Book Review: Petrosian’s Legacy

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A well-known sports writer Viktor Vasilyev wrote the books Zagadka Talya (“Tal’s Mystery”) and Vtoroe “ya” Petrosiana (“Petrosian’s second “I”). He expressed [an] idea there [about the influence of early family life on chess] . I’m the boy from a problem-free family that lived a relatively quiet life, not taking into account the global turmoil that affected everybody – the World War II, so I’ve got one playing style. Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian’s life was harder, more difficult – and this affected his playing style as well. Such theory is worth considering, but I think it’s only a hypothesis. – GM Tal,  “Mikhail Tal’s last ever interview” with Vitaly Melik-Karamov

Petrosian’s Legacy is one of the odder books left behind by a world champion chessplayer. It was published posthumously in 1990 by Tigran Petrosian‘s widow, Rona Petrosian. It is assembled by Edward Shektman from articles, lectures and television shows by the late grandmaster (Petrosian died in 1984). It was translated into “Russian” English (sic) and very imperfectly cleaned up by the late Arnold Denker, all this in itself making this slender 123-page volume a curiosity for the ages.

The book’s value is the insight it provides into an exceptionally peculiar mind among the many peculiar minds of the chess world.  Petrosian was brilliant intellectually, loyal to the Soviet system which nurtured him,  and yet was apparently somewhat emotionally isolated from his peers by a rough upbringing, by ethnic (in the book he calls it “tribal”) hero status in Soviet Armenia and in the world Armenian diaspora, by an overwhelming desire to achieve tinged with certain amount of bitterness, and by his increasing deafness.

This crabby, vain, and often unforgiving man treats not only with his successes, but also deals frankly with his own weaknesses as a chessplayer with self-deprecating humour and grace, and evinces a “complicated” love for chess which characterizes only a very few players even at grandmaster level.

Jacques Delaguerre