By Frank “Boy” Pestaño
TAL (Nov. 9 1936 to June 28 1992) was a Soviet-Latvian chess player and the eighth World Chess Champion. He was often called “Misha” (a diminutive for Mikhail) and also “The magician from Riga” for his daring combinational style.
Many authorities consider him to have been the greatest attacking player of all time.
Tal’s heyday was when he beat Bobby Fischer, 4-0, during the candidates matches in Yugoslavia in 1959.
He was awarded a GM title without having been an IM first. The other one I know of was our Rosendo Balinas, who was the second foreigner, after Capablanca, to win a major tournament in Russia.
In the 1966 Havana Olympiad, Tal was hit in the head with a bottle and beaten up because he was flirting with someone’s wife. He was taken to the hospital and missed five rounds.
Tal suffered from bad health, and had to be hospitalized frequently throughout his career, mainly for kidney problems.
Eventually one of his diseased kidneys was removed. Tal was a chain smoker and a heavy drinker. He was also briefly addicted to morphine.
Tal died in a Moscow hospital, officially of kidney failure. But his friend and fellow Soviet grandmaster Genna Sosonko reported that “in reality, all his organs had stopped functioning.”
Whenever Tal would be in the hospital, he kept on escaping and can be found in the local chess club playing all day long.
Tal loved the game in itself and considered that “Chess, first of all, is Art.” He was capable of playing numerous blitz games against unknown or relatively weak players purely for the joy of play.
Tal was the briefest world champion reigning for 1 year and 5 days. The longest reign is held by Emanuel Lasker for 26 years and 337 days.
He was born with only three oversized fingers on his right hand but that did not stop him from playing the piano—Tchaikovsky, Chopin and Rachmaninov were his favorite composers. Musicians and painters, not chess players, were his closest friends.
Before Tal went to school, he was already able to multiply three-figure digits in his head and was allowed to skip two years in a row.
He was completely oblivious to material things. When he became champion he was given the best Soviet car at that time ,a Volga, but he never even considered to get a driving license and gave the car to his brother.
When he was asked if he was a morphine addict, he replied “Oh no, I am a Chigorin addict.” Chigorin was a famous Russian grandmaster.
In 1974 in a tournament in Poland, he was playing 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.” The arbiter intervened and awarded the win to Tal, who went on to win the tournament.
While strolling in Moscow, he was approached by a young girl if she could talk to him for a moment. He was so embarrassed because the lady proposed to have a child with him.
He once invited fellow GM Anthony Saidy and wife Engelika to a nightclub. They ordered one liter of vodka and Saidy had an ounce, Engelika another ounce and Tal the rest.
He purposely played moves that created the maximum complications for both sides. He once said, “One doesn’t have to play well. One only needs to play better than his opponent.”
He was so intimidating during his peak that he made seasoned grandmaster opponents shudder with fear.
Many thanks to Edmund Beronio for sending me his collection of chess information. He is an industrial engineer and works as the plant manager of a carrageenan factory in Cavite. His favorite players are of course, Tal and Fischer.