12/03/2008 20:27

It is some considerable time since we have seen a significant book from Raymond Keene but this has been recently rectified by Batsford Chess who, under their category of Club Players/Games Collection, have published "Petrosian vs the Elite".  The subtitle of this book is "71 Victories by the Master of Manoeuvre - 1946 - 1983" although Petrosian's chess career started before 1946.

Julian Simpole is a new name as a chess author although the name is linked to that of a publisher.  In a joint venture of authorship, one is always curious as to which  author is responsible for what particular section of a book.  In this case, Keene is clearly responsible for the Introduction, Simpole for a Foreword and presumably the games' analysis are the fruits of collaboration between the two.  Simpole is described as "Commonwealth chess master" a title with which I am not familiar.

The "Introduction" is a peculiar pot-pourri of history, comments and opinion.  It is rather strange that Keene should try to demonstrate Petrosian's credentials by comparing his performances against those of Bobby Fischer - two totally different players, whose achievements are so dissimilar that a comparison cannot tell us anything of note.  Fischer was self taught, self motivated and had no one other than himself to credit for his massive performances at international level.  Petrosian, on the other hand, was a product of the USSR chess factory and from an early age was nurtured by the state and channeled into a world championship system that was essentially dominated and propelled by the USSR.  The "shenannigans" perpetrated by the USSR during this period in order maintain their grip on world chess is well documented and only recently one such incident has been revived by the sad death of David Bronstein, a victim of  USSR manipulations.  Unfortunately, Petrosian's name is not entirely disconnected from such allegations. 

A further peculiarity of the introduction is the attempt to demonstrate that Petrosian's performance would have allowed him to dominate the scene much earlier than he managed had he taken advantage of opportunities to win more games than he did prior to gaining the World Championship in 1963.  Keene gives five examples of his play in the 1956 Candidates Tournament where he did not play well enough to gain the full points that would have seen him as the challenger to Botvinnik.  But this is surely a part of chess.  To achieve the heights one must win games and not pass up chances to do so that inevitably arise.  Using that argument, Kramnik could lay claim to having drawn his recent match against Deep Fritz had he not blundered into a one move mate.

I would rather have seen an account of Petrosian's undoubted attributes to demonstrate his achievements.  After all he became a World Champion and one does not do this without having some qualities that can be lauded.  Petrosian was a fine technician, having a rather unique style that was well respected by his contemporaries.  

Fortunately the quality of the annotations to the seventy one games examined overcomes the rather queer discussions of the Introduction.  Undoubtedly, considerable attention and time has been expended in providing clear and accurate comments that well demonstrate Petrosian's skills.  Keene's own style of play was very akin to that of Petrosian, so his work and comment on the games carry a certain authority.  He is very adept at finding and explaining the nuances of of this type of play.  Peter Clarke in his book "Petrosian's Best Games of Chess" (published by G. Bell and Son in 1964) had similar merit's in that the author was in-tune with the style of play.  Whilst on the subject of books about Petrosian, it is worth pointing out the publication "Tigran Petrosian, his life and games" by Vik. L. Vasiliev, published by Batsford in 1974.  In this latter volume the emphasis is on biography although 49 games are included with some annotated by Petrosian.  

In this computer age we can be certain that the quality of analysis is as accurate as it can possibly be, and Keene does explain that a computer was used to check particular annotations.  Some readers may be critical of using such a tool but it does ensure that one is presented with the most accurate analysis possible.  However, Keene does not use this approach exclusively as so many other authors do.  In these cases, notes are too voluminous to follow over the chess board and one has to resort to a computer to play through the annotations.  In the main, Keene's notes are succinct and to the point.  However, when he does resort to longer explanations, the result is most informative and an example of this is attached.  (See link below)  

The production of the book matches Batsford's high standards and I have not been able to find any typographical errors that do mar work from other publishers.  There are 299 pages, those commenting on the games are of course double column.  The games cover 232 pages and are presented in chronological "bites" i.e.

1. Earning his spurs.

2. Champion and Candidate

3.Winning the World Title

4. Triumphant Defence

5. Olympic Golds

6. Passing the Baton

7. Great Opponents

8. Götterdämmerung     

In addition to the games, introduction and foreword, there are sections on Tournament Tables, Index of Opponents, Index of Supplementary Games and Game Extracts and an Index of Openings.

The recommended price is £15.99 and for those readers particularly interested in this style of play, it is a very good buy.