5

Title says it all.

For my own part; I am looking to learn and adopt a play style which does not necessarily win, but is typified as being incredibly difficult to actually win against.

  • 1
    Not 20th century, but I think Carlsen fits this description quite well. – chaosflaws Mar 24 '14 at 8:32
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    The question as it currently stands is heavily biased towards players who had very long careers. – RemcoGerlich Mar 24 '14 at 10:08
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    @RemcoGerlich: Thanks; you were right. Fixed* – Akiva Mar 24 '14 at 11:57
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    Mikhail Tal in 1973-74 played 95 tournament games in a row without a loss, which I believe still is a record. – Dag Oskar Madsen Mar 24 '14 at 15:31
  • Hmmm almost any GM will be a 20th century GM since it is 2014. Carlsen is the only player we'd discuss who might be the exception. – Tony Ennis Apr 5 '14 at 2:59
8

World Champion Tigran Petrosian was known to be almost impossible to beat. He's your man. Study his games and legacy.

Per Wikipedia, he lost 1 out of 129 Olympiad games. Olympiads are top-notch tournaments and the score is over 20 years of play. He's not a flash in the pan.

In his 8 Euroteams competitions (held every three years from 1957 to 1983) he lost -0- out of 52 games. His team won the competition every time.

Then I started poking around in chessgames.com and I started looking at win/loss/draw ratios.

I made a list of all world champions since Botvinnik, including the weird ones where FIDE lost control.

The three players with the best win:loss ratio (in order): Kasparov (6.62), Fischer (4.87), and Petrosian (4.38). Kasparov dominates. (Only Karpov and Botvinnik are in the same class as these three.) I expected Kasparov and Fischer to be in this list. I was surprised that Petrosian was there, to be honest. But we see that he was very much able to score the win. He's about like Fischer in this regard.

The three players with the best win:draw ratio, in order: Fischer (1.7), Botvinnik (1.22), and Kasparov (1.02). Fischer dominates. No other players are in their class. I attribute this to an uncompromising aggressive desire to win. No half measures. Petrosian was not afflicted with this mentality. If it did not fit, he did not force it.

The three players with the best draw:loss ratio, in order: Petrosian (6.74), Kasparov (6.52), and Kramnik (6.25). Spassky and Karpov trail. No one else is close. This means that even if you had an advantage over one of these players, you'd have to work like mad to score the full point.

The three players with the best win+draw:loss ratio, in order: Kasparov (13.14), Petrosian (11.13), and Kramnik (9.73). Each is dominant over the next. Karpov and Spassky follow Kramnik closely. This reflects upon the difficulty of scoring the full point. An opponent would twice as likely to nick a full point off Carlsen than Petrosian. Ouch. (I think this is a statistical fluke due to Carslen's age...but it makes a good story.)

Finally, while I did not list it, Petrosian has one of the lower win:draw ratios. He was more than willing to accept a draw if he could not see how to secure the win. Other players with a similar win:draw ratio do not possess Petrosian's compensating win:loss ratio, however.

This rather defines his style, I think. You can see here a player who will defeat you if you aren't careful. He is patient and takes few chances. If you get ahead of him, he'll likely wear you down, into a draw. And if you err, he'll crush you.

edit - fun facts for the world champions...

In the 4 ratios I looked at (w:l, w:d, d:l, and w+d:l)...

  • Kasparov is the only player who made the top-3 in all 4 ratios.
  • Petrosian is the only player who made the top-3 of 3 ratios.
  • Fischer and Kramnik both have two top-3 honors, but also each have a bottom-3 honor.
  • Botvinnik is the only player with a single top-3 honor.
  • Topolov and Carlsen each have three bottom-3 honors.
  • Carlsen excepted, the three champions from the weird FIDE years (Ponomariov, Kasimdzhanov, and Topalov) have the lowest W+D:L ratios. There is a marked just in score difference between them and the next lowest scored player (Smyslov). Find the clue.
  • Tony, could you perhaps provide some Petrosian statistics in your answer? – ETD Apr 5 '14 at 0:17
  • @EdDean try that. I have the spreadsheet up if you know how I can post it, or something like it. – Tony Ennis Apr 5 '14 at 2:08
  • +10 StackExchange's software regrettably won't accept the tenfold upvote this awesome answer deserves. – thb Nov 20 '14 at 18:21
1

My guess would be Ulf Andersson.

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    Grevil, could you possibly elaborate with some statistics on Andersson's games? As it stands, your answer is, as you say yourself, merely guesswork. – ETD Apr 4 '14 at 22:44
  • Ulf Anderson was more drawish than Petrosian, since Petrosian had more wins. Relevant statistics: chessgames.com/perl/explorer?pid=12112&side=white, chessgames.com/perl/explorer?pid=12112&side=black – Akavall Apr 4 '14 at 23:53
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    @EdDean, the other answer is basically the same, as it does not provide any statistics either, and makes an implicit assumption that "impossible to beat" = "most draws", which is not necessarily true, yet it got 5 upvotes and was accepted :). Of course your point on statistics is totally valid. – Akavall Apr 5 '14 at 0:01
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    I added Ulf to my spreadsheet. He has the lowest win:draw ratio of any master in my list. His win:loss ratio is on the lower end. His draw:loss ratio is the same as Kramnik's implying a certain toughness. His (w+d):loss ratio is a tough-as-nails 8.66, putting him below Karpov and Spassky, but above luminaries such as Fischer, Tal, Anand, and Botvinnik. – Tony Ennis Apr 5 '14 at 2:26
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    As I think about it, especially with respect to the OP's intent, I think Petrosian and Karpov would be better choices as they are positional players with more solid play. Curiously, Andersson is the only player in my list of 18 with a top-3 and bottom-3 ratio. He's top-3 for d:l ratio and bottom-3 (actually, last) for w:d ratio. – Tony Ennis Apr 5 '14 at 2:52

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