It's an interesting fact that among players who have participated in four or more Chess Olympiads, the player with the highest scoring percentage is Mikhail Tal. There are some reasons that make it a little less surprising than it would otherwise be, but even so he's probably not the first name that would come to mind. Nevertheless, he owns that distinction, and in my column for World Chess this week I take a look at some of his finest games from various Olympiads from 1958 to 1974. There are few better ways to spend one's time as a chess fan than with Tal's games, so please have a look.
Entries in Mikhail Tal (9)
Emphasis on mild. The background to the little video is this: Bobby Fischer repeatedly played the Two Knights Variation against the Caro-Kann in the 1959 Candidates Tournament, with a serious lack of success. It got so bad that people who seldom or never played the Caro-Kann did so, as his results and the positions he received with the Two Knights were harmless at best. Fischer lost with it against Tigran Petrosian in round 2, drew with Vassily Smyslov in round 7 and then lost to Paul Keres - not a Caro-Kann practitioner - in round 8 (and then again in round 22).
So by the time of round 13, when Fischer faced Mikhail Tal with white for the first time in the tournament, this happened:
Tal fakes the move 1...c6 before giving the pawn a shove to c5, then offers a priceless smile to Fischer, who remains impassive. Fischer's non-reaction is a pity. Could he not take a joke (very possible), or was his poker face a matter of competitive strategy? As for the joke itself, it almost wasn't one. According to Tibor Karolyi (page 413 of his excellent Mikhail Tal's Best Games 1: The Magic of Youth) Tal seriously considered playing the Caro-Kann in that game. Fortunately for everyone but Fischer, he didn't, enabling us to enjoy his joke, his infectious grin, and the very nice game he went on to win.
(HT: Brian Karen)
I suspect that this interview would be interesting even if it turned out to be his penultimate or even antepenultimate one, as Mikhail Tal was invariably fascinating, witty and intelligent when communicating with the public.
Topics include Mikhail Botvinnik (on their matches and computer chess), Bobby Fischer (including a self-undermining remark about what Tal would not mention about Fischer lest he expose him to unfair criticism), Garry Kasparov, the phenomenon of future world champions almost all growing up without their fathers, and Viktor Korchnoi and matters parapsychological.
One amusing quote illustrating his wicked sense of humor:
A couple of years ago I've [sic] been to Argentina, and one local grandmaster told me that he recently played blitz with Fischer, and "can you imagine, Misha, he won all the games!" Then I learned that you don't have to be Fischer to do that!
Ouch. I should add that while it's funny, Tal rarely took shots at opponents in print, generally speaking graciously of his opponents. So this is a rare exception, and it should be noted that he left the grandmaster's identity a secret.
[HT: Brian Karen]
Tibor Karolyi, Mikhail Tal's Best Games 1: The Magic of Youth (Quality Chess, 2014). 447 pp. €24.99/$29.95. Reviewed by Dennis Monokroussos.
First, a disclaimer: I had a little involvement in the project, offering some old analysis, hunting down some source material and helping him find a contact or two, as I recall. Apparently I offered some helpful encouragement as well, as Tibor offered a very kind sentence in the book's acknowledgements:
I am also grateful to Dennis Monokroussos, whose love for Tal's magic reminded me that it was worth the effort to complete the project.
So be aware that I'm not a disinterested and dispassionated reviewer, nor will I pretend to be. Instead, I'll offer a brief overview of the book's contents, give some reasons why readers may wish to buy the book, and leave it at that.
The book is the first of three volumes by Karolyi on Mikhail Tal's chess career, and covers the period from his beginnings in the game through his victory in the 1959 Candidates' tournament, a success that gave him the right to face Mikhail Botvinnik for the world championship a year later. (Tal won, in case you were wondering.) Tal's early years featured his most energetic and daring chess, and even now his best games from that period have an entrancing effect on chess fans. The effect on his contemporaries was even more striking - they simply had no idea of what to do with him, and one after another they collapsed against him.
This is all well-known, and many of Tal's early games are well-chronicled classics. So why another book on Tal? First, because there are more games here than just the well-loved favorites. Karolyi presents 69 main games, and many more are incorporated within them.
Second, Karolyi is a deep and dedicated analyst, and in conjunction with the latest engines has made many new discoveries, some of which are genuinely beautiful. This is true even of the most explored games. The games are very well-annotated, but not to anything approaching distracting Huebnerian depths.
Third, Karolyi shows Tal as a complete player and not just someone who could successfully drag his opponents into the swamp of complications where 2 + 2 = 5; he could also play outstanding positional chess and construct technical masterpieces. The book therefore paints not only a more detailed picture of Tal, but a richer one too.
Fourth and relatedly, the positional and technical games are often instructive, so the book's value for training purposes isn't limited to tactics. (Of course, tactical training is available, and in abundance.)
Fifth, there's plenty of biographical material. Karolyi goes through Tal's career a year at a time tracing his development as a chess player, discussing the background of his life (family, progress through school, his relationship with his great and almost lifelong trainer Alexander Koblencs, new anecdotes, and more.
While not a reason in itself to buy the book, there are some other neat goodies besides, like summaries of Tal's play over each past year and a valuable classification index pointing the student or trainer to various motifs in his games. In all, the book constitutes a major contribution to the literature on Mikhail Tal, and I can recommend it to all chess fans (though I'd suggest that weaker club players not worry about going too deeply into the analysis, but only as far as they feel inclined to).
Some pleasant recent offerings on Chess24:
Two pieces on the 12th World Chess Champion, Anatoly Karpov. The most recent one has Karpov look back at his unplayed match with Bobby Fischer, offer a short comment about the Magnus Carlsen-Viswanathan Anand match(es) and a recollection of meeting Salvador Dali. The older one offers a transcript of a Russian film that had already been available on YouTube for some time, but now English readers unfamiliar with Russian can enjoy it. It is a documentary of Karpov's training camp before the aforementioned (non-) match with Fischer. Fans of Tigran Petrosian will also want to check this out, to see him play a little blitz and hear his voice (as he's engaged in some mild trash talk with Rafael Vaganian).
Then it's time for Mikhail Tal, courtesy of Peter Svidler. There's a short interview with Svidler in which he discusses (among other things) his new video series on Tal, which is, I suspect, probably available only to members of the site. If you're a member I think you'll enjoy it, but I wouldn't really recommend signing up if this is your only reason for doing so. (Unless money is no object to you, in which case there are certain bloggers who would appreciate your support.)
At least two things struck me about the series, which I have watched in its entirety. The first is the strong emotional bond Svidler shows towards Tal, one of deep respect and feeling. The second, somewhat ironically, is a sense in many of the games that his opponents played extraordinarily poorly (at least/certainly by Svidler's standards), to a degree that one almost wonders if there has been rating deflation over the past few decades, at least if ratings are taken to represent objective strength.
A more modest claim is that they played very poorly (compared with their peers today) in the kinds of complicated positions that Tal created, which may very well be the case. Additionally, our improved skill in such positions today is explained in part by the fact that Tal arrived and forced the world to adapt, and even more by the presence of computers, which have done much to improve players' awareness of tactical resources. Whatever the story, the videos are enjoyable, so watch them if you can.
I don't know who "Spektrowski" is, but his blog is a terrific repository of material he has translated from old Russian-language sources. One entry from earlier this year that I hadn't previous noticed is a transcription of an almost 90-minute long TV interview program with Mikhail Tal. (You can also find the video on the link.) The program was apparently done soon after Tal won the World Blitz Championship, which means it would have been in 1988 at the earliest (rather than 1987 as given on the page). There's nothing earth-shattering there, and he recycles some jokes you may have seen elsewhere (e.g. about the lucky pen/pencil from the 1961 match with Botvinnik) but it's still a pleasure for Tal fans. Have a look.
(HT: Brian Karen)
I suspect I've shared this link with my readers before, maybe at this blog's previous location. Just in case I haven't, though, here's a translation (and transcription) of a long radio interview of Garry Kasparov from late 2008.
Here's an interesting quote:
One of the wonders of chess history was the appearance in the chess arena in the mid-20th century of a young Brazilian, who in a few years acquired sufficient strength and experience to fight for the title of world champion. In Brazil, a country famous for its football but with a lack of chess traditions, there emerged a youngster who at the age of 13 scored 50% in a very strong grandmaster tournament, the so-called 'Interzonal' in Sousse in 1967. The youngster did not rest on his laurels, and in 1973 he won the Interzonal Tournament in Petropolis! Looking at the history of chess competitions, I have to conclude that [Henrique] Mecking's successes were exceptional. I consider the Brazilian player's talent to be comparable with that of the brilliant individuals Mikhail Tal and Magnus Carlsen.
Who said it?