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Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian (June 17, 1929 – August 13, 1984) was a Soviet Armenian Grandmaster, and World Chess Champion from 1963 to 1969. He was nicknamed “Iron Tigran” due to his almost impenetrable defensive playing style, which emphasised safety above all else.
Petrosian was a Candidate for the World Championship on eight occasions (1953, 1956, 1959, 1962, 1971, 1974, 1977 and 1980). He won the World Championship in 1963, successfully defended it in 1966, and lost it in 1969 (to Spassky). Thus he was the defending World Champion or a World Championship Candidate in ten consecutive three-year cycles. He won the Soviet Championship four times (1959, 1961, 1969, and 1975).
Petrosian is widely known for popularizing chess in Armenia. He was recognized as the hardest player to beat in the history of chess by the authors of a 2004 book.
Petrosian was a conservative, cautious, and highly defensive chess player who was strongly influenced by Aron Nimzowitsch’s idea of prophylaxis. He made more effort to prevent his opponent’s offensive capabilities than he did to make use of his own. He very rarely went on the offensive unless he felt his position was completely secure. He usually won by playing consistently until his aggressive opponent made a mistake, securing the win by capitalizing upon this mistake without revealing any weaknesses of his own. This style of play often led to draws, especially against other players who preferred to counterAttack. Nonetheless, his patience and mastery of defence made him extremely difficult to beat. He was undefeated at the 1952 and 1955 Interzonals, and in 1962 he did not lose a single tournament game. Petrosian’s consistent ability to avoid defeat earned him the nickname “Iron Tigran”.
Petrosian preferred to play closed openings that did not commit his pieces to any particular plan. As black, Petrosian enjoyed playing the Sicilian Defence, Najdorf Variation and the French Defence. As white, he often played the English Opening. Petrosian would often move the same piece multiple times in a few moves, confusing his opponents in the opening and threatening draws by threefold repetition in the endgame. In a game against Mark Taimanov during the 1955 USSR Chess Championship, Petrosian moved the same rook 6 times in a 24-move game, with 4 of those moves occurring on consecutive turns. He had a strong affinity for knights rather than bishops, a characteristic that is attributed to the influence of Aron Nimzowitsch.