The First and Last Game of Mikhail Tal

The First and Last Game of Mikhail Tal

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No chess player in the world does not know or never has heard about Tal. Tal is genuinely famous for the absurd and miraculous queen sacrifice that he made out of nowhere. He had such a unique style of playing the game that at that time it was quite remarkable and to some extent, revolutionary. It had changed people’s perspectives. In this modern era, many people are attracted to the game only because somewhere they came across Tal’s game or seen his signature move which is the queen's sacrifice.  


(Photographer: Kroon, Ron / Anefo, Date: January 10, 1968.)

Mikhail Nekhemyevich Tal was a Soviet Latvian Chess player and the eighth world chess champion. He was born on November 9, 1936. He is considered a creative genius, thus called ‘The Magician from Riga’. Total unpredictable for the opponents, it has been said that ‘Every game for him was as inimitable and invaluable as a poem.’ 

He previously held the record for the longest unbeaten streak in competitive chess history with 95 games (46 wins, 49 draws) between 23 October 1973 and 16 October 1974, until Ding Liren's streak of 100 games (29 wins, 71 draws) between 9 August 2017 and 11 November 2018.

Note: Ding Liren’s Record was later broken by Sergei Tiviakov (110 games), and later Carlsen broke Tiviakov’s record (125 games).


Mikhail Tal’s first recorded game

 Tal’s first recorded game was with Ratmir Dmitrievich Kholmov. He was a Russian chess grandmaster. There is not must story about him on the internet, but it is written that he was one of the strongest Soviet chess players from the mid-1950s to 1970s, and according to he was ranked as high as No. 8 in the world from august 1960 to March 1961. He died on 18 February 2006. Till his last breath, he stayed active in competitive chess and maintained a high standard.

(Ratmir Holmov. The photo was taken in Kaunas photo studio, Photographer: Unknown)

Tal’s game with Ratmir Kholmov was actually in a simul in 1949 at Riga. He was only 13 years old then, and Kholmov was 24, the double of his age.

A twelve-year-old boy playing Botvinnik variation against master and surviving is already amazing. But Tal's ability to spot tiny errors and win from them in such complications was even more impressive.

Note: Kholmov scored one of the best results of his career with a tied 1st–2nd, along with Smyslov, at the Moscow International 1960 with 8½/11. The same year FIDE awarded him the Grandmaster (GM) title. In 1957, Tal became the youngest player to win the USSR championship at the age of 20. But he had not played in enough international tournaments to earn the title of Grandmaster. Nonetheless, FIDE decided at its 1957 congress to waive the normal restrictions and awarded him the title because of his achievement in winning the Soviet Championship.

(Photographer: Pot, Harry / Anefo, Date: 26 May 1964)


(1959 Fischer and Tal in Zurich, Image Credit:, Photographer not found)

There are so many articles/books/stories about Mikhail Tal. He wrote a couple of books too, his literary skill was quite impressive. Why not? Tal graduated from the University of Latvia, wrote a thesis on the satirical works of Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov (two Soviet prose authors of the 1920s and 1930s. They did much of their writing together, and are almost always referred to as "Ilf and Petrov".)

Front Cover of Tal’s ‘The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal’, image: GoodReads

So far we have seen Tal’s first-ever recorded game. Now let’s see his last ever game.

Tal’s last tournament was in Spain, in April/May 1992, in Barcelona. At that time, his health was deteriorating quickly. His hospital visits were regular before, after, and even during tournaments. Tal used to drink a lot, even the organizer had to take all the alcohol from Tal’s minibar but they couldn’t stop him. He would go and buy from the supermarkets. In that regard, Frederic Friedel commented on ChessBase: “The most time I spent with Misha Tal was in 1988 when he played in the World Blitz Championship in [Saint John], Canada. He won that event ahead of the best players in the world and, I'm sure he would not be angry that I mention this, in an inebriated state. I had to help him to reach his table for one of the rounds after he had imbibed a stiff quicky at the hotel bar. Some years later when I chided him for reckless disregard of his health – I had quit smoking and strongly advocated that he do the same – he smiled broadly and said, "Ah, but is life worth living if you have to worry about so many things?” 

Tal’s last game in his life was with Vladimir Akopian.

Image By: Andreas Kontokanis

“Armenian Grandmaster Vladimir Akopian is a man of immense chess talent. Born in Baku (like Kasparov) in 1971, the first few years of his chess career convinced everyone that he was special. He won the World under-16 championships, then under-18 and also under-20. In 1995, playing for club "Yerevan", he became European Club Cup champion. Two-time champion of Armenia, four-time winner of Russian Team Championships. He also was part of the Armenian team that won the gold medal at three Olympiads — Turin 2006, Dresden 2008, and Istanbul 2012. His team won the gold at the World Team Championships in 2011. He very nearly became the FIDE World Champion in 1999 when he reached the finals but lost to Alexander Khalifman.” (Sagar Shah, Chessbase India, November 21, 2019)

Again, the quality of Tal’s health in the tournament was not up to the mark. With white pieces, he offered a draw to Akopian in just move 3! But Akopian, the beast of Baku wanted to play more. He rejected. But Tal played HIS game and won.

 Tal vs Akopian: “The King Returns Home”

Read Alopian's blog about this game HERE.

Tournament Result

 Some Interesting Facts about Tal

  • Youngest World Champion until Kasparov.
  • Played in 8 Olympiads, 5 Best Board Results, 3 times Absolute Best Score.
  • 6 times USSR Champion.
  • Lost only once to Kasparov & once to Karpov.
  • A countback of ELO ratings revealed that Tal's rating during his peak around 1960 would be 7th in the all-time rankings with 2700 behind Fischer, Kasparov, Capablanca, Botvinnik, Lasker, & Karpov. In fact in 1979 following his wins in Montreal & Riga, he went up to 2710.
  • 3rd in 1985 Interzonal thus qualifying for the Candidates at 49
  • Only 3 men played in both USSR-Rest of the World matches - Tal, Larsen, & Polugaevsky.
  • Kasparov won the World Championship, taking Tal's place as the youngest ever, on November 9th - Tal's birthday. A fact that Tal reminded him of in a phone call the previous day, wishing him well for the final game.


If Tal was alive today, it would be his 85th birthday (On November 9). Happy Birthday!

Read 12 Chess Memes That Will Make You Laugh! (ft. Mikhail Tal)

This article (same author) was first published in ChessBase India.