78th anniversary from the birth of Mikhail Tal

Mikhail Tal - The Magician from Riga

Mikhail Tal (9 November 1936 - 28 June 1992) was a Latvian (Soviet) chess Grandmaster and the eighth World Chess Champion (from 1960 to 1961). He is recognised as one of the greatest chess players of all times for his creative combinatorial style. He will be forever remembered by many people as the most exciting attacking player to ever play chess.

Photo: Wikipedia

Tal had a completely different approach. He continually sought to confuse the issue. He had an incredible ability to judge a complicated tactical thrust without necessarily working out the precise variation in advance. He trusted his instincts on the outworking of a sacrifice. If he liked his chances or if the possibility held intrigue, he invariably went for it.

Tal was also a highly regarded chess writer. He also holds the records for both the first and second longest unbeaten streaks in competitive chess history.

Garry Kasparov:
We calculate: he does this then I do that. And Tal, through all the thick layers of variants, saw that around the 8th move, it will be so and so. Some people can see the mathematical formulae, they can imagine the whole picture instantly. An ordinary man has to calculate, to think this through, but they just see it all. It occurs in great musicians, great scientists. Tal was absolutely unique. His playing style was of course unrepeatable. I calculated the variants quickly enough, but these Tal insights were unique. He was a man in whose presence others sensed their mediocrity. 

He led a very unusual life. He didn't think of anything. He lived here and now, and this enormous energy was always around him. The positive energy. Tal was one of the few completely positive people I knew, he wasn't contentious. Chess is very contentious game by its nature, and he wasn't.


Tal legacy

Tal: Chess, first of all, is Art.

Known as "The Magician from Riga", Tal was the archetype of the attacking player, developing an extremely powerful and imaginative style of play. His approach over the board was very pragmatic. He often sacrificed material in search of the initiative, which is defined by the ability to make threats to which the opponent must respond. With such intuitive sacrifices, he created vast complications, and many masters found it impossible to solve all the problems he created over the board.

Although his playing style at first was scorned by ex-World Champion Vasily Smyslov as nothing more than "tricks", Tal convincingly beat virtually every notable grandmaster with his trademark aggression. Viktor Korchnoi and Paul Keres are two of the very few with a significant plus record against him.

Tal contributed little to opening theory, despite a deep knowledge of most systems, the Sicilian and the Ruy Lopez in particular. But his aggressive use of the Modern Benoni, particularly in his early years, led to a complete re-evaluation of this variation. A variation of the Nimzo-Indian Defence bears his name.

Tal was a prolific and highly respected chess writer. He wrote four books: one on his 1960 World Championship with Botvinnik, his autobiography The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal, Attack with Mikhail Tal co-authored by Iakov Damsky, and Tal's Winning Chess Combinations co-authored by Viktor Khenkin. His books are renowned for the detailed narrative of his thinking during the games.

The Mikhail Tal Memorial has been held in Moscow annually since 2006 to honour Tal's memory, and many distinguished chess players has honour his memory by taking part.