The Innovation of Mikhail Tal

The Innovation of Mikhail Tal

Jan 15, 2017, 4:48 PM |

Widely regarded as the greatest attacking player ever, Mikhail Tal was known for his unpredictability and daring style at the board.  Tal made his mark on the chess world through pure ingenuity and innovation, and was a pioneer to the game not seen before or since.

Mikhail bewildered opponents with his trademark stare, along with his ingenious positional piece sacrifices.  He developed intricate and ruthless attacks that haven't been replicated in their entirety.  Tal's games are studied extensively to this day, as his games are the most featured in the world's most popular chess books.

But we could talk about his creativity and innovation all day, but that does him no justice.  Let's take a look at a few of his games.

One of my favorite games of Tal, he showcases his willingness to play borderline recklessly, while still playing a vicious attack on an inferior opponent.  The Latvian former World Champion played two piece sacrifices in three on moves 9 and 11, which set up a forced mating combination which included another piece sacrifice on move 13.  I know, it's a mouthful.

But his devastating sacrifices weren't limited to just minor pieces.  Here's one of my favorite #TalTactics against an unknown NM in 1973.  "You take my queen, I take your king".


And unlike most top GMs today (no shot at them), Tal never turned to a more solid, tentative style of chess when against the top players.  At the ripe age of 23, Tal took part in the World Championship match against Mikhail Botvinnik.  Botvinnik had never played, nor studied the young man before, which allowed Tal to rip him to shreds in complex tactical brawls.  He became World Champion with relative ease, becoming the youngest to ever to claim the title at the time of his win, a record eclipsed by only Garry Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen.

But after a year of studying Tal's style, Botvinnik was able to handily beat the young Latvian. By avoiding the tactical haymakers, Botvinnik was able to direct the games towards slow and drawn out endgames, Tal's kryptonite.  But that's bound to happen when you make a career off embarrassing acclaimed masters with devastating tactics.

Due to a combination of poor health and increased competition, Mikhail never qualified to play for the World Championship again.  Though he captured a plethora of awards through the rest of his life. he'll be best known for how he played.  He's rightfully honored with the Mikhail Tal Memorial every fall, where top GMs come to compete.

A pioneer and player unlike we've ever seen, Tal's poetic games deserve to be studied until the end of time, and the man behind the masterpieces should never be forgotten.