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The Magician from Riga
October 9, 2009 12:11 PM   Subscribe

To play for a draw, at any rate with White, is to some degree a crime against chess. A Latvian Jew with ectrodactyly and lifelong kidney ailments, Mikhail Tal is considered one of the most audacious attacking players in the game's history. For a quarter century, he held the record of being the youngest man to win the World Championship. And his streak of 95 consecutive games without a loss is unmatched to this day.

Tal first came to international attention at age 19 with this jaw-dropping (Google cache) performance in his first USSR Championship - which he would win the following year.

This post is dedicated to one of Tal's legions of admirers - Father Beese, who would have been 75 today.
posted by Joe Beese (14 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
There is something supremely joyful in people who both become indisputable masters in their fields through extremely nontraditional means, and who have a sense of humor about it, too. Great post, and I've only read the third and fourth links so far.
posted by Damn That Television at 12:45 PM on October 9, 2009


My favorite part of reading about chess at this level is the amount of incongruity between the excitement of the text at the daring moves and my own ignorance of why they are daring.

Great post. If you can dig up actual video of Mr. Tal playing as well, I would very much enjoy that.
posted by lazaruslong at 12:46 PM on October 9, 2009


Great Post. As a bonus, I learned that there is a tribe of ostrich people living in Zimbabwe!
posted by mannequito at 1:03 PM on October 9, 2009


Tal's games are so much fun because he never played to maximize his chances of winning or drawing -- he played to maximize his fun. And he was talented enough to win anyway. Imagine Bobby Fischer without the pathological competitiveness. Today where the field of players is so much deeper and more talented, nobody could play like that and get away with it and I think that's a crying shame.
posted by callmejay at 1:03 PM on October 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


Mikhail Tal vs Bobby Fischer - it's a short clip, focused on the players faces, and with two layers of announcer vocals, but the emotions on their faces is interesting.

Another clip including some similar footage, but focusing on Bobby Fischer.

Most of the video results for "Mikhail Tal" are re-enactments of various games, but search for the various spellings, and you get a bit more: Tal, 33, playing multiple people, and a few more odd clips from a YouTube user (SzachowyZapiecek).
posted by filthy light thief at 1:13 PM on October 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Maybe I'm dumb today, but I don't really get why 15.Rb1!! in the Tal-Simagin game is such a big deal.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:21 PM on October 9, 2009


Maybe I'm dumb today, but I don't really get why 15.Rb1!! in the Tal-Simagin game is such a big deal.

1) It gives away a rook. Of course he does get some material back three moves later, but 2) even then he just has a queen vs rook, knight, and bishop, so he's actually still down material, so he had to see that his attack is still unstoppable.
posted by dfan at 1:28 PM on October 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Tal's games are so much fun because he never played to maximize his chances of winning or drawing -- he played to maximize his fun.

I would not say this is actually true, although I know what you mean. I don't think you can become World Champion with that sort of attitude - you really have to make the most of your opportunities. It is true that he often played to maximize his practical chances rather than his theoretical chances.
posted by dfan at 1:32 PM on October 9, 2009


It gives away a rook. Of course he does get some material back three moves later, but 2) even then he just has a queen vs rook, knight, and bishop, so he's actually still down material, so he had to see that his attack is still unstoppable.

I guess that's the thing - is it that Tal's attack is unstoppable or that Simagin's response is mediocre? How would a modern GM respond? Then again, I'm second-guessing both Tal and the post-game analysis of GMs so what the hell do I know?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:54 PM on October 9, 2009


Can someone explain what's going on in the Tal v. Simagin match? Black gets a queen for a rook, and I suppose that Pawn can promote to Queen, but Black can immediately put White King in check, and it looks like he can chase it around for a decent amount. What am I missing?
posted by effugas at 2:34 PM on October 9, 2009


Black gets a queen for a rook

Actually, Black gets a pawn for a rook, since White's next move is to promote a pawn to Queen. At that point, White has a queen and 4 pawns, vs. Black's rook and 2 pawns. Black cannot put White in check in the next move; remember that Black must play Re3 and therefore the rook has no move to check. Further, Black's pawn in c6 is unprotected and quickly lost, increasing the arrears to Q+4p vs. R+p. There's really nothing Black can do at this point.

Here's the match at chessgames.com, which will allow you to try out moves past resignation. It's quickly obvious that Black is doomed.
posted by Errant at 3:13 PM on October 9, 2009


callmejay: "Imagine Bobby Fischer without the pathological competitiveness."

Imagine Bobby Fischer as the most universally liked man in the game. Genius and affability are seldom found together.

I'm sure that's why Dad - to whom sportsmanship figured large in judging a man's character - esteemed Tal above all other players.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:27 PM on October 9, 2009


A wonderful thread. Thanks JB.
posted by JHarris at 1:42 AM on October 10, 2009


Errant,

Black can take the queen with his king, and then put the white king into check. Having messed with this though, it doesn't seem like he can chase down that king with effectively just a rook.
posted by effugas at 12:32 PM on October 10, 2009


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