Person of day - 9 NOVEMBER 2023
Mikhail Tal burst into the calm, tranquil chess life of the 1950s with such determination that he caused a real commotion. He won matches accompanied by huge sacrifices with such ease that it seems he hypnotised his opponents. It only took 6 years for the candidate for the title of “master of sport” to ascend to the Olympus of chess and become the world champion. In 1954 he won his qualifying match against Saygin, who was a “master of sport”, and received the same title, and in 1960 he beat Mikhail Botvinnik in the match for the world championship. During the preceding three years, Tal won almost all the tournaments he took part in.
In 1957 he won the Soviet championship at his second attempt, in 1958 he repeated this success and won the inter-zonal tournament and in 1959 he won confidently in the candidates’ tournament and the international tournament in Zurich. He brought to chess a certain novelty, he elevated artistic risk-taking and a purely intuitive form of decision-making into the principle of the game, and sometimes, in his own words, proved that “two plus two equal five”. His was unusual, irrational chess, which had to survive a challenge from the leader of classical chess- Mikhail Botvinnik. In 1960 Tal survived this challenge. His victory against Botvinnik was unequivocal- 12,5:8,5. Upcoming was the revenge match, which many believed to be a pure formality. Many believed that, but not Botvinnik, who learned his lesson from the first match. Meanwhile, it seems that Tal was overconfident of another victory. This overconfidence and a wonderful performance from Botvinnik decided the second match. Botvinnik took revenge with a score of 13:8.
For three decades, Tal repeatedly competed for the title of world champion, won inter-zonal tournaments in Amsterdam in 1964 and in Riga in 1979 and won contenders’ matches against Larsen, Portisch and Gligorić. However, he never regained the right for another match against the world champion. As the years passed, his style became more harmonious and universal, but attacking remained his element, and this element brought him multiple victories in the most notable competitions. He was the six-time winner of the Soviet championship, he won more than 30 international tournaments, including big ones, like in Bled in 1961, Majorca in 1966, Montreal in 1979 alongside Karpov and many others.
As a member of the Soviet team, Tal was the eight-time winner in international chess Olympiads, usually taking first board. He put in three record performances in the Olympiads and played for the Soviet team against the world team twice, in 1970 and 1984. In 1988 Tal won the first unofficial world championship in blitz chess.
Tal was a wonderful chess commentator and journalist. He helped create the Riga magazine titled “Chess”, which was published in Russian and Latvian and was very popular among the chess players of the whole country. His books and articles, written with ease and wit, are read with great interest to the present day. His creative heritage attracts new people to the world of chess. The memory of the eight-time world champion is dear to multiple admirers of the sport. The traditional “Tal Memorial Tournament”- one of the strongest in the world- takes place in Moscow, the city where Mikhail Tal died in June 1992.
One of history’s greatest chess players is buried in his homeland of Riga. There is a monument of Tal in the Vermanes Garden, in the centre of Latvia’s capital.