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Player: United KeSetoKaiba is online KeSetoKaibaChessHere Moderator Subject: The Most Brilliant Game; 1962 Olympiad


2020-05-01 16:06:21
The Most Brilliant Game; 1962 Olympiad

Mikhail Tal’s autobiography is titled: “The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal.” The book is presented in the format of an interview where Tal is asked prying questions followed by his responses. Chess was such a significant part of Tal’s life that his autobiography features hundreds of chess diagrams. In his book, Tal himself calls the game we are about to show off to be the “most brilliant” game of the 1962 Olympiad. Tal is renowned for his Queen sacrifices and psychological play. One of his most famous quotations is him stating [about chess], “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.” Tal was known for these things, but his chess ability was no illusion. The 18-year-old Tal defeated his first grandmaster (GM) in the USSR Team Championship. He then became a chess grandmaster himself at age 21 and by age 24, he had won the Chess World Championship (1960).

In fact, one reason Tal became so well-known was the fact that he seemed to only get stronger at chess with age. Even after winning the Chess World Championship, he continued to get better at chess; his peak rating (over 2700) was reached at age 44! Despite Tal’s poor health (his known drinking and chain smoking were undoubtedly contributing factors), he always kept a sense of humor and love for chess. In 1969, there was a false report of Tal’s death. To this Tal quoted Mark Twain and said, “The rumors about my death are greatly exaggerated!”

October 6th, 1962; Varna ol (Men) fin-A chess tournament, Varna, BUL, round 9 was underway. The game Mikhail Tal vs Hans-Joachim Hecht made history.

1. d4 Nf6 Our game begins with Tal playing 1. d4. Isn’t Tal a tactical player? Yes, and 1. e4 was Tal’s bread and butter. What we must realize is that this event was into round 9. Perhaps Tal was trying to surprise his opponent: expecting Tal to begin with 1. e4. This is one great advantage of learning multiple openings and patterns; they make great surprise weapons and add diversity, so you become less predictable – this makes it tougher for an opponent to “study” your play and prepare against you.

2. c4 e6 3. Nf3 b6 We enter the Queen’s Indian Defense characterized by the 3…b6 move in response to 3. Nf3; the fianchetto …Bb7 is typically played early in these structures.

4. Nc3 Bb4 5. Bg5 Bb7 6. e3 h6 Both sides focus on development until this …h6 move is thrown in to see if the Bishop will choose to maintain the pin on the f6 Knight.

7. Bh4 Bxc3+ 8. Bxc3 d6 Tal decides to maintain the pin on the f6 Knight by dropping the Bishop back to h4. Black then opts to give up the Bishop pair voluntarily with 7…Bxc3+. Usually Black, in these structures, waits until White gives up a tempo with a3 before moving the Bishop. In this case, Black voluntarily exchanges pieces on c3 and follows with …d6; the idea is to keep the position closed when the Bishop pair isn’t as advantageous.

9. Nd2 e5 Now White plans f3 and e4 to cut down on the scope of the Bishop from b7 and to expand the center. Tal’s f3 idea reminds me of a creation of Botvinnik in the Queen’s Gambit Declined. Of course, I am referencing 13. f3! from the Botvinnik - Keres game in Moscow 1952. That game went 1. d4 Nf6 2. c4 e6 3. Nc3 d5 4. cxd5 exd5 5. Bg5 Be7 6. e3 O-O 7. Bd3 Nbd7 8. Qc2 Re8 9. Nge2 Nf8 10. O-O c6 11. Rab1 Bd6 12. Kh1 Ng6 13. f3 with play preparing the e3-e4 pawn advance for central control. Also thematic is that the Bishop can sometimes maneuver g5-h4-f2 and harmoniously support e3 and d4.

10. f3 Qe7 11. e4 Nbd7 As noted, White expands in the center thematically. Pattern recognition is important; it then becomes easier to find similar motifs in otherwise seemly unrelated openings. You then may have additional “clues” about what to play, in new positions, if elements of the position are recognizable for you.

12. Bd3 Nf8 We now come to an interesting juncture. Black plans to relocate the Knight to g6 via f8. Black judges they have time for this because the position is currently closed in nature. Conversely, White is closer to castling, has the center and has the Bishop pair; Tal would rather open up the position.

13. c5!? Move 13. c5 was given an exclaim (!) in Tal’s own game annotations for these reasons, no doubt. However, Stockfish gives this move a dubious mark annotation (?!) based on 13. c5 dxc5 14. dxe5 Qxe5 15. Qa4+ N8d7 and Black maintains the “extra” pawn lead - ready to castle. I compromise by giving this move “!?” annotation. This is an interesting move that isn’t best against perfect defense, but makes some sense against a human player.

dxc5 14. dxe5 Qxe5 15. Qa4+ c6? Hecht was also a strong chess player; as we can see here, he played the “computer-best” moves up until 15…c6. National Master (NM) Sam Copeland gives excellent analysis into Hecht’s reasoning not to play 15…N8d7. Copeland claims that [moving a piece back from the square it just came from] “feels like you’re admitting a mistake, but chess is a game where you have to be flexible and adapt as the position changes.” When the Black Knight moved to f8, the position was closed and it was en route to g6. However, now the position is opening up and things are changing. 15…c6? is a mistake positionally because it not only blocks the fianchetto Bishop, but also because it creates a hole on d6. The White Knight on d2 could potentially move d2-c4-d6 quickly, with some preparation.

16. O-O Ng6 The game simply continues with White castling and Black following through with the …Ng6 plan.

17. Nc4 Qe6 Rather than move the attacked Bishop, Tal seeks the initiative with the Knight counter-attacking the Black Queen while it moves to a more active square. Tal once said, “I like to grasp the initiative and not give my opponent peace of mind.” Note that if White instantly retreated the attacked Bishop from h4 - say 17. Bf2 (thematic of Botvinnik’s idea mentioned earlier in the Queen’s Gambit Declined), then Black can castle safely. If 17. Bg3 instead then 17…Nf4 and Black will have the chance to castle soon. White wants to keep Black’s monarch in the center and prevent Black from developing. The Black Queen chose e6 instead of taking on c3 because 17…Qxc3 is risky in light of 18. Bxf6 gxf6 19. Nd6+ forking the King and b7 Bishop. Alternatively, 17…Qxc3 18. Bxf6 and …Qxf6 runs into trouble with White thinking of e5 and Nd6+.

18. e5 White wants to keep the initiative. The h4 Bishop is still under attack, yet Tal decides to counter-attack the f6 Knight, rather than retreating the Bishop passively. It should be noted that Black can’t go through with all of the trades on e5 because then it ends with either Rook moving to e1 and pinning the Queen on e5 (resulting square from exchanges) to the King on e8.

b5 Hecht decides to fork Tal’s Queen and Knight. Now Tal’s Queen on a4, Knight on c4 and Bishop on h4 are all under attack. What moves would you consider playing as White?

19. exf6!! While most players would barely look at this option too deeply, Tal chooses to sacrifice his Queen when multiple pieces are hanging. That is classic Tal for you, but what is perhaps even more amazing is that this Queen sacrifice is sound. The position is filled with enough tactics to justify this amazing move in every variation considered!

Story goes that after Tal played this spectacular 19. exf6!! move against Hecht, the observing Miguel Najdorf gave Tal a kiss on the cheek for this move. This wasn’t the only time Najdorf showed emotion this way though. In Najdorf’s only win against Tal (Najdorf-Tal, March 31, 1970), legend has it that Spassky recommended the winning game continuation for White and was met with a kiss from Najdorf for it (although this instance is less substantiated). Sometimes Najdorf gets an unjust interpretation for this, but we must put things in context. Najdorf was Polish born (later in life moved to Argentina) and it was culturally acceptable for either gender to kiss another on the cheek (Italian culture is often the stereotype of this cultural norm). It was simply a display of emotion; sometimes (especially in this computer-age of chess) it is easily forgotten how much emotion chess invokes; after all, even chess grandmasters are human still. How could one not have a reaction if witnessing a historic move (such as 19. exf6!!)?

bxa4 20. fxg7 Rg8 Of course, Hecht decides to take Tal’s offered Queen. After 20…Rg8, Black is essentially asking if White calculated correctly, or simply blundered. After all, Black is now up a Queen for only one minor piece; even a Rook pinning the Black Queen, on the e-file, isn’t getting enough material back. Spassky once said, “if Petrosian [known for deep positional play] offers you a sacrifice, resign. If Tal sacrifices a piece, take it, because maybe he’ll sacrifice another, and then who knows?”

21. Bf5! Tal must keep the attack and initiative burning to stay in the game. Bishop to f5 does just that. Remarkably, White’s Queen sacrifice was sound; despite the fact that now three White pieces are hanging! Let us examine some candidate lines here:

21…Qxc4 is no good for Black on account of 22. Rfe1. The Black King has no legal moves and so the Black Queen must fall back to e6 to avoid checkmate. 22…Qe6 23. Rxe6+ fxe6 24. Bxg6+ and Black is up in material, but the Black King is in trouble. Game could continue to checkmate with a line like: 24…Kd7 (only legal move) 25. Rd1+ Kd7 26. Bg3+ Kb6 27. Rb1+ Ka6 28. Bd3+ Ka5 29. Bc7#

21…Qxf5 loses the Queen to the instant Knight fork via 22. Nd6+. Play may continue: 22…Kd7 23. Nxf5 Nxh4 24. Nxh4 Rxg7 and White has the better endgame. The Knight is not as inactive as Black’s Bishop, White’s Rooks can jump into the central files for quick activity and probably most importantly: White has the superior pawn structure.

21…Ba6 is an interesting line I was curious about looking into, since NM Sam Copeland didn’t address this option. Upon further inspection myself, I think Tal gets the better end of this variation too. After 21…Ba6 then 22. Bxe6 fxe6 23. Nd6+ Kd7 (forced move) 24. Ne4 and White tactically holds the balance after the Queen sacrifice! If the Black Knight then captures on h4, White has Nc5+ to pick up the piece on a6. If after 24. Ne4, Black goes after the f1 Rook, then 24…Nf6+ gains Black’s Rook on g8. It seems Tal has every variation covered.

Nxh4 Finally, we return to the game. This is the move Hecht chose.

22. Bxe6 Ba6 Hecht couldn’t instantly recapture on e6 due to the Nd6+ winning the b7 Bishop. With this in mind, Hecht moves the problem Bishop and attacks the White Knight.

23. Nxd6+ Ke7 24. Bc4 Rxg7 Tal utilizes the clever lifeline tactic to save both the Knight and Bishop. 24…Bxc4 would be met with 25. Nxc4 and Tal escapes.

25. g3 Kxd6 26. Bxa6 Nf5 It is worth noting that in this endgame: Black is up a pawn, yet White appears favorable because of Black’s bad pawn structure.

27. Rab1 f6 28. Rfd1+ Ke7 29. Re1+ Kd6 30. Kf2 c4 As the endgame continues, 30. Kf2 does a few subtle things. First of all, it begins potential operations of moving the King up the board for endgame piece activity. Secondly, it also side-steps the x-ray from the g7 Rook. In this specific case, White didn’t really need to play this King move - but I find it instructional. Why? The question should be “Why not?” When you have your opponent in a virtual zugzwang, then why not slowly improve your position? This kind of endgame thinking is one thing that Karpov became known for, but he was not the first to employ these motifs.

31. g4?! Ne7 Tal placing the pawn on g4 is a bit questionable. It doesn’t seem like an improvement from it being on g3. Furthermore, Hecht got possible counterplay on this pawn later in the game - which makes this idea even more questionable from White’s perspective. Perhaps 31. Re4 was an improvement because it attacks c4 again as would 31. Rb4 too. 31. Rb4 even has the added idea of attacking the a4 pawn as well. Black’s weakness here is their pawn structure, so it makes sense to highlight this exploitatively when possible.

32. Rb7 Rag8 33. Bxc4 Nd5 34. Bxd5 cxd5 It is also worth mentioning that after 34. Bxd5 then Rxb7? fails because of 35. Bxg8 and White gets an “extra” minor piece out of it.

35. Rb4 Rc8?! Better for Black was 35…h5 when Black seems to be getting more chances than they should. If the pawn were still back on the g3 square, then this wouldn’t be possible counterplay. White is slightly better in this endgame, but double Rook endgames are notorious for being often drawn: White still has to play accurately to push for a win.

36. Rxa4 Rxc3 37. Ra6+ Kc5 38. Rxf6 h5 39. h3 hxg4 40. hxg4 Rh7 41. g5 Rh5 42. Rf5 Rc2+ 43. Kg3 Kc4 44. R1e5 d4 If it wasn’t clear by now, White will win the game with the g-pawn; Black’s defense has been crumbling.

45. g6 Rh1 Black now threatens …Rg1+ to capture the g6 passed pawn with the skewer, but White saves it with the key move 46. Rc5+

46. Rc5+ Kd3 47. Rxc2 Kxc2 48. Kf4 Rg1 49. Rg5 Now with the Rook interference, the g6 pawn will be unstoppable from promotion and so Black resigned the game here.

If the pawn race would have continued, then it is clear that White would be the one left with the promoted Queen. For instance: 49…Rxg5 50. Kxg5 d3 51. g7 d2 52. g8=Q d1=Q 53. Qb3+ and it is clear that White will exchange Queens and march the f-pawn all the way to f8.

I hope that you too have been inspired to make Queen sacrifices like Tal. Who knows? If done successfully, then that game may be referred to as a brilliancy for years to come as well.
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1United  abbyknotChessHere Moderator2020-05-04 00:25:36
This is one of the most tactical games I've ever seen. As for 19. exf6! I wasn't that impressed because it's the move I would have played because White can easily get the queen back by playing Rde1 winning the queen back.

The move that impressed me was when Tal played 21.Bf5!! I missed that line.

His opponent was still up material after the fireworks, but Tal managed to outplay him in the endgame with aggressive rook play.

Thanks for showing us this fantastic game!