In memory of Mikhail Tal

by André Schulz
11/9/2021 – The ‘Magician from Riga’, Mikhail Tal, enchanted the chess world in the 1950s and 1960s with his amazing combinations. He was ill all his life, but nevertheless belonged to the absolute top of the chess world for decades, even after losing the World Championship title. Today is the 85th anniversary of his birth. | Photo: Dutch National Archive

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“He was the healthiest of us all...”

Mikhail Tal was one of the greats of chess history. He was born in Riga on 9 November 1936 and would have celebrated his 85th birthday today. When Tal rocketed to the top of the chess world in the 1950s, the community celebrated him for his amazing combination style. Strictly speaking, however, there are two Tals. The young Tal cultivated a brilliant attacking style. The later Tal played mostly positional chess. Between September 1973 and October 1974 he remained undefeated over 95 tournament games. In January 1980 Tal became the third player after Fischer and Karpov to achieve an Elo rating above 2700.

Tal’s coach for many years was Alexander Koblents (1916-1993), who also published several books about his training work with Tal. 

For a short time, Mikhail Tal was world champion. When he defeated Botvinnik in 1960 and succeeded him as world champion, Tal was only 23 years old and, which meant he was the youngest champion in chess history up to that time. In 1961, however, Tal lost the return match against Botvinnik, which was still customary at the time.

All those who knew Mikhail Tal speak of his extremely likeable personality. He was a very humorous person and it is said that he once jokingly signed ‘Fischer’ when asked for an autograph. He had beaten Fischer so many times, Tal explained with a wink, that he was allowed to do so. But then he also added his own name. Fischer and Tal had quite a friendly relationship.

Tal suffered from illnesses throughout his life and was chronically ill with kidney disease, among other things. He numbed his pain with all kinds of drugs. Tigran Petrosian said: “Mikhail Tal is the healthiest of us. All the others would have died long ago from his illnesses”.

After the collapse of the USSR, Tal lived with his family near Bonn for a while. He played a GM tournament in Barcelona in May 1992 and travelled to Moscow for a blitz tournament in June. From there, he did not return to his family.

There are numerous collections of Tal’s games, and if you are interested in the complete works of the ‘Magician of Riga’, we recommend the ChessBase Masterclass on Tal.

You can relive Tal’s first published game and his last official game from the tournament in Barcelona on our replayers below.



André Schulz started working for ChessBase in 1991 and is an editor of ChessBase News.


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