Mikhail Tal[ edit ]

Mikhail Nekhemievich Tal (Михаил Нехемьевич Таль) (November 9 1936 - June 28 1992), born in Riga, Latvia, was the eighth World Chess Champion.

Known as "The Magician from Riga", Tal can be considered as the archetype of the attacking player, developing an extremely powerful and imaginative play. His approach over the board was very pragmatic - in that respect, he is one of the heirs of the ex-World Champion Emanuel Lasker. He often sacrificed material in the search for initiative in chess which was defined by the ability to make threats to which the opponent must respond. His first and most influential trainer was Alexander Koblentz.

Tals playing style was scorned by ex-World Champion Vasily Smyslov as nothing more than "tricks," yet he convincingly beat every notable grandmaster with his trademark aggression (Viktor Korchnoi and Paul Keres are two of the few with a significant plus record against him). Tals intuitive sacrifices created vast complications, and many masters found it impossible to solve all the problems he created over the board, though deeper post-game analysis found flaws in some of his conceptions.

Tal loved the game in itself and considered that "Chess, first of all, is Art." He was capable of playing numerous blitz games against unknown or relatively weak players purely for the joy of playing.

Tals dominance over Bobby Fischer in his early years helped his rise to the top. In 1960, at the age of 24, Tal defeated the relatively staid and strategic Mikhail Botvinnik in a World Championship match, making him the youngest ever world champion (a record later broken by Garry Kasparov, who earned the title at 22). Botvinnik won the return match against Tal in 1961 after a lengthy study of Tals style. Tals chronic kidney problems may also have contributed to his defeat. His short reign atop the chess world made him one of the two so-called "winter kings" (the other was Vasily Smyslov) that broke up Botvinniks long domination (1948-1963).

One of Tals greatest achievements during his later career was an equal first place with Anatoly Karpov in the 1979 Montreal "Tournament of Stars" - there he delivered a superb performance against many of the strongest grandmasters of the day.

Of the current top-level players, the Latvian-born Spaniard Alexei Shirov has probably been most influenced or inspired by Tals sacrificial style. In fact he studied with Tal as a youth. Many other Latvian grandmasters and masters, for instance Alexander Shabalov and Alvis Vitolins, have played in a similar vein, causing some to speak of a "Latvian School of Chess."

  • "Tal was a fearless fighter. Nobody could successfully accomplish so many incorrect maneuvers! He simply smashed his opponents." – Bent Larsen
  • "Tal enjoys excitement and hair-raising complications, and in that kind of game he can find his way around better than anyone else." – Paul Keres
  • "Believe me, playing in such a style, this guy has no chess future." – Peter Romanovsky (on a young Tal)
  • "When Spassky offers you a piece, you may just as well resign, but when Tal offers you a piece, go on playing, he may sacrifice another, and then...who knows?" – Miguel Najdorf
  • "Tal doesnt move the pieces by hand; he uses a magic wand." – Vyacheslav Ragozin
  • "The chess pieces in Tals hands radiated magical energy. Tal quickly became the favorite of chess fans all around the world. People attended the games of the "chess magician" for the same reasons the spectators had listened to the violinist-virtuoso Paganini." – Valery Tsaturian
  • "The chess story of Mikhail Tal is about the act itself of straining against the leash of limited human imagination to create mammoth combinations on the chessboard. During his games, Tal wished to go where no chess player had ever gone before, choosing the middlegame as his mtier for creative expression. He burned energy profligately. A chain-smoker and a heavy drinker, Tal pulsated nervous energy, pacing like a caged tiger in between moves. And as a young man with those famous fierce, hooded eyes and that imposing hooked nose, he bulldozed all before him." – Larry Parr
  • "The guy ate and breathed the game. If he wasnt playing in a tournament he was playing blitz or talking about the latest chess news; nobody adored chess as much as Tal did!" – Jeremy Silman
  • "In a world where most players have grudges against most other players - Korchnoi hates everyone, Kasparov hates Karpov, Shirov hates Kasparov, Fischer thinks everyone is out to get him, etc., etc. - Tal was the only chess personality who appeared to be loved by virtually everyone. Even Fischer adored the guy." – Jeremy Silman
  • "I was surprised by his ability to figure out complex variations. Then the way he sets out the game; he was not interested in the objectivity of the position, whether its better or worse, he only needed room for his pieces. All you do then is figure out variations which are extremely difficult. He was tactically outplaying me and I made mistakes." – Mikhail Botvinnik
  • "I couldn’t make myself dislike him." – Mikhail Botvinnik
  • "I realized that you cannot tackle him if the pieces are mobile and active. I played closed positions in which Tal could gain no advantage. Tal had no positional understanding for closed games. – Mikhail Botvinnik (on their 61 rematch)
  • "If Tal would learn to program himself properly, then it would become quite impossible to play against him." – Mikhail Botvinnik
  • "Botvinnik’s right! When he says such things, then he’s right. Usually, I prefer not to study chess but to play it. For me chess is more an art than a science. It’s been said that Alekhine and I played similar chess, except that he studied more. Yes, perhaps, but I have to say that he played, too." – Mikhail Tal
  • "When I lost the title to Botvinnik, chess could be played quietly again!" – Mikhail Tal
  • "If you wait for luck to turn up, life becomes very boring." - Mikhail Tal
  • "There are two types of sacrifices - sound ones and mine." - Mikhail Tal
  • "Chess is better than checkers. In the very least it has a more interesting cast of characters." - Mikhail Tal
  • "Just as ones imagination is stirred by a girls smile, so is ones imagination stirred by the possibilities of chess." - Mikhail Tal
  • "Many sacrifices don’t require concrete calculation at all. It is sufficient to only glance at the arising position to convince us that the sacrifice is correct." - Mikhail Tal
  • "The pieces must breathe deeply and with a full chest!" - Mikhail Tal
  • "Extraordinarily tense, full-blooded struggles that are absolutely without any mistakes are only to be found in distant interplanetary chess tournaments." - Mikhail Tal
  • "I like to grasp the initiative and not give my opponent peace of mind." - Mikhail Tal
  • "Later, I began to succeed in decisive games. Perhaps because I realized a very simple truth: not only was I worried, but also my opponent." – Mikhail Tal
  • "First, how to sac my queen, then rook, then bishop, then knight, then pawns." – Mikhail Tal (on what he thinks about after his opponent moves)
  • "Id be glad to get to Heaven, but my sins wont allow it!" – Mikhail Tal
  • "They compare me with Lasker, which is an exaggerated honor. Lasker made mistakes in every game and I only in every second one!" – Mikhail Tal
  • "Its funny, but many people dont understand why I draw so many games nowadays. They think my style must have changed but this is not the case at all. The answer to this drawing disease is that my favorite squares are e6, f7, g7 and h7 and everyone now knows this. They protect these squares not once but four times!" – Mikhail Tal

Further reading
  • Tal, Mikhail (1997). The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal. Everyman Chess. ISBN 1857442024.
  • Tal, Mikhail, Iakov Damsky and Ken Neat (tr.) (1994). Attack with Mikhail Tal. Everyman Chess. ISBN 1857440439.
  • Tal, Mikhail (2001). Tal-Botvinnik, 1960. Russell Enterprises. ISBN 1888690089.
  • Gallagher, Joe (2001). The Magic of Mikhail Tal. Everyman Chess. ISBN 1857442660.
  • Winter, Edward G. (ed.) (1981). World chess champions. Pergamon. ISBN 0080249041.
  • Chernev, Irving (1995). Twelve Great Chess Players and Their Best Games. Dover. ISBN 0486286746.

categories: myChess-Wiki | Chess players | Mikhail Tal
article No 764 / last change on 2005-06-30, 05:07pm

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