CHESS

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

WE THINK of Mikhail Tal as the great at­tack­ing ge­nius.

That kind of player is bound to have losses among his wins. Not so, Tal holds the records for both the first and sec­ond long­est un­beaten streaks in com­pet­i­tive chess his­tory.

From the very be­gin­ning of his life, he suf­fered from ill health. Tal learned to read at the age of three, and was al­lowed to start uni­ver­sity stud­ies while only fif­teen. At the age of eight, Tal learned to play chess while watch­ing his fa­ther, a doc­tor and med­i­cal re­searcher.

In 1959 he mar­ried 19-year-old Salli Lan­dau, an ac­tress with the Riga Youth The­atre; they di­vorced in 1970, but in 2003, Lan­dau pub­lished a bi­og­ra­phy of her late ex-hus­band.

“Misha was so ill-equipped for liv­ing... When he trav­elled to a tour­na­ment, he couldn’t even pack his own suit­case... He didn’t even know how to turn on the gas for cook­ing. If I had a headache, and there hap­pened to be no one home but him, he would fall into a panic: “How do I make a hot-wa­ter bot­tle?” And when I got be­hind the wheel of a car, he would look at me as though I were a vis­i­tor from an­other planet. Of course, if he had made some ef­fort, he could have learned all of this.

But it was all bor­ing to him. He just didn’t need to. A lot of peo­ple have said that if Tal had looked af­ter his health, if he hadn’t led such a dis­so­lute life... and so forth. But with peo­ple like Tal, the idea of “if only” is just ab­surd. He wouldn’t have been Tal then.

In 1960, at the age of 23, Tal thor­oughly de­feated the rel­a­tively staid and strate­gic Mikhail Botvin­nik in a World Cham­pi­onship match, held in Moscow, by 12½–8½ (six wins, two losses, and thir­teen draws), mak­ing him the youngest-ever world cham­pion (a record later bro­ken by Garry Kas­parov, who earned the ti­tle at 22).

Botvin­nik, who had never faced Tal be­fore the ti­tle match be­gan, won the re­turn match against Tal in 1961.

Tal’s chronic kid­ney prob­lems contributed to his de­feat, and his doc­tors in Riga ad­vised that he should post­pone the match for health rea­sons. Yuri Aver­bakh claimed that Botvin­nik would agree to a post­pone­ment only if Tal was cer­ti­fied un­fit by Moscow doc­tors, and that Tal then de­cided to play

From July 1972 to April 1973, Tal played a record 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.

Next to Tal, the eighth cham­pion comes Vladimir Kram­nik, the 14th cham­pion. Kram­nik is one of the tough­est op­po­nents to de­feat, los­ing only one game in over one hun­dred games lead­ing up to his match with Kas­parov, in­clud­ing eighty con­sec­u­tive games with­out loss.

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