Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal, The

Karsten Muller, Raymund Stolze

Reviewer: Jeremy Silman
332 pages

When I first got this book I thought it was another problem book (a lot have come out recently!) that tried to milk Tal’s name in order to garner sales. However, a quick glance inside smashed my cynical musings and, when I came up for air a few hours later, I was delighted with Muller’s and Stolze’s work. In fact, the first few pages had me hooked! The table of contents promised that there was some really great reading ahead. “About this Book”, which followed the Table of Contents and was written by Muller, actually mentioned the large amount of books about Tal and on tactics and explained why another book on these subjects was worthwhile.

The Prologue by Tal himself (titled, “Knowledge? Intuition? Risk?”), which discussed the differences between chess knowledge and chess “poetry,” was highly entertaining. And when I saw that the very next part (21 pages) was by Mikhail Botvinnik (titled, “Reflections on Mikhail T.”), I was ready to recommend “The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal” to anyone and everyone. But now that these two blasts from the past by Tal and Botvinnik were behind me, would the actual authors of the book be able to continue this wonderful march to chess bliss? The answer, thank goodness, was yes!

Chapter 1 is titled “Warm-up” and it’s exactly that. A list is given of the “golden rules of attack” followed by 40 exercises, which were all taken from Tal’s games. What makes this even more extraordinary is that every exercise diagram is followed by a few paragraphs that discuss the circumstances of that particular game and a bit of Tal’s history. This very nice touch makes every exercise seem personal and gives each and every position emotional/intellectual weight. The solutions also stand out since they offer both instructive prose and analysis.

“An impressive chapter” I thought, but… there was more! A series of “Intermezzos” followed:

“Sieghart Dittmann: Comments on a game of chess.” It featured his game vs. Tal and some very interesting prose. 3 pages. By the way, Mr. Dittmann was the first German chess player to play a game against Tal.

“Wolfgang Uhlmann: An Instructive experience.” If you don’t know who Grandmaster Uhlmann is, you really need to brush up on your chess history. Here Uhlmann shows us his humiliating 19-move defeat against Tal. The 6 pages of prose is a must read.

Other chapter one intermezzos were: “Hans-Joachim Hecht: Encounters with Tal” (5 pages), “Gennady Nesis: Misha never played the star” (2 pages), “Evgeny Vasiukov: Tal a magnet for the public” (2 pages).

Chapter one is a killer, but all the other chapters are just as good:

Chapter 2 is titled, “Correct Sacrifices.” This ends (after the exercises and solutions) with four intermezzos, including one by none other than Boris Spassky!

Chapter 3 is titled, “Speculative Sacrifices.” It features “only” one intermezzo by World Championship Candidate Robert Hubner (“In memory of Mikhail Tal”), but what a piece of work it is! After 1.5 pages of prose, Hubner annotates the game Tal – Dieter Keller, Zurich 1959. This is an extremely famous game that I studied intensely when I was 14 years old, but I’ve never seen it with notes like these before! Forty-five full pages of analysis for one 34-move game!!! (Okay, that’s typical Hubner, but it’s still amazing).

As an aside, I should mention that I was so jazzed by the 45-pages of analysis that I called my friend IM Anthony Saidy and mentioned it to him. He said, “What was the game?”
Me: “Tal vs. Dieter Keller. A great game.”
Saidy: You mean the game from Zurich 1959?”
Me: “That’s impressive!”
Saidy, “Not really. I was at that tournament as Fischer’s second.”

There’s more of course, including Chapter 4 (“The Correct Way to Defend Against the Magician”), and an Epilogue by Tal (“An unbroken love for chess”).

The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal gets my highest recommendation. If you love Tal, you’ll love this book. If you love solving puzzles, you’ll love this book. If you love chess history, you’ll love this book. If you love looking at full games (and puzzle solutions) with rich notes and comments, you’ll love this book. If you love interesting prose by Tal, Botvinnik, Spassky, and many others, you’ll love this book. The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal is, in my opinion, an instant classic that’s suitable for players of all ratings (beginner to grandmaster).