Studying the best chess players in history is a habit amongst the top players. The more you know about that, the more you can model and learn from to apply to your own life and Chess. The Soviet Latvian Grandmaster known as the greatest tactical player of all time, Mikhail Tal is one of the best Chess players of all time and will be known as one of the greatest players in the history of Chess.
Here’s 12 interesting facts about Mikhail Tal, one of which being 8th World Champion in 1960. But we’ll discuss more about that at fact number 12.
12 Interesting Facts About Mikhail Tal
1. Rise of a Chess Legend
Tal was born in 1936 to a Jewish family from Riga, the Republic of Latvia. Tal started learning the game of Chess at the tender age of 8 from watching his father play, who was a doctor and medical researcher.
Not long after learning to play, Tal joined the Riga Palace for Young Pioneers Chess Club in Latvia. Tal didn’t instantly read a 2000 ELO like one would think he did, he struggled like any other chess beginner. The difference however, was that Tal quickly learned how to get better at Chess and started surpassing other students.
A few short years later in 1949, a man by the name of Alexander Koblents began tutoring Tal. This led Tal to qualifying for the Latvian Championship in 1951. The following Latvian Championship in 1952, Tal placed ahead of his trainer.
2. Learned to Read By Age 3
He excelled so quickly in school that he was approved to start university at just 15 years of age.
3. There’s a New Kid in Town
In 1959, Tal made his presence known in the Chess world in 1959 when he won one of the most famous Chess simultaneous exhibitions in the history of chess. Winning a Chess simul isn’t an accomplishment that will turn the heads of the top players around the globe, as many Chess players have accomplished this. But what did turn every head was the fact that one of Tal’s opponents was a master Chess player by the name of Ratmir Kholmov. Oh, and Tal was also just 12 years old at the time.
Note: Most references about this state that Tal was 13 years old, this isn’t accurate, Tal was in fact 12 years old.
Below is the game in the sumul between Tal and the master player. Tal played one of the best openings for Black where he won using an incredible tactical combination to win.
Notable: Tal played the Botvinnik variation of the Slav Defense which is the variation named after the very player Tal would then defeat in 1960 at the World Championship making him the 8th World Champion. More on this at number 8. If that doesn’t foreshadow the rise and reign of Mikhail Tal’s dominance in the world of Chess, I don’t know what does.
4. The Best Around
Tal has defeated nearly every Grandmaster you could name during his era. Some of which were witnessed in 1959 when Tal played in a tournament in 1959 called the XYZ where he was 20 out of 28 points. These names include Paul Benko, the legendary Bobby Fischer who was 16 at the time,
5. What Doesn’t End in Stalemate Makes You Stronger
When witnessing a wizard over the Chess board, you wouldn’t think about him also having to suffer through chronic health issues. After all, how could you study and practice all day every day when you’re suffering? In 1962, Tal faced a life threatening health issue and had to go through major surgery.
After recovering, it wasn’t long until he faced yet again, another serious illness resulting in Tal having to lose one of his kidneys. Despite these health complications, Tal didn’t let any of this slow him down. Tal went on to win the Riga Interzonal in 1979 with a dominating score of 14 out of 17 points and also competed in the Montpellier Candidates’ Tournament in 1985 consisting of a 16 qualifier round-robin finishing in a tie between 4th and 5th places.
6. Go Ahead, Take It… I Dare You
Naturally, Tal frequently played many gambits in various chess openings of the Belgrade Gambit and played it frequently.
7. Greatest Tactical Player of All Time
Tal frequently astonished the spectators as well as his opponents with seemingly impossible attacking combinations and tactics leading him to become the 8th World Chess Champion.
When you’re exceptional at one thing, you tend to get everyone who is a fan of said thing talking about you. When this happens, you’re bound to receive a nickname or two. Tal earned many nicknames over the course of his triumph. Tal was called “Misha”, which is a diminutive for Mikhail. The most popular nickname Tal received was “The Magician from Riga”.
10. Sacrifices For The Greater Good
Being known as the great attacking player of all time, do you think you’ll see some interesting tactics regularly in his games? You bet your last pawn you can. Tal has won countless matches from implementing jaw-dropping Queen sacrifices that would lead to an advantage over the board.
11. A God Amongst Men
In 1980 at the age of 44, Mikhail Tal had the highest rating in the world reaching his peak ELO rating of 2705. A 2705 ELO back then was unheard of. If Tal was alive today and had a FIDE rating of 2705, he would be one of the few players on the list of Chess Super Grandmasters.
12. 8th World Champion
In 1960, Mikhail Tal faced Mikhail Botvinnik in the World Championship match in Moscow. Tal defeated Botvinnik and at the age of 23, became the 8th World Champion.