Mikhail Tal

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Mikhail Tal
Mikhail Tal

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.

Tal's 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). Tal's 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.

Tal's 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 Tal's style. Tal's 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 Botvinnik's long domination (1948-1963).

One of Tal's 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 Tal's 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."


  • "If you wait for luck to turn up, life becomes very boring."
  • "There are two types of sacrifices - sound ones and mine."
  • "Chess is better than checkers. In the very least it has a more interesting cast of characters."
  • "...Just as one's imagination is stirred by a girl's smile, so is one's imagination stirred by the possibilities of chess."
  • Many sacrifices dont require concrete calculation at all. It is sufficient to only glance at the arising position to convince us that the sacrifice is correct.
  • "The pieces must breathe deeply and with a full chest!"
  • Extraordinarily tense, full-blooded struggles that are absolutely without any mistakes are only to be found in distant interplanetary chess tournaments.

Further reading

Preceded by:
Mikhail Botvinnik
World Chess Champion
Succeeded by:
Mikhail Botvinnik

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External links

de:Michail Tal es:Mijal Tal fr:Mikhal Tal it:Mikhail Tal he:מיכאל טל nl:Mikhail Tal pl:Michaił Tal pt:Mikhail Tal ru:Таль, Михаил Нехемьевич


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