Mikhail Tal was the meteor of Soviet chess. He rose to the top with extraordinary speed but crashed with almost equal alacrity, his victim and nemesis in both cases being the mighty Botvinnik. World champion from 1960-1961, Tal eventually matured into one of the most consistent players among the elite but his days of inextinguishable glory were undoubtedly to be found in the tournaments and matches of 1959 and 1960 that swept him to the world crown. Kasparov's verdict on Tal: 'His style of play was altogether inimitable, since it is impossible to copy the play of a genius. Tal is the only player I can remember who did not calculate lengthy variations: he simply saw through them!'
My Great Predecessors (Volumes 1 and 2) by Garry Kasparov; Everyman Chess, L25 each.
Tal-Smyslov: Candidates Tournament Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade 1959; Caro-Kann Defence 1 e4 c6 2 d3 d5 3 Nd2 e5 4 Ngf3 Nd7 5 d4 dxe4 6 Nxe4 exd4 7 Qxd4 7 Bc4 is also good; White's rapid development and domination in the centre guarantee him an enduring initiative. 7 . . . Ngf6 8 Bg5 Be7 9 0-0-0 'A big advantage would have been given by 9 Nd6+ Bxd6 10 Qxd6 Qe7+ 11 Qxe7+, when the two bishops in an open position are not easy to neutralise.' (Tal) This would indeed have been simpler and wiser - since also after 10 . . . Ne4 11 Bxd8 Nxd6 12 Bc7 Black is condemned to a difficult struggle for a draw. But Tal, with amazing psychological insight, unusual for one so young, guessed that Smyslov would feel more confident in an inferior endgame than in a double-edged middlegame, and he decided to keep the queens on. 9 . . . 0-0 10 Nd6 Qa5 11 Bc4 Seemingly an oversight, but in fact a logical continuation of the tactics of complicating the position at any price. 11 . . . b5 A rapid and natural reply. Now 12 Bb3? is not possible on account of 12 . . . c5 and 13 . . . c4. In order not to end up worse, White has to fabricate something extraordinary - but it was precisely this that Tal was aiming for! 12 Bd2 The bishop switches with gain of tempo to the long diagonal, where it will be well employed and will have two key functions: to terrorise the opponent's king and defend its own. In addition, the g5-square is vacated for the queen - the main conductor of the impending attack. 12 . . . Qa6 13 Nf5 After this aggressive leap it becomes clear that White is intending to create an attack on g7. 13 . . . Bd8 Supporting the knight at f6 - the key piece of the defence. If the bishop, following the queen, had abandoned its king - 13 . . . Bc5?, then Tal's fantastic idea would have appeared in all its glory: 14 Qh4 bxc4 15 Bc3! Believe it or not, Black is defenceless against the numerous threats (Rxd7, Nxg7, Qg5, Ng5), for example: 15 . . . Qxa2 16 Rxd7! Bxd7 17 Nh6+ Kh8 18 Qxf6!! with mate.
14 Qh4 The choice has been made, and there is no way back! Here Tal makes a typical intuitive sacrifice, the consequences of which are practically impossible to calculate at the board. 14 . . . bxc4 15 Qg5 Nh5 16 Nh6+ Kb8 17 Qxh5 Qxa2 Bronstein, Tal and other commentators considered this obvious move to be the decisive mistake and suggested that 17 . . . Bf6 was better. Not so! 18 Bc3 Nf6 Smyslov makes a fatal error, failing to withstand Tal's 'devilish' pressure. However, with Kasparov's new discovery, 18 . . . Bc7, Black could have held on. 19 Qxf7 A thunderous blow. 19 . . . Qa1+ Otherwise a smothered mate: 19 . . . Rxf7 20 Rxd8+ Ng8 21 Nxf7 mate or 19 . . . Re8 20 Qg8+! and 21 Nf7 mate! 20 Kd2 Rxf7 21 Nxf7+ Kg8 22 Rxa1 Kxt7 23 Ne5+ Ke6 24 Nxc6 Ne4+ 25 Ke3 Bb6+ 26 Bd4 Black resigns
Black to play. This position is from the game Chukaev-Tal, Tbilisi 1956. How did Tal finish off with a classic mating combination? Answers to me at The Spectator by Tuesday 18 November or via email to email@example.com or by fax on 020 7242 0603. The winner will be the first correct answer out of a hat, and each week I shall be offering a prize of a bottle of Hine cognac.
Last week's solution: 1 d6
Last week's winner: J.D. Lyons, Tunbridge Wells
Copyright Spectator Nov 15, 2003
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