Mikhail Tal was a Soviet-Latvian as well as a grandmaster chess player who took the eighth position as a World Champion in the game. His reign was between 1960 and 1961. In his playing years, he was considered as one of the most creative attackers on the chess board. He used brave combinations in his games and everyone could recognize his game by how unpredictable and quite improvised it was. Because of his way of playing he went by two nicknames; The Magician from Riga and Misha which was a shortened form of his name. But we will go with Misha.
As his nickname suggests, he was born in the town of Riga, Latvia and of a Jewish home. As a young boy he always suffered illnesses because of his frail health. However this did not deter his witty mind which had him reading by the age of three. He became one of the few Russians to be able to attend university at only the age of 15. He was first introduced to chess at the age of eigh while watching his father play.
His thirst for chess championship was astonishing especially when he went to a Tournament in his town where he saw the great Mikhail Botvinnick play in 1948. He was only eleven years but young Mikhail Tal did not shy away from challenging the champion to a match. his determination saw him knock at Botvinnick’s door asking for a duel; however it was his wife who dismissed him telling him her husband was taking a rest from playing. So the match he had awaited eagerly did not happen, regardless he continue with his journey of chess.
He secured membership at the Riga Palace of Young Pioneers where he honed his skills on chess more. No one really recognized him at first but he was not going to stop until they realized he was a talented player. Day and night he practices hard to hone his skills and become better. A chess veteran Alexander Koblents noticed the efforts of the young boy and he took the roll of coaching him until his playing started to show some improvements.
It wasn’t long before the aggressive young chess player qualified to play at the Latvian Championship for chess. By 1952, he had played successfully at the championship and finished ahead of his very trainer Alexander. His first sweet victory at the Latvian Championship was in 1953 and he immediately won the Candidate master position.
Mikhail Tal was unstoppable on the chess board and his career had already kick started at a very early age. He continued playing more tournaments, practicing more on his skills and it wasn’t long before he was crowned the Soviet Master after beating Vladimir Saigin, Vasyl Smylsov’s coach, in a qualifier’s match. The same year more victory was realized; he won a Grandmaster championship when the veteran chess player Yuri Averbakh lost in a draw.
As he became better and more confident in how he played, he did not forget his education as a young man as well. He went back to school and graduated with a degree in literature at the University of Riga. Through this degree he wrote several thesis’s on the works of famous chess players like Petrov. He also took a part time job of teaching in Riga. He then registered himself with the Duagava Sports society and as a member represented his home town Latvia in the Tournaments that involved Soviet teams.
His road to victory became global when he started eyeing the Soviet Championship. In 1956 he was privileged to qualify for the USSR Chess Championship. In the tournament his prowess was once again witnessed and he managed to secure the 5th position. This added to his determination and by the next year, he scooped the first position while only at the age of 20 years.
Mikhai Tal was a force to reckon in the Soviet chess tournaments. He just needed more matches internationally so that he could achieve the rank of Grandmaster. But he was lucky in 1957 when the governing board for Soviet Chess Tournaments, FIDE, decided to revise the rules a bit. Because of his remarkable win at the Soviet Championship, FIDE agreed to award him the Grandmaster title; the argument was that he had defeated most of the talented players at the Soviet Union chess, which was the hall mark of all chess championships.
It was time for the hot blooded Russian chess player to win some medals and he did so when he played the USSR Student Olympiad in the years 1956 through 1958. He won team and board gold medals for his team and overall 119 games, 8 draws and no lost. He came out with a strong percentage of 85.2 which may not have been higher than his preceding World Chess Champions but deserved a pat on the back given his young age.
By 1959, Mikhail Tal was ready to face the ‘who is who’ of the world champion chess. After winning strongly in a Zurich Tournament, he proceeded to play the Candidate Tournament in Yugoslavia which he showed a superior win by garnering 20 out of 28 points. He had gone way ahead of most of the champions then among them Paul Keres, Tigran Petrosian, Svetozar Gligoric and Bobby Fisher to mention a few. He only had one trick to winning these games; he always made sure he was dominating the lower halves of the field.
Soon the day of reckoning happened in 1960 when he was summoned to a challenge against Mikhai Botvinnick. The match was held in Moscow and was quite an aggressive one at that. But as we guessed it, he emerged the victor with a close shave of 12 ½ to an 8 ½. He became the youngest player in World Chess Championship to defeat a veteran who had hold onto the crown for long. But as Botvinnick always loved, he summoned a rematch in 1961 in which he had improved on his form and took the title back.
Mikhail Tal goes down in history as the eight best world chess player.