Remembering Mihail Tal

by Dagobert Kohlmeyer
11/9/2016 – Today, 9th November 2016, Mihail Tal would have celebrated his 80th birthday. Tal is one of the most popular World Champions though he reigned only for one year. But this short time on the chess throne was enough to secure him a special place in the history of chess. Not only because of his magical games but also because of his kind and modest nature. His opponents feared the magician from Riga, his fans admired him. The German chess journalist Dagobert Kohlmeyer knew Tal well and shares memories.

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Remembering Mihail Tal

Tal's World Championship match against Mihail Botvinnik in the Spring of 1960 was one of the most interesting World Championship matches in the history of chess. Tal's convincing victory surprised and rattled the chess world. A bit later I had the chance to see the new World Champion in person: in the Fall of 1960 Tal came to Leipzig, East Germany, to take part in the Chess Olympiad 1960. Here he played a fantastic game against the young American Bobby Fischer, which made headlines. We memorised the game by heart and were simply stunned by the bold moves and maneuvers of this exciting duel. Of course, as a 14-year old I could not imagine that I would one day meet these two chess heores face to face.


Fischer vs. Tal, Leipzig 1960

The story of Tal's life and his immortal games have been the subject of many books and chess magazines and need not be recounted here. Moreover, I have always been more fascinated by Tal's qualities as a human being. Everyone who met the chess magician from Riga in person was impressed by his play and his natural, modest nature. I had this fortune a couple of times.

Tal always created an atmosphere of friendliness and goodwill. His humor was infectious and seemingly inexhaustible. He was a megastar without any affectation. He almost never refused if someone wanted to play a skittles game with him and took part in all kinds of blitz tournaments imaginable, winning most of them. In 1988, a few years before his death, the former World Champion in classical chess, also became the first Blitz World Champion.

In the summer of 1973 the "International Festival of Students and Young People" took place in East Berlin. Mihail Tal and the young Anatoly Karpov played an open air simul which was followed by a large number of spectators. For some reason I missed this event but a chess friend captured the historic moment.

Open air simul in Berlin 1973

In the last years of his life Mihail Tal also played in the German Bundesliga. First for SK Zehlendorf Berlin, later for the SG Köln Porz. That is one reason why he had a lot of friends in Germany. Two episodes from Tal's performances in the Bundesliga I remember particularly well.

In March 1990 Kirchheim and Zehlendorf played a match in Berlin. On board one Tal faced Andras Adorjan. The delicate Hungarian had put some cotton into his ears to avoid being disturbed during the game. However, it took a while before Tal appeared. The clocks had already been started and a concerned kibitzer next to me said: „Let us hope he is not ill again." When the magician finally arrived a lot of spectators flocked to his board. The game started with an English Opening but after 13 moves Tal and Adorjan settled for peace and agreed to a draw. Well, though the chess fans were not happy about this turn of events, for me it was a lucky chance.

Because now I had ample time to interview Tal - it was my first interview with him. Among other things we talked about the upcoming World Championship match between Garry Kasparov und Anatoly Karpov in New York. „On the board they are rivals but they are not enemies“, Tal told me with a smile. About ten years later Karpov confirmed this statement and said to me: „Despite all rivalry Kasparov and I have always entertained diplomatic relations.“

In another Bundesliga match, SG Köln Porz vs Hamburg, Tal played against the young German Sönke Maus. Maus had the white pieces and was not afraid of his renowned opponent. He reached a promising position but then made a terrible mistake which Tal immediately used to win his opponent's queen and the game.


After the game the chess magician apologised to his bewildered opponent. That was Tal. At the board he was wild and without pity, but in life he was kind and extremely pleasant. He also liked to analyse for hours with colleagues and ordinary chess friends alike, regularly coming up with one brillant move after the other.

In my archive I discovered a number of pictures from that time when photos were not digital.

Tal shows the best move (the white player is Ulf von Herman from Berlin)

In June 1992 the eighth World Champion died as result of his severe illness. Much too early - he was only 55 years old. The chess world mourned one of its most remarkable personalities. During the Tal Memorial 1995 in Riga I visited the Jewish cemetery and put flowers on Misha's grave. Dmitri Shirov, the father of Alexei Shirov, told me that his son always used to visit Tal's final resting place before important tournaments or Chess Olympiads. I also visited the home of the former World Champion in Riga. The idea of chess fans in Riga to make a museum of Tal's unfortunately was not supported by the Latvian government due to financial reasons. „That is more than sad“, says Engelina, Tal's widow.

Boris Spassky was a long-time companion of Tal. The two were rivals, teammates and friends. During chess olympiads they often shared a room. In 1962, at the Olympiad in Varna, Spassky even saved Tal's life - Tal had fallen asleep with a burning cigarette and the room was about to catch fire. I have often talked with Spassky about Tal. Spassky, who nine years after his friend also became World Champion, said:

Spasski, Kasparov, Tal

„Misha was a special human being and a messiah of chess. He simply exuded great magic. When he played a tournament, the public was immediately charged. All spectators in the hall were charged. Tal infected the masses. He electrified the people because he played such extraordinary chess. As if from another planet. With his rich imagination and his incredible inspiration Mihail Tal opened new horizons to chess. That is why he is still admired so much today."

Translation: Johannes Fischer

Mihail Tal at ChessBase

Master Class Vol.2: Mihail Tal

By Dorian Rogozenco, Dr. Karsten Müller, Mihail Marin, Oliver Reeh

No World Champion has enchanted the chess world as much as Mihail Tal did. His reign as World Champion was short but in his time Tal’s star burned with unknown intensity. With his combinations and his intuitive sacrifices the young Tal ran over his opponents, and thrilled the chess world with his risky uncompromising attacking play, which inspired many players to emulate him. In 1960 he beat the reigning World Champion Botvinnik but one year later he lost the title of World Champion again in a return match of doubtful competitive value. But even though Tal was no longer World Champion, he still remained one of the best players in the world. At eight chess Olympiads he won gold with the Soviet team. Six times he became USSR-Champion. In 1973/74 he managed to remain unbeaten in 93 consecutive games, a still unmatched record. In 1988 he won the Blitz World Championship. Despite his frail health Tal enjoyed life to the fullest and was a funny and brilliant man, who loved nothing more than chess. Through the games of Mihail Tal this DVD provides a unique access to the realm of chess tactics. Tal’s colleagues dubbed their tactical guru „Magician“, because in his games seemingly incomprehensible moves in the end blended into a successful whole, as if by magic. But Tal was also a master of strategy and endgame play. 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. In an interactive test they invite you to try to find combinations like Tal did. The DVD also contains all games by Tal, many of them annotated, plus comments and tournament tables.

  • Video running time: 4 hours 13 min (English)
  • Interactive tactics test with video feedback
  • Tactic training with 245 questions.
  • Collection of every Tal game, tables, backround, short biography
  • Tal powerbook – the World Champion’s repertoire as an opening tree
  • ISBN: 978-3-86681-372-4 – EAN: 4027975007960
  • Delivery: download, post
  • Price: €29.90; €25.13 without VAT (for customers outside the EU);
    $26.99 (without VAT)

Dagobert Kohlmeyer is one of the best known German chess journalists. For more than 25 years Kohlmeyer, who lives in Berlin, has been travelling all over the world to report about and to capture impressions of Chess Olympiads, World Championships, and top tournaments.


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