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1961 Bled - Petrosian vs. Pachman
Every Move Explained


The chess tournament at Bled, then Yugoslavia, now Slovenia, September 1961, was one of the strongest tournaments of all time. Its 20 participants included former World Champion Mikhail Tal, who finished first, a point ahead of 18 year old Bobby Fischer, who was a point ahead of Petrosian, Keres, and Gligoric.

The game was played between Tigran Petrosian (1929-1984), an Armenian who was less than two years from winning the World Championship himself, and Ludek Pachman (1924-2003).

The game was taken from the 'Most Instructive Games of Chess Ever Played' by Irving Chernev (1900-1981), the author of 'Logical Chess: Move By Move', our model for this series.

Next move: 1.Nf3 • For more about White's first move, see our tutorial Chess Openings - Initial Position.


We can classify players by the first move they prefer.

  • 1.e4: A King's Pawn player
  • 1.d4, 1.c4, 1.Nf3, and more unusually 1.g3: A Queen's Pawn player
  • Another first move: A player of unorthodox openings
  • A combination of the above, although often with a preference

Petrosian was a Queen's Pawn player. In most of his games with White, he opened 1.d4, 1.c4, or 1.Nf3, with a statistical preference for those moves in that order. Occasionally he played 1.e4, and on the rare occasions he played a different first move, it was likely to be 1.g3.

The move 1.Nf3 is the most flexible of the Queen's Pawn openings. White says very little about the opening he intends to play. The move c2-c4 will often follow at some point and g2-g3 is also likely, but circumstances will dictate whether d2-d3 or d2-d4 is played. The move e2-e4 may also be possible, but becomes more problematic if Black plays 1...Nf6 or 1...d5, both of which prevent an immediate e2-e4. If both d2-d4 and c2-c4 are played, the game will transpose into a typical 1.d4 opening.

The move 1.Nf3 doesn't have many drawbacks. It precludes any opening where the f-Pawn is played early, but they are few and far between. The Saemisch Variation of the King's Indian Defense (1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3) is a good example of an opening that is not possible after 1.Nf3.

Next move: 1...c5 • For more about the responses to 1.Nf3, see our tutorial Reti Opening.


After 1.Nf3, Black has a large choice of first moves. The only otherwise reasonable move which is now obviously bad is 1...e5.

If we look at master level games, we see a definite preference for 1...Nf6, plus considerable enthusiasm for 1...d5 and 1...c5. Other moves to be considered are 1...g6, 1...f5, and 1...d6. Generally speaking, Black will play a move that fits into the openings that have been prepared against 1.d4, which partially explains the preference for 1...Nf6, a move almost always played some time after 1.d4.

One notable characteristic of 1...c5 is that it allows transposition into a Sicilian Defense (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3) if White continues 2.e4. Pachman's favorite defenses to 1.e4 were 1...e5 and 1...c5, so his choice of 1...c5 after 1.Nf3 was in line with his perferred opening repertoire.

To fully understand a grandmaster's choice of opening moves we would have to know something about the preferred variations (the opening repertoire), the opening repertoire of the opponent, the history of games between the two players, and the recent games of the two players, especially the games played against others in the tournament for the enounter. On top of that, we would have to consider psychological aspects like the standing of the players (or their teams in case of a team event) in the tournament and whether one or both was playing for a win or was satisfied with a draw.

Since that takes us far beyond what we can cover in this 'Every Move Explained' article, we won't discuss it. Some aspects of chess defy explanation, and rightly so.

Next move: 2.g3


Petrosian certainly knew of Pachman's preference for the Sicilian, but since he wasn't an 1.e4 player, there is no reason why he would have chosen to transpose into the King's Pawn opening. Instead he continued his plan of flexibility and chose a move that fit into his overall opening repertoire.

After 1.Nf3 c5, the move 2.d4 is not particularly good, because Black can continue 2...cxd4, when either of White's recaptures can have awkward consequences. Of the two other moves often played in a Queen's Pawn opening, 2.c4 is the more popular at this point, although 2.g3 is probably just as good. In any case, it was the move that Petrosian chose, and might not have surprised Pachman, because Petrosian had already played it in competition elsewhere.

At other points in his career, Petrosian chose to play 2.c4 and, occasionally, 2.b3. The most important characteristic of 2.g3 is that it signals White's intention to develop the light squared Bishop on its long diagonal, rather than on the f1-a6 digonal. Both developments are common in the Queen's Pawn openings.

Next move: 2...Nc6


After the first few moves of a chess game, which are often chosen for mainly psychological reasons, another phase starts. Here the moves are played both for (1) their psychological impact and for (2) their adherence to the logical demands of the position.

If we look at the position after White's second move, we can already note some information that the last move gave us. The Bishop's development on the long diagonal will be a significant factor for many moves to come. It indirectly attacks the Pawn on b7, possibly rendering the development of Black's Queenside Bishop problematic. From g2, White's Bishop will also eye the Rook on a8, and Black will have to take care not to lose 'the Exchange' by giving up that Rook in a swap for the Bishop.

It is not too early for Black will to take the Bishop's into account and somehow reduce its influence. One common defense against the finachettoed Bishop is to play the c-Pawn to c6. In the current game, this is not possible, because the Pawn has already moved to c5. Another common defense is to play the Queen's Knight to c6. Of the three initial moves of that piece, the move 2...Nc6 is best because it develops the piece and addresses the problem presented by White's Bishop on g2.

Other popular moves for Black are 2...d5, 2...g6, 2...Nf6, and 2...b6. These should also be playable on the next move.

Next move: 3.Bg2


White's second move declared that the Bishop would be developed on the long diagonal. It makes sense to play this as soon as possible, since it lets White see Black's next move before deciding the development of the other pieces. An acceptable alternative would be 3.c4, rendering ...d5 less acceptable.

Next move: 3...g6


Black again has the same choice of moves as on the previous move: 3...d5, 3...g6, and 3...Nf6. In addition, another candidate move can be added to the list: 3...e5, now possible because Black's previous move protected the e5 square.

The move 3...g6 signals Black's intention to develop the dark squared Bishop on the long diagonal. The alternative development on the a3-f8 diagonal is problematic because the Bishop is already blocked by its own Pawn on c5, which is not going to leave that square anytime soon. On the long diagonal, the Bishop is unencombered by its own Pawns and strikes deep into the White Queenside.

Next move: 4.O-O


White again makes the move which is most natural and logical. With the Black Bishop about to step to g7, castling O-O-O is not attractive. The most attractive alternative would be 4.c4, which just delays castling O-O for a move or two.

With 4.O-O, White has completed the development of the Kingside in the first four moves. The next moves will require decisions on the deployment of the center Pawns and the Queenside minor pieces.

Next move: 4...Bg7


Black completes the fianchetto plan started on the previous move and waits for another clue about the further deployment of White's pieces.

Next move: 5.d3


White is giving minimum information about the development of the Queenside. The move d2-d4 is impossible, because the d4 square is attacked three times and protected only twice. Preparing d2-d4 with c2-c3 or e2-e3 is slow and doesn't offer any particular strategical value, so White accepts that the d-Pawn is going no further than d3 in the opening.

The move 5.d3 also prepares the development of the dark squared Bishop on the c1-h6 diagonal. With its Black counterpart on the long diagonal, it is unlikely that White will be able to use that diagonal in the same way by b2-b3 and Bc1-b2.

White has set up a position known as the King's Indian Reversed (or Reversed King's Indian). The setup with the same first five moves played by Black (...Nf6 instead of Ng1-f3, ...d6 instead of d2-d3, etc.) in response to a Queen's Pawn game is known as the King's Indian, hence the name King's Indian Reversed when played by White. The theory behind reversed openings is not particularly well understood and gives both players opportunities for creative play early in the game.

It's worth noting that White has held the move c2-c4 in reserve and is now able to play e2-e4 after any fifth move by Black.

Next move: 5...e6


With 5...e6, we come to a move which is difficult to explain. Chernev wrote, 'This leads to an almost imperceptible weakening of the black squares, but it is enough for the profound strategist Petrosian, who likes nothing better than working on almost imperceptible weaknesses.'

It's worth mentioning here that as good an author as Chernev was, he had a weakness found in many chess authors. He tended to fawn over the moves made by the winner of a game and to criticize the moves made by the loser. This was especially true when the winner was one of his favorite players.

Petrosian appears to have been one of his favorite players, because he included five games by the Armenian, all of them wins, in 'Most Instructive Games'. A key factor of success in chess is the ability to assess a position objectively, and there are several examples in our current game where Chernev's objectivity was clouded.

Yes, 5...e6, which follows ...g6, weakens the dark squares on Black's Kingside, and Pachman certainly realized this. The move only makes sense when we assume that it will be followed by Ng8-e7. The alternative was the more straightforward development of the Knight to f6.

Why did he prefer the development of the Knight to e7? It's hard to say. Perhaps he felt that the Knight on f6 was a target for e2-e4-e5, or perhaps he envisioned Nc6-d4 followed by Ne7-c6. Perhaps he simply wanted to avoid closing the Bidhop's long diagonal with his own Knight. Whatever the reason, the idea behind ...e6 has been tried many times by players of grandmaster strength and it is not considered weak.

Next move: 6.e4


Here White takes the first bold step of the game. The move 6.e4 steers the game into a position that might have arisen from a Sicilian Defense (1.e4 c5). It is an unusual variation of the Sicilian for two reasons. First, it is not an Open Sicilian, because White hasn't played an early d2-d4. Second, it is not a typical Closed Sicilian, because White hasn't played the trademark 2.Nc3 (or a later Nb1-c3). The development of White's Queen Knight is still to be determined.

As unusual as White's opening setup might be, it is not unknown and even has a name: the King's Indian Attack. It is related to the King's Indian Reversed that we saw earlier, with the significant difference that White has now played e2-e4. The formation of the White pieces in the King's Indian Attack is sometimes seen in other games that start 1.e4, where Black plays something other than 1...c5. Those openings are often called King's Indian Attack as well, because White's game evolves in a manner similar to the present game.

Next move: 6...Nge7


On the previous move, Black declared the intention of playing ...Nge7, and follows through at the first opportunity. Note that if Black had played ...Nf6 on the previous move, the Knight would now be subject to attack by e4-e5.

Next move: 7.Re1


White's move is one of the typical themes of the King's Indian Attack, the development of the King's Rook to the e-file. There it supports the advance of the e-Pawn.

White still hasn't decided how to develop the Queen's Knight. An often overlooked feature of 7.Re1 is that it frees the square f1 for the possible maneuver Nb1-d2-f1 and then to e3.

It might seem more logical to leave the Rook on f1 and bring it into the game a little later with Nf3-h4 and f2-f4. This would be more attractive if the Black King's Knight had been developed to f6. Since the Black f-Pawn is unhindered, Black can counter f2-f4 by an immediate ...f5.

Next move: 7...O-O


Chernev also criticized this move: 'Strangely enough, this natural move might be the decisive mistake! Instead of this, Black should play 7...d5, and fight for a share of the center.' Indeed, castling O-O in this position is the kind of move that many players would make without thinking, and it is likely that Pachman failed to consider White's next move.

It is, however, not at all clear that the move is the 'decisive mistake' and that Black was already totally lost after seven moves. Another possibility for Black was 7...d6, preventing White's next move completely.

Next move: 8.e5


This is the first move that Chernev assigned a '!', meaning a very good move, and he may have been right. He wrote, 'A fine move! It cramps Black's game, and at the same time makes the square e4 available to White's pieces.'

He might also have mentioned that 8.e5 opens the long diagonal for the fianchettoed White Bishop. That piece will play an important role in the subsequent part of the game. Furthermore, the Pawn on e5 blocks the long diagonal of Black's fianchettoed Bishop, although it is easily reopened.

Although the Petrosian - Pachman game was the first time the diagrammed position was seen in a game between world class players, it has been seen several times since. Black has managed to draw and even win from the position, showing that the Black's game was not necessarily lost at that point.

Another idea that has been tried is 8.c3, negating the influence of the Bishop on g7 to allow the development of the Bishop from c1, while preparing an eventual d3-d4. The same c2-c3 idea has been tried after 8.Nb1-d2. Yet another idea is 8.h4, initiating a plan sometimes seen in the King's Indian Attack.

Next move: 8...d6


The Pawn on e5 cramps the Black position, and Black decides to challenge it immediately with 8...d6. This is a good reaction to any cramping Pawn.

The Pawn might also be challenged by ...f6. After 9.exf6, Black can recapture 9...Bxf6 or 9...Rxf6. In either case, the Pawn on e6 will become a target on the open file after Black plays the inevitable ...d6, so the move can't be recommended.

Also possible were 8...b6 and 8...Qc7. White would have several ways to continue the game after either move.

Next move: 9.exd6


White's move is forced. The Pawn on e5 is attacked three times and defended twice, and White has to attend to the threat or lose a Pawn. The only moves to defend the Pawn are 9.Qe2 and 9.Bf4. The Queen move doesn't really defend the Pawn -- Black just captures twice on e5 when White can't recapture with the Queen -- and the Bishop move allows 9...Nd5, attacking the Bishop and threatening to make a mess of White's Kingside Pawn structure.

Next move: 9...Qxd6


Black recaptures the Pawn. Although it is probably the best, both 9...Nf5 and 9...Nd5 are also possible.

Next move: 10.Nbd2


White reaps the first reward for the delayed development of the Knight. The primary threat is 11.Ne4, forking the Queen and c-Pawn, when the Queen can't continue to protect the Pawn after it moves away. While the same threat would be available after 10.Nc3, the move 10.Nbd2 allows the Knight to continue to b3 or c4, depending on circumstances.

Next move: 10...Qc7


Black finally cracks under the pressure and makes a mistake. The thought behind the move was probably to remove the Queen from attacks by Nd2-e4 or by Nd2-c4, but the move leaves the c-Pawn unguarded. This gives White extra time to bring the last undeveloped minor piece into play.

The best move was 10...b6. Even 10...Qd8 was better than 10...Qc7.

Chernev pointed out that 10...Nd4 loses to 11.Ne4 Qc7 12.Bf4 e5 13.Nxe5! Bxe5 14.Nf6+ Kh8 15.Bxe5, or 12...Nxf3+ 13.Qxf3 Qb6 14.Bd6 Re8 15.Bxc5 Qxb2 16.Nd6 Rf8 17.Nxc8 Raxc8 18.Bxe7.

Next move: 11.Nb3


White attacks the undefended Pawn and prepares to develop the Bishop with another threat. The Queenside minor pieces, which have waited so long to enter the game, make up for lost time by developing with solid threats.

Next move: 11...Nd4


Black protects the c-Pawn with the Queen by moving the Knight. Pachman undoubtedly hoped to reduce White's accelerating attack by trading off a pair of minor pieces.

11...Nd4 was probably the losing move. As on the previous move, ...b6 was better. Now that move is no longer possible because the Knight move has opened the long diagonal to White's Bishop, pinning the b-Pawn indirectly. The best chance was 11...b6 12.Bf4 Qd8.

Next move: 12.Bf4


Chernev wrote, 'Chess players dream of making this sort of move -- developing a piece with gain of time!' Not only must the Queen move, it must maintain the protection of the c-Pawn and avoid the threats posed by the White Knights.

Next move: 12...Qb6


Black's only moves were 12...Qb6, as played, or 12...Nxf3+. The Knight move fails to 13.Qxf3 e5 14.Be3, and Black can't untangle the Queenside. If 13...Qb6 then 14.Be3 or (14.c3 followed by 15.Be3).

Next move: 13.Ne5


The other Knight joins the Queen chase. White threatens 14.Nc4, winning at least a Pawn.

Next move: 13...Nxb3


Black should have played 13...Bxe5 14.Bxe5 f6, then traded off the Knights. This would have saved the c-Pawn and reduced the attacking force by two minor pieces. While exchanging the Bishop for the Knight was not attractive, it would have kept Black in the game.

Perhaps Black planned to play the same line after 14.axb3, but that move is not forced. White has a zwischenzug, an in-between move.

Next move: 14.Nc4


Here is the zwischenzug. By attacking the Queen, White prevents Black from playing ...Bg7xe5 on the next move. The Queen is forced to move and then White can recapture the Knight on b3.

Next move: 14...Qb5


Black's move exposes the c-Pawn to a skewer. The alternative 14...Qd8 would lose material after 15.axb3 Nf5 16.Qd2 or 15...Nd5 16.Bd6.

Next move: 15.axb3


White doesn't need the rule of thumb 'capture toward the center' to decide that 15.axb3 is better than 15.cxb3. The capture with the a-Pawn automatically brings the Rook into the game via the a-file and threatens Ra1-a5, winning the c-Pawn.

Next move: 15...a5


How else can Black prevent 16.Ra5? If 15...Nc6, then 16.Bc7 forces 16...a5, because of the Queen trap by Nc4-d6, but 16.Bd6 first is even stronger.

Now 16.Bc7 would be a strong move, but White finds a stronger plan. The attack is about to switch suddenly from the Queenside to the Kingside.

Next move: 16.Bd6


White attacks the undefended Knight, which is pinned to the Rook. It also attacks the Pawn on c5, but White is now thinking of bigger game than a mere Pawn. If now 16...Re8, then 17.Bc7 threatens a Knight fork on d6 and wins material.

Next move: 16...Bf6


At this point, Black may have thought that salvation was in sight. A move like 16...Bf6 followed by ...Kg7 is a standard maneuver for tightening the defense of a Kingside Pawn structure which has been weakened by a Bishop fianchetto. This is especially true when the Bishop on f6 (or f3 for White) is not threatened by an enemy piece. There doesn't appear to be a threatening piece in the White army; so where is the danger?

Next move: 17.Qf3


White develops the Queen, attacking the loose Bishop. If we compare the diagrammed position to the position after 9...Qd6, we see that White has developed all four Queenside pieces, none of which was developed in the earlier position. Meanwhile, Black has not succeeded in developing a single additional piece. On top of that, all of White's pieces are striking targets on the Black side of the board. This is an extraordinary example of positional play.

Next move: 17...Kg7


The King defends the Bishop as planned. Now Petrosian missed the best move. If you can spot it, you have excellent combinational vision. Chernev did not see it, or failed to mention it in order not to spoil Petrosian's followup.

Next move: 18.Re4


White's move is certainly not bad. The Rook is placed on an open rank where it can switch between the Queenside and the Kingside in a single move. Petrosian was undoubtedly looking at following up with moves like Rf4 and Rg4, or maybe an eventual Rea4.

Nevertheless, White's last move, as good as it is, is not the best.

Next move: 18...Rd8


Black could have prolonged the fight with 18...Rg8, but missed the winning combination for the second time. The ...Bf6 & ...Kg7 maneuver contained a serious hidden flow.

Next move: 19.Qxf6+


The Queen sacrifice merits a '!', perhaps even a '!!', and would have received a '!!!' if it had been played on the previous move, when it was just as playable as it is now.

Next move: 19...Kxf6


The King has four moves, three of which allow checkmate. The end is delayed the longest by 19...Kxf6.

Next move: 20.Be5+


The Bishop check is the only possible follow-up to White's Queen sacrifice. The Black King falls into a mating net.

Next move: 20...Kg5


Of Black's two legal moves, 20...Kg5 delays mate the longest.

Next move: 21.Bg7


This quiet move, the key to the Queen sacrifice, is in some ways even prettier then the sacrifice. The Bishop prevents the King from escaping via h6.

Black resigned: 1-0

For all games in the 'Every Move Explained' series, see
Improve Your Game.