Thursday, 11 November 2010

Celebrating the 'Magician of Riga'

Mikhail Tal (1936-92)
10 top Grandmasters are currently contesting the Tal Memorial Tournament in Moscow. Tuesday, the rest day, was the day on which, had he still been with us, Mikhail Tal would have celebrated his 74th birthday. It therefore seems entirely appropriate for this humble blog to pause for a moment’s thought and reflect on the great man’s works.

In these times of hyperbole the term “genius” seems, in a sporting context at least, to be applied to almost anyone who has had a good day at the office. Most people who don’t know any better would probably define every Grandmaster as a “genius”. However, there can’t be very many players who have been described by a fellow World Champion as a genius. Yet, iron-willed World Chess Champion, Tigran Petrosian, once said that Tal was the only living chess genius that he knew and Mikhail Botvinnik famously commented,

“If Tal would learn to programme himself properly then it would become impossible to play against him.”

This is a wonderful compliment but of course the quote also contains a veiled reference to Tal’s penchant for speculative, intuitive play. Botvinnik seemed to be suggesting that Tal’s unwillingness to “programme himself” was a weakness in his game. Personally I think that, although Botvinnik may well have been right to an extent, he was also missing the point. Tal was Tal. He just played the game the way that felt right to him. This didn’t mean that he wasn’t capable of winning arid, positional games. It just meant that, he loved to let his fertile imagination have a free reign whenever he got the opportunity. In certain types of position he was capable of doing things that no other player could do and he was also capable of stirring up mind-boggling complications in positions that were apparently benign.

In order to celebrate the “Magician of Riga’s” birthday then I’d like to post one of my favourite games of his. Most of the notes to this game are taken from “The World’s Greatest Chess Games” in which this particular encounter features. The start position in the viewer below is from the key moment in the game but I’d highly recommend that you play through the whole thing because this game certainly shows that Tal was capable of deep strategic manoeuvring as well as tactical pyrotechnics. Indeed, one of the reasons I am so fond of this game is because it demonstrates a wonderful fusion between tactics and strategy. The final sequence of moves is truly breath taking with pieces arriving from all across the board to help deliver checkmate. Please enjoy, and be inspired by, Mikhail Tal at his very best!

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