapter 2 vs Smyslov: 2 games, Petrosian lost 1, drew 1.

Chapter 3 vs Tal: 13 games, Petrosian lost 3, won 1, drew 9.

Chapter 4 vs Fischer: 3 games, Petrosian lost 1, drew 1, and won 1.

Chapter 5 vs Spassky: 17 games, 7 lost, 1 won, 9 draws.

I stop here also if there are more chapters and top of the world players, because I believe I have proved my point, the author really did his homework, and showed us games where Petrosian defended often well considering the number of draws. To be honest, not all the draws are 60 or more moves, but in some cases, especially at top level, there is no way one of the two would have lost the game, at least if he didn’t sell it. We must also remember in Petrosian’s times time controls were longer, giving more time to think and avoid banal blunders.

The book ends with another loss by Petrosian against Portisch. Can the reader of this review find what were the mistakes made by Petrosian, and eventually check if he/she found them correctly with the commentary by the author? Here the game to annotate for this interesting exercise.   

 

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