Some sacrifices are sound, the rest are mine - Mikhail Tal

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The 'Magician from Riga', has been both commenting, and commented on about his sacrifices.

'Tal doesn't move his pieces by hand, he uses a magic wand' - Ragozin, commenting on Tal

'You must take your opponent into a deep, dark forest, where 2+2=5, and the path leading out is only wide enough for one' - Tal

Hardly anyone hasn't heard about the great Tal. When hopefuls start to learn chess, the first master they ever hear about is Tal the legend. Their coaches will boast about Tal's attacking play as though he/she was Tal himself/herself.

Funnily enough, coaches, even most books try to make Tal's opponents' available defensive resources non-existent. With, a few '!' marks, and another couple of sentences of appraisal for the Tal's breath-taking move, the author/coach simply carrys on with the rest of the game.

I have no intention of stripping Tal of his 'magician' status. I simply thought that it would be worthwhile, to make defensive resources be recognized, and noticed, despite how hard it may be to find under the pressure of the ticking clock.

This game is played between Tal and Larsen, played in 1965. After the moves 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e6 5. Nc3 d6 6. Be3 Nf6 7. f4 Be7 8. Qf3 O-O 9. O-O-O Qc7 10. Ndb5 Qb8 11. g4 a6 12. Nd4 Nxd4 13. Bxd4 b5 14. g5 Nd7 15. Bd3 b4, the diagram at right was reached. 

Where most players would play safely with Ne2 and Na4, Tal continued 16.Nd5! (Hartston's exclamation mark). 16...exd5 17.exd5. In his excellent book Teach Yourself Better Chess, William Hartston stated 'playing g6 would invite h4 followed by h5, when every white piece joins in the attack, Larsen chose the other defense'.

Well, let's start off by saying that white already threatens 18.Bxh7 Kxh7 19. Qh5+ Kg8 20.Bxg7 Kxg7 21.g6, so black must either play g6, or f5 (which is what Larsen played) to prevent this. When going through this position with Rybka, Rybka happily disagreed with Hartston, and played 17...g6.

Now, let's put Hartston's statement to the test. 17...g6 18.h4 Nc5! This move prevents Qh3 should white open up the h file, thereby forcing white to commit one extra move. 19.Bc4, should white stubbornly continue with 19.h5, then 19...Nxd3+ 20.Rxd3 Bf5 21.Rd2 a5 22.Rdh2 (threatening 23.hxg6 Bxg6 24.Rxh7 Bxh7 25.Rxh7) Qc7 25.hxg6 fxg6 26.Qe2 Rf7 when black is simply up a piece. 

Back to move 19! 19.Bc4 Bf5 20.h5 Qb7 Black should not be greedy with Be4? As after 21.Qe2 Bxh1 22.Qxe7 Qd8 23. Qxd8 Raxd8 24.Rxh1 when white may have some compensation for the exchange. 21.Bx

c5! Rac8! 21...dxc5 is not disastrous, although the white d pawn may pose black some problems in the future. Black's position is solid. 

So from this, we can only come to the conclusion that Hartston's statement is nothing short of wrong! After 17...g6, white can pawn storm all he want, but as the analysis shows, black has a perfectly playable game! But what if black refrains from the pawnstorm, and plays something else?

a) 18.Rhe1 Bd8 19.Qh3 Ne5 20.Qh6 Bb6! 21.Bxe5 dxe5 22.fxe5 Bf2! 23.Re2 Bg4! 24.Rxf2 Bxd1 25.Kxd1 Qxe5 When white has insufficient compensation for the exchange.

b) 18. Rde1 Bd8 19. h4 Nc5 20. Bxc5 dxc5 21. h5 Qd6 22. Re2 Bc7 23. Rh4 Bb7 24. Bc4 Rae8 When white's attacking chances are next to nothing.

Of course, 17...g6 is not a simple move to decide upon. Many players would be unwilling to allow white's kingside pawnstorm, even though the analysis shows that the pawnstorm is all bark and no bite.

1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 g6 3. Nc3 Bg7 4. e4 d6 5. f3 O-O 6. Nge2 c5 7. Be3 Nbd7 8. Qd2 a6 9. O-O-O Qa5 10. Kb1 b5 11. Nd5 and we reach the diagram on the right. 

White offers an exchange of queens. Instead of doing what was expected, Tal chose to sacrifice his queen with 11...Nxd5!? There followed 12.Qxa5 Nxe3 13.Rc1!? Rybka preferred Rd3. Bobotsov, after 13...Nxc4, decided to give an exchange with 14.Rxc4?! Rybka played Qc3 instead, evaluating the position as the tiniest edge to white (white +0.26, while it gave 14.Rxc4 a dead equal -0.00).

Now let's take a look at Rybka's 13.Rd3;

Nxc4 14. Qe1 Rb8 15. Qc1 Bb7 16. b3 Ncb6 17. h4 cxd4 18. Nxd4 Rfc8 19. Qe3 d5 20. e5 Nxe5 21. Rd1 Nc6 22. Nxc6 Bxc6 23. Rc1 and the position on the left is reached. 

Mikhail Tal's words are true - 'some sacrifices are sound, the rest are mine'. Both sacrifices are pleasing to the eye, yet in the first game, as already mentioned, Nd5 is perhaps not the best of the moves.

Even the best of the best make mistakes when it comes down to defending against a sacrifice though. Although Larsen's 17...f5 is not catastrophic, he somehow managed to still lose. And in the second game, 13.Rc1 leads to dead equality according to Rybka, but Bobotsov suffered, somehow, the fate of Larsen.

'Many sacrifices don't require concrete calculation at all. It is sufficient to only glance at the arising position to convince at that the sacrifice is correct' - Mikhail Tal.

As much as the attacker need to worry about the refutation to the sacrifice, as well as the defensive resources from the opponent, the defender must worry about the nagging ticking of the clock!

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