The Nineteenth Soviet Grandmaster

Jul 16, 2011, 11:05 AM |

This article about Mikhail Tal was written by the famous Czech-Soviet Grandmaster and chess writer Salomon Flohr after Tal won his first USSR Championship in 1957. He was quite accurate in his prediction that Tal would eventually challenge Botvinnik for the World Championship.

The Nineteenth Soviet Grandmaster

No chess tournament is free of surprises. D. Bronstein fondly remembers the last round of Stockholm 1948. The leader L. Szabo played E. Lundin, who occupied the last place, failing to win a single game. And this "unlucky" Master suddenly won his game against the leading Grandmaster! So Bronstein emerged as the winner, getting the Grandmaster title in the process.

The less fortunate occasion happened with Bronstein in 19th round of the current USSR Championship. The Grandmaster lost to Master B. Gurgenidze, occupying the last place. This "surprise", of course, didn't fit Bronstein's tournament plans and created a very tense atmosphere at the finish.

In the next-to-last round the situation became even more complicated. Four players still competed for the gold medal: A. Tolush, M. Tal, D. Bronstein and P. Keres. In the Tolush - Aronson game, the "struggle" ended at move 10! It took only 15 minutes to L. Aronson and only 7 to A. Tolush to create this curious miniature.

The fresh, attacking play of the young Tal and the solid Tolush was especially appealing to all chess enthusiasts.

The last round! Tal and Tolush were seeded to play each other. The first ever chance for a player from Riga to become a USSR champion. Thousands of Moscow chess fans waited in anticipation. Outside the tournament building, a demonstration board was installed for those who couldn't buy a ticket. Riga phones in constantly.

There's silence in the hall. The audience anticipates the final outcome. Tal seems the most quiet person in the whole hall. And Tolush smokes one cigarette after another. There's a reason to be nervous: he's under a strong attack. Tal plays with enthusiasm, he hopes that it's his last game as Master. He plays solidly and with crushing power. And Tolush finally resigns! An eruption of applause for the new USSR Grandmaster. Bronstein, Keres and others congratulate their young colleague.

Five minutes later, Bronstein sees he can't crack the "Kholmov fortress" and agrees for a draw. New applause, meaning that Mikhail Tal had become a champion of the USSR!


When the young Misha first came to school, he was instantly... accepted into the 3rd grade - so bright he was. When he left school, he was allowed into the Riga University at the age of 15, as an exception. The 20 year-old Komsomol member Mikhail Tal is now finishing the fifth year at the history and philology department.

The chess player Tal didn't come "out of the blue". He's one of the talents the Soviet chess art is rich with. He's one of those who learned chess at a Pioneer House, and such outstanding Soviet GMs as V. Smyslov, D. Bronstein, Yu. Averbakh, T. Petrosian, M. Taimanov and a lot of good Masters are alumni of those institutions.

Several years ago we heard that there's a boy in Riga who plays good chess. Quickly, almost without thinking, he analyzes the most complex variants.

Last year, Mikhail Tal with a group of Soviet students traveled to Upsala (Sweden), where our student national team successfully defended their title. GM A. Kotov, the delegation's leader, paid much interest to the young Tal's playing. In the beginning of the 24th USSR Championship, Kotov said, "Tal will win the first place!" That was an isolated voice. Even Tal himself didn't believe it.

After the young Riga citizen's brilliant start, some people said, "He'll stop soon, he's too inexperienced and impulsive." While others said, though unsurely, "Look, this Tal is really a dangerous opponent, Kotov was right."

Given the current advances in chess, especially in our country, it's hard to score such an grand success. To go through a 21-round marathon, through the "fire" of eight International GMs almost unharmed, to overtake them is a great chess feat! It's very hard, almost impossible to get a Grandmaster diploma in our championships. GMs don't like new people joining their "family". They are very strict examiners. But now, a young player was an examiner for them.

Tal is still very young, but we can surely say that another mature and high-class Grandmaster joined the chess family. He plays all his games to win and plays especially strongly against the most serious opponents. Aside from the starting wins, Tal's fights for leadership against GMs Petrosian, Keres and Tolush were very impressive. The win against Tolush gave Tal a ticket into the Grandmaster family. Tolush may consider himself a "godfather" for Tal.

In sports, there's a world-famous short name now: Kuts! The chess world learned another short name: Tal! Not only because Tal won an extremely hard competition. Another thing is important: how brilliant his phenomenal victory was. When chess players in our country and the rest of the world see the Championship games, they'll agree that Mikhail Tal is a bright chess talent. He's not a chess "craftsman" struggling to get a point at all costs, this chess player grabs you by the throat, plays very originally, deeply, boldly and beautifully.

In 1935, the young USSR Champion M. Botvinnik got the first USSR Grandmaster title.

Many years passed. Botvinnik had become a World Champion. Today, Mikhail Tal became a nineteenth USSR Grandmaster. Perhaps those two Mikhails would eventually play a match?