Mikhail Tal, A Positional Player (Introduction)

Mikhail Tal, A Positional Player (Introduction)


As chess fans, we are fed bits of information that are easy to digest, but might not always be foolproof:

"Tal/Morphy was a tactician"

"Petrosian was a positional player"

The truth is, no player can ascend the heights of chess performance with tactics alone, or with "positional" play alone! It is just not possible.

There ARE personal preferences in a player's character, true. But to be world-class, you must be good at both positional chess and tactical chess, no doubt.

Likewise, if you want to be World Champion, I will dare to say that you MUST play endgames well! It is not enough to play great openings, and t also play the middlegame well. At the highest level, where the opponents are balanced in their skills, the endgame will play a major role!

Today I wish to share with you a few examples of games that challenge the simplistic view that we may have about ANY player!

I am paraphrasing a quote by Spassky, about Petrosian:

" The problem with Petrosian is that you never know when he is going to start playing like Mikhail Tal!"

The following game is an example of this:

Now, the following game gives us a brief glimpse at Petrosian's genius. He was 17 years old when this game was played in 1946. Petrosian had survived the loss of his parents and extreme poverty.

Here we go!

Now, look at this position after White's 12.a3

Now, through the lens of Petrosian's genius, with imagination, cunning and wisdom, we reach the following position:

What a transformation!

Here is another game by Petrosian, against Taimanov in 1955. Please look at the following position- relatively placid after the opening!

and now, see how Petrosian builds an attack!

OK, so much for Petrosian. What about Tal?

Tal has been called "The Magician from Riga". His games are inspiring, full of imagination, fireworks, dazzling tactics and triumphant attacks on the opponent's King.

For example, in this game against Smyslov (who had won a match for the World Championship two years earlier) in the Candidate's Tournament in 1959, the following position occurred in the opening:

As you can see, Tal has chosen to play d3 against the Caro-Kann, which is considered a closed, conservative system. Yet, after playing 2.d3, White played 5. d4!, and obtained this kind of position!

And the character of the game has completely changed, as if by magic! (THE MAGICIAN FROM RIGA!)

Now Smyslov was, at that time, at the peak of his chess career. Smyslov was EXTREMELY HARD TO BEAT! Yet Tal, in this game, made Smyslov look weak! He over-powered Smyslov in a spectacular way! This game is immortal, like a great piece of music! It was played 60 years ago, and it is still a great inspiration to chess lovers!

Yet an aspect of Tal which is not usually explored or talked about is his positional play. In my ignorance, I was not aware of this aspect of Tal's play. A few years ago, I had the good fortune to buy two books by Mikhail Tal. The first one I bought was about his 1960 World Championship Match with Botvinnik, which Tal won!

I recommend this book highly to anyone who wants to both improve and enjoy chess more. Tal's comments are illumining; it is like taking a Master Class with Tal himself!

Now, in this match, the 19th game was a positional masterpiece by Tal. Take a look!

Tal considered this game, the 19th, as his best creative achievement in the match! But I am getting ahead of myself....

The second book by Tal which I bought was "The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal". Again, it is a masterpiece! The book is rich which stories, anecdotes and great comments to many of Tal's games. As in the previous book, Tal's comments are rich in chess content and inspiration.

So, in this book, reading about Tal's rematch with Botvinnik in 1961, I came across a second example of Tal's excellent positional skills. In game 19 of this match, and being down by 5 points, Tal, playing Black, outplayed Botvinnik in a difficult endgame!

Between 2015 and 2017, Tibor Karolyi published a 3-volume set of books about Tal's life and chess games.

Recently I decided, acting on an impulse, to buy all three volumes. They are published by Quality Chess, which is one of the best, if not the best, publishing houses out there. I had become aware of their high quality level when, a few years ago, I purchased the three-volume set of "Judit Polgar Teaches Chess".

You know how sometimes a good book will just fall apart? Well, the Polgar books are almost indestructible, and this 3-volume set on Tal is at the same level.

I had decided, even before I bought the Karolyi books, that I wanted to write a blog about Tal, the positional player, and these books provided me with the material needed!

So I went through all three books, marking the games in which Tal won, not by a direct attack on the opponent's King, but in an endgame! The selection of these games will be the basis for the next three blogs on Mikhail Tal, the positional player.

Until then......