Mikhail Tal’s Best Games 1

The Magic of Youth

Tibor Karolyi

Reviewer: John Donaldson
Quality Chess
447 pages

Bobby Fischer is the most written about world champion with over a hundred titles devoted to his games not to mention dozens of books on the 1972 match. Not surprisingly Garry Kasparov is a strong second, but number three might raise some eyebrows. It’s not Anatoly Karpov but instead Mikhail Tal with over two dozen titles to his name. This might make one question the need for more on the “Wizard from Riga” but Hungarian International Master Tibor Karolyi’s new trilogy on the eighth world champion has been worth the wait.

Karolyi rightfully considers Tal’s classic THE LIFE AND GAMES OF MIKHAIL TAL one of the greatest chess books ever written (his account of his first match with Botvinnik also ranks highly). That work takes Tal’s career to 1975 when the English-Swiss Grandmaster Joseph Gallagher takes over with THE MAGIC OF MIKHAIL TAL (Everyman Chess 2000), which does a fine job of covering the remaining years (1975-1992). So why another 1200 pages of a man who has been dead for twenty-three years? MIKHAIL TAL’S BEST GAMES 1: 1949 -1959 – THE MAGIC OF YOUTH provides the answer. This first volume of the trilogy traces the rise of Tal from a young junior player to his victory in the 1959 Candidates tournament. The 69 heavily annotated games starts with a simul win in 1949 over the legendary “central defender” of Soviet Chess (Grandmaster Ratmir Kholmov) and ends with a victory over Bobby Fischer in the penultimate round of the 1959 Candidates. Each game offers a nice mix of explanatory prose and key variations as needed. Karolyi uses strong modern engines to analyze the games but stays in control and doesn’t let them takeover. Two to three diagrams per page enable stronger and more ambitious readers to follow the action without a board.

Karolyi, who has made a name for himself with similar works on Kasparov, Karpov and Polgar, has not confined himself to annotating Tal’s games. He presents considerable biographical material, much of it new and made available thanks to his efforts in tracking down Tal’s opponents and asking them to share their memories.

One revelation is the emergence of Janis Kruzkops as Tal’s first trainer, previously Alexander Koblencs was the only coach associated with him. Karolyi goes so far as to track down a game of Kruzkops and speculate if the aggressive intentions he showed in it are evidence that he might have helped influence the style of the young Tal.

These insights, though not directly connected to the games Tal played, help provide a more complete picture of the “Wizard of Riga” who was one of the most popular World Champions – not only for the liveliness of his play but also for his down to earth personality.

The next volume in the series will examine his short reign as World Champion and the third finishes with Tal’s death in 1992 shortly before the Manila Olympiad he was scheduled to play in. It will be interesting to see how Karolyi covers the gradual change in Tal’s style from carefree mad attacker to a more all-around player. The average fan remembers Tal for his sacrifices but as Karolyi points in his introduction to The Magic of Youth in 1972-73 the eighth world champion set a record for the longest unbeaten streak among top players in modern chess history playing 86 games without a loss. Even more amazingly in 1973-74 he broke his own record extending his mark to 95 games. Both streaks have yet to be broken.

MIKHAIL TAL’S BEST GAMES 1 – THE MAGIC OF YOUTH by Tibor Karolyi has many indexes for Tal’s opponents (both by game and page number), classification by theme, name and more. There is also a summary of Tal’s results and a record of his tournament successes. There is a striking photo of the young Tal on the cover but otherwise no photos.

I give Mikhail Tal’s Best Games 1 – The Magic of Youth a strong positive recommendation. This is a book that can be enjoyed by readers over a wide rating spectrum and deserves a large audience.

Karolyi understandably did not have access to the massive two volume self-published Encyclopedia of Latvian Chessplayers, complied by the late Val Zemitis, which was never commercially available although it can be found in the John G. White collection in Cleveland, the Royal Dutch Library in The Hague and the MV Anderson Chess Collection at the State Library of Victoria in Australia. Zemitis utilized not only the Latvian magazine Sahs which started in 1959 and was later edited by Tal, but also its predecessor Sacha Turnira un Maci, which De Felice, in his book Chess Periodicals (McFarland 2010) lists as being published from 1951-1957 and available in Cleveland. This might possibly have more material on the young Tal.

The information on Tal’s first trainer, Janis Kruzkops, provided by Alberts Cimins, is similar to that found be found in Zemitis’ work and looks to have been published in an obituary for Kruzkops in the Latvian magazine Sahs in 1960. Zemitis provides the full game score.

Janis Kruzkops – Reinholds Balins
Riga 1945
1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6 4.Nf3 Bg7 5.h3 0–-0 6.Be3 Nbd7 7.e5 Ne8 8.Bc4 Nb6 9.Bb3 d5 10.Qd2 c6 11.Bh6 f5 12.h4 Be6 13.h5 g5 14.Bxg5 Nc7 15.Qf4 Kf7 16.Bh6 Rg8 17.Ng5+ Ke8 18.Bxg7 Rxg7 19.Ne2 Bg8 20.h6 Rg6 21.Qxf5 e6

This is as far as the game goes in MIKHAIL TAL’S BEST GAMES 1 – THE MAGIC OF YOUTH.


As predicted by Karolyi.

22……hxg6 23.h7 Bxh7 24.Nxh7 Kf7 25.f4 Qe7 26.Ng5+ Kg8 27.0–-0–-0 Re8 28.Rh6 Qg7 29.Rdh1 Re7 30.c3 Nd7 31.Bc2 Nf8 32.Ng3 Ne8 33.Nf1 Nc7 34.Ne3 Ne8 35.Ng4 b5 36.R6h3 Nh7 37.Rxh7 Qxh7 38.Nxh7 Rxh7 39.Rxh7 Kxh7 40.Nf6+, 1–-0.

MIKHAIL TAL’S BEST GAMES 1 – THE MAGIC OF YOUTH tries to provide the first names of all Tal’s opponents which is no easy task for the early years where many of his opponents are complete unknowns. Karolyi does an excellent job in most instances but here are a few that are missing in the book:

Miglan (Latvian Youth Championship 1950) Game 8 – this may be Imants Miglans (born in 1932) or conceivably M. Miglins.

L. Liepins (Riga Team Championship 1950) Game 9 – this may be Leonids Liepins born in 1929.

Jullik (Riga 1950) Game 11 – this could be Edgars Juliks (born 1910) or M. Juliks (born 1910).

Bergs (Riga 1951) Game 13 is Teodors Bergs.

Zwaigzne (Latvian Youth Championship 1952) Game 21 – this is likely Gunars Zvaigzne.

Mieses/Miezis (Latvian Championship 1958) Game 55 – this is likely Andrejs Miezis.

A notebook of Tal’s early games can be found at www.chesscafe.com/text/talgames.pdf.