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Mikhail Tal - my favorite chess world champion

Mikhail TalMikhail Tal artwork

Mikhail Tal- meeting my favorite chess world champion

I am not usually star-struck. As a matter of fact, I don't like most stars that I see on TV. I started  over-the-board chess since I was a teenager, and I saw many champions, many of whom did not impress me, either. For example, I did not like Karpov because of his political views and positional chess, so I did not rush to get his autograph like most others.  But in the chess world, there has always been one person whom I admired for years from far away. He was Mikhail Tal. For those of you who never heard of him, he was the world chess champion from 1960-1961. Sure, he was a champion for a short time, but have you ever heard of the Russian School of Chess? It is based on a philosophy that chess is played systematically, and that you basically use the extra knowledge you have over your opponent to squeeze the life out of him/her  like a python. Square by square, very surely you take over weak squares, exchange bad pieces for good ones, get more space, etc. You don't take unnecessary chances and don't make sacrifices until you are absolutely sure they work. Sure, I like that, but how boring for someone who loves to try speculative sacrifices! Like Tal!

Tal- the James Dean, the rebel of the Russian school of chess, broke every such rule. His games are full of speculative sacrifices that require a lot of deep thinking and a lot of time, and difficult to figure over the board with all the psychological pressure. Some are still debating heatedly over some of his sacrifices. People, and mostly his opponents, thought he was crazy  to play that way, specially in world competitions, and against other grandmasters! But those of us who love a little adrenaline rush admire him for his guts. And it takes guts to play that way against seasoned grandmasters, believe me!

So, I was in New York in 1989. Participating in the New York Open. That is when I first saw Tal. He was in the tournament, too. He was in his '50's at this point. I wanted to talk to him, but I could not muster the courage. So, I told my roomie (we were staying at the Penta Hotel) and the extroverted roomie and I started walking behind Tal on the streets of New York (no, we were not stalking him). He had an unlit cigarette in his hand, and was wearing a dark suit with no tie. Soon, my roomie stopped him and introduced us. We shook hands, and I was ecstatic.

I thought that was it, but the following day, while entering the hall of the hotel, deeply absorbed in my own thoughts, I felt a gaze- more like a powerful energy beam going through my skull. So, I looked up, and all the way at the other end of the hotel, there was Tal, looking and smiling at me. Saying hello. Powerful eyes, powerful mind.

Well, Tal passed away within a couple of years after we met. But I am glad I got a chance to meet him, since he is one of the few chess stars whom I truly admire.

To Tal, just like some of us, chess is art. And Tal was a true artist of chess. And that is why I created the postcard above in relationship to DaVinci- my favorite artist.

Tal-Averbakh 1961


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