Mikhail Tal: "We fought like Hussars". Interview after Riga 1979 Interzonal


Some games are added to the interview.

TANJUG Agency (Yugoslavia): Could you please evaluate the tournament and the players?

Mikhail Tal: Look at the second Interzonal in Rio. Quiet playing, dense results, a big leading group. Riga was very different. We fought like Hussars here. The lineup of Interzonals is mostly, so to say, "intelligent". Two hours after the beginning of the round, roughly half of the players become spectators, discussing sharper variants in their drawn games. So, little wonder that there are more than 50% of draws. But the Riga Interzonal was very different. You can literally count bloodless draws by the fingers of one hand: the games between compatriots van Riemsdijk and Trois, Adorjan and Ribli (both didn't want to risk their good tournament places) and Polugaevsky's two games against the Hungarian grandmasters. That's all. In all other games, struggle was very intense. Of course, you can't avoid mistakes and bad luck.

The Yugoslavian chess players were upset by Ljubomir Ljubojevic's result. What is there to say? The tournament only showed that this talented grandmaster was out of form. A more experienced player, seeing that his form wasn't too good, would play more subdued chess, but Ljubomir started to play calmly only close to the end of the tournament.

Bent Larsen was also unlucky. In a way, the story of Leningrad Interzonal six years ago repeated itself. The Danish grandmaster started the tournament in a spectacular fashion, but then stumbled in the games against Soviet players. I think that the FIDE leaders have to reconsider the current drawing rules - their advantages aren't very clear, but their shortcomings are obvious. Artificial drawing of the lots is detrimental for everyone. The Soviet players don't like it because they have to draw numbers according to some strange lists. THe foreign players also don't like it because playing against four Soviet grandmasters in a row is a very tough test, not everyone can withstand such a pressure. Larsen's bad result can be explained with that he, being one of the leaders, wanted to play calmly and solidly, but his opponents were quite aggressive. After three losses in a row, the Danish player couldn't regain his balance, lost his strength and fell behind. By the way, Larsen wasn't the only one our players played aggressively against - they were aggressive against everyone else too, especially each other. Of ten games between each other, they drew only two!

Before the beginning of the Interzonal, all Soviet grandmasters were touted as potential winners. But Romanishin, Kuzmin and Tseshkovsky were let down by their bad start. After the first half of the tournament, they wound up in the lower half of the table. All three played well at the finish, but their mistakes at the start cost them dearly, especially Romanishin. He played brilliantly in the second half and created a masterpiece, defeating Ribli.

The All-Union Radio: Can you please say a couple of words about the two winners?

Mikhail Tal: There's some sort of tradition now - of three winners, two are established favourites who were expected to win, but the third one is a dark horse, some Mr. X. The success of two Mr. X's, the young Hungarian grandmasters Adorjan and Ribli, is, of course, a pleasant surprise.

Lev Polugaevsky has been among the world's strongest players for a long time. He had a hard time in the Interzonals at first, but in the two last World Championship cycles, he'd already played in the Candidates' matches. In Riga, Polugaevsky's start wasn't great, but he shone in the middle; and then, when he had to choose between fighting for the first place, taking more risks, and comfortably staying in the top three, Polugaevsky chose the latter.

I'm satisfied with my own result. The start - four wins against my compatriots - was, of course, unexpected. Of course, both sides are to take the "blame" for this, since my opponents decided to play fighting chess with me. So, with all those points accumulated at the start, I could basically play for fun in the later stages. But I wouldn't say that it's easier to play as a leader. My high result - 14/17 - can again be "blamed" on my partners. In the final three games, against Adorjan, Miles and Rodriguez, I offered draws, but they were rejected. The Hungarian grandmaster later agreed, but Miles and Rodriguez fought until the end.

Play like Tal!

Vechernaya Moskva: What result did you plan for the tournament?

Mikhail Tal: Planning anything is hopeless, so I didn't plan. I planned to play good and hoped to reach the top three.
Sovetskaya Kultura: What can you say about the upcoming "Hungarian duel"?

Mikhail Tal: No matter how the third place play-off ends, the Hungarian chess school proved its great reputation once again. To say the truth, people didn't see Ribli and Adorjan as the Interzonal's favourites. For instance, Andras Adorjan, a very strong and hard-to-beat player, has a reputation of a very peaceful player, who would rather offer a draw than fight for a win. With such style, it's hard to qualify into the Candidates'. But here, in Riga, both grandmasters played very good, they were among the leaders for the whole tournament. Their success is completely deserved. Now, let them decide who's stronger at home!
Strazh Baltiki: Do you think that Adorjan and Ribli's playing style has more perspectives than Romanishin's?
Mikhail Tal: No, I do not. This is an age-old question about romanticism versus realism. Yes, our game had become harder, more of a sport, but whether to be glad or upset because of that is a matter of taste. I personally like Romanishin's creative style.
Riga Cinema Studio: What's the difference between the 1959 Tal and 1979 Tal?
Mikhail Tal: Well, you are cinema people. Of all people, you shouldn't have asked this question, since the answer is so obvious - just look at me!
Riga Cinema Studio: Still, are you still a chess romantic?
Mikhail Tal: I'd like to always be romantic in chess. Sadly, this doesn't always work like that.
Shakhmaty (Riga): In the latest years, your playing style changed quite a bit. Perhaps working with the world champion Anatoly Karpov pays off?
Mikhail Tal: Of course, Anatoly Evgenyevich was an influence. We were in close contact in the previous World Championship cycle - during the match preparation and the match itself. I think that this influence actually works both ways. In Baguio, Karpov sacrificed more pawns than in all his previous matches combined, and I exchanged more Queens in Riga than in any previous tournaments.
Fizkultura and Sport publishing house: Could you compare your performance in the Montreal Tournament of the Stars and the Riga Interzonal from a creative point of view?
Mikhail Tal: It's hard to compare these competitions. The Montreal tournament was very strong and prestigious, but it was more or less a friendly competition. The line-up was also much more balanced. Still, I think that I played better in Riga.
Sports (Riga): Which of your Interzonal games do you consider the best?
Mikhail Tal: There were a few good games. I like the game against Polugaevsky most. I've got a bad score against him, and it's especially hard to play Black against him. The game as very interesting. The games against Ljuboevic and Tarjan were also meaningful. The Gheorghiu game could also be interesting: I refuted my opponent's risky strategy, but then played hesitantly, and so the game ended quite boringly and prosaically.
Sovetsky Sport: Can you explain why your performance against grandmasters was better than against masters?
Mikhail Tal: The grandmasters were uncompromisingly fighting against their colleague, while masters were more peaceful towards a strict examiner.
Shakhmaty (Riga): What can you say about your last game against Rodriguez?
Mikhail Tal: It was not fun. My partner was in an aggressive mood, he wanted to play. And I wanted to give my press conference already, so I felt the combative mood of the Filipino master too late. And so I got a hopeless position. However, before time control, Rodriguez played badly; he was satisfied to win an exchange, and it was a small price for my mistakes in the opening. At home, I've analyzed the adjourned game extensively, and it was valuable. During the play-off, my lifeless Bishop managed to quietly crawl into the White's camp. If yesterday someone told me that this Bishop would play a decisive role in the game, I wouldn't believe. Perhaps Rodriguez doesn't like to play in the mornings...
Sovetskaya Kultura: It seems that you have found a good recipe against losing. The Tournament of the Stars, now the Riga Interzonal. Do you have a new undefeated streak?
Mikhail Tal: God forbid! In this year, I lost three games: to Ivanovic in the Tallinn International, to Velimirovic in the USSR - Yugoslavia match and to Yurtaev at the USSR Spartakiad. So, there's no streak.
Socialisticheskaya Industriya: Two players of the older generation won the Interzonal. What does it mean? What's your prediction about the age of the Candidates' winner?
Mikhail Tal: Once Polugaevsky and me were the youngest participants of our respective Interzonals, but that's no longer the case. Even before the tournament, both the world champion and most players said that in 1981, Karpov would play against a... well, there's a lot of synonyms: a veteran - not everyone likes that word; an experienced and decorated player; there's also a word "unpromising"... Well, Polugaevsky and me are more than ready to give way to the young players - as soon as they're strong enough to push us away.
Szachy (Poland): Are you planning to play in tournaments to prepare for the Candidates' matches?

Mikhail Tal: Yes! I'll most probably play in a USSR Championship and in some other tournament. I must keep my form until April.
Riga Cinema Studio: Do you see only external barriers on your way towards the World Championship match, or there are some internal barriers as well?
Mikhail Tal: I can take care of myself! But the "external barriers", my opponents, do indeed concern me.
Shakhmaty (Riga): How would you evaluate the playing conditions in the Riga Interzonal?
Mikhail Tal: Well, as a hosting player, it wouldn't be fair for me to give any marks, but I can't help but notice the great interest for the tournament and warm reception for all the players. As far as I know, all players were of the highest opinion of the tournament's organization. They say that I was in a privileged position compared to the others - home turf advantage, all that. But chess isn't football or hockey. I hope that the "turf" that was home for me was also a home for all my colleagues.
Fizkultura and Sport publishing house: You once said that it's very hard to play at "home turf", especially as a favourite...
Mikhail Tal: Playing in your home city is very special. You feel the support and attention. When everything goes well, it's very great, but when it doesn't, you might as well turn off your phone: the advices seem endless.
This time, I played well from the very start, and the Riga people's support helped me very much. I want to sincerely thank my fellow townsmen for that.