More of Tal's 1987 TV interview

Jan 18, 2011, 4:08 AM |

I discovered a fuller version of this interview in an obscure book with Tal's own interviews and articles. So, there are more words from the Wizard!

Have you ever played blindfold games?

I did give a blindfold simultaneous exhibition, it was filmed for a documentary called Seven Steps Beyond the Horizon ("Семь шагов за горизонт"). If I remember correctly, of course.

It happened in Kiev, the story is quite amusing. Before that, I never gave a blindfold simul. Not that they were forbidden, as many tend to think - they just were considered unpractical. No matter how good a man can play without the board, he'll surely play even better with it.

But I did play blindfold sporadically due to objective reasons, like, at a school lesson or university lecture. Otherwise, the teachers might have been unhappy.

And so, when I already was an ex-champion, I was admitted in a Moscow hospital. In the morning I woke up after anaesthesia, feeling as one usually feels after an operation.

There were no emergency rooms at the time, so I was lying in an individual ward. And so, early in the morning, someone knocked at my door. Then four people in white coats enter - other patients.

"Hello, hello, grandmaster! We're glad to see you here!" (laugh.) I replied, like, "The same to you." "Could you give us a simultaneous display?"

I said, "No. As far as I remember, I have to walk during a simul, and it's hard for me to walk now."

What could we do? The ward was big, so they sat in a far corner, and I started to play from memory. The simul lasted for about an hour, I won three games, but in the fourth, my position wasn't too good. Then a doctor came and told all of them to go away. My partner was taken away for some procedures, and so, of course, we considered that he also lost. So my first blindfolded simultaneous exhibition was a success.

But then, the people from Kiev Studio of Popular Science Films sent a letter to the Chess Federation: couldn't they recommend anyone who can give a blindfolded simul? They got an official letter from the USSR Chess Federation, something along this lines: "No-one here engages in such stupid things, try to ask Tal."

The cinema people came to me, and we agreed to say nothing about this simul until due time. If nothing comes of that, nobody will ever know anything, except, of course, my opponents. And if the simul is successful, it will be filmed. It was a success. But after that, I never played blindfolded simultaneous exhibitions.

What do you know about Fischer?

Roughly as much as you do. Though I've been to Los Angeles recently, not far from Pasadena where he resides currently.

When I asked GM Lombardi when did he see Fischer last time, he replied, "10 years ago."

Kasparov and Karpov advertised computers, fruit drinks and other things in foreign countries. Fischer ardently refused to take part in advertisements. Whose position seems better to you?

I think that today, if you like something, you have all the rights to advertise it. And Fischer, I think, is a bit old-fashioned. But, you know, it's very difficult to judge Fischer. He's a man fully devoted to chess. You could think that he's interested only in financial side of chess, but in reality, he's above taking money.

It's not an accident that Kasparov advertises computers. He's the president of a computer club, and those computers greatly help to develop the chess skills of youth. Computer education is essential.

By the way, this chess toy that, sadly, isn't common in our country yet, the computer, chess partner with several programs, is both pleasing and useful.

What can you say about Spassky?

Boris Vasilyevich Spassky, the great Soviet grandmaster, married with a Russian-born French woman, now plays chess less. That's a pity that he doesn't visit Soviet Union, but, sadly, the officials of the USSR Sports Committee and USSR Chess Federation did all they could to dissuade him from coming to the Soviet Union.

He did want to play the USSR Spartakiads, he did want to play in the USSR tournaments, but he just wasn't needed there.

And it all culminated before the second "Match of the Century", that was more a celebration, an exhibition of Soviet chess than a sport competition.

The ex-World Champion, a very strong grandmaster wasn't named among the ten best Soviet players. Ridiculous? Ridiculous. Silly? Silly. Sad? Very sad. And now, Boris Spassky is the leader of French team. His experience, his authority woke up the chess life in France, the French players never played so much since, I don't know, the Napoleon times.

They play Olympiads very successfully, they were invited to the World Cup. All that because of one man. And the only thing we can do is to regret that Boris Spassky had become, well, the second-best French chess player, behind Alexander Alekhine.

Let me ask an unusual question: what do you think about Korchnoi? Not as a chess player, but as a man. Currently, we've come to look differently at the culture workers who defected - like Tarkovsky and Lyubimov. Maybe, our propaganda also attacked Korchnoi too much?

You know, Korchnoi never declared himself as an active enemy of our country. He defected because of his dissatisfied sporting ambitions and never tried to hide it.

Yes, during the match between Korchnoi and Karpov in Moscow, most spectators rooted for Karpov. But it was something completely natural.

There was a young player who, as many thought, had more chances to win against Fischer than Korchnoi, who stated many times that we can't do anything against Fischer.

Yes, our chess press was too rough and cruel towards him. Administrative punishment for stating his opinion in the press was really too much.

But Korchnoi's reaction was inadequate, too. He defected and said very unpleasant things about Soviet chess players in general and Soviet grandmasters for several years.

So, during the World Championship matches, we were hostile to Korchnoi, and the feeling was mutual.

But time passed. The grandmaster's sporting ambitions were diminishing, and I'll have to say that Korchnoi did a very noble thing in 1983, when the FIDE President Mr. Campomanes awarded Korchnoi and Ribli victories against Kasparov and Smyslov.

Ribli had nothing against that outcome. But Korchnoi easily agreed to play and determine a real winner over the board...

Now we meet Korchnoi often, he's still a leading European grandmaster. But, most probably, he'll never be a World Champion. And he knows it very well. And I have to say, now you can't find a single hostile word towards the Soviet players in all of his numerous interviews.

Yes, he has more sympathy towards one than the other, but it's a very human thing, nothing political here.

Tell us about Keres.

Great chess players' characters are usually, let's say, quite difficult. But Paul Petrovich Keres was one of those people respected, sympathized and loved by almost everybody.

I've been a Keres supporter for very many years. In the famous 1948 World Championship tournament (Botvinnik, Smyslov, Keres, Reshevsky, Euwe) many rooted for Botvinnik. But many people from Riga sympathized Keres.

I first met Keres in 1951, he gave a simultaneous exhibition in Riga against the strongest young first-graders ("grade" is a Soviet-Russian chess rank for youth players, with 4th lowest and 1st highest - Sp.). Then, the first-graders played against GMs in simuls with clocks - everything else was considered improper.

And so, Keres lost 2 games of 8 against our young chess players - to Gipslis and Tal. Tal won with black pieces in Botvinnik variant. I thought it might be a blow to Keres...

Several years passed, and the Latvian team, with me on the first board, went to Tallinn to play a match. Can you imagine the awe of young boys when in the morning, Paul Petrovich himself met us at the train station? That was incredible!

We played a match. I scored half a point and was immensely happy. And then we became friends with Paul Petrovich, when our age difference wasn't so apparent anymore. I was always glad to play at Tallinn tournaments, he was heart and soul of them.

Then Paul Petrovich was gone. And now, it's an honour to play in those tournaments, but it's also sad. He's looking at us from the wall. In everyone's memory, Keres remained an incredible sympathetical, incredibly inspiring figure.

What's your opinion on who can become the next World Champion?

Right now it's hard to discuss the future World Champion, because while we speak, this champion has most probably just returned from school and is doing his homework, and we know almost nothing about him.

There are many talented kids both in USSR and abroad. There's Gata Kamsky, Vasya Ivanchuk, Boris Gelfand, Alesha Shirov from Riga. I know that eventually there'll be a new World Champion, but I wouldn't try to guess his name.