I met Mikhail Tal in 1990 at the Kasparov-Karpov world championship match in New York in which I was a journalist for a few chess magazines.† I also met him in March 1991 in San Francisco and interviewed him during the Pan-Pacific GM chess tournament that he was playing in and I was operating the demo board.† He would give me his papers, some magazines, and a few items to protect while he went to get a smoke (he smoked several packs a day), or after his round, a drink (usually vodka or a rum and coke).† Over the years I followed his career until he died in 1992.† Here are some Tal trivia about that great man.
Mikhail (Misha) Nekhemievich Tal (born Mihails Tals) was born in Riga, Latvia (then an independent country), on November 9, 1936.
Tal is a Hebrew name meaning dew.
Tal had an older brother, Yakov, who played chess.† He became a medical doctor.
Mikhail Tal learned chess at the age of 6.† His father, Dr. Nechemia Tal, a medical doctor, taught him the moves.† He also played chess with his fatherís patients in the waiting room.
Talís mother was Ida Grigorievna Tal, who died in 1979.† She and Mikhailís father were cousins.
From his early days, Tal had brilliant mathematical ability, an exceptional memory, and perfect musical ear.
Tal took chess seriously at the age of 9 after losing a game of chess in 4 moves (1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Bc5 3.Qh5 Na6 4.Qxf7 mate) to his cousin in 1945.†
In 1947, Tal wanted to join a drama group at the Riga Palace of Pioneers.† As he walked in the building he saw a sign on one of the doorsĒ ĎChess Section.í† He went into that room and stayed, later joining the chess club.
Talís first chess teacher was Janis Kruzkops (1912-1960).† He gave Tal chess lessons for several months.
In 1949, Tal was coached by one of Rigaís top masters, Alexander Koblents (1916-1993).
In 1949, at age 12, he defeated International Master (and later grandmaster) Ratmir Kholmov (1925-2006), who was giving a simultaneous exhibition in Riga.
Talís first chess prize was a book, Aleksei Tolstoyís Peter the First.† It was a prize for the most interesting game at a Pioneersí chess tournament.
Talís first serious tournament was the Riga Youth Championship in 1949.† He started out well with 3 wins, but then had to go to the hospital for scarlet fever and did not finish the tournament.
Tal only lost one game on time in his entire life, when he was 12.
Tal finished high school at age 15 and applied to law school, but later entered the Philological Faculty at Riga University because he loved literature more than law and the sciences would interfere with chess.
In 1953, Tal won the Latvian championship at the age of 16 and became a Candidate Master.
In 1954, Tal became a master after defeating fellow candidate master Vladimir Saigin (born in 1917) in a qualifying match.† It was Talís first chess match.† Tal won 8-6 to become a master.
Tal was a soccer goalkeeper at the University of Riga where he studied Russian language and literature.† Tal graduated in Literature from the University of Riga, writing his thesis on the satirical works of Ilf and Petrov.
In 1954, Tal defeated his first grandmaster in a tournament, USSR champion Yuri Averbakh (born in 1922 and currently the oldest living grandmaster), when Averbakh lost on time in a drawn position.
In 1957, Tal won the 24th USSR championship and was awarded the Grandmaster title by FIDE as they waived the normal restrictions of norms and an IM title.† He became a grandmaster without being an International Master first.† He was the youngest player to win the Soviet championship at age 20.
In 1958, Tal has the best individual score at the Chess Olympiad in Munich, winning a gold medal on board 1.† He won 12 games, drew 3, and lost none for a 90% score.
In 1959, just after winning the Candidates tournament in Yugoslavia, his first words were ďMy head is filled with sunshine.Ē
In 1959, he married his first wife Sally Landau.† They were divorced in 1970.† Talís second marriage did not last long.† His third wife was Angelina Petukhov, who worked in the Riga Shakhmaty magazine editing the correspondence play section.
In 1960, Tal won the 8th official world championship after defeating Mikhail Botvinnnik with 6 wins, 13 draws, and 2 losses.† He became the youngest world champion at age213 up to that time.† In 1985, Garry Kasparov beat his record by becoming world champion at age 22.
The world championship match with Botvinnik in 1960 was only Talís second match he ever played up to that time.† His first match was in 1954 to qualify for the master title.
In 1961, Tal was beaten in the world championship by Botvinnik in a return match (held from March 15 to May 12, 1961), winning 5 games, drawing 6 games, and losing 10 games.† He had been world champion for 1 year and 5 days, the briefest reign of any world chess champion.
In the 1960s, Tal said there wouldnít be a grandmaster computer chess program for 100 years.
Tal was editor of the Latvian chess magazine, Sahs (Chess), from 1960 to 1970.
In 1962, Tal began play in the Curacao Candidates tournament, but had to withdraw because of kidney trouble.† Of the players in the event, only Bobby Fischer visited him while he was in the hospital.
When asked by Mikhail Botvinnik why he sacrificed a pawn, Tal responded, ďBecause it disturbed me.
Mikhail Talís first son was Gera, who became a dentist and moved to Israel.
Talís daughter from is third wife was named Zhanna, born in 1975.
On winning the world chess championship, Tal was given a car.† But he never learned to drive in his whole life and gave the car to his brother.
Tal never learned how to tie a tie.
Tal never wore a watch.
Tal only had three fingers on his right hand (2 fingers were fused).† I shook his hand but couldnít tell the difference
Tal liked to play the piano (despite his 3 fingers on his right hand) and was a fan of classical music.
Tal had about 20 operations due to his bad kidneys and other health issues.
In 1966, Tal was hit with a bottle at a bar in Havana and had to have several stitches in his head.† A jealous boyfriend hit him with a bottle when Tal was flirting with the manís girlfriend.† Tal missed the first 5 rounds of the 1966 Chess Olympiad in Havana.†
In chess Olympiad play, Tal won 59 games, drew 32 games, and only lost 2 games.
In 1969, Tal had one of his kidneys removed.† The doctors reported that Tal talked chess until the anesthesia mask was strapped on.† During his convalescence, he would sneak out of the hospital to play at the local chess club.
In the early 1970s, Tal was addicted to morphine.† During a lecture, some asked him if he was a morphinist.† Tal responded that he was a Chigorinist.
Just before the Candidates match with Fischer in 1971, Taimanov played a training match with Tal.† Tal won all 5 games.
From October 1973 to October 1974, Tal played 95 games in international competition without defeat.† He had won 46 games and drew 49 games in master play.† This is the longest unbeaten streak in modern chess history.
At a tournament in Poland in 1974, Tal was playing White against Adamski with both players in time trouble.† Adamski's flag fell but Tal lost a piece and resigned.† At that moment, Tal's wife said, "Black has not yet made 40 moves."† A referee intervened and awarded the win to Tal since the flag falling happened before Tal resigned.† Adamski appealed but his protest was rejected.† Tal won the tournament.
Tal never carried a wallet.
Tal always wrote down his move on his scoresheet before he made it.
To prevent defection, Talís wife or children were not allowed to travel outside the USSR.† In 1979, Talís wife was allowed to go to Canada with him, but his child had to stay in the USSR.
In 1988, he won his last world title by becoming World Rapids Champion, topping Kasparov and Karpov at St. John, Canada.
In 1988, he was asked if there was anything in his life he would like to change.† Tal replied, ďWell, maybe I would have postponed my return match with Botvinnik.Ē
After the dissolution of the USSR, Talís house in Riga was given back to its former owner and Tal and his family moved to Germany.
Talís last major tournament was in Barcelona in May, 1992.† His last tournament game was against GM Vladimir Akopian.† Tal won.
Talís last tournament was a blitz tournament in Moscow, played on May 28, 1992.† He beat Kasparov (Talís last game of chess) and took 3rd place, behind Karpov and Bareev.
Mikhail Tal died of kidney failure on June 28, 1992 in a Moscow hospital.† He was 55.
Tal was buried in Riga in a Jewish cemetery.† A chess set was placed in his coffin.
Talís highest Elo rating was 2705 in January 1980.
Tal won the USSR championship 6 times (1957, 1958, 1967, 1972, 1974, 1978) and played in 21 Soviet championships.
Tal played Karpov 20 times, with 19 draws and one loss (Bugojno, 1980).
Tal was fluent in Russian, English, German, Spanish, and Serbian.
Here is one of Talís shortest games.