Attack with Mikhail Tal

Attack with Mikhail Tal was written by the former World Champion with sports journalist Iakov Damsky. Tal died in 1992, but Ken Neat’s English translation was first published in 1994 by Cadogan Books.

Some players have a special aura in chess history. I would definitely include Paul Morphy, Jose Capablanca, Bobby Fischer, and yes, Mikhail Tal in this category.

The Magician from Riga

Born November 9, 1936 in Riga, Latvia, Mikhail Tal became the youngest-ever USSR Champion in 1957 at 20 years old (a record later broken by Garry Kasparov). He repeated as Champion in 1958, and won six Soviet Championships in all, equalling Mikhail Botvinnik’s record total.

Tal won the 1958 Interzonal Tournament and dominated the 1959 Candidates Tournament to challenge Mikhail Botvinnik for the World Championship in 1960. He won the match 12½—8½ becaming the 8th World Champion, and the youngest. He remains the third-youngest official, undisputed Champion in chess history, after Kasparov and Magnus Carlsen.

Botvinnik won the rematch in 1961. Tal never reached another title match, increasingly dogged by ill health, but he remained a top player through the late 1980s.

Still, Mikhail Tal captured fans’ imagination by the manner of his victories. He dismantled the chess elite with daring sacrifices and rich complications. But how did the Wizard see the game?

The point of Attack with Mikhail Tal

While Tal includes instructive puzzles at the end of each of the nine chapters (“What Would You Have Played?”), this isn’t a textbook. It’s not a first book on attacking chess; for that, choose The Art of Chess Combination by Eugene Znosko-Borovsky (written in Descriptive Notation).

“Misha” tries to cultivate in his readers an opportunistic eye and aggressive mentality needed to launch successful attacks when appropriate. Attack with Mikhail Tal is one of my favorite books, and I have always been an “attacking-challenged” player.

Tal knows that not everything can be calculated “to the end.” He took risks, but his play was not reckless! I would sum up the attacking principles presented as follows:

  • Pay attention to defects in the opponent’s position (Chapters 1 and 9)
  • Get as many pieces as possible into the attack (Chapter 3)
  • Get those pieces into strong positions (Chapter 6) and find the right path for them to get to the enemy (Chapters 4 and 5)
  • Remove obstacles (Chapters 2, 7, 8, and 9)

A chessplayer cannot be unduly materialistic. Chess is more than counting the point values of the pieces you and your opponent have; one also needs to assess their possibilities. Extra material is useless if it doesn’t take part in the game.

Tal evaluated the compensation would receive for his sacrificed material. There is a defnite value to strengthening your pieces or reducing the power of your adversary’s units! With practice, you will improve your feel in positions with unbalanced material.

Who should read Attack with Mikhail Tal?

Ideally, you should not be prejudiced about either sacrificing material or accepting sacrifices; do whatever the position in front of you demands. Easier said than done!

Just about anyone would enjoy Attack with Mikhail Tal, no matter their rating! Instructive games, memorable recommendations, and the book is a series of conversations or interviews between Tal and Damsky.

However, I would not expect huge improvement with this book for players rated below 1700. I am not sure they have the chess strength to evaluate attacking potential objectively.

My advice for lower-rated players: enjoy the book and re-read it as you improve. You will pick up new things upon a second and third reading, and Tal’s ideas will become easier to implement in your own play.

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