Historical riddle: Petrosian vs Tal, Curacao 1962

by Karsten Müller
7/16/2020 – Join in and have fun by analysing a historically important endgame: At the Candidates Tournament 1962 in Curacao Mikhail Tal lost a tricky rook endgame against the eventual tournament winner and World Champion to be Tigran Petrosian. But was the endgame really objectively lost or did Tal lose only after one or more mistakes? Karsten Müller asks for your help!

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The historical riddle: Petrosian vs Tal

The famous Candidates Tournament in Curacao 1962 is still surrounded by many mysteries. Did the Soviet players actually collude and "fixed" the tournament as Bobby Fischer claimed in his famous article "The Russians Have Fixed World Chess" that first appeared in the American magazine Sports Illustrated from August 20, 1962 and then made news all over the world?

Did this already start in the first round, when Tal surprisingly lost to Petrosian? This was Petrosian's first step on the road to the World Championship title, which he won one year later by beating Mihail Botvinnik in their World Championship match 1963. Or was the adjourned position objectively lost for Tal or too difficult to hold? Help endgame expert GM Dr Karsten Müller in his search for the chess truth!

The adjourned position of the game Petrosian vs Tal seems to be drawish because rook endings are often drawish. Since 1962 the endgame has been extensively analysed, however, it still contains a lot of open questions and mysteries.


So, here are some questions for you: was the adjourned position already lost for Tal? Or did Tal only later went wrong? And if so: what was Tal's last mistake?

Put your your answers and analyses into the commentary section below!


Karsten Müller, born 1970, has a world-wide reputation as one of the greatest endgame experts. He has, together with Frank Lamprecht, written a book on the subject: “Fundamental Chess Endgames” in addition to other contributions such as his column on the website ChessCafe as well as in ChessBase Magazine. Müller's ChessBase-DVDs about endgames in Fritztrainer-Format are bestsellers. The PhD in mathematics lives in Hamburg, where he has also been hunting down points for the HSK in the Bundesliga for many years.
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Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 7/22/2020 08:03
This indeed is not easy to defend. A computer is probably needed. After 54...Kg7 55.Rc8 Black must play 55...Kh6 to defend.
valu831 valu831 7/21/2020 10:48
Or is it 55. ...f5?
valu831 valu831 7/21/2020 10:44
I am no chess expert by any means, but I don't see how 54... Kg7 would have made a draw as 55. Rc1 would follow leading to the same result, unless of course the assertion is that 55 ...Ra7 somehow leads to a draw, which I don't see, but then again I am no expert, so please correct me if I am wrong. Would really appreciate it :)
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 7/21/2020 10:03
For the detailed solution see
including a PGN in English by Zoran Petronijevic.
Metaphysician Metaphysician 7/20/2020 09:42
Thank you, GM Müller!
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 7/19/2020 06:34
Metaphysician: Well done! Only the last mistake is not correct as the game in the MEGABASE is wrong and above it is right. So 54...Kh6? +- was Tal's last mistake.

Zoran Petronijevic:
"Dear Karsten,

Beside sources which i have already mentioned, there's one more source: Jugoslavenski šahovski glasnik, 1962-6-7, page 120. Moves are: 58.d5 Rb4 59. h6 exd5 60.Rxd5 Kg6 61.Rd6 Kg5 62.h7 Rb8 63.Rd1 Rh8 64.Rh1 1 : 0.

If you remember i already have found the mistake in Megabase - move 58...Kg5 Tal didn't play - it was 58...Rb4..."
Metaphysician Metaphysician 7/19/2020 06:21
Tal's last mistake was 60. Kg6; Kxh6 draws. Better for Petrosian on move 60 was h7, which wins after 60. . . . Rb8; 61. Rc1; Rh8 62. Rh1; f6 63. Rh4. Earlier, instead of 54. . . . Kh6, . . . Kg7 appears to secure the draw for black. Before that, Petrosian could have played 53. Rd8, winning. and on the previous move, Tal could have held the draw with 52. . . . fxg4 check. And before that, Petrosian's 50 h5 seems inaccurate; instead g4 wins. On move 43. Tal could have drawn with . . . Kg6. Finally, I believe that Tal's 42. h5, given a ? in Megabase, is in fact correct and good enough to draw. Thank you Stockfish w/ tablebases.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 7/19/2020 01:30
By the way: more information on the question, if the Soviets really had fixed world chess as Bobby Fischer had claimed can be found at
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 7/18/2020 09:43
valu831: I have sent that to ChessBase. I can not change it myself.
albitex: Petrosian's 42.h3 was the sealed move. Tal played 42...h5 after his adjournment analysis.
Karlheins: No. White wins with 46...Ra2 47.Kg2 Ra5 48.Rg5 Ra8 49.d5!!+- (Petronijevic and Sullivan)
valu831 valu831 7/18/2020 01:05
Please change the flag for Petrosian. He played under the Soviet flag, not the Russian flag. He was not Russian, he was Armenian, which was then part of the Soviet Union. If not Soviet, the flag should be Armenian.
albitex albitex 7/18/2020 01:04
Start adjourned position from 64° Move?
Karlheins Karlheins 7/17/2020 11:08
Dr. Müller ich habe es etwas besser studiert und Sie haben recht. Nach diesen neuen Versuch habe ich gefunden das Tal konnte remis machen nach 46...Ta2 statt Ke7:

47.Tg5 Ta8 48.Txh5 Kg6 49.Tg5+ Kh6 50.g4 f6 51.Th5+ Kg6 52.Kg3 Ta1 53.f3 Ta3 54.Kf4 Ta4 55.Th8 e5+ 56.Kg3 exd4 57.gxf5+ Kg7 58.Te8 dxe3 59.Txe3 Ta5 60.Kf4 Ta4+ 61.Te4 Ta1 62.Te7+ Kh6 63.Te6 Ta4+ 64.Kg3 Kg7 65.Te4 Ta5 66.Tg4+ Kf8 67.Tf4 Kg7 68.Kg4 Kh6 69.Te4 Ta1 70.Tb4 Ta6 71.Td4 Ta5 72.Kf4 Ta1 73.Tb4 Tg1 74.Tb6 Kg7 75.Ta6 Kf7 76.Tc6 Kg7 77.Td6 Kf7 78.Ta6 Kg7 79.Tc6 Kf7 80.Tc7+ Kg8 81.Td7 Tg2 82.Ta7 Tg1 und wenn der weißer König nach e4 versucht dann hat Schwarz Te1+ und der König muß wieder nach f4 gehen sonst spielt Schwarz Te5 und der weißer e-bauer ist verloren.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 7/17/2020 09:08
guesting: It is deeper and the drawish tendency of rook endings is larger. Please take a closer look! The ending was not always won for White in my opinion.
atpalas atpalas 7/17/2020 07:16
guesting guesting 7/17/2020 01:29
Dr. Müller ich glaube das es komplett verloren ist:

Nach 64....f5 65.Th2 Kg6 66.Kf4 Kf6 67.Th5 Kg6 68.Tg5+ und weiß gewinnt beide bauer f unf g.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 7/16/2020 07:40
keithdow: This question is quite tricky. It depends from engine to engine and from endgame to endgame. But one point certainly is not enough to claim that it should be winning. Optimal is more than +100, which usually means a transition into a tablebase win. Even better is a tablebase win of course. But even for the modern tablebase generators this endgame has too many men on the board.
sokaspkarpov: Please prove it.
sokaspkarpov sokaspkarpov 7/16/2020 06:50
Lost for black!
keithdow keithdow 7/16/2020 06:12
This is beyond my capability. However, how do you interpret what engines think? Is a one point advantage enough?