Shortest Losses by the World Champions, Part 3

By Matthew Grinberg, Founder of Alamogordo Chess Club

This week we feature World Chess Champions Vasily Smyslov, Mihail Tal, and Tigran Petrosian.


Smyslov, Vasily – Hjartarson, Johann, 0:1, 1995

Sicilian Defense

At the age of 75 Smyslov plays in a grandmaster tournament in Iceland, but the young Icelandic player, Hjartarson, defends his home turf skillfully.

  1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. Qe2!? An unusual move, prematurely developing the queen and blocking the bishop.

[Better is a normal open Sicilian Defense. 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 (4… Nc6 5. Nc3 Qc7 6. Be2 a6 7. O-O Nf6 8. Be3 Bb4  +0.28|d16 Rybka4) 5. Bd3 Nf6 6. O-O Qc7 7. Qe2 d6 8. c4  +0.30|d17 Rybka4]

3… Nc6 4. Nc3 d6 5. g3 g6 6. Bg2 Bg7 7. O-O Nge7 8. d3 h6 9. Be3 Nd4 10. Qd2 Rb8 11. Rab1 Nec6 12. a3 b5 13. b4?! By taking a defender off of the knight on c3, Smyslov allows a simple little combination winning a pawn.

[The position is equal after 13. Ne2 Nxf3 14. Bxf3 Ne5 15. Bg2  -0.04 Rybka4]

13… Nxf3 14. Bxf3 Qf6 15. Bg2? It is important to defend the bishop, but it is also important to get the king off of g1, as will become apparent.  Now he loses a knight instead of a pawn.

[15. Kg2 Qxc3 16. e5 Qxd2 17. Bxc6 Bd7 18. Bxd7 Kxd7 19. Bxd2 Bxe5  -0.89|d14]

15… Qxc3 16. e5 When playing his 13th and 15th moves, Smyslov may have thought this would win back the piece due to the twin threats of Bxc6+ and Qxc3, but Black has a trick up his sleave.

[No better is 16. Qxc3 Bxc3 17. bxc5 dxc5 18. Bxc5  -2.32|d14]

16… Nd4! Smyslov resigns since he must end up down a knight or a rook for two pawns.

[17. Qxc3 Ne2! The reason why leaving the king on g1 was bad. 18. Kh1 Nxc3 19. exd6 (19. Rbe1 Bxe5 20. bxc5 d5 21. Bxh6 Bxg3 22. fxg3 Rxh6  -3.15|d18 Rybka4) 19… Nxb1 20. Rxb1 Kd7 21. bxc5 Bb7  -2.97|d17 Rybka4]


Tal, Mikhail – Petrosian, Tigran, 0:1, 1962

French Defense

This game was played in the Candidates Tournament in Curacao in 1962.  Tal lost the World Chess Championship to Botvinnik the year before.  Petrosian won the tournament and the right to challenge Botvinnik for the World Championship.  This was the last game Tal played in the tournament before withdrawing due to illness.  I can see why Petrosian’s last move might have made him feel ill.

  1. e4 e6 2. d4 d5 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. Bg5 dxe4 5. Nxe4 Nbd7 6. Nxf6 Nxf6 7. Nf3 c5 8. Qd3 Be7 9. Bxf6!? Typical of Tal, he heads for complications before he is even out of the opening.

[A safe alternative is 9. dxc5 O-O 10. Qc4 Qc7 11. Bd3 h6 12. Bf4 Qxc5 13. Qxc5 Bxc5  +0.11|d15 Rybka4]

9… Bxf6 10. Qb5!? Still going for the gusto.

[He could still go for the safe alternative, but that’s just not the way Tal played. 10. dxc5 O-O 11. c3 Qc7 12. Qe3 Be7 13. Qe5 (Trying to hold the extra pawn is dubious since it neglects his development and weakens his queen side. 13. b4!? b6 14. Bd3 (14. cxb6 axb6 15. Be2 Ra3 16. Rc1 Rxa2  -0.49|d17 Rybka4) 14… bxc5 15. O-O Bb7  -0.38|d17 Rybka4) 13… Qxc5 14. Qxc5 Bxc5  +0.00|d18 Rybka4]

10… Bd7 11. Qxb7 Having given up the bishop pair and neglected his development with this queen excursion, he has no choice but to plunge forward and grab whatever he can.

11… Rb8 12. Qxa7 Rxb2 13. Bd3 cxd4 14. O-O What does Tal have for his adventure?  He has given Petrosian the bishop pair and a superior center, plus he has weak pawns on c2 and a2.  He might very well win against a lesser player, but Petrosian was a tough nut to crack.

14… Bc6 15. Qa3 Qb6 16. Bc4?! Hoping that Petrosian will take the pawn on c2, but Petrosian has a much better idea.

[A better move is 16. Qd6 By keeping the queen on the a3 to f8 diagonal to stop Black from castling and putting pressure on the pawn on d4, he would have left Petrosian with little choice but to trade off queens into a roughly equal position. 16… Bd5 17. Qxb6 Rxb6 18. a4 Kd7 19. a5 Rb4 20. a6 Kc7 21. Rfb1 Rxb1 22. Rxb1 Ra8  -0.18 Rybka4]

16… Rb4! By blocking the a3 to f8 diagonal and attacking the undefended bishop, he gains the time to castle, when Black’s bishop pair and superior center give him a clear advantage.

[Not 16… Rxc2? 17. Rab1 Qc7 18. Bb5 Bxb5 19. Rxb5 d3 20. Rfb1  -0.17|d16 Rybka4 The fact that his king is stuck in the center and White controls the b-file makes the position very dangerous for Black.]

  1. Qd3 O-O 18. a3 Ra4 19. Rfd1?! The rook would do much better to move to the open file, attacking Black’s queen.

[19. Rfb1 Qc7 20. Bb5 Bxb5 21. Rxb5  -0.85 Rybka4]

19… Qa7 20. Ra2? In an already difficult position, Tal makes a simple oversight.

[Trading off to relieve the pressure would still give Tal some chance to hold. 20. Bb5 Bxb5 21. Qxb5 Rxa3 22. Rxa3 Qxa3  -1.11|d12]

20… Rxc4! The best Tal can do is end up down two bishops for a knight, so he resigns instead.

[21. Qxc4 Bd5 22. Qe2 Bxa2 23. c3 Qxa3 24. cxd4  -4.40|d17 Rybka4]


Kotov, Alexander – Petrosian, Tigran, 1:0, 1949

Queen’s Gambit, Exchange Variation

Kotov, the renowned author of “Think Like a Grandmaster” and “Play Like a Grandmaster” is the reigning Soviet Chess Champion.  The twenty year old Petrosian is playing in his first Soviet Championship.  He learns a lesson from Kotov on the undefended piece.

  1. d4 d5 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 Nf6 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Bg5 Be7 6. e3 c6 7. Qc2 Ne4? Petrosian thinks he will simplify to a drawish position. He is in for a rude awakening.

[Petrosian may simply have been mixed up on the move order. 7… O-O 8. Nf3 Ne4 9. Bxe7 Qxe7 10. Bd3 f5 11. O-O  +0.17|d18 Rybka4;

The more commonly played line is 7… Nbd7 8. Bd3 Nh5 9. Bxe7 Qxe7 10. O-O-O g6 11. Nge2 Nb6 12. Kb1 Bd7 13. Rc1 O-O-O 14. Na4 Nxa4 15. Qxa4 Kb8 16. Rc3 b6 17. Ra3 Be8 18. Qc2 Rc8 19. Rc1 Nf6 20. f3 Bd7 21. e4 dxe4 22. fxe4 Rhd8 23. h3 c5 24. Ba6 Rc7 25. Ng3 h5 26. Rc3 h4 27. dxc5 Rxc5 28. Rxc5 Qxc5 29. Qxc5 bxc5 30. Rf1 hxg3 31. Rxf6 Bxh3 32. Bf1 Be6 33. Kc2 Rd4 34. Rf3 Rxe4 35. Rxg3 Bxa2 36. b3 c4 37. Bxc4 Re1 38. Kb2 Bb1 39. Bxf7 Be4 40. Bxg6 Re2 1/2-1/2, Bareev Evgeny (RUS) 2702  – Rabiega Robert (GER) 2487 , Frankfurt 2000 It]

  1. Bxe7 Qxe7
  2. Nxd5! That was a kick in the teeth! The problem with this position as compared to the position after 9… Qxe7 in the line given above is that here the bishop on c8 is undefended.

9… cxd5 10. Qxc8 Qd8 11. Bb5 Nc6 12. Bxc6 The safe way.

[He could instead win the knight, but it’s risky. 12. Qxb7 O-O 13. Qxc6 Qa5 14. Kf1 a6 15. Bd3 Rfc8 16. Qd7 Qd2  +2.25|d18 Rybka4]

12… bxc6 13. Qxc6 Petrosian resigns.  He doesn’t want to play on against his illustrious opponent down two pawns and with his king on the run.

[13… Kf8 14. Ne2 h5 15. Rc1 Rh6 16. Qa4  +1.68|d16 Rybka4]


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