Tal: A keen eye for tactics

by Johannes Fischer
11/9/2018 – Mikhail Tal was born on November 9th, 1936 in Riga, and died June 27, 1992 in Moscow. He probably would have been happy to know that the World Championship match between Carlsen and Caruana begins on his birthday. Tal loved chess and chess fans loved him for his bold, enterprising play and his stunning combinations. He had a very keen eye for tactics — which sometimes best showed in more light-hearted events. Here are two examples to commemorate the birthday of this great player and tactician. | Photo: Ron Kroon / Anefo [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

Master Class Vol.2: Mihail Tal Master Class Vol.2: Mihail Tal

On this DVD Dorian Rogozenco, Mihail Marin, Oliver Reeh and Karsten Müller present the 8. World Chess Champion in video lessons: his openings, his understanding of chess strategy, his artful endgame play, and finally his immortal combinations.


Mikhail Tal (November 9th, 1936 — June 27th, 1992)

Tal has been in the news recently for his 95 game undefeated streak which was just surpassed by Chinese GM Ding Liren. Here we celebrate his tactical prowess in honour of his birthday.

First example

Our first tactic comes from a simultaneous event in Stuttgart 1958.


White had just played 14.g5 to drive the black knight away from f6. Black now tried 14...hxg5 15.hxg5 Rxh1?


Most players would now probably have recaptured the rook with 16.Rxh1 without much thought - after all, if White takes the knight on f6 and plays 16.gxf6 Black takes the rook on d1 with check and then captures on f6 and will remain an exchange up. But Tal had seen deeper. He played:

16.gxf6! Rxd1+ 17.Nxd1 Qxd2 18.fxg7!


Black took the white queen and what would have been more obvious than to take the black queen back? But White refrained from recapturing automatically and came up with a surprising zwischenzug — which decides the game. After taking on g7 White's passed pawn threatens to queen and to mate Black with 19.g8Q#. Black can avoid getting mated but he cannot stop the pawn from queening. White is winning.

Black continued with 18...Kd8 19.g8Q+ Kc7, but after 20.Qxc8+ Kxc8 21.Bxd2 he resigned.

Most chess players would have been happy to find such a combination in a classical game. Tal found it in a simul!

Example two

Another game from a simul in which Tal found a surprising tactical resource is presented by the legendary trainer Mark Dvoretsky in his book Secrets of Chess Tactics from 1992.


In this position, every attacking player would consider 18.Nxf7. But what to do after 18...Kxf7 19.Qxe6+ Kf8? Can White continue the attack — and how?

In his calculations, Tal here discovered the paradoxical retreat 20.Bc1!!. White now threatens 21.Rf3+ Bf6 22.Ba3+ and against this threat Black is surprisingly helpless. Black tried 20...Bf6 21.Ba3+ Re7 22.Re4 Ke8 23.Bxe7 Nxe7 24.d5 Bb5 but now White finished the game in style with 25.d6! Bxd3 26.d7+! Qxd7 27.Qg8#.

Dvoretsky writes that Arthur Jussupow in a training session later found another win for White. It is more direct but as effective as Tal's retreat with the bishop:

20.Bxe7 Rxe7 21.Rf3+ Ke8 22.Qf7+ Kd7 23.Rxe7+ Nxe7 (23...Qxe7 24.Bxd5) 24.Qe6+ Ke8 25.Rf8+! Kxf8 26.Qf7#.


Johannes Fischer was born in 1963 in Hamburg and studied English and German literature in Frankfurt. He now lives as a writer and translator in Nürnberg. He is a FIDE-Master and regularly writes for KARL, a German chess magazine focusing on the links between culture and chess. On his own blog he regularly publishes notes on "Film, Literature and Chess".


Rules for reader comments


Not registered yet? Register