Mikhail Tal TV interview in 1987
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The whole program was posted on Youtube on Summer. I have discovered it only recently and translated all that was said and made the TV cut. It differs from my other blog posts about that interview in one thing: I translated Tal's words directly, not from transcripts.
Introduction by Yakov Damsky.
Greetings, comrades! 30 years ago, literally in several weeks’ time, Mikhail Tal had become a favourite among the chess players not only of our own country, but of the entire world. He, a 22 years old master, known only to a few chess specialists, managed to brilliantly defeat a cohort of strongest Soviet grandmasters, become a USSR champion and, what’s more important, show a completely new playing style, a new perception of the art of chess. Two years later, he’d become the youngest up to date World Champion. And now, 30 years ago, Mikhail Tal had again become a World Champion – this time in blitz chess. Today, our guest in the Ostankino concert studio is the ex-World Champion Mikhail Tal!
Dear friends, I’m very glad to meet you here today. Last year, this venue was given to the chess players for a couple of days, and so I’m glad to continue this “chess on TV” tradition. When I walked here, I was warned that I had to walk onstage and then say something like a “King’s speech”. I don’t know what it is. Chess players like to play White, but “talking White” is usually quite hard. I have a rule of sorts: at such meetings, I usually “play Black”. Now the planet’s chess life is very intense, one interesting tournament follows another, many interesting things happen in the chess world, around the chess world, and I think that everyone here has a couple of interesting, tricky, sharp questions. Waiting for your moves. Thanks!
What do you think about aphorisms?
There are two points of view: mine and wrong.
Just recently, at a Brussels international tournament, a very curious thing happened. A Moscow grandmaster, one of our most talented young players, Andrei Sokolov played there. He’s got that quality we call “adherence to principles”. Though sometimes this becomes… well, Russian language is rich with synonyms: stubbornness, straightforwardness, it all depends on emotions really. So, in the middle of the tournament, I’ve managed to “catch” him… that’s a small bit of chess jargon, you know… on an opening variant. The variant was prepared in advance, Andrei played that opening before, and I was sure that Sokolov would defend his favourite schemes. I sacrificed a piece; I knew about that sacrifice, I don’t know whether he knew, but if he knew, he probably underestimated it… anyway, I’ve managed to win that game. And so the journalist and chess expert hotheads decided to write this variant out: “Tal refuted the Catalan opening.”
A day later, Sokolov plays Beliavsky. 15 minutes later, there’s the same familiar position on the board. Beliavsky was thinking long on his every move, checking and double-checking everything, and finally went the same way as me. And then, around move 19, Sokolov chose a new continuation. That’s what I call adherence to sporting… no, not even sporting, it’s broader… creative principles. And due to those creative principles chess eventually move forward. New ideas appear – it’s only possible through trial and error.
But sometimes, there are people with aplomb. Someone, a great specialist in their field, even in several fields, thinks they’re completely infallible. There’s a lot of such people, they are all very sympathetic and interesting, but with exaggerated feelings. Yes, you have to hold your ground, but only until you learn that there are at least three different points of view.
Senior staff scientist Kalugin, from Moscow. In 1961, you disappointed us greatly. I’d like to know… well, I think you have cooled down enough since losing that match… How would you evaluate your crushing defeat in the return match [against Botvinnik]?
Well, I haven’t just cooled down, I think I’ve even chilled a bit since that moment (laughs in audience), if we follow that chronologically… and, you know, that defeat wasn’t my very first and, thank God, not my very last one.
Concerning the reasons of my defeat against Botvinnik… many people have already written about that. I was a journalist too, it was uncomfortable for me to remain silent, and so I have found two reasons – it’s up to you to decide how serious they were. Two very serious reasons that became the… roots of my defeat.
The first one: my coach, Honoured Coach of USSR, Alexander Naftalievich Koblencs… he’s not just a chess master, a real expert in chess, psychologist and my very good friend… he’s also a singer. He studied belle canto in Italy, he’s a lyrical tenor, unlike Smyslov. So, during the first match, before every game we would sit in our room in the Moscow hotel, and he would sing. Neapolitan songs, arias from Italian operas… he sang beautifully. And Botvinnik lived one storey lower. He heard everything. I don’t know why, but during the return match, Botvinnik lived at his own house, so this psychological trick didn’t work anymore. That’s the first reason.
The second reason of my defeat… I’ve lost three games in a row in the middle of the match, and then finally… No, this happened earlier. I’ve lost game 7 and finally found a pencil. A lucky pencil. You can’t even imagine what does a lucky pencil mean for a chess player. So I managed to win one game in a row after that. I was completely sure that I’d turn the match around very soon. But, sadly, I fell ill after that, caught a flu, and this flu led to disastrous consequences. When I came to play next game, the pencil disappeared. Some unknown fan, clearly supporting Mikhail Moiseevich, took it away, and so I was left completely unprepared for further play.
Those are my versions that explain the roots of my defeat completely. And speaking seriously, you know, all (or, at least, the vast majority) complaints about the unfavourable (for us) result of the 1961 match should be addressed to Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik. His preparation was so brilliant, he completely transformed his playing style, and I was absolutely unprepared to that transformed, new Botvinnik that opposed me in 1961, even though he played greatly in 1960 as well. I’ve lost the 1961 match because Botvinnik played stronger and won.
The popularity of the strongest chess players in our country rivals that of the greatest artists and scientists. Why then don’t they (or you, specifically) share their views on the problems of perestroika through the press?
The problems of perestroika, of course, do exist. And they affect chess tremendously. In chess, in other sports… You know, I’m going to speak strictly about chess, because I know much more about them. Up until recently, behind a very happy façade – for 10 years, we had a great World Champion, Anatoly Evgenievich Karpov, who defended his title greatly, with honour and style, then Garry Kimovich Kasparov grew up, and then, since 1984, Karpov and Kasparov, and then Kasparov and Karpov have become two atlantes who uphold the reputation of the Soviet chess. Yes, there’s Karpov, a great World Champion, there’s Kasparov, also a great World Champion, they’re both our own, Soviet grandmasters, and so it’s all right with our chess.
But in truth, it’s only semblance of order and happiness. And many results prove it, like the last Chess Olympics in Abu-Dhabi, where the USSR national team that fielded a wonderful line-up – Garry Kasparov, Anatoly Karpov, Artur Yusupov, Rafael Vaganian, Andrei Sokolov – essentially, the world’s top five players. Nevertheless, they only managed to win the expected gold medals with tremendous amounts of work and luck, pure luck. I still remember that distant time when international tournaments were just a cakewalk for any Soviet chess player or team going abroad. The prizes were, of course, much smaller than today, but I’m not speaking about prizes now. And so, chess started receiving less attention: it didn’t matter which player from which trade union would become a World Champion: Botvinnik, Smyslov, Petrosian, Spassky, Tal… It’s our internal matter anyway, let them decide for themselves.
And then Robert Fischer appeared. Chess started to appear in newspaper headlines because it had stopped to be an internal matter, it was an international matter now. During his short, brilliant rise Fischer overtook the Soviet players, and so we had to fight back for the World Champion’s title. I don’t know how the hypothetical 1975 match would have ended. I don’t know. And Karpov doesn’t know. But Fischer forfeited the title, and the chess crown returned to our country. Everything seemed all right again. Then there were two World Championship matches against Korchnoi. The first one, in Baguio, was very sharp, very intense, very nervous; then, Karpov continued to progress, and Korchnoi passed his peak, so the second match was more or less formal, and therefore it was again all right, the Soviet players are great, etc.
And so, chess received as much attention as they deserve according to their alphabetic position in the Sportloto system: 47th or 48th. Do we need chess literature? Of course we need chess literature. But there’s mountaineering, athletics, basketball, Graeco-Roman wrestling, judo wrestling, freestyle wrestling ahead… All forests were already cut down to make paper for books on those sports. That’s one of the problems.
Another problem: occasionally, there were voluntaristic decisions. You all know the phrase, “There’s an opinion.” This magical formula was a reason for a lot of incomprehensible decisions. For instance, we have suddenly learned that only people under 25 or 26 are allowed to play chess. Chess were likened to rhythmic gymnastics, it was like, some brain muscles lose their elasticity, and the player loses the ability to think. You see, a lot of chess players, good chess players, masters that live in remote places, have lost the opportunity to train, to meet with each other, because such tournaments were deemed worthless. The USSR Spartakiad was the parade of our country’s best chess forces, it wasn’t just a strong tournament – it was a festival, a forum where young chess players could play against our greatest grandmasters. The grandmasters were eager to share their experience, and the youth was eager to share their ardour. And now, the Spartakiads have turned into something akin to amateur school performances because the age qualifications are very strict.
Yes, I can’t disagree that the USSR Championships should be the festivals of chess, and, of course, it would be great if all the strongest Soviet grandmasters who qualified for the championships actually played in them. I’ll just tell you what happened with me recently, 2-3 years ago. I wanted to play in the USSR Championship. So I called to Moscow, to one of our Chess Federation executives, and said, “I want to play in the USSR Championship.”
“Misha, are you serious?” Well, maybe people aren’t used to me speaking seriously, so I answered, “Well, it seems I am.”
“But you know, only Beliavsky plays in this tournament, but he’s playing in every tournament he can!”
I was eventually convinced that I shouldn’t play and fill someone else’s place, so I didn’t take part. And then, two weeks after the beginning, I read GM Suetin’s angry article about the USSR Championship, which was mostly directed towards the most persistent “non-players” – Smyslov and Tal. “They don’t play, this doesn’t play, that doesn’t play…” Of course, the public opinion now just forces me to take part in the next championship. I have to play. But then I learned that the next USSR Championship is also a World Championship zonal tournament, and I already had a personal invitation to the Interzonal. In other words, if Tal plays, if Smyslov plays, if some X, Y and Z who also have invitations to the Interzonal, then among others, there’ll be literally two candidates for three places.
There’s a lot of such examples. Both in Soviet Chess Federation and in international chess life. And one of the harbingers of a real perestroika in chess was an event that happened last year: first at international level, then in our country, as an echo, an international grandmaster association was created, and now it’s working actively. Here, it’s not as smooth, but we want very much, somewhere in the future, preferably near future, to celebrate the creation of the USSR Chess Players Union. The creation of such creative, professional, we shouldn’t fear this word, professional union of chess personalities, chess arbiters, chess coaches, chess writers, chess publishers, will guarantee that our chess step on the right track, and then we’ll be able to show our entire great building, not only the pretty façade.
Archive footage, voiceover by Yakov Damsky
By the rules of FIDE, all tournaments begin with a gong strike. And so, now the Main Editorial Office for Sport Programs strikes a gong and makes its own move, offering you to watch the fragments of movies released 27 and 28 years ago. This, as you have already guessed, is a match between Mikhail Botvinnik, then the indisputable and undeniable leader of world and Soviet chess, and Mikhail Tal. Tal was only 24 years old at the time. The audience’s reaction is understandable: their age difference was so great that it was essentially a match between “father” and “son”. There were no such World Championship matches before that, and youth won. Flowers, congratulations, champion’s laurel wreath that only a select few was crowned with… and then literally the entire Riga welcomed Tal back. He was carried on arms from his train car, and then the car he boarded was also lifted in the air. The reverence to the car’s passenger was infinite.
And now, Mikhail Nehemievich, tell us truthfully: didn’t your head spin a bit after that? If it did, how should one endure victories?
To be honest, I don’t think I had any kind of “star fever” then. I just liked (and still like) to play, I liked (and still like) to win. But I like playing more than winning, and that was also true back then. We have already discussed that a bit, I said that I’d prepared for the 1961 match much worse than Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik. In short, “if the young one knew, and if the old one could…” But my chess destiny was very kind to me then. I achieved many unexpected results. I’m not trying to show off, but I think I’d managed to endure both happy and unhappy events very calmly. There are different kinds of luck.
I remember the games that were important for sporting reasons. I remember the 21st game of the 1960 match, when I’d become a champion, and I remember the 21st game of the 1961 match, after which I’d earned a title not so glorious, but much more permanent – I’d become an ex-champion. But there are games that made an even stronger impact. These are the games when you manage to play something interesting and unusual, or your partner manages to do the same. I’m very satisfied now that I won a Chess Informant prize; in the last issue, the competition results were published, and my game against the Icelandic grandmaster Johann Hjartarson (by the way, he’s playing in the current Candidates’ cycle) was named the best one. Such successes make me happy; I don’t see anything criminal or shameful in the fact that I’m expressing my happiness.
Dear Grandmaster! The World Champion openly declared his support for perestroika. Karpov also openly says that Kasparov only feigns it. Where’s the truth? (Smiles)
Well, I think that both Garry Kasparov and Anatoly Karpov proved themselves brilliantly as chess players and continue to do so. But their success in political disputes is much less impressive.
The academician Abalkin also recently guested (or hosted, if you prefer) at the Ostankino concert studio. And, answering the most complex questions about modern economics, he once used a chess term. It’s no wonder because Leonid Ivanovich is a good amateur chess player and currently a President of All-Russian Chess Federation, the largest one in our country. Leonid Ivanovich, what question or questions could you ask Mikhail Tal?
Leonid Abalkin (pre-recorded footage)
What do you think of chess not as a professional sport, but as a cultural phenomenon? What’s the aesthetic value of chess, do they have any role in the development of aesthetic feelings or even some ethical qualities?
Well, the exact definition of chess doesn’t exist yet. Moreover, the proponents of different opinions constantly find new arguments or repeat old ones, trying to prove themselves right. Are chess leisure? Yes, indeed they are. Chess are also a science, in many ways, and it’s not an accident that Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik was a leader of Soviet chess for many years. It’s not an accident that cybernetic scientist also study chess. And it’s not an accident that today, in this very studio, I received an invitation to a computer festival in Ulan-Ude. Yes, chess are science. But chess are also a sport. It’s obvious: championships, wins, defeats, medals, prizes, you name it. But are chess only a sport?
If you ask someone who knows about chess, “What were the standings of an international tournament in Holland in 1938?”, the AVRO tournament, perhaps they’ll remember that the first place in that tournament was shared by two young grandmasters, Paul Keres and Reuben Fine. But who came third? How many points the winners had? Very few can answer that. But if you ask chess fans, “What’s your personal highlight of the AVRO tournament?”, very many of them will answer, “Botvinnik vs. Capablanca.” The game between Botvinnik and Capablanca. Not because a young Soviet grandmaster defeated the great ex-World Champion. Not even because that any Capablanca’s losses were regarded as sensations. The whole game and the winning combination was so brilliant, so beautiful, so logical and spectacular in the same time… such a game remains in everyone’s memories for a very long time. That’s why we have the “Evergreen game”, the “Immortal game”. Chess are very popular among the workers in the arts; not far from here, in the Central House of Art Workers, half a century ago there was a match between two good chess players and outstanding musicians, Sergey Sergeevich Prokofiev and David Fedorovich Oistrakh, and those games were published in the press. Those were master-level games.
You know, many people compare chess with mathematics. They think that a chess player should also be a mathematician. I personally don’t like this analogy much. I prefer to compare chess with music. Looking through Botvinnik’s games, I feel Bach’s fundamentality in them: you can’t remove even a single note without risking of ruining the whole construction. The depth and smoothness of Tchaikovsky and Smyslov. The elegance of Korch… Keres and Chopin. The virtuosity of Petrosian and Liszt… These are just associations, nothing more, I can’t do anything about it. Today, in a rich world, when we have electronics, when we have lots of foreign languages, living, dead and yet unborn, when we have figure skating, it’s possible to live without chess. But believe me: without chess, a man will think that he’s lacking something. And, since the academician Abalkin used a chess term while discussing important economic problems, I’d like to return the favour and tell that some economic terms have been adopted by the chess community, particularly brigade working during the World Championship matches.
(Laughs and applause)
Allow me to ask an unusual question. What do you think about Korchnoi? Not as a chess player, just as a human being. Right now, we’re revising the problem of cultural workers, dissidents, defectors like Tarkovsky and Rostropovich. Does Korchnoi also belong to this group of people that fell victim to our propaganda? This question was asked by comrade Gorbanevsky, journalist A.I. Gorbanevsky.
You know, Korchnoi had never declared himself an active enemy of our country. He defected because of unsatisfied sporting ambitions and never tried to hide it. Yes, during Korchnoi’s match against Karpov that was played in Moscow, in the Pillar Hall of the House of the Unions if I recall correctly, many people rooted for Karpov. It was quite natural, to be honest. Karpov was young, and everyone thought that he had more chances against Fischer than Korchnoi, who said many times that nothing could be done against Fischer. Yes, our chess press was too severe, too cruel towards him, and administrative punishment for openly stating one’s opinions in the press isn’t exactly the prettiest thing possible, but Korchnoi’s reaction was inadequate as well. He defected and then for several years said some very impolite things about Soviet chess players in general and some certain Soviet grandmasters in particular. But time passed, his sporting ambitions diminished, his results declined… I think that Korchnoi managed to redeem himself during the events of 1983, when FIDE, namely the FIDE president Mr. Campomanes, awarded Korchnoi (and Ribli) victory against Kasparov and Smyslov respectively, but then the public opinion turned the tide. Ribli had nothing against that result, but Korchnoi readily agreed to play his match and determine a real winner over the board. And with this, he managed to really redeem himself.
Right now, I meet Korchnoi often enough, he’s still one of the strongest Western grandmasters, but, most probably, he’ll never be a World Champion. He knows that well, and now, in all Korchnoi’s numerous interviews and public speeches, you can’t find a single bad word directed at the Soviet chess players. Yes, he sympathizes one player more than another, but it’s a natural thing, there are no political and ethical subtexts.
Don’t you think that World Championship matches are really team matches rather than one-on-one games?
Yes, you know, I can only fondly remember the times when we played with Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik. But, you know, it’s improper to be nostalgic about that now. It’s the second half of the 20th century, there’s so much chess information available that one chess player, even the most sophisticated, most knowledgeable player, just can’t process it all by himself. And when we talk about those “brigades”, “teams”… of course, from the “chess knighthood” point of view, this isn’t the best possible way. But there’ll be much more. When the real chess computers will come about (many players already own them), then the grandmaster’s headquarters will look more like some finished goods depot. This is a fact, and you can’t do anything about it.
Archive footage, voiceover by Yakov Damsky
You see Mikhail Tal during his games. During the moments of greatest tension a chess player can experience. And while each game is only five hours long, the tension rarely weakens. You need maximum awareness, maximum will concentration, you need to predict your partner’s intentions and put your own plans into motion. They say that chess is one of the most laborious and power-intensive sports in the world. Tal, for his looks during games, often got very scary nicknames: “Pirate from Riga”, “The Highwayman”, and when he won some games that didn’t look completely won for him, he was called Srećko Srećković, which is translated from Serbo-Croatian as “Fortune’s Favourite”. He was also called “The Hypnotist”, etc. etc. But now we can see, and the grandmaster himself will see, that during the games he seems to occasionally tell himself some very unflattering words. Mikhail Nehemievich, I’d like to know: what do you tell yourself during the games? What do you think during these times? Do you always think good of yourself? And lastly, do you think only about chess during the games, or about something else as well? Nobody in the world can answer these questions, except you.
My philological education won’t allow me to quote my internal monologues in full. (Laughs and applause in the audience.) Monologues can be quite different; for instance, during the game we have watched together, against Bent Larsen, it went quite calmly, so there were no foul words. But it can vary. And regarding the question “What does a chess player think about during the game?”… Well, there are many stories on that topic. I’ve had two interesting cases too. In one case, I was an active party, and in the other, the passive one. I’ll try to remember them if you don’t mind.
The first story: I was young, a very young master from Riga. It was the beginning of 1957, the penultimate round of USSR Championship, and I played against an experienced master Ratmir Kholmov. I had to score 1.5 out of 2 to become a grandmaster and, if occasion allows, even a USSR champion. That day I had Black against Kholmov, and the next day, I had White against Tolush, a very active player, a knight without fear and without reproach, and so we decided to play quietly and accurately against Kholmov – anyway, I knew I had no chance to defeat Kholmov, neither with Black nor with White pieces – and then give an all-out fight against Tolush. Kholmov was in a similar situation: he also had to score 1.5 out of 2 to become a grandmaster, but that day he had White against Tal, a boy from Riga, and the next day he had Black against Bronstein. And so it was also pretty clear to him how to score those 1.5 points. With those conflicting intentions, we started the game. The game itself was uneventful, and after some 27-28 moves I decided that it was a dead draw and said, mustering as much strength in my voice as I could, “I’m sorry, do you agree to draw?” A sharp “No” was the answer, and then Kholmov started to think. In the first five minutes, I was calm. Then I started to become nervous: I couldn’t see what to think about in that position, and yet Kholmov was thinking, therefore, there was something to think about. Ten minutes later, I was seriously worried. Fifteen minutes later, I looked at that position in utter horror. Twenty minutes later, I’ve made my decision: resign immediately, without waiting for Kholmov’s move. But then Ratmir Dmitrievich himself interrupted my horrified thoughts: he looked at me and said, “Draw.” I think I answered “Thank you.”
We started to analyze the game, reached the final position, and I, apologizing for my immodesty, asked him, “Ratmir Dmitrievich, what were you thinking about for so long?” He answered, “I was thinking how to beat Bronstein with Black pieces tomorrow.” So, as you see, there are many possible variants. Sometimes you just waste time on self-deprecating. At the Brussels tournament, during my game against Nunn (it was my third defeat in row), I remembered, completely out of the blue, that yesterday, against Timman, I had a very easy forced win. I was looking at the board where my game with Nunn took place, but thinking about the Timman game. Such a “simultaneous display” usually doesn’t go unpunished in grandmaster-level tournaments.
Vladimir Vysotsky’s archive recording of the song “The Honour of the Chess Crown”, which included a line: “We played ten games with Tal – preferans, blackjack and billiards – and Tal said, ‘He won’t let you down’”.
I know about your good friendship with Vladimir Vysotsky, and I’d like to hear your thoughts about this song and the games mentioned in it – the chess players’ great time-wasters like preferans and billiards… though I don’t know what to say about blackjack.
First of all, I’ll have to say that I was lucky to meet a very young Taganka Theater artist Volodya [Vysotsky]… it wasn’t until later that we learned that his full name was Vladimir Semyonovich. It was in 1963, during the World Championship match between Botvinnik and Petrosian, when I annotated games for the Soviet Sport newspaper. At first, we’ve been meeting quite often, then… he travelled, I travelled, but we were still in touch up until that horrible moment when we, during a training camp at Novogorsk, near the pre-Olympic Moscow, learned about Volodya’s tragic death.
Concerning the song… I think we did play a couple of chess games. But preferans, blackjack and billiards… we never played them. I do play all those games occasionally, but I’ve managed to pocket a grand total of one ball in 30 years of my billiards playing. I like card games, because during tournaments, or before the tournaments, after some intense mental, psychological and nervous workload, you need to relax. And billiards… well, I don’t know why can’t we hold, for instance, a Vladimir Mayakovsky Memorial tournament – our great poet loved this game.
Now, the origins of this line – I must say that despite our friendship with Vladimir Semyonovich Vysotsky, I didn’t ask him to write about me. It was my short surname that got me there. There wasn’t much choice: Flohr or Tal. And using Flohr’s name was too inappropriate, I think. (The latter two phrases were edited out.)
Do you think that FIDE is on the verge of dissolution?
No, it’s not. Though it does creak under pressure.
Did you pass your chess genes to your children?
No. You know, one chess player in a family is already too much. I deeply believe this. Both my son and daughter know what is chess, can play… or at least they think they can, but my daughter’s personality won’t allow her to achieve big chess… sporting successes: when she loses a game, she inexplicably laughs. This is unacceptable.
Dear Grandmaster! How much of the prize for the World Blitz Championship did you get to keep after all deductions? When do you think the State Sports Committee will stop putting its hands into our grandmasters’ pockets?
Well, it’s easier for me to answer the second question: when we close our pockets. (Applause) And the question about the prize… It’s a serious question, a question of principle. The amount of prize money was published in our press. After that, I just can’t appear anywhere without someone asking, “Can you lend me a couple of thousands, I’m so poor.” All the efforts to explain that it’s not that simple because I’ve already been asked that, in a way I just couldn’t refuse, were futile.
I must say that actually receiving this prize was quite an adventure. I think it could even pass under the heading Their Manners. Two finalists of the so-called World Blitz Championship in St John, Rafael Vaganian and me, received checks and, accompanied by bodyguards (you know, all those wild Western customs), came to the bank. The cashier woman looked at us very strangely and went to her supervisor. Then she returned and asked, “Do you have any IDs?” We gave her our passports… “No, some other form of ID.” Or else anyone might come and say, “Give me $50,000 and another $10,000 to my friend”, or something. Looking at me, she said, “I might trust you with some $200”, then she looked at Vaganian and added, “And you, with $500.” We had checks for $50,000 and $10,000, respectively. “Besides, we don’t even keep such large sums of money at our bank”, she said, “because there are lots of robbers around.” Long story short, it took 5 hours or so to finally receive the prize. The consulate people intervened, there were many phone conversation to prove that we were indeed Grandmasters Tal and Vaganian – even though the bank’s director watched our match in person. We received the prize, then locked it in my room together with me, so that evening I couldn’t even walk around Montreal, and the next day, the prize was safely delivered to Moscow and found its owner there. (Applause)
Comrades, I haven’t answered the question completely. I received some 15% of the whole prize.
Your most favourite female and male singers and/or bands, both Soviet and foreign? With names, if possible.
Can I answer this without names? (Laughs) I always fear the word, “most”. You know, the word “most” means some kind of a singular winner who eliminated their opponents in quarterfinals, semifinals… I’m so tired of all those qualification tournaments over the board, have mercy on me! So I won’t name any “most favourite” ones.
I like Alla Pugacheva very much. She’s very distinctive, very controversial. You can agree with her, you can accept her or reject her, but you can’t confuse her with anybody else. I like her. But aside of that, I’m old-fashioned, you know. There were The Beatles, and I like them very much. I gladly listen to good music: today I’d listen to one genre, tomorrow to another… Perhaps that’s because I’ve watched one concert, it was at the closing ceremony of the USSR Championship in Baku, when a young student of the Baku Conservatory Muslim Magomaev sat at the piano and sang both opera and more “easy” stuff. I liked him since. So I can call myself a “progressive retrograde”, like Bent Larsen.
Can you tell me, why have you, a world top-10 chess player, become Karpov’s second in the match against Korchnoi?
It’s simple. In that time, especially during the Baguio match, the atmosphere, even outside of chess community, was so tense that we couldn’t imagine the repercussions of the World Championship being won not by a Soviet player, but by an actively anti-Soviet player. We couldn’t even exclude the possibility… well, now you can smile at that, but then, we weren’t 100% sure that chess wouldn’t be declared a “false game”. There was a real possibility of that, believe me. I remember when the score tied at 5-5, everyone’s mood was very gloom because we were already discussing how to get to Buenos Aires chess Olympics – should we visit Moscow or not? Karpov led 5-2 then. When the score became 5-5, we started to doubt if we’d make it to Moscow at all. The head of our delegation, Viktor Davidovich Baturinsky, swallowed heart pill after heart pill and asked, “How will I look my comrades and neighbours in the eyes?” (Laughs in the audience) You can laugh now, yes. Constant phone calls… the atmosphere was very, very tense. And yes, we were all very glad that we helped Karpov, helped the Soviet chess in their struggle against the archenemy of the Soviet chess – yes, we honestly considered Korchnoi so then.
Mikhail Nehemievich, I’m Strongin, a literary man. I want to ask you: if someone could think as fast as a computer, would such brilliant skills help them to play chess better?
First of all, if some human could indeed think and count as fast as a computer, that computer would most probably be faulty. To each his own.
Mikhail Nehemievich, I’m [Master] Evgeny Dragomaretsky, the deputy director of a youth sports school. Can you tell us something about Boris Vasilievich Spassky’s life, who lives abroad for the last few years?
Boris Vasilievich Spassky is an outstanding Soviet grandmaster. He’s married to a French woman with Russian origins and plays chess less frequently now. It’s a pity he doesn’t visit the Soviet Union too often, but alas, the workers of the USSR Sports Committee and USSR Chess Federation did everything they could to discourage Boris Vasilievich to visit the Soviet Union. He wanted to play at the USSR Spartakiads, he wanted to play at USSR Championship, but he was told he wasn’t needed there. And it all culminated before the “Match of the Century”, that wasn’t as much a tournament as it was a festival of Soviet chess, an exhibition of Soviet chess. The ex-World Champion, a brilliant player wasn’t invited to play. Is it ridiculous? It is. Is it absurd? It is. Is it sad? It is very sad. So, now Boris Spassky heads the French team. His experience and authority awakened the dormant French chess life. The Frenchmen haven’t been so active since Napoleonic times or so! Now they perform great at the Olympics, qualified for the World Cup… and it’s all due to activity of one man. So now we’ll just have to feel sorry that Boris Spassky had become France’s second greatest chess player, behind Alexander Alekhine.
Archive footage, Mikhail Tal on the phone
Yes? Hello, hello. OK. The struggle in the last two rounds (in parentheses: 8th and 9th) was very intense… yes… mm-hm… Ending the first half of the tournament… yes… no, no, the first half… yes. The players fight each other relentlessly…
Voiceover by Yakov Damsky
That’s how, accompanied by the noise from TV set, not writing a word beforehand, you dictate your newspaper reports from chess tournaments. In this same manner, without any preparations, you dictated your articles for the Ogonyok magazine, and you’ve become a laureate of this very popular magazine. Tell us please, what pleases you more: first prize at some big tournament, or appreciation of your literary capabilities?
Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik once said that while studying electrical engineering, he rested from chess, and vice versa. I can say the same thing about some of my journalistic creations. We have already discussed me being “edited” during the tournaments, and the newspaper editors edit me a lot as well. But, since the question was asked by my co-author, Yakov Vladimirovich Damsky – he knows perfectly how heavy is the workload of anyone who play Black against me.
Mikhail Nehemievich, tell me please what do you think about hypnosis in chess? Fischer once accused you in hypnotizing him. Karpov also accused Kasparov’s seconds that they hypnotized him and impeded his playing.
You know, it’s an old story. Even Emmanuel Lasker, in his days, was accused in hypnotizing his partners, because there were no logical explanations for the mistakes made by those respected, competent grandmasters. Now it’s hard for me to discuss this topic, because my sporting results clearly show that I’m a retired hypnotist now and pose no great danger to the environment. And concerning the alleged hypnosis in the Karpov vs Kasparov matches… I’m completely sure that it’s impossible to hypnotize a chess player, both over the board and from the audience, if the player doesn’t want to be hypnotized.
Many players I’ve spoken with said it was hard to play against Fischer. Very hard. Not because he hypnotized them, they didn’t use hypnosis as an explanation. Fischer just played with such force, such will to fight and to win, that those fluids physically affected you, and you – I mean some grandmaster XYZ, of course… they just started to lose their self-confidence.
Uchivatkin (?), from Lytkarino, junior researcher. Some people think that Karpov and Kasparov are head and shoulders ahead of all other chess players. Do you think it’s really so, and who can now challenge their hegemony?
Yes, it’s a fact. At the last World Cup tournament in Brussels, in Kasparov’s absence, Karpov won convincingly. Is there a difference? Speaking strictly, at the first World Cup tournament there wasn’t enough quorum: Artur Yusupov didn’t play, Nigel Short didn’t play, and they are both considered among the favourites in the next Candidates’ cycle. But I can surely say that someone will eventually bridge this gap. When will it happen? Not earlier than the next cycle. Karpov and Kasparov will most probably play each other again in the 1990 World Championship match, no matter how unwilling they both may be.
You have mentioned an interesting topic: the foundation of a chess players’ union. This is most probably means self-financing. It’s clear with soccer, for instance: the fans of, say, Dnipro come to the stadium and buy tickets… but how can a chess players’ organization finance itself?
Well, for start, every major grandmaster and strongest masters could do a simultaneous display and used the fee to finance that organization. That’s the first move. And then… we’ll gladly donate our prizes from international tournaments. Not somewhere… we would like to know for sure that our donation will be used for development of chess: creating a chess publishing house, creating a new chess book, helping a grandmaster or master who’s too old to play and is in need. This union should make decisions on the most important creative and professional matters. The grandmasters’ association? Yes, they’re the pacemakers, the leaders, but the organization should be all-embracing. I’m sorry, but I can’t elaborate on my economical concepts further because I lack education in that field.
Basharov, from Moscow. I’m at the left, Mikhail Nehemievich, I’m here. How many letters do you receive? Do you have any helpers? The second question: what are your favourite chess pieces that you like beating your opponents with the most?
Well, there’s a certain deficit of seconds and coaches: they’re all already employed. Either by Kasparov, or by Karpov, and nobody else can even come close. Concerning the favourite piece question… I don’t want to call any piece my “most” favourite. I’m afraid I don’t have any “most” favourite pieces. Though people say that the chess style is changing. Some spiteful tongues say that in my early days, I liked to sacrifice my Queens, and now I’m just exchanging them.
The sporting element in the classic chess is much more prominent than in correspondence play. If you value the aesthetic side of chess, why don’t you play correspondence chess? That’s my first question. The second one: have you ever thought about distant future of chess? And the third questions: it seems that you’re on good terms both with Kasparov and Karpov. Have you perhaps tried to help them make peace?
I’ll begin with the third question. Yes, I’m on good terms with both Kasparov and Karpov, but I’m on even better terms with Tal, so I didn’t make any such efforts. (Applause) About the correspondence chess… You know, I do appreciate chess as a form of art, but I like to see and feel my partner over the board. When you just write down the moves, you lack that feeling. Also, my handwriting is terrible. Chess are a special case… the chess player’s situation during a game is unique. He’s an author – he writes his “screenplay”, his “libretto”. He’s a performer. He’s a critic. A trinity of sorts. I don’t like playing in an empty hall. I need audience. When I’m in form, I like all this noise in the hall. Noise means reaction. When I’m out of form, I’m feeling it by my own reaction. If noise hinders my playing, then I’m out of form. If it’s not, I’m in form.
The future of chess… I don’t think that chess are in any danger, though the abundance of information – Chess Informant, encyclopedias, tournament bulletins, games... all of this can really cloud your head. Sadly, the young players pay very much attention to this factological side of chess: variants, variants… But I still believe in fantasy.
I’ve got two questions. Captain Tolpegin, military journalist from Chita. The first question: why do you think there are no major international tournaments in our country, and what should be done to hold a major tournament in the Soviet Union? The second question: what do you think about Garry Kasparov’s books? What kind of books they are and how soon will we be able to read it?
Of the major tournaments, I can only remember the “Star tournament” in Moscow some 4 years ago, when Karpov finished first and Kasparov shared second place, if I recall correctly. That was a really great tournament. There are good tournaments, with a good line-up of Soviet players. It’s just too hard to lure the strongest Western players there. They are in a very delicate situation, because playing in tournaments with many Soviet players is like close contact with predators. And the prizes are somewhat inadequate to the risks involved. So it’s nearly impossible to convince the strongest Western players to play here.
By the way, I remembered another story. A unique occurrence. In 1967, a brilliant international tournament was planned. It was dedicated to a big holiday, the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution. The lineup was very strong already, and then Fischer expressed his readiness to take part in the tournament. And then the Sports Committee executives summoned the strongest Soviet players: Tigran Vartanovich [Petrosian], Vasily Vasilievich [Smyslov], Paul Petrovich [Keres], Boris Vasilievich [Spassky], Mikhail Nehemievich [Tal], and asked us: “What should we do?” What should they do? It was a very interesting prospect. “And do you guarantee that you’ll win the first place?” We could answer only with some vague nods, and so Fischer was told that we would be very glad to include him, but the tournament’s schedule included playing every Friday and Saturday, so it’d be impossible.
You know, in the past, the Committee people had a very strange habit. When we went abroad to play in tournaments or matches, we were always summoned to the old Physical Culture and Sports Committee in the Skatertny side-street and given a sheet of paper. At first, you couldn’t understand what that was, but then you read: “I, name, pledge to win the first place/win the match”, and you had to sign that. I’ve signed those sheets a couple of times with something like “Read, M. Tal”, so they eventually stopped giving me those “pledge letters”. Such things happened, too.
And the second question, what was it… You know, I get to answer this question quite often. I’ve read Kasparov’s books. There’s a very good, very deep and interesting chess book that’s good both for analysis and reading, The Test of Time. There are some very good analyses in the book about his two World Championship matches that was recently published by the Fizkultura and Sport. And concerning the book Child of Change… well, this one is different. Yes, the book is poor, quite poor. It’s very clear that Kasparov wrote what he really felt. It would be wrong to call him dishonest. We spoke with Garry Kimovich about that, and he absolutely agreed that the book was indeed poor. And he explained why. First of all, strictly speaking, this is not a Russian-language book. He dictated it, very quickly, with all emotions still fresh, he needed to say everything he thought about everyone he thought about, and do that before the next World Championship match. And so, he dictated in English. He knows English well, but not better than a Foreign Language Institute graduate. He dictated, and someone thoroughly wrote down everything he said. Many nuances were gone. This book was published under enormous time pressure. The Sevilla match showed that even the best chess players in the world can make impossible mistakes under time pressure. And in literature, especially journalistic literature, time pressure can be no less fatal. That’s why the book was published in Russian only fragmentarily, in the Globus publishing house, and, as far as I know, soon there’ll be a new, corrected edition of this book. As Kasparov said, he’s going to write an introduction to explain why the first edition came out poor and how he had to correct it. After that, the book will be published in Russian in its entirety, we’ll all read it and discuss it together.
(continued in the comments)