Tal's 1987 TV interview, continued

Jan 19, 2011, 3:09 AM |

Do you have a coach? What's your favourite chess piece?

Coaches and seconds are a rare commodity these days. You know, the best ones are already taken. Either by Kasparov or Karpov, there's no room for anybody else on this "market".

And favourite pieces... I don't have a single favourite piece. Though they say that the playing style does change. Malicious tongues say that in earlier times, I liked to sacrifice my Queens, and now I tend to exchange them.

How do you express dissatisfaction with yourself? Do you learn anything from your mistakes?

Well, you know, a chess player thinks like that: if I found a good move, it's perfectly logical; if I overlooked a good move, then it's a stupid mistake. And if I get a poor tournament result, it's everyone else's fault. It's weather's fault: it was either too hot or too cold. It's country's fault: the government is either too far right or too far left. It's referee's fault, it's pieces' fault. Of course, it's partners' fault, undoubtedly, it's spectators' fault, but I'm not at fault. Never.

It's not only my attitude, we all think like that.

What made you, a top-ten chess player on your own, become Karpov's second for the match against Korchnoi? Did Sevastianov play any role?

No, Vitaly Ivanovich Sevastianov didn't play any role. Just, you know, the situation at the time was very, very tense, especially during the Baguio match. Both chess and non-chess tensions were so great that we couldn't imagine the consequences if an ex-Soviet, rather than a Soviet, chess player becomes a World Champion. And it was quite possible (yes, now you can laugh, but then...) that chess would be declared "the false anti-Soviet game".

This possibility was real. And I remember when the score tied at 5:5, everyone was in a gloomy mood. When the score was 5:2, we started packing already and discussed how to get to the Buenos Aires Chess Olympics - should we visit Moscow first, or not? And after 5:5, we even thought if we'll be able to return to Moscow at all. Our delegation's leader, Victor Baturinsky, swallowed heart pill after heart pill and said, "How will I look into the eyes of my comrades?"

You can laugh now, surely. You know, constant calls, very nervous situation... Yes, we were very glad to have helped Karpov to defend his title against - we sincerely thought that at the time - the arch-enemy of Soviet chess.

What part of the first prize from the World Blitz Championship did you ultimately retain? When do you think the Sports Committee will finally stop to pick the pockets of our grandmasters?

It's much easier to answer the second question: it will happen when we close our pockets. And the first question is really quite serious and principial. The 64 magazine published the full amount of the first prize without even consulting me. And so, people now frequently ask me to lend a couple of thousands, just because I have them and they don't. I'm trying to explain that much of the prize was already taken away in force, but to no avail - they still think that I'm just greedy.

The story of awarding the prize was quite funny on its own, it looks more like an old newspaper article in the sections "Their manners" ("Их нравы").

Two finalists of the so-called Blitz World Championship in Canada, Rafael Vaganian and me, got their cheques and, accompanied by bodyguards (it's necessary at the "wild West"), came to the bank at the previously agreed time. The lady who cashed the cheques cast a very strange look at us, then went to her supervisor. Upon returning, she asked us, "Do you have any documents?" We gave her our passports. "No, you need more documents. Anyone can come and say, give $50 thousands to me and another $10 thousands to him."

I don't know, maybe she didn't like our faces or something, but, looking at me, she said, "I'd give no more than $200 to you." Then she looked at Vaganian and said, "And $500 to you. And anyway, we don't keep such sums here at the bank because of robbers," she added.

Long story short, it took us five hours to finally cash our cheques. We even needed help from our consulate. They made a lot of calls to prove that we are really Mikhail Tal and Rafael Vaganian (and don't forget that the bank's director watched the whole tournament on the TV and surely should have remembered our faces).

We got the prize. This prize was looked in my room. Together with me. So I couldn't even take a walk around Montreal that evening, and on the next day this prize was safely sent to Moscow.

And found its owner there.

Comrades, I forgot to actually answer the question. I got 15 percents or so.

What do you think about the aphorism, "There are only two opinions: mine and wrong"?

It's necessary to defend your own point of view. Let me show just one example, a very curious thing that happened at the Brussels tournament. One of our most talented young grandmasters, Andrei Sokolov, played there. He's a chess player who always stays true to his principles. Though sometimes this principiality becomes a... Russian language is rich with synonyms: stubbornness, straightforwardness, it all depends on the emotions. So, in the middle of tournament I managed to "catch" him on an opening variant. I managed to win, and the hot heads among the chess writers immediately said, this variant is dead, Tal actually refuted the Catalan Opening.

The day later, Sokolov plays Beliavsky, and after 15 minutes of play, there's the very same position on the board. Beliavsky was thinking long over each move, checked and double-checked all variants and finally made the same move as I did.

And around the 19th move, Sokolov makes a new move! That's the real sporting, or, should I say, creative stubbornness. Such stubbornness moves chess forward. New ideas appear by trial and error. Of course, this doesn't exclude the possibility of existence of other opinions, more or less correct than my own. That's one thing. And sometimes, there's aplomb. For instance, a man can be a great specialist in various fields, but he considers himself completely infallible. There are many such people. Those people are good and interesting, but their feeling of superiority is a bit overblown.

I remember how a famous old Soviet master, Ilya Abramovich Kan, told a very sweet story. If Mikhail Moiseevich Botvinnik is watching this, I hope he forgives me.

It happened in late 30's. People discussed some theme not related to chess or electrical engineering, and Botvinnik said, "No, it's this and not that." He said that very confidently.

And the other man replied, very softly: "When you say that in Queen's Gambit I should move Rc1 rather than Rd1, I'll surely agree with you because you are Mikhail Botvinnik. But when we discuss other themes, I'd allow myself to tell you that there, you're just another Mikhail."

(Some people cite a different ending of this story: Botvinnik's opponent said "you're just another Jew" instead of "another Mikhail". I don't know which one is true. Sp.)

Yes, you have to defend your point of view, but only until you know for sure that at least three points of view exist for that question.

There were times when you were literally taken away from planes and forbidden to play abroad, and even at some tournaments in our country. How did you react? What do you think about sportsmen's rights, their relationship with sports committees on all levels?

There were such times, yes. Though even more often I just came late to the plane, without any interference. You know, in the relationship of a sportsman and organization, the organization always plays White.

I once heard from a high-profile sports official something along these lines: "Well, comrade Tal, don't you agree that you don't have any perspectives as a chess player? It's time to admit that! Go home, study, work. We may call you again eventually."

This worked: after that I played 70-odd games without losing. I wish I heard such things more often. The current carrot-only policy doesn't give enough stimuli for sporting achievements. But speaking seriously, in such relationships you're being viewed as an object.

Why, in your opinion, there are no strong international tournaments in the Soviet Union, and what should we do to hold one in our country?

I can't fully agree with you. There are some good international tournaments in our country. But we didn't organize an extra class tournament comparable, say, to the recent Brussels tournament for a long time. I can remember only the Moscow "Star Tournament" played seven years ago. That was a brilliant tournament.

The Yerevan International begins just about now, then there'll be a tournament in Minsk. There are many tournaments. But it's hard to get the Western leading players to play here. They're in an awkward position here, because it's very hard to play in tournaments with many Soviet players. Even the strongest grandmaster can't feel safe before a game against any Soviet "predator". And the prizes here aren't worth the rating risk.

So we can't get many strong, distinguished Western players to play here. Though it's interesting to note that while they're young and inexperienced, they gladly play in our country. Short, for instance, played in Yerevan and Lvov, and not once. But now they grew their rating "meat", and they don't want to lose it.

By the way, I remembered one unique case. A very strong international tournament was planned in 1967. It was dedicated to the great celebration - 50th anniversary of the October Revolution, the line-up was strong, and Fischer expressed his desire to play there. And the Sports Committee officials summoned the famous Soviet players - Tigran Vartanovich Petrosian, Vasily Vasilyevich Smyslov, Paul Petrovich Keres, Boris Vasilyevich Spassky, Mikhail Nekhemievich Tal, and asked them, "What shall we do?"

"What do you mean "what shall you do?" That would be very interesting!"

"But can you make sure that Fischer doesn't get the first place?"

We only nodded absently, no-one said a word, so a polite answer was sent: of course, we'd be glad if Fischer takes part, but we play each Friday and each Saturday, so, alas, nothing can be done...

What do you think of modern music? Who are your most favourite singers and bands (Soviet and foreign)?

Well, I always fear the words "the most". "The most" is the only winner who also won in quarterfinals and semifinals. But we're so sick of qualifications over the chess board that we don't need any of this "the most" stuff in art.

I like Alla Pugacheva, for instance, she's very original, very controversial. You can accept her or not, but you'll never mistake her with anyone else! And, you know, I'm old-fashioned: there were The Beatles, so I still like them very much.