Mikhail Tal

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Mikhail Tal
Mikhail Tal

Mikhail Nekhemievich Tal (Latvian: Mihails Tāls, Russian: 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 search for the initiative in chess, which is defined by the ability to make threats to which the opponent must respond.

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.


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Early years

Tal learned to play chess at the age of eight after watching his father play, and soon started to attend the chess club at the Riga Palace of Young Pioneers. His play was not exceptional at first, but he worked hard at the game, and he began to receive tuition from Alexander Koblentz in 1949. He then improved quickly reaching the final of the Latvian Championship in 1951. He competed again in 1952, finishing ahead of his trainer, and won the tournament for the first time in 1953, thereby earning the title of candidate master.

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Soviet champion

He qualified for the Championship of the USSR in 1956, finishing joint fifth, and became the youngest player to win it the following year, at the age of twenty. He had not played in enough international tournaments to qualify for the title of grandmaster, but FIDE decided to waive the normal restrictions and award him the title anyway because of his achievement in winning the Soviet Championship.[1]

He retained the Soviet Championship the following year, and competed in the World Chess Championship for the first time. He won the interzonal tournament at Portoroz, then helped the Soviet Union to retain the Chess Olympiad.

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World champion

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).

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After the world championship

Tal was a five-time winner of the International Chess Tournament in Tallinn, Estonia, with victories in 1971, 1973, 1977, 1981, and 1983. 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".

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Although Tal's playing style was scorned by ex-World Champion Vasily Smyslov as nothing more than "tricks," 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). His 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.

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."

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Further reading

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Clarke, Peter H. (1991). Mikhail Tal – Master of Sacrifice, B.T.Batsford Ltd. ISBN 0 7134 6899 8.

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  1. ^  At that time, the Soviet Union was dominant in world chess, and Tal had beaten several of the world's top players to win the tournament. Master of Sacrifice, 4.
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Preceded by:
Mikhail Botvinnik
World Chess Champion
Succeeded by:
Mikhail Botvinnik


chess players|Tal, Mikhail]]

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