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Mikhail Tal's Biography

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Mikhail Nekhemevich Tal was born on 9 November 1936 in Riga, Latvia and started playing chess at 8.

Tal joined the Riga Palace of Young Pioneers chess club and started to play in tournaments. By the time he was 16 he had become a national master. In 1957 (the same year that he graduated in history and philosophy from Riga University) Mikhail Tal became an international grandmaster and the second youngest player to win the Soviet Championship.

In 1960, Tal became World Champion when he defeated Mikhail Botvinnik 12.5-8.5; however Botvinnik won the return match the next year 8-13.

In his acclaimed book, The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal, Tal gives two reasons for his fall to Botvinnik in the second match. The first was that in the original match, Tal and Botvinnik both stayed at the 'Moscow' hotel and when Tal's second sang Neapolitan songs, it inspired Tal, but demoralised Botvinnik. For the return match Botvinnik stayed elsewhere. As for the second reason, Tal explains:

"By the eighth game of the return match I finally succeeded in selecting a 'lucky' pencil. Alas, after winning, I left it on the table. When a week later I returned the pencil was gone ..."

Tal explains that these reasons were 'journalism' and that he was unprepared for Botvinnik's aggression and preparedness to go into stormy positions, which he had not done in 1960.

Tal was a fascinating player to watch. Whilst disconcerting his opponents by fixing them with a piercing stare, Tal would invent some of the greatest chess sacrifices and tactics ever seen.

Although dogged by health problems, Mikhail Tal was an active player until his death on 28 June 1992 in Moscow.

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