Mikhail Tal, the Wizard from Riga, was one of the most devastating tacticians in the history of chess. His rise to become world champion was meteoric and included an equally devastating first prize in the 1959 Candidates tournament as well as demolition of the incumbent champion Mikhail Botvinnik in their 1960 title contest.
Tal’s forte was the creation of inexhaustible attacking potential that was almost impossible to refute. Harry Golombek, then the Times chess correspondent, related an anecdote about this week’s game in his book Fourth Candidates Tournament (Hardinge Simpole): ‘Tal sacrificed a piece for an attack that certainly should not have been sufficient. All seemed over and I had left the scene to type out my report, giving the result as Smyslov 1 Tal 0, when the assistant director of the tournament came to me and said Smyslov had resigned. In fact, Smyslov’s last move was a complete blunder, throwing away the game. I had to rewrite my report whilst the Russian journalist who had already informed Moscow that Tal had lost had to contact Moscow again by telephone and eat his words.’
As I write the Tal Memorial tournament is in progress in Moscow. This week’s puzzle was selected from the preliminary blitz section, which determines colours in the main event.
Tal-Smyslov: Candidates Tournament 1959; Sicilian Defence
1 e4 c5 2 Nf3 d6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 Nf6 5 Nc3 e6 6 Be2 a6 7 0-0 Nbd7 8 f4 b5 9 Bf3 Bb7 10 a3 Qc7 11 Qe1 Be7 12 Kh1 12 e5 would be bad on account of 12 … dxe5 13 Bxb7 Qxb7 14 fxe5 Bc5. 12 … Rb8 Further protecting the bishop puts a stop to White’s plans for e4-e5. 13 b3 0-0 14 Bb2 Rfe8 15 Qg3 Bf8 16 Rae1 Preparing to play e4-e5 but Black strikes first. 16 … e5 17 Nf5 Kh8 18 Qh4 exf4 19 Qxf4 Ne5 20 Re3 g6 21 Nh6 Bg7 (see diagram 1) 22 Nd5 This leaves White struggling. He should prefer 22 Be2 with an equal position. 22 … Nxd5 23 exd5 f6 Not 23 … Qxc2 when 24 Nxf7+ Nxf7 25 Qxf7 wins. 24 Be4 This is unsound as White gains insufficient compensation for the piece. He had to try 24 Qh4 although after 24 … Nxf3 25 Rexf3 f5 Black has a fine position. 24 … g5 25 Qf5 Bxh6 26 Qxf6+ Bg7 27 Qf5 If 27 Qxg5 Rf8 is winning for Black. 27 … Ng6 28 Rh3 Bxb2 29 Qxg6 Re7 30 Rh6 Rg8 Not the natural 30 … Rbe8 on account of 31 Rxh7+ 31 Qf5 Bc8 32 Qf3 g4 32 … Qc3 also wins easily, e.g. 33 Bxh7 Qxf3 34 Be4+ Kg7 35 Rh7+ Kf8 36 Rxf3+ Ke8 and White has run out of steam. 33 Qd3 Be5 34 c4 bxc4 35 bxc4 Reg7 36 c5 dxc5 37 d6 Qa7 38 Bd5 Rd8 39 Qe4 Bd4 40 Qf4 Rgd7 (see diagram 2) A terrible blunder that loses at once. Black could win with 40 … Rdg8 41 Bxg8 Rxg8 or the cold-blooded 40 … Qd7, meeting 41 Qf8+ with 41 … Rg8. 41 Rf6 Black resigns There is no defence to 42 Rf8+ as 41 … Bxf6 42 Qxf6+ Rg7 43 Qxd8+ mates. White also had another beautiful win with 41 Rg6 when 41 … hxg6 42 Qh6+ Rh7 43 Rf8+ also leads to mate.