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Petrosian - Huebner Candidates Quarterfinal Match

Tigran V Petrosian4/7(+1 -0 =6)[games]
Robert Huebner3/7(+0 -1 =6)[games] Chess Event Description
Petrosian - Huebner Candidates Quarterfinal (1971)

Played in Seville, Spain, May 13th - 23rd 1971. Their only previous game was Huebner vs Petrosian, 1971, where Petrosian won a pawn but Huebner held a long ending.

The players

The favourite to win the match was Petrosian, who had been the 9th World Champion (1963-1969). According to Mikhail Botvinnik, ".... if Petrosian is physically well prepared, the young German won't be able to put much of a fight up against him." 1 Although extremely strong tactically, Petrosian tended to prefer positional maneuvering to outright combinational play. In the opinion of Max Euwe, "Petrosian is not a tiger that pounces on its prey, but rather a python, that smothers its victim, or a crocodile, waiting for hours for a convenient moment to land a decisive blow. Petrosian is an outstanding strategist". 2

Huebner was relatively unknown, and had only gained his international GM title at the Palma de Mallorca Interzonal (1970), where he shared 2nd place with Efim Geller and Bent Larsen. He was joint second with Vlastimil Hort in the Athens zonal tournament of 1969. According to William Hartston, "(Huebner’s) perfectionist and rather pessimistic approach, however, prevented him from reaching the very top." 3 This seems particularly apt in relation to this match. Despite his evident talent, he did not seem to believe he could win the match - and said so openly. According to Pal Benko, "He is quite modest and said that he is satisfied to make a 50% score (at the interzonal 1970 - ed.). He said that he is not very well acquainted with the openings and needs more practice in the international arena ... His success has not gone to his head. He does not want to become a professional chess master because he thinks that would take all the fun out of chess. He would prefer to remain a "Burger" and enjoy chess only on his vacations. He believes that he has not very good chances in the candidates right now because of his lack of experience." 4. Huebner had emerged as an elite player in a period of three years. His strength was not fully appreciated, partly through his own self-deprecation. In an interview with Bent Larsen and Boris Spassky, in November 1970, neither named him as one of the "best younger players". Instead, they mentioned Henrique Mecking and Walter Shawn Browne. 5


Arbiters: Harry Golombek, assisted by Carlos Flores and Alfonso Campoy. The match sponsorship was provided by the "Caja de Ahorros de Sevilla" (Seville Savings Bank). Petrosian's second: GM Alexey Suetin (who was also his long-term trainer). 6 Huebner's second: IM Hans-Joachim Hecht (who was his long-term trainer).

The venue and the conditions

The final location for the match was decided with only weeks to go before its commencement. Huebner had expected to and wanted to play in Holland. Spain was a late choice and the German Federation had opposed the move. Moreover, the Soviet Federation had rejected the initial venue, a classroom in the university's Faculty of Law. 7 Although both teams checked the playing hall out prior to the match (as a result the air conditioning was serviced to quieten it down), they did not realise how much ambient noise would intrude from a thoroughfare outside the venue. The playing room was beneath pavement level. The noise from outside and from the spectators disturbed and distressed Huebner more than Petrosian. The latter had poor hearing and used a hearing aid which he could switch off. "Petrosian was not affected by the sound but Huebner became more and more agitated and more and more distressed by the noise of the pounding feet overhead." 8 Despite Huebner requesting that further games be played in another room, Petrosian refused to move. 9

The progress of the match

"Petrosian tried to exclude risk and conquer his opponent with as little expenditure of energy as possible and by capitalizing on his vast match experience, his knowledge and his technique." (Spassky) 10

Elo 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Petrosian 2640 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 1 4 Huebner 2590 ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ ½ 0 3

Game 1. In the first game, Petrosian chose to defend in a passive manner. He instigated a chain of exchanges but Huebner retained the initiative and had good chances of winning. After Huebner missed two promising lines, Petrosian manoeuvred expertly to secure a draw.

Game 2. Petrosian, with White, gained an advantage with pressure against Huebner's Queen-side. Huebner held on and the game was drawn at the adjournment.

Game 3. "Huebner tried to blend two systems against the Sicilian, one with Bc4 and the other with f4. This was an over-ambitious programme which Huebner was not to repeat. Petrosian freed his position and even gained the initiative ..." 11 Huebner extricated himself from his problems brilliantly: 21.Bc4!!

click for larger view

sacrificing his Queen for a Rook and Bishop in order to create a stronghold.

Game 4. Petrosian's cautious opening resulted in Huebner achieving rapid equality, and both players were content with a peaceful draw.

Game 5. A draw in 14 moves after Huebner achieved nothing from the opening. Petrosian was gaining the psychological initiative, succeeding in his "safety first" strategy of waiting for his opponent to make a mistake. He would repeat this strategy in his next Candidates match.

Game 6. A draw in 15 moves but taking two hours and 47 minutes! Huebner equalised with an unexpected 8th move. During this game, Huebner was disturbed by sounds from outside of the playing hall, as a large number of pedestrians were passing overhead on their way to a local derby soccer match. 12

Game 7. Petrosian offered a draw on move 19 which Huebner rejected. Then "Huebner offered a draw on move 25 which Petrosian rejected. Huebner in severe time trouble lost a piece on move 39 and resigned a move later." 13

click for larger view

39.Qc2?? lost the bishop (39.Rb4 is equal). This loss from a drawn position precipitated the sudden and unexpected end of the match.

Huebner's withdrawal

Huebner wrote, "In the 7th game the noise once again arose after one and a half hours of play, during the rush-hour in Seville. I informed Mr. Golombek that I was disturbed, but he took no action. With the advantage of hindsight I think now that I should have stopped play at this point and refused to play on in the match unless the room were changed. But at this stage my position was very advantageous, so I was unable to resolve on this course. Because of the noise I consumed more time than usual and on move 39 I blundered away a piece in a drawn position ... During this game Mr. Golombek passed a statement from the organisers to my second, Hecht, which described my protest from Game 6 as an attack of hysteria and which accused me of impolite behaviour towards the organisers. In addition they claimed that my protests were without foundation. Now it became clear to me that the rather cool attitude of the organisers from the very first towards me had been no accident (no rooms when we arrived at the hotel, delay of two days in Seville before they made contact with me, and so on) .... Since it was also clear that the organisers would do nothing to fulfill my justified demands, I decided not to play on and to leave Seville. In a final discussion I wanted to give the organisers the opportunity to explain and excuse their behaviour, but they insisted on their previous statement and only calumniated me further ... I would like to say that I do not blame Judge Golombek, who was in a difficult position, exposed to severe pressure from the organisers and from the Soviet delegation. I have compiled a detailed list of my complaints and submitted this to F.I.D.E., and in addition I have demanded a replay of the match under fair sporting conditions." 14 The German Chess Federation's president Ludwig Schneider lodged an official complaint after Huebner had telephoned him about his withdrawal. 15


The Soviet view was that Huebner had no practical chance to win the match when he had withdrawn. The Spanish newspaper ABC, under the headline "Huebner's withdrawal has not surprised Soviet experts" quoted the Soviet international arbiter Yakov Geraisimovich Rokhlin. He highlighted Petrosian's "impregnable style" and stated that "It would take phenomenal talent, nerves of steel and great experience to attempt to defeat the former champion twice in three games .. young Huebner has no such qualities .. His only consolation is that Huebner achieved an honourable result in a difficult creative dispute, although he is 20 years younger than his opponent." 16 Petrosian stated, "I am not convinced of the reasons given for the withdrawal of my opponent. The example of the eccentricities of the young Fischer has spread into the values of youth today." 17 Newspaper reports also stated that Golombek and the local match organisers had tried to dissuade Huebner from withdrawing but they could not change his mind. Instead, he was prepared to suffer the consequences both "moral and financial" of his abandonment of the match. 17 According to the report in Jaque, Huebner's sudden and unexpected departure was not well-received in Seville: "The regrettable stance of the German, has left a bad taste in the mouths of the numerous Seville fans who did not deserve this un-sportsmanlike way of going on." 18

Overall, there had been general amazement for the strength of opposition Huebner had offered to Petrosian. The match had opened the world's eyes to Huebner's strength.


Petrosian now faced Viktor Korchnoi (who had decisively beaten Efim Geller) in the Petrosian - Korchnoi Candidates Semifinal (1971).

Book of the match

Match de candidatos para el campeonato del mundo de ajedrez: Petrosjan-Huebner, Sevilla, Mayo de 1971. Federación Sevillana de Ajedrez, 1971.


1 Chess, vol. 36, no. 627-8, June 1971, p. 263.
2 Euwe, quoted in Garry Kasparov's My Great Predecessors, Part 2, p. 180.
3 Hartston (1996), The Guinness Book of Chess Grandmasters, p. 200.
4 Pal Benko in Chess Life and Review, March 1971, pp. 125-126.
5 Chess, vol. 36, no. 617-8, December 1970, p. 103.
6 Jaque, no. 4, July 1971, p. 2.
7 ABC, 16 April 1971, p. 65.
8 British Chess Magazine, August 1971, no. 8, vol. XCI, p. 234.
9 ABC, 25 May 1971, p. 69.
10 Spassky, Chess Life and Review, September 1971, p. 493.
11 Golombek in British Chess Magazine, August 1971, no. 8, vol. XCI, p. 232.
12 The Canberra Times, Wednesday 30 June 1971, p. 23.
13 British Chess Magazine, August 1971, no. 8, vol. XCI, p. 235.
14 British Chess Magazine, August 1971, no. 8, vol. XCI, p. 282.
15 ABC, 25 May 1971, p. 69.
16 ABC, 26 May 1971, p. 57.
17 El Mundo Deportivo, 26 May 1971, p. 23.
18 Jaque, no. 4, July 1971, p. 2.

Original collection: Game Collection: WCC Index (Petrosian-Huebner 1971), created by User: Hesam7. Text by: User: Chessical. Dates for the games are from contemporary newspaper reports in ABC and British Chess Magazine, August 1971.

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Kibitzer's Corner
Mar-05-15  Petrosianic: <"It would take phenomenal talent, nerves of steel and great experience to attempt to defeat the former champion twice in three games...young Huebner has no such qualities...His only consolation is that Huebner achieved an honourable result in a difficult creative dispute, although he is 20 years younger than his opponent". 16>

Well, wait a minute. Hold everything. Who says that 2 victories would even have been necessary? It was 1 victory to tie, and then what would have happened in the event of a 5-5 tie? I don't know what the tiebreak rules for the 1971 Candidates were, but I believe for 1974 they were literally a coin flip, with no overtime play. It's hard to be sure, since no Candidates Match ever ended tied until 1980.

Mar-05-15  Petrosianic: So the question (from another forum) is whether Huebner missed a win in Game 7. Apparently Petrosian offered a draw on Move 19 and Huebner offered on on Move 24 (both refused).

One of the notes on the Game 7 page says:

<Larry Evans says that Huebner withdrew because he overlooked a winning move in this game. But then, he misspells the man's name...>

The link seems to be down, but apparently it said:

<In the seventh game Hubner overlooked a winning move, became demoralized after he saw his mistake, lost, burst into tears, withdrew from the match and flew home to Germany.">

I don't know if it was Evans said this, but looking at the game again, the blunder in question was 39. Qc2?? in Game 7, which lost a piece. (39. Rb4 would have been equal, but not winning). So either Evans or someone else misremembered it.

Mar-06-15  Howard: A thorough analysis of this game starting from roughly the 25th move is given in Marin's excellent book Learn From the Legends.

In it, Marin states that at one point Huebner certainly had the better position but Marin doesn't mention any "forced win" that Huebner may have missed. Thus, Evans was almost certainly wrong---if he indeed claimed what he allegedly did.

Mar-06-15  Petrosianic: I think Huebner is better early on (around Move 20 or earlier), but Black is forcing things from the exchange sacrifice onwards. In fact, Black might have been won at some point, but it's nearly even at the end (although Black is still a smidge better).

Whether it was Evans or somebody else, they almost certainly told the story wrong. I think you'd be very hard pressed to find one single move in this game that Huebner regretted more than 39. Qc2.

Mar-09-15  Howard: It was probably a bit unsporting for Huebner to prematurely resign the match though......but on the other hand, he "topped" himself in 1980 but doing likewise against Korchnoi.

Still remember the jolt I got in December, 1980 when I opened the NYT one morning to read.....that Huebner had just resigned the Candidates finals !

Premium Chessgames Member
  MissScarlett: Huebner's full account of why he jumped ship is here:

Robert Huebner

Premium Chessgames Member
  tamar: This match gives a clue to why Petrosian may have played the match against Fischer the way he did.

The quiet interlude of games 4, 5 and 6 rattled Huebner, and when he blundered in game 7, it confirmed in Petrosian's mind that he could get opponents to self destruct if he could weather their early storms.

But whereas the short draws made Huebner nervous, as he was undecided how hard to press, Fischer's psychology was the opposite.

He viewed as weakness Petrosian draws in games 3,4 and 5 of their match, which turned out to be the case, as Petrosian's play deteriorated when forced to play one long game after another.

Mar-09-15  Petrosianic: Fischer and Petrosian, each in their own very different ways, both had confidence problems. That's one of the things that makes them both interesting.

One reason it was so different is that they had different goals. Fischer's goal was to be a champ and set himself above everyone else. Petrosian's goal was to be a scientist and prove which moves were correct and which were incorrect. Incorrect moves had to be punished, in order to prove that they were incorrect. I'm guessing that after the utter chaos of World War II he tried to find order on the board that was missing in real life, but that's just armchair psychology. I'm not sure if he'd have become champion if he didn't have a wife with a personality more like Fischer's, pushing him to win, win, win.

Actually, if you compare Game 7 of this match, it's quite similar to a lot of Fischer wins. White is under pressure most of the game, and eventually just snaps under it. How many Fischer games have you seen where his opponent finally just goes crazy and plays some outrageous move in a difficult game? But with Fischer this would have happened in Game 1. With Petrosian it's more glacial.

Premium Chessgames Member
  perfidious: <Petrosianic.....I don't know what the tiebreak rules for the 1971 Candidates were, but I believe for 1974 they were literally a coin flip, with no overtime play. It's hard to be sure, since no Candidates Match ever ended tied until 1980.>

That was clearly not the case: see Spassky - Hort Candidates Quarterfinal (1977), which went into overtime.

Mar-09-15  Petrosianic: You're right, Spassky-Hort did go into overtime. I meant no match ENDED in a tie until 1980, but didn't say it very clearly.

The first three series were Best of 10 matches and Best of 12 for the finals. 1974 was Best of 16 or 3 wins for the Quarterfinals. Best of 20 or 4 wins for the Semifinals. Best of 24 or 5 wins for the finals. I'm pretty sure I read in one of the CL&R reports that if the match ended up tied, it would be decided by a coin flip. There was no mention of an overtime period, but maybe the article was just remiss.

Portisch-Spassky 1980 was decided by who won the most with Black, but we didn't get to see what would have happened if that had been equal. Smyslov-Huebner was decided on a roulette spin (basically the same as a coin flip), but both players had one with White, so we don't know if they had the same rules as Portisch-Spassky II had.

So, what were the tiebreak rules in 1971? Was there an overtime period? Petrosian's 1 win came with Black, but Huebner had two chances in the last 3 games to win with Black also. I assume that if he won one game only, he would have had a chance to win the match randomly, without winning a second game.

Mar-10-15  Howard: I'm almost sure that during the 1974
Karpov-Korchnoi "world championship" match, if the match was tied after 24 games, then a coin toss would decide the winner.
Mar-10-15  BadKnight: Anything chess-related (Rapid, blitz, armagadden, chess 960) is better than a coin flip. Thank god the days are gone when the whim of the champion/sponsor would decide the challenger. Things are not ideal, but definitely better than before.
Mar-10-15  Lt.Surena: Petrosian was at peace with himeself because he could afford it as the winner of 2 world championships in a row.

What else was there to prove? He was the very best of his era. No chess player alive had his accomplishments.

Mar-10-15  Howard: Admittedly, I've never been crazy about coin flips or rouellette wheels being used to break ties, but then they are obviously less nerve-racking than blitz games !

The 1980 Portisch-Spassky tie-break (whoever won the most with Black), was an interesting idea, though. It meant that during the course of the 10-game match, the two players would have the chance to manipulate the tiebreak in his favor.

Portisch certainly did just that ! He won the first game of the match....with Black ! Spassky won the ninth game...with White. Most of us know what happened after that.

Mar-10-15  Petrosianic: <I'm almost sure that during the 1974 Karpov-Korchnoi "world championship" match, if the match was tied after 24 games, then a coin toss would decide the winner.>

I heard that stated offhandedly somewhere too, but who knows. Karpov had won one game with Black. If Korchnoi had won Game 23, and had all of his wins with White, maybe Karpov would have won on tiebreak without a coin flip. Just because Portisch-Spassky II is the only match that was decided that way doesn't mean it was the only match where it was in force.

One thing I've noticed about Candidates coverage is that they do not like to talk about the tiebreak rules unless it's absolutely necessary. I can see why.

Mar-10-15  Olavi: <<I'm almost sure that during the 1974 Karpov-Korchnoi "world championship" match, if the match was tied after 24 games, then a coin toss would decide the winner.>

In the same cycle Petrosian-Portisch went into additional games.

Petrosian - Portisch Candidates Quarterfinal (1974)

Mar-10-15  Petrosianic: <In the same cycle Petrosian-Portisch went into additional games.>

No, it didn't. The rules in the quarterfinals were Best of 16 or 3 victories. All four of the quarterfinals were decided by the winner getting the three wins before the Best of 16 threshold was reached.

Mar-10-15  Olavi: Yes, I was mistaken.
Mar-10-15  Petrosianic: <Most of us know what happened after that.>

I know what happened, but I'm not sure why. After beating Portisch in 1977, Spassky showed VERY litle interest in winning this match.

After losing Game 1, Spassky drew with his next three Whites in 14 moves, 25 moves and 20 moves. It was like Kasparov against Kramnik, only worse. Then in his last White, in Game 9, he finally exerted himself, and won, to tie the score.

But then in the overtime period, he drew with White in an embarrassing 17 moves. In Game 14, with his back up against the wall, he finally exerted himself again, took the game 77 moves, but couldn't pull out the win this time, and went down to "defeat" in one of the most half-hearted efforts in Candidates history. I'd like to have seen him win, but he didn't deserve it. It's one thing playing like that when the score is tied, but to do it when you're losing, and to play the whole match that way. If Spassky didn't feel like going through the Candidates wringer again, he could have given up his sport to Hort, Mecking or Larsen, any of whom would have been glad to take it. Well, Mecking wouldn't, he was ill, but Hort or Larsen would have been glad.

Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: When Hübner shouted that he wanted a different playing room the organizers just smiled and nodded.
Jun-20-17  Sally Simpson: This is one of the best pages on Chess Games. Good work User: Chessical and User: Hesam7

I have a wee piece of trivia regarding this match.

At no time in the first 6 games did Petrosian place Huebner's King in check., (perhaps taking the 'safety first strategy' a bit too far.)

And then in the very last move of the very last game Huebner vs Petrosian, 1971 Petrosian plays his one and only check.

Petrosian has just played 40...Bf6-e5+

click for larger view

...and Huebner resigns the game and the match,

Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: <Sally Simpson: ...At no time in the first 6 games did Petrosian place Huebner's King in check., (perhaps taking the 'safety first strategy' a bit too far.)>

That is a very unusual stat!

Premium Chessgames Member
  Retireborn: Always Don't Check, it Might Not be Mate?
Premium Chessgames Member
  offramp: <SallySimpson> That odd fact - how did you know it ? - reminds me of an oddity from the wonderful world of cricket. (Scots and Irish are famous for either loving cricket madly or detesting it like skates on ice.)

England toured Australia in 1970/71 and played 6 full Tests. Another Test was abandoned. But not a single Australian batsman was out LBW in the whole series. You'd normally expect one or two in each innings.

In all Tests both umpires were Australian.

Jun-21-17  Sally Simpson: Hi offramp,

I was looking at an OLD B.C.M and stumbled across it in the 'Quotes and Queries' section. Always a source of interesting trivia.

No checks at all until the very last move of the match! You could not make it up.

(The search is now on for the checkless match.....which is not a match between two non-Czechoslovakian players.)

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