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Mikhail Tal
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-76052-0335, Schacholympiade, Tal (UdSSR) gegen Fischer (USA).jpg
Fischer vs Tal at the 1960 Leipzig Chess Olympiad
Country USSR; (Latvia)
Born
9 November 1936
Riga, Latvia
Died
28 June 1992 (aged 55)
Moscow, Russia
Title Grandmaster (1957)
World Champion 1960–1961
Peak rating 2705 (January 1980)

Mikhail Tal, known as Mischa, (Riga, 9 November 1936 – Moscow, 28 June 1992) was a SovietLatvian chess player, a Grandmaster, and the eighth World Chess Champion.

Tal played in 21 Soviet championships, winning it six times, a record only equalled by Botvinnik. He was a member of eight Soviet teams which won the gold medal in chess Olympiads. He won the individual gold medal five times.

He holds the records for both the first and second longest unbeaten streaks in competitive chess history.p43 Many authorities consider him to have been the greatest attacking player of all time.

World champion

Tal won the strong 1958 Interzonal tournament, and the Candidates' tournament in Yugoslavia, 1959. In the Candidates he finished first, with 20/28 points, ahead of Paul Keres with 18.5, followed by Tigran Petrosian, Vasily Smyslov, Bobby Fischer, Svetozar Gligorić, Friðrik Ólafsson, and Pal Benko. Tal he won all four individual games against Fischer, and took 3½ points out of 4 from each of Gligorić, Olafsson, and Benko. This shows his complete dominance over the less strong players.

In 1960, at the age of 23, Tal defeated Mikhail Botvinnik in the Moscow World Championship match, by 12.5–8.5 (six wins, two losses, and thirteen draws). This made him the youngest-ever world champion, a record later broken by Garry Kasparov. Botvinnik, who had never faced Tal before, won the return match against Tal in 1961 by 13–8 (ten wins to five, with six draws). Between the matches Botvinnik thoroughly analyzed Tal's style, and turned most of the return match's games into close manoeuvres and endgames, rather than the complicated tactical melées which were Tal's preference.

Tal's short reign atop the chess world made him one of the two so-called 'winter kings' who interrupted Botvinnik's long reign from 1948 to 1963 (the other was Smyslov, world champion 1957–1958).

Later life

Tal played in a total of six Candidates' tournaments and match cycles, though he never again earned the right to play for the world title. In 1962 at Curaçao, he had serious health problems, having undergone a major operation shortly before the tournament, and had to withdraw three-quarters of the way through, scoring just seven points (+3 -10 =8) from 21 games.

Poor health was part of his life. Tal was an alcoholic, and a chain smoker.p409 At 23 he had a diseased kidney, and his health became uncertain. He recovered much of his form when, after some years, the kidney was removed.

Eleven years after he lost the world championship, he had a record sequence of results. From July 1972 to April 1973, Tal played 86 consecutive games without a loss (47 wins and 39 draws). Between 23 October 1973 and 16 October 1974, he played 95 consecutive games without a loss (46 wins and 49 draws), shattering his previous record. These are the two longest unbeaten streaks in modern chess history.

Tal was a charming and brilliant man, who was always willing to talk about chess with players of all standards. His early death was much mourned, though it was not unexpected. The Mikhail Tal Memorial tournament is held in Moscow each year since 2006 to honour his memory.

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