Can Michael Tal get a hippopotamus out of a swamp and still beat GM Vasiukov?


Journalist:   It might be inconvenient to interrupt our profound discussion and
change the subject slightly, but I would like to know whether extraneous,
abstract thoughts ever enter your head while playing a game?

Tal:   Yes. For example, I will never forget my game with GM Vasiukov
<  on a USSR Championship. We
reached a very complicated position where I was intending to sacrifice a knight.
The sacrifice was not obvious; there was a large number of possible variations;
but when I began to study hard and work through them, I found to my horror that
nothing would come of it. Ideas piled up one after another. I would transport a
subtle reply by my opponent, which worked in one case, to another situation
where it would naturally prove to be quite useless. As a result my head became
filled with a completely chaotic pile of all sorts of moves, and the infamous
"tree of variations", from which the chess trainers recommend that you cut off
the small branches, in this case spread with unbelievable rapidity.
And then suddenly, for some reason, I remembered the classic couplet by Korney
Ivanović Chukovsky <> : "Oh, what a
difficult job it was. To drag out of the marsh the hippopotamus".[21]

I do not know from what associations the hippopotamus got into the chess board,
but although the spectators were convinced that I was continuing to study the
position, I, despite my humanitarian education, was trying at this time to work
out: just how WOULD you drag a hippopotamus out of the marsh? I remember how
jacks figured in my thoughts, as well as levers, helicopters, and even a rope
After a lengthy consideration I admitted defeat as an engineer, and thought
spitefully to myself: "Well, just let it drown!" And suddenly the hippopotamus
disappeared. Went right off the chessboard just as he had come on ... of his own
accord! And straightaway the position did not appear to be so complicated. Now I
somehow realized that it was not possible to calculate all the variations, and
that the knight sacrifice was, by its very nature, purely intuitive. And since
it promised an interesting game, I could not refrain from making it.

And the following day, it was with pleasure that I read in the paper how Mikhail
Tal, after carefully thinking over the position for 40 minutes, made an
accurately calculated piece sacrifice.

— Mikhail Tal, The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal.


Stories about Tal always seem much more 'human' than any othe player. Lose it :)


I love that story.


Yeah, I just love Michael Tal. Apparently the OP does too.


Michael Botvinnik fan here.


hippo out of swamp story still has ability to make me laugh so much that Tal left us to enjoy and embrace bye Mischa much loved much missed


That story is amazing


Greatest book on chess ever written, you should check out 'Attack with Mikhail Tal' & his book on the 1960 WC match. Great writer, and what a player.


lets not forget his (Tals) birthday is coming on the 9th of November


"We should never meet our heros".  Reading The World Champions I've Know by Genna Sosonko really took a twist in my appreciation of Tal. I suggest any Tal fans at least be informed. I didn't write it and I didn't like it but you know I kind of believed it given all I'd heard over the years. That's not a happy story. On second thought if you are a big Tal fan, don't read it. 


If you become world champion then your concentration skills can't be to bad,but I kinda agree with you.


I wonder what would happen when Capablanca at his peak meets Tal also at his peak, the 'correct' way of playing chess vs the 'wrong' way. In fact, in some of Tal's games, he often had no significant advantage (when viewed from the Steinitz dogma) and yet he could bring demons out of a seemingly equal positions. All hells break loose when Tal is on board.