Tal's Attacking Recipe

Tal's Attacking Recipe‎

GM Gserper
133 | Tactics

For most of true chess aficionados, Mikhail Tal is not just a legendary world champion but a true symbol of attacking in chess. He got his name "The Magician" for his inimitable ability to start a king hunt in almost any position. 

How did he do it? Well, thousands of chess books and articles written about Tal describe his favorite sacrifices as well as his general attitude that he described as "sacrifice first and calculate later." Today, I want to discuss one of his lesser-known attacking ideas, which nevertheless can be quite powerful. 

Tal's attacking recipe
Mikhail Tal in 1973. Photo: R. Mieremet/Dutch National Archives, CC.

A book written by Tal with chess journalist Iakov Damsky was one of my childhood favorites. It is difficult to imagine a better book about adventures on a chess board! In one of the chapters of this book, Tal categorized his games by the amount of material he sacrificed.

While the following game was placed into "A Rook Sacrifice" category, I was actually more impressed by a pawn sacrifice. Look at the position below and try to find a way to start a direct attack against Black's king:

White's bishops are dangerously pointed at Black's king and therefore he has numerous ways to threaten a checkmate (16.Bh6, 16.Qh5, 16.Qe4). Unfortunately, all of them will be easily stopped by a simple move 16...g7-g6. What should White do?

Tal found a brilliant idea that impressed me a lot. He played 16.h2-h4! As Tal writes in his annotations, "White is going to play 17.h4-h5 and then 18.Bh6 after which g7-g6 is not going to work due to 19.hxg6 followed by a bishop sacrifice on g6, and 18...Bf8 wouldn't help due to another bishop sac on g7 (see annotations below)." So, as Tal concludes, Black is forced to accept the pawn sacrifice. But then Tal plays g3, Kg2 and Rh1, when both of his Rooks will join the attack. Pure magic!

To me, the rook sacrifice looks quite obvious, but the pawn sacrifice is a truly amazing concept that started the whole attack! After I had learned this attacking recipe from Tal, I started noticing it in many similar positions that can happen in numerous openings. For example:

The following game features a very similar pattern, even if it was from a totally different opening:

I had a privilege to watch the following game live. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that one of the best players in the world was unaware of this attacking idea:

Tal's attacking recipe claimed another grandmaster victim in a recent Titled Tuesday. Well, almost claimed. Since it was a blitz game, White missed a very simple win.

Now you, my dear readers, know the dangerous attacking set up that starts with the h2-h4 move, so I am sure you are not going to miss it in your games. Happy king hunting!

Tal's attacking recipe
Mikhail Tal in 1982. Photo: Rob Croes/Dutch National Archives, CC.
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