Best Attackers: Mikhail Tal

I started chess pretty late for somebody who has ambition in chess, but once I’d caught the bug I never lost it.

I began as a fan of Paul Morphy whose games were logical, direct and clear in that they gave me beautiful examples of the tactics which I was learning and was ambitious to master.

I had become a fan of this combinative style and moved from Morphy (and Anderssen) onto Alekhine and finally the great Mikhail Tal.

I read in chess books at the time about how Tal would be at the board with a cigarette in his mouth and full of intensity as he glared at his opponents and sacrificed a knight here and his queen there.

He would risk anything to break through to the enemy king and often sacrificed “intuitively” even if he couldn’t prove the soundness of his attack.

Not only are his games worthy of study from a training point of view, but that are beautiful as well.

Let’s me show you some now.

Game 1: Mikhail Tal vs Miroslav Filip

In this game, black makes the mistake of playing too defensively in his already quiet line of the Caro Kann defence and so Tal had the luxury of placing his pieces on their ideal attacking squares (including an exotic development of his bishop on b2).

This allowed him to fire his bishops at the kingside and pretty soon with assistance from the queen and a standard knight sacrifice on f7, a typical Tal attack placed huge pressure on his opponent who couldn’t deal with the pressure and lost quickly. A warning to those who think playing “safely” against tactical players is the answer… It isn’t!

Game 2: Mikhail Tal vs Bukhuti Gurgenidze

In this game, Tal faces a Caro Kann again and again is allowed a position with a space advantage, dangerous bishops and a hovering queen.

On move 16 he plays a nice pawn sacrifice (16.h4!) with the idea of either weakening the kingside or opening the h-file (see my article on attacking with the h-pawn) and within a few moves has the h-file open, his rook on it and is ready to strike.

On move 21 Tal began a series of sacrifices which tore his opponent’s king shelter to pieces and continued with intense pressure until resignation was the only option.

Game 3: Mikhail Tal vs Leonov

You guessed it. Tal faces another Caro Kann (why did people dare to play this opening against him?) and this time responded with a Panov Attack (exchanging pawns followed by c2-c4).

His opponent basically gave him everything he wanted and Tal was able to just play “natural” moves to get a great position, but what I do like (and think is instructive for you guys) is his knight maneuver Na3-c2-e3-g4!

This is instructuve because most beginners would simply play 16.Nd2, but after this move where is the knight’s future?

The f3 square? Not much happening there.

Tal knew that his knight could do most damage from the g4 square, then found the correct route to get there and when it arrived…so did the storm.

His sacrifice/s on the f6 square are particularly nice.

Game 4: Mikhail Tal vs Yrjo A Rantanen

This game is a real masterpiece.

Tal plays a Bb5 line against his opponent’s Sicilian and then plays Nxc6 allowing black to recapture toward the centre with a pawn.

It seems like black should be ok just because of this, but then Tal brings his queen out before completing development which again violates the rules we learn as beginners.

Is this guy really that good?

Of course he is!

He soon finishes development, centralises his pieces and begins to open things up with 19.f4! and by the time he plays 23.Rf7 he has a clear advantage.

This is based on the tremendous activity of his pieces. His queen is dangerously hovering (as usual), his rook is on the 7th rank and his knight is beautifully outposted on d5. Its time for tactics!

The knight sacrifice 24.Nf6!! must have caught black by surprise, but the star move of this game is the beautiful 28.Bh8!! after which black has no escape at all. So easy to miss such an amazing, quiet move when trying to defend.

This game is Tal at his best!

 

So what do you think? Mikhail Tal was a brilliant attacking player, but was he without equal?

Are there other players we would fear to be paired against in a tournament even more than the “Magician from Riga” as he was sometimes called?

Well, you’ll find out next time when I present another of the Best Attackers in history…

This time it’ll be… Alexander Alekhine!