Mikhail Tal v Colin Searle
Played in a simultaneous display by World Champion Mikhail Tal.
The Chess Czar from Riga played Stratford and Warwickshire county captain Colin Searle in the days before the health hazards of secondary smoking attracted much critical comment, and the charismatic Latvian GM's consumption of the weed could reach epic proportions over the three or four hours of a full scale simul. Although it would be a tad unfair to describe Mikhail Tal as a precursory stealth fighter coming at you suddenly out of a pall of tobacco smoke, there is an element of truth in the scary image.
Colin reports that on occasion Tal himself would pause spluttering, taking momentary time out from his intense concentration to blow his own smoke away. This confirmed the general impression he gave of legendary ill health, but also of a man preoccupied with doing well what he had come to do. Coupled with his poor command of English, some read this as shyness. He won every game except a draw against his host Dr. Jack Lanz, who was known to be supplying him with medication not available in Russia, so he could not be said to have been entirely without social skills.
Tal's immediate physical presence was also famously intimidating, not least in his reported demeanor when facing the young Bobby Fischer. During Colin's simul encounter, Tal never once looked him, or indeed at any other player, in the eye, or smiled, with the exception of the moment at which our Stratford hero banged in 2....f5 and entered the Latvian in honor of his opponent. The wicked grin would not have disgraced Jack Nicholson's "Johnny".
This immediate move of the knight without a preceding d4 enters the Leonhardt variation of the Latvian Gambit, which has a good reputation, especially for a player like Tal who was admired as a great improviser with a genius for attacking middle game play. GM Tony Kosten in The Latvian Gambit Lives! characterizes the Leonhardt variation as leaving open the possibility of d3 to attack Black's e pawn, seeing it as favourable to tactical players who like rapid development and piece play. One can see how it suited Mikhail Tal. In passing, I must note how disconcerting it is for those of us who play the Latvian Gambit that Kosten put an exclamation mark in his title. It suggests amazement (as in Lazarus lives!) or nervous over-assertion.
Sorry Colin, but 5....Qe7, although Fritz spared it an annotated question mark, seems to me a weak move and the direct cause of much subsequent heartache, as your Queen picks up the kind of problems that today would fall under sexual harassment at work legislation. The proverbial "book" is undecided between the virtues of three queen moves. Possible is 5....Qg6 or 5....Qe6, although the best shot seems to be 5....Qf7! According to Kosten, no other move "comes anywhere near being satisfactory". With this strange and inexplicable fifth move Colin leaves the book, although it is fair to remind readers that this was his first serious game with the Latvian and he was still carrying metaphorical L plates. At least there was a first rate driving instructor on board!
Even at this early stage Fritz awards Tal "the full point" for a clearly won position.
The en passant capture is forced.
I think this is a tremendous move by Tal, sacking a knight into the attack. It was made instantly and seemingly without calculation. The double question mark is not mine but gratis Fritz. Perhaps it was less a matter of the notoriously materialistic Fritz not being able to calculate far enough ahead to "justify" the sac, than the machine seeing something better. Fritz comments in withdrawing the offer of the "full point" that Tal has "given away a clear win" [suggesting 9.Ne5 (threatening Nf7 mate) g6 10.Qh4+ Be7 11.Qe4 with a winning position]. Why settle for a clear win when you can have serious chess fun and the promise of an unclear win, but a win all the same? This is mischievous chess at its best, and completely fails to match Hooper and Whyld's image of the cautious GM playing soundly in the simul whilst awaiting opponents' errors.9...Qxc4
with, according to the greedy Fritz, a slight advantage to Colin. I doubt it.10.Bxd3
Underdeveloped or what? One amusing feature of this position is that all of Colin's pieces are on their original squares apart from his harassed Queen. The long-legged cranes are about to be heading home to roost. It is obvious what will happen next: Colin's Queen will retreat to one of the two available bad squares, either the peripheral a4 or c6, blocking his Knight's natural development move, and Tal will castle long, giving himself five developed pieces and joined rooks. The sheer amusement of this position must be worth a Knight.
Fritz shows its legendary impartiality by annotating Colin's move with a double question mark, chiding Black for "throwing away a nice position" by making a pawn move when dangerously "behind in development" 11...Ne7 12.Bg5 Qc5.
Putting GM Mikhail Tal even further ahead in development and threatening an imminent attack.
This has now become a tremendously exciting tactical game with neither player either willing or able to make positional moves. The last and the next few moves by Tal are a master class in deploying the decoy theme in the context of a discovered attack. The bishop is poisoned because of 15.Bxe7+ and the discovered attack on the Black Queen
The decoy theme again. The rook is untouchable for the same reason.
This is an interesting and brave move by Colin, and almost certainly the correct one. Worried about his harassed Queen coming to a sticky end, he opts to trade it in for a pawn and a Rook, a strategy that is not without merit since Tal has already sacked a knight into the attack.
19....Kd7 might have been better.23.Qxf7 c6 24.Rxd6+ Kc8
Colin decides to meet fate at the door. Not only has his position become hopeless but there is a demonstrable mate in six. Nevertheless it takes two to make a good game and Colin found a number of resources that kept Tal striving for his win. Both players managed to bequeath us a game well worth studying.
For those hoping to play well against a GM in a simul, perhaps the lesson to learn here is that is the GM may not necessarily be interested in a hazard-free game and, given the right encouragement, might enter into the spirit of things and risk the danger of over-reaching. But not, alas, on this occasion.
Notes by David R Jenkins