Riddle solved: Tal could have drawn!

by Karsten Müller
7/23/2020 – At the Candidates Tournament 1962 in Curacao, Mikhail Tal (pictured) lost a tricky rook endgame against the eventual tournament winner and World Champion to be Tigran Petrosian. But did Tal lose only after one or more mistakes? Endgame specialist Karsten Müller asked for the readers’ help and came to a conclusion: Tal could have held the draw!

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Rook endgames’ drawish tendency

Bobby FischerThe mystery surrounding the 1962 Curacao Candidates Tournament had a lot to do with the suspicion raised by Bobby Fischer regarding a possible collusion by the Soviet players — Fischer even wrote an article for Sports Illustrated titled “The Russians Have Fixed World Chess”. But did this already start in the first round, when Tal surprisingly lost to Petrosian? Maybe we’ll never know.

Nonetheless, 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.

Rook endings indeed have a very large drawish tendency and this is no exception. As it was the first step on Petrosian's road to the World Championship title, chess history might be different had Tal used one of his chances. Zoran Petronijevic and Charles Sullivan again invested a lot of work to reach new results on this famous classic.

Even this seemingly simple-looking rook ending is very deep. And Tal could surprisingly have saved himself as late as move 54.

Again Zoran Petronijevic has burned a lot of midnight oil and reached the following conclusions:

  1. Zoran PetronijevicAdjourned position is even.
  2. The move 42....h5 was criticized by Averbakh (Timman did not criticize it because he thought that Black is already lost). In fact, it isn't a mistake at all: the position is even. We should mention that the passive 42...Rb7 also leads to draw.
  3. Black’s 43...Rb7? is a mistake, after which the position is lost. The astonishing 43...Kg6!! leads to an even position.
  4. Very interesting is 45...Ra2 with a cunning idea — Ra8. However, after cautious play White should win.
  5. According to Timman, after 47...Rg5 “the rest is simple”. In fact, drama followed later.  50.h5? is a clear mistake by Petrosian, after which the position is even.
  6. Black’s 52...Kh7? is a mistake after which Black is lost.
  7. Petrosian did not exploit Tal’s mistake and after another mistake — 53.Re8? — he gave Tal one more chance to make a draw.
  8. The decisive mistake in this game was 54...Kh6?, after which the position is lost.

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.

In our replay board above there are a large number of functions you can use to really understand the game and the analysis. Recently we published a comprehensive tutorial plus video instructions which tells you about all the powerful features and buttons that make the ChessBase's replay one of the best replay experiences around.

One big advantage is that you can start an engine (fan icon) that will help you to analyse. You can get multiple lines of analysis by clicking the + button to the right of the engine analysis window. The "!" key, incidentally, shows you the threat in any position, which is incredibly useful in the case of unclear moves.

There is one more thing you can do. It is a lot of fun, but also a serious challenge: Click on the rook icon below the notation window. This will allow you the play the above position against Fritz, at your level of playing strength (e.g. "Club Player"), right here on the news page. Note that your analysis, in which you can delete, move or promote lines, is stored in the notation as new variations. In the end you will find the game with your analysis in the cloud. So nothing is ever lost.


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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