How Did Mikhail Tal win the world championship title?

How Did Mikhail Tal win the world championship title?

Written by: Emadeldin Teama

How Did Mikhail Tal win the world championship title?

In 1959, the young Latvian Grandmaster Mikhail Tal showed a great performance in Zurich winning the tournament against top chess players of his time. He then followed up winning many games in the Interzonal tournament which guaranteed for him to advance to the candidates’ tournament in Yugoslavia 1959.The candidates tournament is a very strong tournament between top players in the world where one player only will advance to challenge the world champion. In this tournament, Tal showed superior form by winning 20/28 ahead of Paul Keres with 18.5/28, followed by Tigran Petrosian, Vasily Smyslov , Bobby Fischer, Svetozar Gligoric, Friorik Olafsson and Pal Benko.

In 1960 at the age of 23 Tal defeated the strategic world champion Mikhail Botvinnik in a world champion match held in Moscow. The score was 12.5 – 8.5 with six wins, two losses and thirteen draws, making him the youngest ever World champion at his time (a record later broken by Garry Kasparov, who earned the title at 22)

Why is Mikhail Tal called the magician from Riga?

Mikhail Tal earned his nickname The magician from Riga for obvious reasons. His Playing style is extremely aggressive, full of improvisations and totally unpredictable .he is considered a creative genius and one of the best attacking players of all time. His daring combinatorial style has earned him this title and it was always a nightmare for his opponent to play against him. He also held the record for the longest unbeaten streak in competitive chess history with 95 games ( 46 wins, 49 draws) between 23 October 1973 and 16 October 1974 For more than 40 years until Ding Lirean broke his record in November 2018.

What chess openings played Tal against Botvinnik?

Tal is one of the most aggressive attackers of all time. It is naturally that he chose to play with white 1-e4. He is ready for open games regardless of which opening Botvinnik would choose.Tal choice with black was different. Botvinnik played 1-d4 aiming for strategic positions. Tal chose for the first black game the risky Benoni which is known to lead to extremely unbalanced positions that suits his style. He also played later the Nimzo-indian when he wanted something less risky, However even in such normal openings Tal always found a way to unbalance the position and make a mess over the chess board. His famous quote “You must take your opponent into a deep, dark forest where 2+2=5 and the path leading out is only wide enough for one." Shows exactly what he has been doing all his chess career in every single game he played.

He also briefly tried to play the Dutch opening, in game 19 as he wanted to finish off Botvinnik and win the title as early as possible, however Botvinnik simply won a pawn and played calmly till move 41 where tal blundered a second pawn under time pressure probably and resigned.


“In the shown position, Qa5 would lose a second pawn for Tal and it would be an easy win for Botvinnik.”

What are the difference in style between Tal and Botvinnik?

No one can deny that Botvinnik is one of the best strategic chess players of all time. He had a school for chess where he trained both Anatoly Karpov and Garry Kasparov.

Botvinnik had a strong grasp of long-term strategy, and was often willing to accept weaknesses that his opponent could not exploit in exchange for some advantage that he could exploit. He confessed that he was relatively weak in tactical calculation, yet many of his games feature sacrifices – often long-term positional sacrifices whose purpose was not to force an immediate win, but to improve his position and undermine his opponent’s. Botvinnik was also capable of all-out sacrificial attacks when he thought the position justified it. Botvinik is simply a universal player in contrast to an all-out attacker like Mikhail Tal or a defender like Tigran Petrosian.

On the other hand, Tal is an attacking player. He cannot rest in calm positions and always wanting to do something to have action over the board. His tactical ability pushed him toward the edge of any position pushing him to sacrifice pieces and pawns for an attack. His opponents usually could not defend against such maniac and creative type of play and lost even when they had chances to defend and even win.the psychological pressure of facing such an attack over the board was too much for his opponents and only very few in the world could survive his attacks.

We would like to mention that Botvinnik went on regaining his Title from tal the next year in 1961. He prepared very well against Tal style and was able to get his title back with score of 13 -8 for Botvinnik.

How did Tal become the youngest world champion ever of his time?

Tal simply loved the game of chess. He was a creative genius since a young age.

Tal made his first significant appearance at the 1956 USSR Chess Championship, sharing 5th-7th place with Lev Polugaevsky and Ratmir Kholmov. Grigory Levenfish called him “the most colorful figure of the championship” and a “great talent” who strived for “sharp and complicated play”. However, he was criticised by the media for taking unnecessary risks and having restricted creative views!

Tal then went to play on board three at the students’ championship in Sweden, scoring 6 out of 7.After that, He became the youngest player to win the USSR Championship at the age of 20. He had not played enough international tournaments to qualify for the title of Grandmaster, but FIDE decided at its 1957 Congress to waive the normal restrictions and award him the title because of his achievement in winning the Soviet Championship. At that time, the Soviet Union was dominant in world chess, and Tal had beaten several of the world’s top players to win the tournament.

Tal made three appearances for the USSR at Student Olympiads in 1956–1958, winning three team gold medals and three board gold medals. He won nineteen games, drew eight, and lost none.

He retained the Soviet Championship title in 1958 at Riga, and competed in the World Chess Championship for the first time. He won the 1958 Interzonal tournament at Portorož, then helped the Soviet Union win its fourth consecutive Chess Olympiad at Munich.

Tal’s best game.

Tal had so many great games. It is really difficult to choose one game out of his amazing career.However, we would choose this game of Tal against Karpov played in 1987.At this time ,Karpov was in Top form prepared for the world championship against Kasparov. So It should have been difficult for Tal to win!

The game started with the caro kann Karpov’s favorite opening as follow :

1.e4 c6 2.c4 d5 3.exd5 cxd5 4.cxd5 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nxd5 6.Nf3 Nxc3 7.bxc3 g6 8.d4 A standard position of the caro kann white has some structure weakness ,however he has smooth way to develop all his pieces


8-..Bg7 9.Bd3 0-0 10. 0-0 Nc6 11.Re1 Re8 12.Bg5 Be6 a bad move to play against Tal, black is trying to control the light squares which is correct from the positional point of view ,However Tal wouldn’t hesitate to sacrifice an exchange here with the next excellent move!



13..fxe6 14.Bc4 attacking the pawn and the kingside

14…Qd6 15.Qe2 Nd8 16.Re1 Rc8 17.Nd2!? regrouping the knight to a better square and protecting the bishop

17…Kh8 18.Ne4 Qc7 19.Bb3 e5!? Karpov try to close the e file get rid of one of his weak e pawns, however, this open the diagonal for the light square bishop and now Tal continues his deadly attack with the next move

20-h4! Aiming for h5 and opening up the position against black king. 20…exd4 21.h5!

21..gxh5?? Severe blunder,21…Qb6 was necessary to have the queen defending the king via the 6th rank

22.Qxh5 (time trouble the simple 22.Nf6 wins)
22..Rf8 23.Bc2 Qe5 24.Ng3 Qxe1+ 25-Kh2 h6 26-Bxh6 Kg8 27-Bxg7 Rxf2 Desperate attempt to counter play but the black king is dead here

28.Qh7+ Kf7 Qg6+ Kg8 Bh6+ with a quick mate in 1 after the forced Kh8 and Qg7#! Karpov resigned

Here is a link to the game