Imatge de l'autor

Mikhail Tal (1936–1992)

Autor/a de The life and games of Mikhail Tal

31+ obres 647 Membres 5 Ressenyes 1 preferits

Sobre l'autor

Crèdit de la imatge: Mihails Tāls (commemorative stamp)

Obres de Mikhail Tal

The life and games of Mikhail Tal (1976) 256 exemplars
Tal-Botvinnik, 1960 (1977) 149 exemplars
Attack with Mikhail Tal (1994) 65 exemplars
Study Chess with Tal (1981) 37 exemplars
The Chess Alchemist (2022) 4 exemplars
Michail Tal, Sein Lebenswerk (1998) 3 exemplars
Report from Baguio 2 exemplars
Rapporto da Baguio 2 exemplars

Obres associades


Coneixement comú

Nom normalitzat
Tal, Mikhail
Nom oficial
Таль, Михаил Нехемьевич
Altres noms
Tal, Michail
Tal, Michails
Data de naixement
Data de defunció
País (per posar en el mapa)
Lloc de naixement
Riga, Latvia
Lloc de defunció
Moscow, Russia
chess player
chess grandmaster
Premis i honors
World Chess Champion (1960|1961)



Mikhail Tal’s autobiography is in the form of an interview, with a “journalist” interviewer asking probing questions, followed by Tal’s answers. Some of Tal’s responses are pure narrative, while others involve detailed descriptions of chess matches. In fact, the book uses hundreds of chess diagrams of his games from 1949 to 1975. When a life is so immersed in chess, it makes sense that his autobiography would be an even mix of narrative and game diagrams. There is no other way to illustrate Tal’s life.

Tal was born in Riga, Latvia in 1936. He died in 1992, age 55. He spent much of his life ill, mostly kidney problems, which interfered with his play at times. Nevertheless, he defeated a Grandmaster for the first time at the USSR Team Championship at age 18. He became a Grandmaster in his own right at age 21. He won the World Chess Championship at age 24 (in 1960).

Tal’s personality shows itself early, at age 19, when he said “To play for a draw, at any rate with white, is to some degree a crime against chess” (28). Playing for a draw at the top levels of competition was not at all unusual.

The Hippopotamus in the Marsh

One anecdote reveals the quintessential Tal personality: the story of the Hippopotamus in the Marsh. Tal was playing Grandmaster Vasiukov in a USSR Championship. They reached a very complicated position with a difficult decision about a piece sacrifice. He was tracing thousands of moves, subtleties, and alternatives, until it became a chaotic pile of moves, known as the ‘tree of variations,’ from which you must cut off the small branches. In the middle of this struggle, suddenly, Tal remembered a poetry couplet:

Oh, what a difficult job it was
To drag out of the marsh the hippopotamus

Tal became obsessed with the couplet, and forgot all about the chess board. Spectators assumed Tal was quietly studying the position. Instead, Tal was trying to formulate a workable theory on how the hippopotamus could be dragged out of a marsh. After 40 minutes working out several methods involving levers, helicopters, and rope ladders, he finally concluded to just ‘let it drown.’ Then suddenly the hippopotamus disappeared from his mind. As he ‘awoke’ from the 40-minute daydream, he became conscious of the chess board in front of him again. At the same moment, he realized the board was so complex at that point, it was impossible to follow the tree of variations. It was only possible (and advisable), to make the move most in tune with his intuition. It was that simple. The intuitive move was clear to him, and he made it. Tal recalls, “The following day, it was with pleasure that I read in the paper how Mikhail Tal, after carefully thinking over the position for 40 minutes, made an accurately calculated piece sacrifice” (65). That move proved to be pivotal, and he won the game by giving that pivotal move almost no thought at all.


Leading a life of intense competition inevitably leads to strong feeling in both winning and losing. Tal learned early to govern his emotions. As he explains it, “In principle, striving for revenge … is a good intention, but when it becomes an end in itself … you lose your sense of reality and of objectivity in assessing a position” (68).


Tal loved playing to a crowd, unlike one of his famous adversaries Bobby Fischer, who was hypersensitive to crowd noise. Tal felt that “When we appear on the stage, we are artistes” (166). He enjoyed the noise in the hall, particularly when the noise was a positive reaction to one of his moves on the chess board.

Gets Better with Age

Even though Tal was the World Chess Champion at age 24 in 1960, he actually reached his peak rating at age 44 in 1980. And in the 1970s he had 100-game winning streaks, playing the world’s greatest Chess Champions. Tal played them all. He had his share of wins over greats such as Fischer, Spassky, Karpov, Petrosian, Keres, and a host of others who all experienced fear and anxiety when taking their seat across from Tal.

When games go long, and must be adjourned for the night, there is feverish analysis into the wee hours to prepare for resumption the next morning. Often in Tal’s games, where “every hour a cup of coffee was consumed” (405), Tal’s opponent would resign right away the next morning, or after a very few moves. The night’s analysis would predict, the morning resumption would bear out, the implacable pattern of Tal’s advantage.

Chess in the Hospital

During Tal’s illnesses, his colleagues would visit him in the hospital, bringing of course a portable chess board, to help him pass the time in bed. In 1969 there was a false report of Tal’s death. He quickly contacted his friends and quoted Mark Twain, assuring them that “The rumors about my death are greatly exaggerated!” (393). In sickness and in health, Tal played chess and kept his sense of humor.

A Bright Light

Mikhail Tal lived a life of pain and disease. He endured physical suffering constantly as he faced the most fierce mental challenges almost every day. He played an absolute minimum of 100 games per year, many of which games lasting all day or two days. But Tal was known as an upbeat, friendly man with a great sense of humor and generally a pleasure to be around. He was a classic “absent-minded professor” personality type. He was not good with everyday practical skills. But the minute he sat in front of a chess board, he was making history. If you enjoy fascinating characters, history, and chess, this is probably the best book you could read.
… (més)
Coutre | Hi ha 4 ressenyes més | Dec 23, 2020 |
I can't believe that I left home some time without this book. It's worth more than five stars.

The stories are the best. ‘Why did you play this move when it was so clearly refuted in…’ ‘Well, I was reading the latest 64 in the bath, got to this variation at the bottom of the page and thought, yes, that will do, I’ll play that today. Jumped up, grabbed a towel and…I never did turn the page.’ Or the famous hippopotamus story:

Journalist: It might be inconvenient to interrupt our profound discussion and change the subject slightly, but I would like to know whether extraneous, abstract thoughts ever enter your head while playing a game?

Tal: Yes. For example, I will never forget my game with GM Vasiukov on a USSR Championship. We reached a very complicated position where I was intending to sacrifice a knight. The sacrifice was not obvious; there was a large number of possible variations; but when I began to study hard and work through them, I found to my horror that nothing would come of it. Ideas piled up one after another. I would transport a subtle reply by my opponent, which worked in one case, to another situation where it would naturally prove to be quite useless. As a result my head became filled with a completely chaotic pile of all sorts of moves, and the infamous "tree of variations", from which the chess trainers recommend that you cut off the small branches, in this case spread with unbelievable rapidity. And then suddenly, for some reason, I remembered the classic couplet by Korney Ivanovic Chukovsky:

"Oh, what a difficult job it was. To drag out of the marsh the hippopotamus".

I don't know from what associations the hippopotamus got into the chess board, but although the spectators were convinced that I was continuing to study the position, I, despite my humanitarian education, was trying at this time to work out: just how WOULD you drag a hippopotamus out of the marsh ? I remember how jacks figured in my thoughts, as well as levers, helicopters, and even a rope ladder. After a lengthy consideration I admitted defeat as an engineer, and thought spitefully to myself: "Well, just let it drown!" And suddenly the hippopotamus disappeared. Went right off the chessboard just as he had come on ... of his own accord! And straightaway the position did not appear to be so complicated. Now I somehow realized that it was not possible to calculate all the variations, and that the knight sacrifice was, by its very nature, purely intuitive. And since it promised an interesting game, I could not refrain from making it.

Journalist: : "And the following day, it was with pleasure that I read in the paper how Mikhail Tal, after carefully thinking over the position for 40 minutes, made an accurately-calculated piece sacrifice ...".

All the things he did for fun, like leave his shoes outside his hotel door to look like he was inside, doubtlessly working hard, preparing and then sneaking off to the beach. I love the idea that he has the evil eye when really all he did was care in a different way from others. As Kasparov said, discussing the matter of the return match against Botvinnik:

And, of course, Tal should have prepared differently for the return match. But if he prepared, he wouldn't be Tal. He lived differently, it was simpler to him than to us. From my conversations with Tal, I think he didn't consider the things obvious to us to be of any importance….He didn't even seek the truth in chess, he sought beauty. It was a concept completely different from most of ours.

Kasparov, in the same interview about Tal, recalled this:

GK: Speaking of Tal, I became a world champion on Tal's birthday, November 9th.

EK: On Tal's birthday?

GK: Yes. I remember than on November 8th, before the last game with Karpov, I got calls from my teacher Botvinnik and from Tal, with whom I was on friendly terms. Botvinnik gave me a speech. He was like, "You lead 12:11. No matter what happens, you have proved that this match should have been played". Very stern he was. Tal didn't say anything like that. He just reminded me, "Don't forget, young man, that tomorrow is my birthday".

In case you haven’t heard the sunglasses story, here it is from olimpbase:

Tal was so intimidating in those years that he made seasoned Grandmaster opponents shudder with fear. A case in point is a game played between GM Tal (as Black) and Hungarian GM Pal Benko (as White) at the Interzonal Tournament in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, 1959. This was the third cycle (the first two were played in Bled and Zagreb, respectively), and Benko was starting to think that Tal had been hypnotizing him due to his poor record against him so far. So Benko took with him sunglasses and wore them while at the chessboard. But Tal, who had heard of Benko's plan to wear sunglasses before the game started, borrowed enormous dark glasses from GM Petrosian. When Tal put on these ridiculously enormous glasses, not only did the spectators laugh, but other participants in the tournament did, as did the tournament controllers, and finally even Benko himself laughed. But unlike Tal, Benko did not remove his glasses until the 20th move when his position was hopeless.

I’m writing this today because last night I watched Tal in a movie. Really. I watched The Falcon and the Snowman and discovered - it hadn't dawned on me before - that my favourite chess player:

is the spitting image of my favourite actor:

Are they not identical?

Karpov mades an appearance as a KGB agent. He plays no chess but he does make a 7 letter word, ‘diagram’, in a Scrabble game. It is so apt for a chess player, surely it was on purpose.

… (més)
bringbackbooks | Hi ha 4 ressenyes més | Jun 16, 2020 |
For the real chess lover, what could be better than this? The magician of Riga in his own words plus all those amazing games of sparkling sorcery!!
Mouldywarp | Hi ha 4 ressenyes més | Mar 5, 2009 |

Potser també t'agrada

Autors associats


També de

Gràfics i taules