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Player: United  KeSetoKaibaChessHere Gold Member Subject: Using Pressure To Win Like Petrosian

2020-12-14 05:59:19
Using Pressure To Win Like Petrosian

Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian was known as one of the best positional chess players of all time. Many of his games feature him keeping the position closed and simply out-playing the opponent in a long, grueling, battle. This game is not such, because the position is not closed. The pawn structure is symmetrical and with an open c-file; this pawn structure features no good pawn levers for either side.

Often times, symmetrical positions result in the player with the initiative to come out victorious. They can create new threats for the opponent to deal with while the opponent can only react. Let us not wait to see what the positional master, Petrosian, came up with.

This game is from the 1976 USSR Championship. This game is from round 3 of the tournament, so it is dated November 29, 1976. Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian has the White pieces and Evgeni Ellinovich Sveshnikov has the Black pieces. The well-versed chess player may recognize the name Sveshnikov. Many will recall that he was a Russian grandmaster whose peak rating exceeded 2600. This is true, but this very same Sveshnikov was not a chess grandmaster yet; he obtained his grandmaster title just one year later (1977), so in this game, his chess ability was still on the rise. When this game was played, Sveshnikov was only an International Master (IM) as he reached this title in 1975.

GM Sveshnikov is also known in chess opening theory for the sharp variation in the Sicilian Defense named after him. The opening moves: 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 Nf6 5. Nc3 e5 are dubbed the “Sicilian Sveshnikov” (also known as the “Sicilian Defense, Open, Lasker-Pelikan Variation”) with the continuation 6. Ndb5 d6 being the “Sveshnikov Proper.”

This opening variation has been played with success by many of the chess elite ever since Sveshnikov revived this old opening. Kramnik, Salov, Kasparov and many others have used this line. Most recently, Magnus Carlsen used this a few times against Fabiano Caruana in the World Chess Championship 2018.

Anyhow, back to our featured game from 1976:

1. Nf3 d5 2. d4 Nf6 3. c4 c6 4. cxd5 cxd5 5. Nc3 Nc6 6. Bf4 Bf5 This opening is the Symmetrical Line of the Slav Defense (through transposition).

7. e3 e6 8. Bb5 Nd7 This fairly symmetrical position is still a part of chess opening theory. According to my opening database, the two most popular moves on move 9 are either Qa4 or castling right away; in practical play, White generally scores better with the Qa4 move though. This may come as a surprise to some because it is typically the “safer” move like castling that scores better.

9. Qa4 Rc8 The game state is still roughly equal. An important element to note is that White should not pursue the a7 pawn. 10. Bxc6 Rxc6 11. Qxa7?! Bd3! and White’s pawn is not enough for not being able to castle and having an inactive Queen on a7.

10. O-O a6 11. Bxc6 Rxc6 12. Rfc1 Be7 The contest for the only open file is ongoing while Black still has to castle.

13. Ne2 Bd3 Black trading Rooks on c1 accomplishes nothing; White would just recapture with the other Rook and maintain control of the c-file.

14. Rxc6 bxc6 Recovering the material balance with the instant recapture is standard. However, the backwards pawn on the open file gives Black grief. Correct was the zwischenzug 14…Bb5! 15. Qc2 Bxc6 to keep a better pawn structure.

15. Nc1 The start of Petrosian using positional pressure to win the game.

Bb5 16. Qc2 c5 Black tries to repair the pawn structure by getting rid of the backwards pawn. 17. dxc5? Nxc5 gives White nothing and the advantage given by initiative is gone.

17. a4! Black’s piece on b5 is now forced to the c6 square to prevent material loss (…Bc4 is the only other option that doesn’t give up material instantly and that loses after 18. b3 because the Bishop has no safe haven).

Bc6 Now that the Bishop retreats to the c6 square, Petrosian takes advantage of the fact that Black’s pieces were forced into a line with each other. In many cases, there are tactical exploitations available when the opponent pieces become uncoordinated.

What pieces forced into a line? The c6 and c5 pieces of course! White has diverted a piece to c6 and will next decoy a piece to c5 to replace the pawn.

18. dxc5 Nxc5 Petrosian has utilized the initiative in this symmetrical setup well; now White will reap the benefits of their play.

19. b4! Black now loses material and White has converted positional pressure into a material edge. Positional pressure can be immensely powerful, but a material advantage is a bit more concrete. With positional considerations, the slightest of elements (such as having the initiative) can evaporate at the blink of an eye! A material advantage is more like having money in your pocket. You may hang onto it, or you may “invest” it later down the road (via a material sacrifice for play, or simply returning the material for positional considerations again).

Bxa4 20. Qb2 Bf6 White has too many threats after 20. Qb2, so Black can’t easily untangle. The Qb2 move threatened g7, taking on c5, or kicking the c5 Knight to remove that defender of a4. As we shall see, Black can not address all of these threats.

21. Be5 Bxe5 22. Qxe5 f6 White simply wants to save the Queen and then capture a piece on a4 or c5 to gain the material advantage. Several lines accomplish this goal. One alternative to the game text is 23. Qg3 and Black has trouble holding a4, c5 and g7.

23. Qb2 Qb8 Black attempts to hold on by putting the Queen on b8 to pin the pawn on b4. Now bxc5 right away is not possible since Black would capture the White Queen on b2.

24. Qa3 Bb5 No other Bishop retreat is satisfactory because then Black drops the c5 Knight still. Similarly, Black can’t save the c5 Knight; doing so would remove that defender from guarding the a4 Bishop.

25. bxc5 e5 Now Petrosian has secured the material advantage from seeds planted several moves ago. The pressure really began with White creating a weakness to aim at (the backwards pawn on c6), then adding positional pressure against said weakness. Finally, White transformed that weakness into another by using the initiative (traded in the c6 pawn weakness for un-coordinating Black’s Queenside forces). The concept of growing any advantage in a similar way is key to the success of many chess players. Karpov’s style is renowned for this, but all of the greats in chess have played in similar fashion at one point in time or another. This is less about personality and play-style here as it is about playing “the chess position” itself and what the situation sometimes calls for. Tactics have their place, but tactics alone do not typically win games.

26. Na2 O-O At last, Black is able to castle; this might be too little, too late though.

27. Nc3 Bc4 28. Nd2 1-0 Black resigns.

There is no source of counterplay for Black, they are down in material and now they must lose more material or allow pieces on c4 to be exchanged - allowing this simplification to a lost endgame does not give Black high expectations. White has won.

Sometimes even a single pawn is decisive. Occasionally one side is equal in material, or even winning, yet still completely lost! Petrosian being two pawns up with this position where the opponent has no counterplay is overwhelming. This is why Black likely resigned when they did.

Try to remember this pattern to use pressure and win like Petrosian:

First, create a weakness (or multiple weaknesses) you can attack. Then add pressure to this weakness (usually overloading it with pieces). Finally, transform this advantage into a bigger one; like here, that sometimes means snagging material and switching mindset to a winning endgame. Easier said than done, but this is how all the best positional players play chess. Now the secret is out. Shhh.
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