Life and Games of Mikhail Tal, The

Mikhail Tal

Reviewer: Jeremy Silman
Everyman Chess
496 pages

Here is a recipe that every chess player will like: Take a deep bowl. Put in one hundred of Tal’s games (annotated by the late World Champion) and mix in an additional one hundred positions. Blend well and then slowly let the mixture absorb an in-depth autobiography written in Tal’s typically humorous and playful style.

The result, of course, is perhaps the greatest chess book ever written. The games and notes alone would make this a classic, but you can toss your chessboard away and spend many fascinating nights just reading the words of this sparkling chess legend.

Having known Tal personally, I found him to be exactly as I had imagined: funny, charming and full of life. In fact, in a world where most players have grudges against most other players, Tal was the only chess personality who appeared to be loved by virtually everyone (even Fischer adored the guy!).

This book brings him to life in several respects: you hear many references to his “illness,” which of course was brought about by his love affair with the bottle (his addiction to cigarettes didn’t help him either). You get to follow his rise to the top, his descent, and his efforts (practical, psychological and physical) to wade through various candidate matches.

As is common in most chess autobiographies, you don’t get much of a sense about his life away from the game. However, in Tal’s case we can forgive him simply because chess WAS his life! The guy ate and breathed the game. If he wasn’t playing in a tournament he was playing blitz or talking about the latest chess news; nobody adored chess as much as Tal did!

This absolute delight with chess shines through in his writings and often reminds me of why I started playing in the first place. If you haven’t read this book, you’re missing something really special: an affirmation and explanation of why we sit like statues for hours pushing silly little pieces around with reverence in our eyes.