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Clash of Champions: Tal vs. Botvinnik

  • GM BryanSmith
  • | Sep 4, 2014
  • | 8928 views
  • | 19 comments

Mikhail Botvinnik had regained the world championship in 1958, but soon after the chess world's attention was captured by the rapid ascent of a young player with an unusually sharp and creative style: the Latvian Mikhail Tal. 

Frequently making surprising intuitive sacrifices, and armed with a previously rarely-seen opening -- the Modern Benoni -- it was not surprising that Tal quickly gained fans all over the world.

Coming practically out of nowhere, Tal first won the USSR championship in 1957, then he did it again in 1958, followed by winning the Portoroz Interzonal, and -- in 1959 -- qualifying to battle Botvinnik by winning the Candidates tournament in Bled, Yugoslavia.

In between these major successes, he added some other great results, such as a gold medal in the Olympiad and a win in the 1959 Zurich international tournament. All in all, it was a stunning run.

Despite this, the opinion of many experts was that Tal's play was incorrect and based on "tricks". It was believed that he did not have a great chance against Botvinnik.

Nevertheless, Tal came out swinging and won the first game, defeating over the board Botvinnik's prepared idea.

As you might know, this is specifically an endgame column, and therefore the subject is endgames. Fortunately, the nicest game of the match, and Tal's most famous win, involved an endgame. One in which the winner was down a minor piece...

Following the (above) win by Tal in the first game of the match, there were four draws. However, in none of these draws was the course of play favorable for Tal.

In particular, Tal only managed to survive the third game due to some extreme scrappiness. While Botvinnik hadn't yet managed to notch a win, clearly if the trend continued, that would happen.

The sixth game thus became very important. Tal managed to wrench the initiative away with the black pieces. An early piece sacrifice took the game into unclear paths, and the audience in Moscow became so excited that the game had to be moved to a back room, due to the noise level.

Battles of players with opposite styles and differing philosophies or personalities have made for the most captivating matches in chess history.

Steinitz-Chigorin, Capablanca-Alekhine, Kasparov-Karpov -- and of course Tal-Botvinnik -- have been some of the most dramatic and interesting world championship rivalries in history.

Next week we will see the rematch, in which Botvinnik fought to regain his title a year later.


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Comments


  • 6 weeks ago

    Ambassador_Spock

    Benoni Counter-Blast is currently scanning for Benoni players.
    Click the automatic mechanical device resembling a humanoid to join.
  • 7 weeks ago

    SubmarineMegalodon

    all the kibbitzing about religions and none abut chess moves...the piece sac was the whole key 2 the start of the fireworks...

  • 7 weeks ago

    yureesystem

    Incredible!! That is all you can say about a true chess genius, and Tal was one!!!

  • 8 weeks ago

    bolshevikhellraiser

    well Tal is my God

  • 8 weeks ago

    Blah_blahh


    hasta La Vista babby The Tal-minator
  • 8 weeks ago

    tpe09222012

    Okay, nevermind then. I misunderstood too

  • 8 weeks ago

    MohamadMaher

    it just misunderstanig

  • 8 weeks ago

    MohamadMaher

    when i said tal is my idol i meant that he is my idol in chess as a role model in chess nothing more !! and of course  Allah is only God to worship and Mohammad (Peace be upon him) is His true messenger!  @Russian_Boy

  • 8 weeks ago

    tirant

    thank you for the article, nice notation

  • 8 weeks ago

    heartofthelion

    nice

  • 8 weeks ago

    zrahman

    Excellent stuff as usual from GM Smith!

  • 8 weeks ago

    zrahman

    @Russianboy - Maybe Maher meant idol as in idol worshipping or maybe he didn't (thx for clarifying tpe), but you don't need to be so needlessly sarcastic.

  • 8 weeks ago

    tpe09222012

    @Russian_Boy

    Why are you assuming he's Islamic? There is a significant Christian denomination in Egypt. Who knows, he might even be a devotee of Cthuluhu, in which case his genuflection before Tal is perfectly acceptable. We all know that Tal was a master of the black arts after all. Why else would they call him the Wizard of Riga?

    @BryanSmith

    I didn't know that Tal played the Benoni. I'll keep an eye out for his games as I further my opening knowledge. And thanks for the annotation! I've seen the game before, but I never played through it on a board. Of course, I'm looking forward to next week when Botvinnik dries out the position and squeezes Tal in the endgame.

  • 8 weeks ago

    Russian_Boy

    How can you say that Tal' is your idol? Idolry is prohibited in Islam.  Allah is only God to worship and Mohammad (Peace be upon him) is His true messenger!

  • 8 weeks ago

    MohamadMaher

    Tal is my idol!

  • 8 weeks ago

    Irie

    Tal was such a stud.  This has inspired me to go buy 'Play Like Tal' by GingerGM! 

  • 8 weeks ago

    SubmarineMegalodon

    Great!

  • 8 weeks ago

    IM DanielRensch

    Awesome work Bryan!

  • 8 weeks ago

    BByoongKun

    great article!

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