The Wonderful Mikhail Tal

“Why did he play like he did, and why did he win? Of course, it is easy to
hide behind the words talent or genius. Tolush, after losing the game of his
life in his best tournament in 1957, said to Spassky: ‘You know, Borya, to-
day I lost to a genius.” At the Interzonal tournament in Taxco, another
strong grandmaster said to me without any flattery: ‘We are none of us
worth Misha’s little finger.” And Petrosian himself, who was sparing in his
praise, said that in chess he knew only one living genius.

But that is not the point, or, at least, not the only point. I am reluctant to
follow Kortchnoi. When I asked him about the secret of Tal’s play he re-
torted: ‘Well, you know, don’t you? Once in a restaurant Tal said to me: ‘If
you want, I’ll look at that waiter, and he will come up to us.” * Pal Benko
thought similarly when he put on dark glasses at the 1959 candidates tour-
nament as an inadequate defence against Tal’s piercing eyes. Still, the fact
that his entire appearance, especially in his younger years, radiated some
kind of aura — this is certain. Here we have approached the mystery, as I
see it, of the Mikhail Tal phenomenon.

That face bent over the board, that stare of burning eyes, penetrating the
board and the opponent, those moving lips, that smile which appeared on
his inspired face when a combination had been found, that intense concen-
tration of thought, pressure of thought rather — all this created something
that the weak of spirit could not withstand. And when this spirit was com-
bined with the energy of youth in the late fifties and early sixties, he was
invincible. “You, Mishik’, the late Leonid Stein said to him in Riga in 1969
‘are stronger in spirit than all of us.” He was strong in spirit, like no one…”

From Russian Silhouettes by Genna Sosonko. It’s a wonderful book!

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments