Even more of Tal's 1987 interview

Jan 18, 2011, 12:00 PM |

They say that Karpov and Kasparov are head and shoulders ahead of all other players. Is it actually so, and who else can intervene in their struggle?

Well, first you have to clear this head and shoulders distance. The fact is still a fact. At the first World Cup tournament in Brussels, where Kasparov didn't play, Karpov easily got first place in his characteristic style. His games aren't visually amazing, but it's something akin to the shaman magic: there's a position, and then, some circles start moving. The pieces circle around, the opponent gets enveloped in this movement and suddenly... makes a mistake. A very unusual and peculiar manner, but it works. And then, at a 4 GM tournament in Amsterdam, Kasparov convincingly beat Karpov and other participants.

Still, strictly speaking, there was no quorum at the first World Cup tournament. Artur Yussupov didn't play, Nigel Short didn't play, and they are considered possible favourites in the coming candidates' tournaments.

Of course, someone will eventually clear the distance. When will it happen? No earlier than the next cycle, I think. So, most probably, Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov will play each other again in 1990, no matter how unwilling both might be to do so.

What can you say about the conflict between Kasparov and Karpov?

It's a bit funny. Now, it's burned down a little. But still we're hearing some echoes, time to time.

I don't know, maybe, it's old generation speaking in me, but the words of our great chess players sometimes remind me the words before the boxing match between Cassius Clay and Frazier.

Now, I think, it's useless to try and remember who was the first to say "Huh?" Because the chess players really respect both grandmasters. They are very good grandmasters, and there's no need to try and determine who's better and who's more progressive. Let them determine that themselves, over the board. And if we could use all that energy for peaceful purposes, that would be just marvelous.

I think you're on good terms with both Karpov and Kasparov. Didn't you try to help them make amends?

Yes, I'm on good terms with Kasparov and Karpov, but I'm on even better terms with Tal, so no, I never tried that.

You're probably one of the few who read Kasparov's infamous book?

I'm having to answer this question very often. I know Kasparov's books. A very good, very high-quality chess book, very deep, interesting book which is fun both to analyze and read, is The Test of Time.

There's a very good chess analysis in the book about two World Championship matches, recently published by Fizkultura and Sport.

Considering the book Child of Change, my opinion of it is different. The book is poor, quite poor.

So, when I'm asked, I usually answer, "Yes, Kasparov plays chess better than he writes". Though it's obvious that he wrote how he felt, we can't say that Kasparov wasn't sincere.

We spoke to Garry Kimovich about that, and he even himself agreed that the book was poor, and he explained why.

First, this book wasn't written in Russian. He dictated it under considerable time pressure, he had to tell everything while his emotions were still hot, and he had to do it before the Sevilla match. And he spoke in English; yes, he knows the language good, but not better than a graduate of the foreign languages institute. He spoke to the man who honestly wrote down everything, but still, some nuances got lost.

The Sevilla match showed that even the strongest chess players in the world can make impossible mistakes under time pressure, and in literature, especially publicistic literature, time pressure is not a good friend either.

Now the book is partially published by Globus, the publishing house belonging to TASS and Central Chess Club, and soon, as far as I know, there'll soon be a reissue. As Kasparov stated, he'll write in the foreword why the first issue was poor and why it had to be corrected.

When this book gets published in Russian, we'll all be able to read this book and discuss it together.

What do you tell yourself, what do you think about yourself during a chess game, are those thoughts always good, do you think only about chess during a game, or of other things, too?

My philological degree doesn't allow me to quote my internal monologs in full. They can be quite different.

What does a chess player think during a game? There are many different stories about that.

Here's a couple of stories about me. In one case, I was an active participant, in the other, a passive one. If you agree, I'll try to remember them. Case one: a very young master from Riga, beginning of 1957, next to last round of the USSR Championship, I have to score 1.5 from 2 to become a grandmaster and, if events allow, even a champion. Today I play Black against Kholmov, tomorrow I have White against Tolush, a very active player, true knight of chess.

And we decide to play very quietly and accurately today, because it's clear that it's impossible to defeat Kholmov, both with White and black. And tomorrow, give an all-out fight. But Kholmov is in a similar position. He also needs to score 1.5 from 2 to become a grandmaster. Today he has White against Tal, a boy from Riga, and tomorrow, he has Black against Bronstein. It was perfectly clear to him how to score those 1.5 points...

So, with those conflicting intentions, we came to play.

The game was quiet, after 27 or 28 moves I thought that the position was drawn and uninteresting, and so, with as much metal in my voice as I could muster, I said, "I'm sorry, do you agree for a draw?"

Kholmov answered sharply, "No!", and immersed in thoughts.

For five minutes or so I sat quietly, then it unnerved me. I can't see what to think about over this position, but Kholmov does think, so there is something after all.

After 10 minutes I was seriously worried.

After 15 minutes, I looked at the position with utter horror.

After 20 minutes or so, I finally made my decision: resign without waiting for that horrible move.

But those scary thoughts were interrupted by Ratmir Dmitrievich himself. He looked at me and said, "Draw."

I think I replied, "Thank you."

We started to analyze. When we got to the final position, I asked, "What did you think about?"

"I was thinking about how I'm going to defeat Bronstein with black pieces tomorrow."

Sometimes you lose time on scolding yourself. For example, at the Brussels tournament during the game against Nunn (I lost third game in row) I suddenly found out that yesterday I had a very simple win against Timman. So I was looking at the board where I played Nunn, but thinking about the Timman game.

Such "simultaneous display" in the grandmaster tournaments usually doesn't do any good.