Full name: Mikhail Tal
Born: 9th November 1936
Passed Away: 28 June 1992 (aged 55)
Place of birth: Riga, Latvia
Last Updated: November 21st, 2021
Updated the frequently asked questions about Tal.
Mikhail Tal was born in 1936 and was one of the greatest Soviet Latvian chess players. He was born in Riga, Latvia, and would later be known as “The Magician from Riga” due to his unique and special playing style. It is this approach, which made him a world champion in 1960.
During his illustrious career, Mikhail Tal won numerous games, most notably the world championship in 1960. Tal was never afraid to attack and improvise. His style of play was daring, combinatorial, and was very unpredictable. Mikhail Tal lived and breathed the game of chess. He once said that chess is invaluable and inimitable to him as a poem.
Those who knew him often called him “Misha,” short for Mikhail. His famous nickname “the Magician from Liga” would come up later in his career after winning several games and the world championship. Apart from winning the world championship in 1960, Tal once held the record for the longest unbeaten streak n professional chess history in 95 games. During this famous streak from 23rd October 1973 to 16th October 1974, Tal won 46 games and drew 49 games.
Ding Listen would break this record after going unbeaten in 100 games from 9th August 2017 to 11th November 2018. Besides his memorable career, Tal was also a renowned chess writer. Unfortunately, Tal lost his life in Moscow in 1992 at 55 years old due to deteriorating health and a lifestyle full of smoking and drinking. However, before he left, Tal left an indelible mark on chess through his career, writings, and charming personality.
His autobiography, released in 1975, The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal, is one of his best-selling books.
In his autobiography, Mikhail Tal compared his first game of chess to the case of flu. Most people find this metaphor strange, but Mikhail Tal did not. What he meant to say is that losing his first game did not change anything in his life.
However, things changed, and he was fully immersed in the world of chess after a few victories. Only then did he realize that he had joined the group of people who have caught the chess flu and do not have a natural immunity to this addictive game.
Six years after Tal began participating in youth events, he would go up the ranks from the last to the first board in his team. The rapid progress in the Latvian chess competitions would go on even after he graduated from youth events. His brilliance would later be rewarded in 1953 after winning his first Latvian Championship with a +12-2=5 score.
This victory would later propel him to win the Soviet Championship in 1957 with a +9-2=10 score. The championship included a 22-player field with notable chess players like Viktor Korchnoi, Paul Keres, Tigran Petrosian, and David Bronstein.
He won his second championship one year later. One of his most notable victories came in 1958 when he won the international tournament in Yugoslavia. During this competition, the top six finishers progressed to the Candidates Tournament in 1959 in Yugoslavia.
Tal progressed with one and a half points during the Yugoslavia tournament with a +16-4= 8 score, including a legendary 4/4 against Bobby Fischer. Fischer was 16 years old at that time and would later win the World Championship. He was now ready to square off with Mikhail Botvinnik for the World Championship in 1960.
Tal would later win the 1960 world championship against Botvinnik. He won 32 moves against Botvinnik’s French defense. Mikhail Tal would later admit that they predicted that Botvinnik would use his favorite French defense.
He would later draw the next four games and win the last two of the competition to win the championship. His unpredictability and daringness saw him use the knight sacrifice on the move 21 during game 6.
Tal breathed and lived the game. He once said that chess is an art and was famous for playing several blitz games against novice players for fun. Popularly known as the “The Magician from Riga,” Tal was known for his attacking style of play and unpredictability. He combined power with imagination to win several games and championships. He applied a pragmatic approach in most games and was the rightful heir of Emanuel Lasker.
In most games, Tal sacrificed materials in exchange for the initiative. He would make daring moves that would leave the opponent with no choice but to respond. His move would cause several challenges to his opponents, which even the masters found challenging to solve.
His style of play was clear for everyone to see during the famous world championship against Botvinnik. Tal sacrificed his knight with no compensation during the game, but his daringness would be rewarded later by winning his first world championship match. Botvinnik failed to find the perfect response to Tal’s daring move.
Many players said that his style of play was intimidating. James Eade said Tal was one of the top three chess players that opponents were afraid of facing. However, some players were able to overcome his moves and expose his weakness. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Tal did not have an excellent record against the best players of his time.
Some of the players he struggled to beat were Keres, Korchnoi, Spassky, and Fischer. He only won once against Fischer, and that was when Fischer was 16 years. Tal had never beaten him again. Mikhail Tal adopted a more positional and soothing style of play in his late years. He successfully combined the defense of classical chess with the imagination of his youth.
Mikhail Tal Beats Garry Kasparov in 17 Moves
In 1992 at the Moscow Blitz Tournament, Mikhail Tal took over the world when he beat the number one Chess play in the world, Garry Kasparov in 17 moves.
The game between Tal and Kasparov deserved it’s own section in this page, these are other notable games that should be studied.
6th Game During 1960 Championship
One of Tal’s most notable games is the 6th game during the 1960 Championship. After some opening moves, Tal sacrificed his knight to challenge Botvinnik and all his followers. This move dumfounded Botvinnik, who had no response. Tal won the match with a score of 12 ½. Botvinnik had a score of 8 ½.
Tal and his supporters will never forget the USSR Championship of 1958 in Riga against Boris Spassky. Spassky had to win the game to avoid a playoff for an inter-zonal spot. However, Mikhail Tal held on and turned the table in one of the most complex endgames. Tal later won the game and his second consecutive Soviet title.
Mikhail Tal supporters will never forget the game against Istvan Bilek in 1967 during the King’s Indian Attack in Moscow. Tal won the game after a dangerous counterattack.
For more games, you can see a collection of Mikhail Tal’s games on ChessGames.com.
Mikhail Tal Interviews
This was an interview held in 1988 that’s over an hour long.
Kasparov’s Last Encounter
Here’s an interview that Garry Kasparov had with Mikhail Tal, which would also be the last time they met in person.
Mikhail Tal Books
Mikhail was a published author as well, he wrote one of the best books on Chess that every player should read.
The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal By Mikhail Tal
The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal is a classic amongst the Chess world. Every serious player has this book on their shelf. This book is all about the world’s best attacking world champion the game of Chess has ever seen. He goes into depth on his life, his games, and everything in between.
Mikhail Tal Quotes
Tal had some of the best quotes about Chess that you’ll ever read.
There are a couple of his quotes you’ve already seen throughout this page, here are more of the most memorable.
The cherished dream of every chessplayer is to play a match with the World Champion. But here is the paradox: the closer you come to the realization of this goal, the less you think about it.
— Mikhail Tal
“There are two types of sacrifices: correct ones, and mine.”
― Mikhail Tal
If this quote doesn’t tell you the level of confidence he had over the Chess board, nothing does.
“To play for a draw, at any rate with white, is to some degree a crime against chess.”
― Mikhail Tal
When you’re so good at Chess, you can make and enforce Chess laws.
Frequently Asked Questions
What was Mikhail Tal’s IQ?
Mikhail Tal’s IQ was 175. However this IQ score hasn’t been able to be verified.
How did Mikhail Tal succeed in his chess attacks?
Mikhail was known for his incredibly strategic and aggressive attacks in Chess. There is a quote by Mikhail that sums up what you could describe his playing style to be
You must take your opponent in to a deep dark forest where 2+2=5 and the path leading out is only wide enough for one.
Tal’s strategy was about creating insanely complicated positions on the board, intentionally. H use confusion and chaos as a weapon against his opponent, rather than the usual predictable theory based positions most players play by.
Reason being was because Tal, for some reason, could calculate these positions faster and more thoroughly than other players. Perhaps this is evidence to the validity of his 175 IQ score. Tal also used his intuition in this complex positions that would pay off for him time and time again.
What made this style of play so remarkable and successful was because of the consistency of his victories. Typically if a player played with such a style over a long period of time, wins would be scattered and unstable, however this wasn’t the case for Tal. He would bring out these marvelous attacking patterns seemingly out of the depths of an impossibly complicated position, commonly by using a sacrifice tactic. Hence the reason why he received the nickname, “The Magician from Riga”.
Who defeated Mikhail Tal?
A Latvian Chess Champion named Israel Zilber defeated Mikhail Tal in 1952 and throughout the majority of the 1980s all while Zilber was homeless in Washington Square Park. Despite being homeless, he was known as one of the best players in Washington Square Park and became Latvian Chess Champion in 1958.
I hope you enjoyed reading the Chess player profile of Mikhail Tal, “The Magician from Riga”. If you like learning about the lives of the best Chess players in history, you may also want to read the Chess player profiles of Paul Morphy and Magnus Carlsen.