Sally and Misha: Paradise regained...and lost again

by Nagesh Havanur
12/30/2019 – Sally Landau married Misha Tal for love. The marriage did not last, but love did. Each went their way till fate brought them together in an unexpected fashion. An incredible story of a wayward genius as seen by his first wife. | Photo extracted from "Checkmate", a book by Sally Landau

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This is part three of a story on "Checkmate" (part 1 | part 2), a book authored by Sally Landau

Love and longing

Sally and Misha separated. Misha found his anchor in Gelya (Angelina) who was to be his wife for the rest of his life.

Sally was not so fortunate. Lonely and insecure, she drifted from one relationship to another. She was advised there would be better prospects for her singing career in Europe. She could not get her son out of the country and had to leave by herself. She wandered from one end of Europe to another, till she made Antwerp, Belgium her home.

She and Misha continued to remain the best of friends. 

Indeed, Misha longed for her. He would try and meet her whenever he was participating in a tournament in Europe. The most poignant of those meetings was in 1981 at Malaga, Spain. Misha desperately wanted to see her and arranged for the whole trip. When they saw each other it was a kind of shock. They were no longer young. Both had grown old and felt dangerously ill. Both recovered soon enough and revived their spirits. They stayed together in the same hotel. She washed his lucky shirt every day. He refused to wear any other. He won the tournament and was happy. The opposition was not strong and the score was modest, 7/11 (+3 =8 -0). Still, it was a sweet victory in the company of Saska (as he always called her).The parting was sad; Misha tried to make up for it with a smile. Much of what they wished to say to each other remained unspoken.

Mikail Tal, Angelina Tal

The newly-weds surrounded by family and friends, Valentin Kirillov and Alexander Roshal | Photo: Svetlana Punte / "Gelya" Album

Sally and Misha meet a kindred spirit

Now comes the surprising part of the whole story. On her return to Antwerp, Sally happened to meet Joe Kramarz, a prominent jeweller. Unlike other men, Joe treated her with exquisite courtesy and decency. He was aware of the vulnerability of her position and remained sensitive to her feelings. That won her over to him. They were soon to marry.

As it happened, Joe Kramarz was a chess fan, and Misha was his idol. He was stunned to learn that Sally was Misha’s wife before. He could not wait to see the legend and be introduced. When they finally met, Misha had a kind of heartburn, thinking he had lost Sally for good to this stranger. His apprehensions were wrong. Joe had a warm and generous spirit, and he made Misha feel welcome. Thus developed a rare camaraderie between the two men to the surprise and delight of Sally. On her part, she took care of the occasional pangs of jealousy on either side with tact and understanding. And there was mirth. They would sit and play chess.

Mikhail Tal, Sally Landau, Joe Kramarz

Misha Tal, Sally Landau and Joe Kramarz having a good time

The result of course was predictable: Joe would lose five or six games in a row. A disappointing result. For him, it was still a dream come true, playing with his idol.
This friendship lasted seven years till Kramarz passed away. It was cancer.
Sally was heartbroken. Misha phoned her from the USSR and did his best to console her, telling her he was always there for her. Inwardly, he knew his own end was near.

To be continued...


Prof. Nagesh Havanur (otherwise known as "chessbibliophile") is a senior academic and research scholar. He taught English in Mumbai for three decades and has now settled in Bangalore, India. His interests include chess history, biography and opening theory. He has been writing on the Royal Game for nearly three decades. His articles and reviews have appeared on several web sites and magazines.


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chessstandards chessstandards 1/1/2020 08:37
One more anecdote from the book:
After his first session of playing with Joe Misha whispered to Sally generously,
“He doesn’t play as badly as I hoped. But he isn’t going to become world champion. Then again, nor am I.”
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 12/31/2019 02:35
Joe Kramraz was a 70-year-old* widower with two grown-up sons when he met Sally Landau who was only 43. He was conscious of the age gap when he proposed to Sally. If she had said “no”, he would have accepted it with grace.
* He was fit and looked 55 according to Sally as seen in the pictures here.
chessbibliophile chessbibliophile 12/31/2019 04:21
One day in Paris Misha was set to play a simultaneous exhibition on 33 boards and Joe asked to be Number 34. Misha didn’t object. He won thirty games, drew three and lost one. Joe was one of the thirty defeated and wasn’t happy.
“I don’t understand how I lost to him. I had a completely drawn position. Why couldn’t he have offered me a draw?”
“Couldn’t you have let Joe draw?... Why didn’t you offer him that little bit of pleasure?”
Sally asked.
“I really wanted to beat him” said Misha laughing,
“It was revenge for my defeat. After all he won you off me…”
He was joking, there was no malice in his heart.
Sally Landau’s reminiscences of Misha ("Checkmate", Elk and Ruby, 2019) have a rich fund of such anecdotes, sweet and sad.
RichardEaston RichardEaston 12/30/2019 06:04
That’s an amazing twist to the story. Am looking forward to the next part of the story.