Checkmate! The Love Story of Mikhail Tal and Sally Landau: A Review

Checkmate! The Love Story of Mikhail Tal and Sally Landau,

is a beautiful book written about a lifelong love between two people, one of whom, Mikhail Tal,
happened to win a World Chess Championship match against the man called “the patriarch of the Soviet School of Chess,” Mikhail Botvinnik. (https://en.chessbase.com/post/botvinnik-the-patriarch)

The book, written by Sally Landau, and published by Elk and Ruby Publishing Company (http://www.elkandruby.com/), is a wonderful history of a time long gone with the wind. The author brings to life a different time and the people who lived during the Soviet Communist period. The book, like a Chess game, has only three chapters, the opening by Sally, the middle by Gera, the son of Mikhail and Sally Tal, and the end, again by Sally.

She begins the book by writing about herself. “I am an inconsistent and impulsive person, who first does and only then thinks about what I have done. I am an ordinary, vulnerable woman, in which a womanly nature lived and lives, found joy and finds joy, suffered and suffers, in the full sense of those words. The way I see it, selfishness and a desire for independence somehow manage to coexist inside me with love for the people surrounding me and a subconscious wish to be a woman protected by a man who lives for me – protected by him from all sorts of major and minor everyday troubles.”

Later she writes, “Still sharp contradictions coexisted within me: on the one hand, this immense fear of losing my personal freedom, on the other hand, this equally immense fear of solitude and a subconscious desire to have a strong man beside me with whom I wouldn’t be afraid of falling off an overturned boat in the open seas, even if I didn’t know how to swim. These contradictions played a significant role in my life with Misha…”

She writes about her impression of what it was like being a Jew in the Soviet Union. “So it wasn’t the external appearance of the Tals’ apartment that struck me that evening. Rather, it was its anti-Soviet spirit that I sensed. I immediately inhaled this pleasant middle-class air. It was apparent straight away that the people living there were not “mass-produced” but very much “hand-crafted”, and that relations between them did not fit into the usual framework of socialist society.”

“Misha was born a frail child. He had two fingers missing from his right hand. When she (Ida, Mikhail Tal’s mother) first saw her son after he was brought to her and unwrapped from his swaddling clothes she again fainted in shock at the site of his three crooked fingers. She was unable to breastfeed. Her lack of milk was perhaps due to those shocks. She was treated for a long time after that.

“When he was just six months old, Misha was struck by a nasty meningitis-like infection with a very high temperature and convulsions. The doctor said that his chances of making it were remote, but that survivors turn out to be remarkable people. Well, Misha began to read at the age of three, and by the age of five he was multiplying three-digit numbers – while adults were still struggling to solve the math with a pencil he would tell them the answer.”

“He got “infected” with chess at the age of seven and began to spend nearly all his time at the chess club, nagging adults to play him.”

Gera was a Medical Doctor and qualified to write about Tal’s well known medical problems.

“Well, the actual start of my father’s physical ailments, however banal it may sound, was the fact of his birth. Ever since then he simply collected illnesses. But the fundamental cause of course was his totally pathological, nephrotic kidney. It tortured him relentlessly. People suffering from kidney disease know that there is nothing worse in the world than pains in the kidneys. I don’t understand how such people can even exist, let alone play chess. I’m sure that it wasn’t my father who lost the return match to Botvinnik,

but his diseased kidney.”

“My father treated his life like a chess game, somewhat philosophically. There’s the opening, then the opening transposes into the middle game, and if no disaster strikes in the middle game you get into a dull, technical endgame, in which a person ultimately has no chances. As far as I know, father didn’t gain pleasure from playing endgames – he found them boring and insipid. Force him to give up smoking, brandy, partying and female admirers – basically, the source of intense experiences in the middle game of life – and he would find himself in the endgame, when he would have nothing left to do other than passively see out the rest of his life. However, that would have been a different person just resembling Tal. And what’s the difference – to die spiritually or die physically if you can no longer be Tal?”

Throughout their life, together and apart, Mikhail and Sally had other loves and lovers, yet remained friends. A love interest of his was written about but only named by the letter “L.” Research shows this was Larisa Ivanovna Kronberg,

a Soviet/Russian actress and a KGB agent. She was named Best Actress at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in A Big Family. In 1958, she was involved in the Ambassador Dejean Affair, Kronberg lured Dejean in a honey trap. She was in a long-time relationship with World Chess Champion Mikhail Tal in the 1960s, they parted in the 1970s. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larisa_Kronberg)

Sally had an affair with a man about whom she writes, “I won’t name him in the book. Why? Let’s say he was a high-up government official…I will call him “The Minister”…Let that be his name here.” Reading this caused me to reflect upon something IM Boris Kogan said decades ago about the KGB. “Mike, KGB like octopus with many tentacles that reach everywhere!” The relationship between Sally and “The Minister” was doomed to failure because a good Soviet communist did not consort with a Jew. Sally writes, ” Misha was such a unique person! I was living with Alnis; at the time he was effectively a common-law husband; and Misha understood that perfectly well. And yet, while he treated Alvis with respect, he continued to consider me his only woman and the most important woman in the world – his Saska. Alnis took quite a liking to Misha, saw what a remarkable person he was, and would say of him: “Tal isn’t a Jew. Tal is a chess genius.”


Tal playing the husband of his former wife Joe Kramarz, not only a Chess player but a HUGE fan of Mikhail Tal!

The book is replete with things like this from Yakov Damsky writing in Riga Chess, 1986. “He has a wonderful ability with language and always has a sharp wit. I remember, for example, after a lecture some tactless dude asked Tal: “Is it true you’re a morphinist?” to which Tal instantly replied: “No, I’m a chigorinets!”

“Petrosian once joked morbidly: “If I lived the way Tal does I would have died a long time ago. He’s just like Iron Felix.” (The nickname of Felix Dzerzhinsky, the founder of the KGB)

Having worked at the House of Pain I got a kick out of this: “Chess players talk to each other in the language of notation. I was always amazed at this. Although I understood nothing of it, I listened to them as though they were aliens, observing their emotions. If, for example, Tal, Stein and Gufeld got together, their conversation could flow along the following lines:

Gufeld: What would you say to knightdfourfsixbishopg2?
Stein: Bishopgsevenfgknightdefivecheck!
Tal: Yes but you’ve forgotten about if knightfsixintermezzoqueenheight!
Gufeld: Pueenheightrookgeightwithcheckandrooktakesheight and you’re left without you mummy!
Tal: But after bishopeone you’re left without your daddy!
Stein: Bishopeone doesn’t work because of the obvious knighttakesoneecfourdekinggsevenrookasevencheck!

And this wonderful chitchat would continue endlessly, with people not “in-the-know” thinking they were in a madhouse.”

During tournaments at the Atlanta Chess & Game Center it could be, at times, a “Madhouse of Pain.”

A player would walk up talking about his game in these terms while having the position clearly in his mind. I, on the other hand, had no clue, but would nod in agreement, or frown when called for, while commiserating with the player, understanding, but not understanding, if you get my drift. The worst was when two players who had just finished their game would come downstairs talking in variations, bantering back and forth, then look at me asking, “What do you think, Mr. Bacon?!” To which my usual response was, “That’s a heckofaline!” Hopefully they would smile and nod in agreement before giving way to the next player or players wishing to tell me all about their game…

“A grandmaster said to me once: “When Misha finds himself in a hopeless position, his head tells him this but he doesn’t believe that he, Tal, has no chances. He starts to seek a saving combination, convinced that such a combination exists – it’s just a matter of locating it. And as a rule he finds it. However, despite all its beauty and numerous sacrifices, the combination turns out to be flawed, and then the defeat becomes for him even more painful and humiliating than if he had been physically dragged face down in the road.”

After reading the above I reflected upon a game recently played over contain in the latest issue of Chess Life magazine. In reply to a letter to the editor GM Andy Soltis writes, “Good point, Dr. Seda-Irizzary. Tal is a splendid example because he understood the principle of “Nothing Left to Lose.” That is, when you are truly lost, you should forget about finding a “best” move that merely minimizes your lost-ness.” The game follows:

Vassily Smyslov

vs Mikhail Tal

Candidates Tournament Bled/Zagreb/Belgrade 10/03/1959 round 15

B42 Sicilian, Kan, 5.Bd3

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6 5.Bd3 Nc6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.O-O d5 8.Nd2 Nf6 9.Qe2 Be7 10.Re1 O-O 11.b3 a5 12.Bb2 a4 13.a3 axb3 14.cxb3 Qb6 15.exd5 cxd5 16.b4 Nd7 17.Nb3 e5 18.Bf5 e4 19.Rec1 Qd6 20.Nd4 Bf6 21.Rc6 Qe7 22.Rac1 h6 23.Rc7 Be5 24.Nc6 Qg5 25.h4 Qxh4 26.Nxe5 Nxe5 27.Rxc8 Nf3+ 28.gxf3 Qg5+ 29.Kf1 Qxf5 30.Rxf8+ Rxf8 31.fxe4 dxe4 32.Qe3 Rd8 33.Qg3 g5 34.Rc5 Rd1+ 35.Kg2 Qe6 36.b5 Kh7 37.Rc6 Qd5

38.Qe5 Rg1+ 39.Kh2 Rh1+ 40.Kg2 Rg1+ ½-½

I conclude the review with this paragraph:

“Salo Flohr,

with whom I was great friends, once showed me around the Moscow chess club, and told me, pointing at the photos of world champions on the wall: Sallynka, look at them. They are all the most normal, mad people.” Well, I’m ever thankful that I lived my life among such “normal, mad people” as Misha,

Tigran,

Bobby,

and Tolya Karpov.

(Garry Kasparov is also a genius, but not mad – that’s my opinion, anyway.)”

I enjoyed this wonderful book immensely. Anyone with a love of the history of the Royal Game will be greatly rewarded for spending their time reading a beautifully written love story surrounded by the “mad men” who play the game of Chess. Please keep in mind I have told you not all the words.
I give it all the stars in the universe!

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Halftime at the World Human Chess Championship

The sixth game of the 2018 World Human Chess Championship was drawn, as were the first five games.

There are multiple reasons all games have been drawn. The format of only twelve games lends itself to many drawn games. When Bobby Fischer

defeated Boris Spassky in 1972 the World Chess Championship was comprised of twenty four games. A player could lose a game, or two, as did Fischer to begin the match, and still have time to mount a comeback. In a much shorter match the combatants know one decisive game could be all she wrote. In addition, the players are evenly matched. One would expect extremely close games between the two best human players in the world. Then there is the fact that human players are much stronger and better than their predecessors. As Chess players improve there will be more draws, unless there are changes to the rules.

In the recent 2nd Du Te Cup 2018 played in Shenzhen, China 4th to 11th November 2018, six of the top Grandmasters in the World, rated between 2709 and 2816, played an eight round double round robin in which a total of twenty four games were played, only five of which ended in victory, and each was a win for the player with the white pieces. The first win did not come until the fifth round.

The recent TCEC computer program World Chess Championship is a possible indication of what could happen in future human tournaments and matches. Stockfish and Komodo played one hundred games; only twenty one were decisive. Stockfish won thirteen games with white; Komodo won five, for a total winning percentage of eighteen percent for white. Playing black Stockfish won only two games, while Komodo won only one. Only three percent of the games played ended in victory for the black pieces. Seventy nine percent of the games played by the two 3500 rated programs were drawn.

FiveThirtyEight

It was my intention to write something about the revelatory Chess articles being written at the website of ABC News, FiveThirtyEight (https://fivethirtyeight.com/), which has been on my radar because of the excellent articles written about Major League Baseball. I first surfed over to FiveThirtyEight to read an article mentioned on another Baseball website and soon was surfing there every day, and not only because of the MLB atricles.

Mark Weeks over at Chess For All Ages beat me to the punch, so to speak, with his post Chess@538, dated 15 November, 2018 (http://chessforallages.blogspot.com/2018/11/chess-538com.html). It is an excellent post which culminates with:

“The resulting brouhaha convinced one respected chess journalist, GM Ian Rogers of Australia, to resign his job working with the American team: @GMIanRogers: Sadly parting ways with @ChessLifeOnline after a decade… (twitter.com):-

…I declined to accept edits to my round 4 World Ch’p report which would downplay responsibility of editors of the Caruana video, downplay the effect of the video on Caruana’s chances, and omit the key image from the video.

On top of that, all of the videos produced by the St.Louis Chess Club disappeared from Youtube. Out of sight, out of mind? Hardly. Someone in St.Louis is guilty of an unprofessional lapse of judgement. That’s the person who should resign — not a journalist doing the job he was paid to do.”

I must concur conclusively with Mark’s astute assessment of the situation. Who is guilty in St. Louis? Inquiring minds want to know…

In the latest column by Oliver Roeder, Chess World Rattled As Someone Nearly Wins Game, it is written, “Chess players are second only to maybe biological taxonomists in their proclivity to elaborately name things, and sure enough even this rare position has its own proper name: the Karklins-Martinovsky Variation. But neither player was troubled by Karklins-Martinovsky, they said after the game. Its theory is well known to these elite players.

And so they played on. The powerful queens came off the board by move 8, but this loss took no edge off the fight. For a while, the game looked less like a battle and more like a dressage competition, as 66 percent or more of each player’s first 12 moves were knight moves.”

The following paragraph can be found in the November 16 post by Mr. Roeder:

“The data scientist Randal Olson analyzed hundreds of thousands of chess games in an article a few years ago. The closer players are in rating, he found, the longer games tend to go. And as the players get better, draws become far more common. Carlsen and Caruana are as good — and about as close in rating — as you can get. Indeed, they are even beyond the scope of Olson’s chart below, with Elo ratings (which measure the strength of players given the opponents they’ve played) north of 2800.”

I clicked on the link provided and was sent to a column written May 24, 2014, by Randal S. Olsen. There is a fantastic picture of Bobby Fischer playing Mikhail Tal, which I saved. It was worth clicking on just to see the picture.

Then I went to Mr. Olsen’s home page (http://www.randalolson.com/) and found this: “Does batting order matter in Major League Baseball? A simulation approach”

Good thing today is an off day in the WHCC.

Backing Down at the US Chess Championship

Fabiano Caruana

v Hikaru Nakamura

Before the tournament began one could look forward to this game having a great deal in determining the 2018 US Chess Champion. In reality, Nakamura became an also-ran, while all Chess fans are wondering why Caruana decided to play in the Championship, especially after playing, and winning, the Grenke Chess Classic almost immediately after winning the Candidates tournament when the only thing that matters is the coming battle for the World Human Chess Championship. If Fabiano does not best Magnus Carlsen the pundits will have a field day questioning whether Caruana burned himself out playing so much Chess before the title match.

U.S. Championship 2018 round 09

1. e4 e5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. Bb5 Nf6 4. d3 Bc5 5. c3 O-O 6. O-O Re8 7. Nbd2 a6 8. Bxc6 dxc6 9. Nc4 Bd6 10. Bg5 b5 11. Ne3 Qe7 12. Nh4 Qe6 13. Nhf5 Bf8 14. f4 Nd7

15. Ng3? This is a terrible move! Caruana backs down, refraining from playing the expected 15 fxe5. In the language of the clanking digital monsters the limpid retreat by Fabi gives his opponent an advantage of about a quarter of a pawn. Taking the pawn would leave Fabi with an advantage of about half a pawn. If Caruana plays weak moves like this against the World Champion he will lose the match.

15…f6 16. f5 Qf7 17. Bh4 Bb7 18. Qe2 Rad8

19. Nh1 (This move reminded me of the same move played by Aron Nimzowitsch, first seen in the book Aron Nimzowitsch: A Reappraisal

by GM Raymond Keene,

the plagiarist. (http://www.chesshistory.com/winter/extra/copying.html) It is ironic that a man who resorted to stealing the work of others for his books could have produced one of the best Chess books ever written. There are better moves, all being with the king rook. Stockfish shows 19 Rfd1 best)

19…Nc5 20. Rfd1 Rd6 21. Nf2 Red8 22. Rd2 a5 23. g4 g5 24. Bg3 Ba6 25. Rad1 b4 26. c4 b3 27. a3 R6d7

28. Qe1? (Another weak, dilly-dally move from Caruana. 28 h4 is the best move, and one does not need a program to know this. Caruana’s limpid move hands the advantage to his opponent. According to digital speak, in lieu of being up by half a pawn, the move played puts Fabi DOWN by a quarter of a pawn.)

28…Nb7 29. Nh1 Nimzowitsch would be proud, but this is not one of his better choices. The Fish has 29 Kg2 or Qe2 as better. When in doubt, play Qe2!) 29…Nc5 30. Qe2 (Now this is the best move according to SF)

30…Rd4 (In this position black has a choice between four moves, 29…h6; Nb7; and a4, in addition to the move played, each keeping the game even, Steven.)

31. Be1 R8d6 (Expecting the obvious 31…Qd7, tripling on the d-file, I was shocked to see this move. The Fish proclaims Qd7 best. IM Boris Kogan was fond of saying “Chess is a simple game.” My reply was, “Maybe to you, Hulk…” It seems the modern day players intentionally eschew playing the “obviously best” moves for some reason I cannot fathom…How often does one get the opportunity to triple the heavy pieces in any game? Look at the position after moving the Queen to d7. Every piece sans the dark squared bishop is putting pressure on the backward white d-pawn. How long would you be able to withstand that kind of pressure?)

32. Nf2 Qd7 (Naka plays the move, but now SF does not consider it best. The clanking digital monster would now play the rook BACK to d8! Like Capablanca, the program has no problem admitting a move a mistake, and correcting said mistake.)

33. Kg2 Qd8 34. h3 Rd7 35. Nf1 Na4 36. Nh2 Bc5 37. Nf3 R4d6

38 Rc1 (Now SF would play, you guessed it, Nh1!) Bxf2 39. Qxf2

39…c5 (The Fish shows the path to victory with 39… Rxd3 40. Rxd3 Rxd3. Naka does not pull the trigger.)

40. Qe2 Rxd3 41. Rxd3 Rxd3 42. Bxa5 Bb7 43. Kf2 Qd7 44. Re1 Rd6

45. Rc1? (Yet another weak, vacillating move. White is lost. The move previously rejected by Fabiano, h4, is best) 45…Qc6 46. Re1 (Fabi returns the rook to its former square)

46…Rd8? (I will admit to having trouble finding a move in this position. I finally decided to move my king to g7. WRONG! I kept looking at taking the pawn on e4 with the queen, but it looks like the bishop will be lost. There is a reason Stockfish is the best Chess playing thing on the planet, and that reason is this variation: 46… Qxe4 47. Qxe4 Bxe4 48. Bxc7 Rd7 49. Rxe4 Nxb2 50. Nxe5 Rxc7 51. Nf3 Nd3+ 52. Ke2 Ne5 53. Nd2 b2 54. Nb1 Rd7 55. a4 Ra7 56. Kd2 Rxa4 57. Kc3 Rb4 58. Re2 Rxc4+ 59. Kxb2 Rb4+ 60. Kc2. Looks like a game produced by Mikhail Tal, does it not? Like me, the top players cannot calculate as well as the clanking digital monsters. It often seems that the top players no longer believe in their intuition, as did the players of the last, and previous, centuries. Because of the rise of the computer programs human players are trying to be calculating machines when what they should be doing is relying on their judgement, and intuition. I will admit going into the unknown can be a scary prospect, but the best human players have done it previously. Maybe the top players would be better off chunking the programs in the garbage and thinking for themselves…)

47. h4 (Finally, the move is played. Still, 47 Kg3 first was better…)

47…h6? (Naka has a chance to again play the winning move, but backs down, again, with this move, content to settle for a draw. SF shows, (47… Qxe4 48. Qxe4 Bxe4 49. Bxc7 Rd7 50. Rxe4 Nxb2 51. Nxe5 Nd1+ 52. Ke1 fxe5 53. Bxe5 gxh4 54. Re2 Rd3 55. Rh2 Nc3 56. Bxc3 Rxc3 57. Rb2 Kg7 58. g5 h3 59. Kd1 Rg3 60. a4 Rg1+ 61. Ke2)

48. hxg5 hxg5 49. Kg3 Rd7 50. Qh2 Rh7 51. Qd2 Rd7 52. Qh2 Rh7 53. Qd2 ½-½

Team Tal: A Review

Tal. Simply say “Tal” around any Chess player, or in any gathering of Chess players, and the response is magical. To those of us in the Chess community “Tal” is the definition of sui generis. “Tal played a kind of chess that nobody could understand at the time. Now that theory has taken a big step forward, and we have chess engines, we’re starting to realize that he was playing 21st-century chess.” – Grandmaster Alexei Shirov.

Valentin Kirillov,

Tal’s childhood friend, and his second from 1968 through 1976, has done the Chess world a HUGE service by lovingly writing about the Magician from Riga. Alexi Shirov writes in the introduction, “It’s a pity that my idea to ask Kirillov to write a book with his memories came a little too late-when he was already in poor health. Yet he has still created a new portrait of Tal (and his Latvian contemporaries)-a portrait as WE knew him.”

The author writes, “After we got our hands on our first records, which were extraordinarily hard to find in those days, music became a permanent fixture at the Tal residence. I distinctly remember my first exposure to rock and roll. Bill Haley’s raging Rock Around the Clock, which we played until the vinyl wore out, absolutely knocked my socks off.”

The author turned to writing about Chess.

“In those days, articles and reports on chess in the press tended to be academic and rather dry, which didn’t appeal to the millions of club players out there. I wanted to make my pieces a bit more accessible and lively, and crack a few jokes along the way-my editors were always there to keep me in check, though. If one argues that chess isn’t merely a science, but an art and a sport as well, then what’s stopping journalists from drawing upon the models, analogies, and comparisons made in literature, music, sports, and the circus? Using the knowledge and skill set I possessed, I tried to give my tales a certain flair.”

With this book the author has accomplished his mission. He succeeds by writing about the game Tal vs Bronstein

from the 1970 USSR Championship in hockey terms! Simply amazing…The more I read the more I came to admire the author. For example, here is what he writes about a man who was a colonel in the KGB, director of the Central Chess Club in Moscow, and vice president of the USSR Chess Federation.

“Viktor Baturinsky,

the big chess boss in the USSR, urged me to cut my long hippie hair-and asked Misha to make sure I did-before the awards ceremony of the USSR championship, because I was set to go on stage as the USSR champion’s coach. Naturally, I didn’t heed his advice, and the chess boss had to put my gold medal on over the disheveled locks flowing down to my shoulders.”

I am reminded of the time I lost a speed game horribly to Baturinsky at the FIDE congress in Atlanta in 1980. “You Americans cannot play Chess,” he said. I turned and walked away. “Set them up!” he shouted. I turned to look at him. He was LIVID! Granted, it was customary for the loser to replace the pieces, but the man had insulted me, and all American Chess players. I returned to the board and politely suggested he have sex with himself, at which point he lost it completely, and EXPLODED, as I turned and again walked away…

Team Tal: An Inside Story,

is replete with wonderful stories about Misha Tal, and his family, friends, and supporters; his team. Once begun, it could not put down. The book contains only two games so if you are looking for a book about the Chess played by Tal this is not it. If you want to read about the man who played that fantastical Chess, this book is for you! The book is filled with pictures of Tal and those who were involved in his life. In addition, there are many illustrations which are quite fascinating.

On his blog recently GM Kevin Spraggett

mentioned one of his favourite chess blogs, ‘Lost on Time’ (http://www.spraggettonchess.com/wednesday-coffee-20/) so I clicked on the link provided and discovered the editor, Justin Horton, had posted this concerning the Tal book:

Tal order

There was a series on the old blog, Bad Book Covers. I came across this yesterday, and had it been out back then, it would have been on it. (http://lostontime.blogspot.pt/2018/01/tal-order.html)

DO NOT JUDGE A BOOK BY IT’S COVER!

I recall Senior Master Brian McCarthy showing an old Informant that had seen so much action it no longer had a cover.
When someone questioned Brian about it he responded, “That don’t matter…It’s still got the MEAT!”

As Bob Dylan sang, “Don’t let other people get your kicks for you.” Judge the cover for yourself. I happen to like the cover and think it fits the “meat.”

The book also contains stories about fellow Latvian players such as Janis Klovans,

and Alvis Vitolins, and the man Tal dubbed, the Maestro, Alexander Koblencs. “Contemporary chess history knows numerous examples of successful creative partnerships, like Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Spassky -Bondarevsky, Karpov-Furman, and Kasparov-Nikitin are perhaps the most famous ones. As for Tal and Koblencs, we have two Don Quixotes on our hands.”

“He (Tal) had his favorites, for whom he had the greatest warmth and the utmost respect. He adored Vladimir Simagin, a true knight on the chess battlefield. “That man was on a constant quest; he was the Don Quixote of chess,” Tal said.

“When he came onto the scene, classical chess, as dry as the desert, was king. Everyone was all prim and proper. It felt like the Party and the government had instructed people to play balanced, strategic chess, from the opening to the endgame. Then suddenly, a real troublemaker-but he wasn’t just a troublemaker, for he added a ton to the game!-shows up and starts muddying the waters and making waves. He was like a gushing spring!” Boris Spassky said.

High praise, indeed.

Mikhail Tal could be recalcitrant.

“The Soviet authorities would say that anybody who didn’t agree with the prevailing ideology was a “nonconformist.” It goes without saying that Tal’s playing style was nonconformist.”

Sic transit Gloria mundi!’ (thus passes the glory of the world) Misha once joked after he was removed from his position as chief editor at Shas for organizing a real blowout of an office party on International Women’s Day, flouting the government’s anti-alcohol laws yet again.”

Another time, somebody asked him, “are you a morphinist?” He answered, “you’ve got it all wrong, I’m a Chigorinist…but Morphy was great, too.”

I, too, am a Chigorinist, having fallen in awe the first time I played over his 1893 match with Sigbert Tarrash, which is my all time favorite Chess match.

“We went to the movies a few times, too. I remember the new James Bond, Goldfinger,

and an erotic movie (they were taboo in the USSR!) about a passionate love affair between a woman guard and a prisoner at a concentration camp. We showed up a tad late, and when the lights came on at the end, we discovered that nearly our whole delegation was sitting there in the half-empty theater.”

A case could be made that after Bobby Fischer

defeated World Chess Champion Boris Spassky

in 1972 the best player still playing when Bobby stopped playing was Mikhail Tal.

“Although no records in professional chess could prove it, experts, journalists, and regular fans would probably characterize Tal’s achievements from 1972 through 1974 as record-breaking. I’ll let you be the judge- Tal did not suffer a single defeat from July 1972 through April 1973; six months later, he kicked off an even more remarkable streak of 96 games without a single loss (October 1973-October 1974), winning or sharing first place at six international tournaments. He won 72 games, yet drew 110 during both streaks combined…”

Possibly the most poignant part of the book concerns what happened to Mikhail’s possessions. Much is written about attempts to have a museum dedicated to Mikhail Tal in his old apartment.

“As per the Tal family’s instructions, our cargo was handed over directly to Ratko Knezevic at the Hussar of Riga Club-which had just opened its doors on the sixth floor of the Minsk Hotel to celebrate what would have been Mikhail Tal’s 60th birthday. Botvinnik and Karpov’s stories about Misha, Smyslov’s singing (he gave me a CD with his renditions of Russian romances on it), and Ivanchuk, who won the blitz tournament, reciting his own poems into the night were the highlights of the opening ceremony for me. By the way, the blitz competition winners received bags of candy instead of prize money at the tourney! I don’t know how his memorabilia then wound up in Elista.”

What are Tal’s treasured possessions doing in Elista?

“When Kirsan Ilyumzhinov

came to Riga to discuss plans to construct a knight-shaped, high -rise hotel, he even promised to share Tal’s memorabilia, which is now stuck in Elista.”

“There will be a chess club, tournament hall, and museum in the hotel,” the FIDE president said. He painted a beautiful picture, but a few years have passed, and there aren’t any knights towering over the Daugava River.”

Kirsan, if you have not taken Tal’s possessions to Zeta Reticuli please return them to Riga and the Latvians, where they belong!!!

The Future of Chess is Terrifying

Continuing with “Intelligence and chess” by Fernand Gobet, & Guillermo Campitelli, published in 2002, we find this under the sub-heading, Expertise in chess:

“In addition, there are important individual differences in the style of play:
some players are aggressive, others defensive; some prefer tactical complications,
others transparent strategic planning. Finally, one can look at extra-chess activities
for evidence of individual differences. In his 1946 book, De Groot found that there
were important differences in training and background in the sample of 55
grandmasters he studied. In particular, he found that 13 of his grandmasters had a
training in science or mathematics. Interestingly, such differences in background
have tended to fade away in recent years: nowadays, with the stringent training
requirements of competitive chess, most players are professional, with no university
training.
Where do these differences come from? Several psychological explanations,
paralleling the strands of research mentioned above, have been advanced. Information-
processing research tends to emphasise the role of the environment (presence
of coach or playing opportunities, coaching techniques, etc.). The extreme position
in this strand has been taken by Ericsson (e.g., Ericsson et al., 1993) in his theory of
deliberate practice, which denies the role of innate differences, except for motivation
and the ability to sustain long-term practice.”

This is the “theory.” In an article at the Chessbase website, Vladimir Kramnik: My Path to the Top, dated 2/20/2015, we find the “practice.” Vladimir says, “If my first book would have been a collection of the best games of Kasparov or Tal, I am sure that I would have a different playing style. But it happened as it happened, and I have nothing to complain about.”

“In the introduction Kramnik reveals how he started to play chess and he describes the atmosphere and the chess culture in Tuapse, a small town on the Black Sea where he was born and brought up. You will hear charming and humorous anecdotes you have not heard before: “I had a normal childhood. When I was seven, I went to a normal school. I would say Tuapse was a normal provincial Soviet town. It is an industrial town with working people, and I can say that I was not in the elite atmosphere, I’d say as far I am aware quite a few of my classmates, they went to prison rather soon after finishing the school (laughs). So it was a normal worker’s place with rather tough working lessons…”

“Kramnik also reveals what his first chess book was. Can you guess? A collection with the Best Games of Anatoly Karpov! Kramnik was fascinated by the games of Karpov and studying them had a big influence on his style.” (http://en.chessbase.com/post/vladimir-kramnik-my-path-to-the-top-3)

If how chess is learned depends upon the style of the games from which the student learns, what kind of players will be, or are already being produced due to the influence of computer programs such as Komodo and Stockfish? To help answer this question I send you to the excellent article, Massacre by the innocents, by GM Vlad Tkachiev at the chess24.com website. The GM, one of the best writers, and thinkers, in chess, writes about the future generation of chess, “The future of the second chess superpower arranged a worldwide premiere just for us, with a clash of generations, civilisations and philosophies. And here’s what left the deepest impression on me: the way, whether it was evening, afternoon or morning, they would gather in the lobby of the Grand Sahid Hotel, connect to the free Wi-Fi and spend hours immersed in surfing the internet. They didn’t talk to one another. They didn’t drink anything. They paid no attention to their surroundings. They were off on their notebooks, tablets and smartphones – somewhere very far away.
They say we fear the unknown. For us, seasoned professionals, it was terrifying.” (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/battle-of-the-chess-generations)

What Would Mikhail Tal Do?

Levon Aronian (2777) – Sergey Karjakin (2760)
4th Zurich CC Classical Zurich SUI (1), 2015.02.14
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 3.Nf3 d5 4.Nc3 c6 5.e3 Nbd7 6.Bd3 dxc4 7.Bxc4 b5 8.Bd3 Bb7 9.e4 b4 10.Na4 c5 11.e5 Nd5 12.dxc5 Nxc5 13.Nxc5 Bxc5 14.O-O Be7 15.Qe2 Qb6 16.Ng5 h6 17.Ne4 Rd8 18.Qf3 Ba6 19.Rd1 O-O 20.Qg3 Kh8 21.Qh3 Kg8 22.Bxh6 gxh6 23.Qxh6 f5 24.Qg6+ Kh8 25.Qh6+ Kg8 26.Qg6+ Kh8 27.Qh6+ ½-½

The question I would like you to answer is, “Would Mikhail Tal have taken the perpetual check?”

My favorite music program is Hearts of Space (https://www.hos.com/). It was called Music From the Hearts of Space when it began on National Public Radio back in 1983. It is still broadcast on NPR and even though the program can be heard free online all day Sunday, I like to get a head start and listen to the program of the week on Friday night at 11 pm on WCBE FM out of Central Ohio. If the program is particularly good I have been known to cut away from Jazz Classics (http://wabe.org/programs/jazz-classics-h-johnson) on my home town NPR station, WABE FM, at 11 pm to listen to it again on WMFE FM (http://www.wmfe.org/) out of Kissimmee, Florida, but please do not tell this to my man, H. Johnson. Last night I did just that and left H. because there was some exceptional music wafting from the Hearts of Space to which I wished to listen once again. I liked SERENITY, by Michael Hoppe & Harold Moses, and later found it online, but that was not the case with a mesmerizing piece, Dreamesque, by Ralph Zurmuhle. (http://www.ralphpiano.com/) This music resonated with the Warrior while sitting in his Armchair. Today I have listened to it repeatedly, and will continue to do so until midnight, I suppose…

While listening to the program I decided to catch up on some chess surfing, something I have been unable to do, having had to limit my exposure to the ‘puter screen while afflicted with a dreadful sinus infection. While perusing Spraggett on Chess I noticed an interview with GM Lubomir Ljubojevic that obviously flew below the AW radar. His comments would have fit in nicely with my last post.

Interview with Grandmaster Ljubomir Ljubojevic – Chess now and then, through the prism of technology, physics and philosophy – on 29 July 2013.

Yugoslav chess legend, former World No. 3, one of the best chess players from these parts ever, Grandmaster Ljubomir Ljubojevic, shared with us his impressions about the current state of Serbian and international chess, the influence of computers on chess and development of chess ways of thinking, and about the specificities of the profession of the modern chess player.

Nadezda Stojanovic
I belong to the generation which wasn’t even born at the time you were at the peak of your career. So, for us, who belong to this younger generation, it is always very interesting to hear stories about the time when chess in these parts of the world had a much greater influence than nowadays.

Ljubomir Ljubojevic
When it comes to chess profession, the biggest difference between these different times arises from great development of technology. In the period when chess relied on personal analyses and when it was difficult to find the information about the latest games played in tournaments worldwide, we depended on how fast we could get these pieces of information. That’s why we would analyse for days, sometimes even for months, to be sure if some line is playable or not. Nowadays, that is very easy, you turn on the computer and you can easily check if certain positions or openings are applicable or not. In terms of openings, chess has developed a lot. But, it is my impression that the middlegame and endgame are still an Achilles’ heel of professionals. This begs the question: has the quality of those game phases stagnated because people got used to relying on computer knowledge? Or could this be because people get tired faster than before, because they spend less time on exercising their mental skills leaving that to technology?

What is your view of the current world ranking?

Ljubomir Ljubojevic
I think that Carlsen is the most prepared and the most talented player in this moment. He has already reached maturity which even Fischer at his age didn’t have. However, this doesn’t mean that his talent is more brilliant than Fischer’s! Carlsen entered the world of chess at a very early age, mainly due to the big influence of computers, and managed to acquire knowledge for which one used to need a lot of experience and many years of hard work. In his time, Fischer would find simplicity in the game thanks to his ingenuity. Today, young leading players in the world overcome complicated secrets of chess faster, with the help of powerful computers. That is why the progress of young players is faster today, but the question is will they burn out as fast, like a shooting star, and will their successful career be as long as the career of the players in the past?

Nadezda Stojanovic
You were a player of attractive style. Even nowadays in analyses you seem to suggest moves which others don’t see. Many people respect you for this.

Ljubomir Ljubojevic
I wouldn’t say so. Every person has their own moment of lucidity. Even a chess player who is objectively considered as a weaker player can have ingenious ideas. The only question is if he will use that moment of lucidity to make a good result worth of that ingenious idea. During my chess development, when there were no computers to rely on their suggestions, I was trying to get to know the secrets of chess with all my being and capacities I had. There is a difference when you see some picture on the screen, and you remember it, or when you come to that picture by deduction and logical thinking.

Other parts of the full interview can be found on GM Spraggett’s website (https://kevinspraggettonchess.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/todays-insight-into-chess/) and the full interview can be found here (http://belgrade2013.org/index.php/en/).

“A Chess Engine Is NOT Your Friend!”

In their new book, “Play Unconventional Chess and Win,” Noam A. Manella and Zeev Zohar posit, “…that technological tools do contribute toward creativity of top human chess players.” This flies in the face of conventional thinking, and they mention this in the preface to the book:

“Experienced chess players, those who learned the game some decades ago (or even recently),
are sometimes puzzled while being in the tournament hall or watching a live
broadcast of a top game. Do they witness a game between two wise and experienced people,
having enormous knowledge combined with a unique creative ability, or is it rather a
battle between machines, cold, technical, mechanical super-computers which happen also
to have bodily needs, feelings and desires?
The influence of technological tools over the game of chess is controversial. Some think
that chess players become robotic, lose all creativity and avoid taking any risk. The inevitable
outcome is a lot of uninteresting games ending in a draw.
Back in our youth, when chess programs had not yet been used, the players found the
moves “over the board”. The first impression is that the game was then slightly different,
and that nowadays we witness the decay of classical chess. Our intuition suggests that top
players find it hard to play creatively, and the computer plays an important role in this
situation. The fact that those top players and their seconds spend most of their time preparing
while looking at the computer monitor surely contributes to this.
However, others think that technological advances have made a huge amount of information
available to chess players. Thus they can solve, within a short time, problems
which were hitherto considered too complex. Today’s players have more resources to look
for new creative ideas, and those emerge in abundance.
One of the co-authors, Zeev Zohar, a chess expert, has investigated this subject deeply
as part of his academic work. He looked deeply at the arguments of both sides while interviewing
professional chess players as well as chess software developers. Finally he became
convinced that technological tools do contribute toward creativity of top human chess
players. He shared his conclusions with Noam Manella, who is a well-known expert in the
field of creativity, besides being a chess national master and study composer whose works
have received many awards. Mr. Manella, author of the best-selling book The Creative Code,
was highly enthusiastic about the subject. Thus this book was born.
Chess is a game based on patterns, axioms, rules and mathematical calculations. A
computer has no psychological barriers. It is “willing” to check moves that most humans,
including top players, reject instantly as part of a psychological elimination process based
on paradigms. Computer-aided home analyses of top chess players leads to a reassessment
of all old axioms, principles and evaluations. Hence one can easily understand why work
with computers adds a new creative layer to the game.” (http://www.everymanchess.com/chess/books/Play_Unconventional_Chess_and_Win)

I have not seen the book, only an excerpt provided at the Everyman Chess website. I am not now, nor have I ever been, one to “tow the party line.” Knowledge is only advanced by those who question conventional thinking. Although it is true “…that technological advances have made a huge amount of information available to chess players,” I do not understand how that fact can be considered “creative.”

The computer chess programs have drastically altered the Royal game; this is not your father’s chess. For example, take the response to a question posed by Sergey Kim to Rafael Vaganian during an interview on the Chess24 website, “Both at the board and simply in life you met all the Soviet world champions from Botvinnik to Kasparov. The world champions of the twentieth century – of your generation – and the champions of the third millennium – first and foremost, Carlsen: how do they differ?”

GM Rafael Vaganian: “It’s hard to compare, because the chess is totally different. Those champions worked in another setting, playing another kind of chess. With no computers, they worked and created on their own, and their creativity was immense. If they found something it was with their own minds, while now there are these amazing programs. Theory has “grown” to 30-35 moves, and you simply can’t compare the two types of chess. Frankly speaking, I don’t like modern chess, and I’m not sure what’s going to happen next. After all, a person isn’t capable of remembering so much, so they simply suffer because of it. They need to remember and learn it all, but then what of creativity? They barely play at the board, but at home, and that’s bad.” (https://chess24.com/en/read/news/rafael-vaganian-anand-won-t-lose)

Prior to the domination of the chess “engines” knowledge was gleaned from intercourse between humans. Mikhail Tal was forced to work with Anatoly Karpov by the Soviet authorities and it changed his style of play. Contrast the games of the young Tal from the 1950’s and 60’s with that of the Tal of the 80’s and you will see an almost complete transformation. Granted, most players change as they age, but not to the drastic extent of Tal. Back in the day human players fed off of each other and learned from their human peers. Today the intercourse is between man and machine. The chess playing programs have altered the natural development of the game of chess. We will never know how chess play would have developed if humans had been left alone.

Former World Chess Champion Vladimir Kramnik had this to say in an “Indepth interview with Vladimir Kramnik” on Chessbase: “Chess openings are like science. It keeps evolving. Judging by the standards of the time when Garry was an active player, he indeed knew the opening extremely well. Now it is over, his preparation isn’t good anymore. It is part of the past. Chess is developing very rapidly – just like the Internet, gadgets. You know, no one cares about the first models of iPhones now. Without day-by-day opening studies it is not possible. You can’t just invent a bunch of ideas and then spend ten years capitalizing on them. In the 70s or 80s this might have been possible. Now, in the computer age, you have to keep finding more and more new ideas. This is a paramount amount of work. You can’t rely on the old databases.” (http://en.chessbase.com/post/indepth-interview-with-vladimir-kramnik-120413)

Kramnik had this to say in response to a question by mishanp, on August 4, 2013, during an interview on the Chess in Translation website:

“A lot has been said recently about how super-computers will put an end to chess. Is chess really finite?”

Vlad: “It’s finite, no doubt, but it’s a number with 27 or 28 zeros – for the human mind it’s still infinite. Checkers, and particularly Russian checkers, really has been exhausted by computers, if you can put it like that. Chess is too complex: even the most powerful computers we use to train can analyse positions to a maximum of about 30 moves ahead. Games, meanwhile, can sometimes stretch to 200 moves. Yes, computers are strong, but they don’t calculate the game to the end and sometimes they make mistakes.” – Kramnik: “Intellectual effort gives me enormous pleasure.” ( http://www.chessintranslation.com/2013/08/kramnik-intellectual-effort-gives-me-enormous-pleasure/)

Computer chess programs are now two of three classes above Vladimir and have become so powerful that it is rare when Black loses a game in a match between these monsters. The same fate awaits human grandmasters as they become stronger.

Colin McGourty posed this question to GM Levon Aronian, “Is there a particular part or subject of the game you enjoy studying? (openings, middlegames, endgames, tactical combinations, etc.)” Levon answered, “I really enjoy finding new ideas in the early stages of the game. The biggest joy in the modern chess era is the discovery of good moves that are not approved by the computer.”

If the grandmasters today are “creating” anything, what is it they are creating? The young players today eschew post-game analysis so they can put the moves played into a computer in order to learn how the “engine” evaluates their moves. Things have changed in the same way things have changed for the game of Checkers. Name the current World Human Checkers Champion. As the “engines” become ever more powerful, chess will inevitably follow the same path as that of the game of Checkers.

IM Jeremy Silman wrote this recently, “The point of this article is to discuss something that needs to be addressed: CHESS ENGINES ARE OFTEN DETRIMENTAL TO THE CHESS HEALTH OF NON-MASTERS. – A Chess Engine Is NOT Your Friend!” (http://www.chess.com/article/view/chess-engines-are-not-your-friend)