Tal Destroys Botvinnik's French Defense!

Tal Destroys Botvinnik's French Defense!


After winning the 1959 Candidates' Tournament in Bled, Yugoslavia, Tal was asked what would be his opening move if he got White on the first game of his upcoming World Championship Match with Botvinnik.

Tal replied that he would open with 1.e4. As it turns out, he did get the White pieces and opened with 1.e4. and he won!

Now, one thing I just learned about the Tal-Botvinnik rivalry. Their lifetime record against each other is 12 to 12, with 20 draws! For some reason, I always thought that Botvinnik had a plus-score against Tal!

Tal....where do I start? Some players said that he was an alien, meaning he was like from another world. For one thing, he was kind and generous, and respected all players, no matter what their strength was.

Botvinnik had the habit of motivating himself by hating his opponents in upcoming matches. But he could not do that with Tal. There is a quote by Botvinnik, when he realised he could not hate Tal (and I paraphrase):  "Isn't this wonderful? To be loved by everybody?"

Tal brought to chess an element of excitement which had not been seen in decades! Since the 1930's, chess had become a symbol of supremacy for the Soviet State and for communism in general. It was used as a tool to demonstrate intellectual superiority.

By the 1950's, the technical aspect of chess in the Soviet Union had reached a very high level. Botvinnik and Smyslov had contested three World Championship matches in the 50's.

In 1954 the match ended in a draw. In 1957 Smyslov won, and in t 1958 Botvinnik reclaimed his title. Their chess was one of very high technical virtuosity, no doubt. But what about the chess fans? They wanted exciting, attacking chess! Chess fans have always loved the extraordinary combination or sacrifice, the attack that triumphs over any obstacles, the beautiful, unexpected moves that bring us so much joy, and are able to enrich our memory of great chess games!

In the 1959 Candidates' Tournament, the following game created quite a stir! Tal made Smyslov look silly! Now, this is just one year after Smyslov's third CONSECUTIVE

World Championship match!

Smyslov was famous for being a solid player. Tal dispelled that myth!


Now, Botvinnik and Fischer have a few things in common, but today I will point to one that stands out to me: both Botvinnik and Fischer are "scientists" of the game. Both have incredible logical strength; once they have an advantage, or a logical plan to follow, they were ruthless!

Their weakness? Chaotic positions. As in tennis, one of the things that great players do is to hide their weaknesses, so that, although they exist, either you cannot see them, or you are unable to exploit them, because they force you to focus on other things!

The first Tal-Botvinnik game featured here is the first game of their 1960 World Championship match. Tal won in convincing style, but what caught my attention was the type of position that occurred in the game!

Now this is a very unusual position, to say the least!

Tal won the 1960 match by the score of 12 1/2- 8 1/2. 

In 1961 Botvinnik won the return match by the score of 13-8. Nevertheless, Tal was able to produce some amazing games. The only French Defense in the match was the 12th, and Tal won it! Again, an unusual position arises....Tal's magic!

Tal was incredible...he could make Smyslov and Botvinnik look silly!

P.S.- The game that inspired this article was the following one, which was the last game between these two opponents, and also the game that leveled their lifetime score. The opening was a Panov attack against Botvinnik's Caro-Kann. But again, Tal manages to get the type of position we saw in the two French Defense games.