Mikhail Tal (1936-1992), was a tsunamic and torrential tactical player. Known for his surprising speculative sacrifices and brilliant follow-ups, he made a name for himself even as a young player.


His style of sacrificial play introduced a new and novel way of creating play for one’s own pieces.


But exactly what is this new style? What type of pieces are used in this new style?


The second question is easy to answer; “All of them”.


As to the first question, let his games demonstrate this style.




Kliavinsh-GM Tal
Latvian Ch., 1958
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bc4 e6 7.Bb3 Be7 8.O-O O-O 9.f4 b5 10.a3 Nbd7 11.Be3 (If you are thinking about 11.Bxe6, please remember there are three type of sacrifices; there are good sacrifices, bad sacrifices and Tal-like sacrifices. This move is neither a Tal-like, or even a good sacrifice, as after 11.Bxe6?! fxe6 12.Nxe6 Qb6+ 13.Kh1 Rf7 Black is a little better. Black can also play 12.Nxe6 Qe8. In either case White is down material with very little compensation.) 11…Bb7 12.Bxe6?! fxe6 13.Nxe6 Qe8! (This, however, is a Tal-like sacrifice. The Black rook will stay en prise for the next few moves until White takes it. For that, Tal will get exactly what he wants – very active pieces.) 14.Qd4 Rc8 15.Rae1 Rc4 16.Qa7 Qc8 17.Nxf8 Bxf8 18.Bd4 d5 19.Kh1 dxe4 20.Rd1 Qc6 21.b3 Rxc3 22.Bxc3 e3 23.Rf3 e2!
[This is just a good move and nothing special. However, a good sacrifice is just around the corner. We would like to see it on the scoresheet. But White resigned so we’ll have to see it in the analysis. After 24.Re1, Black has 24…Qxf3! (It’s both a good sacrifice and a Tal-like sacrifice for sure!) 25.gxf3 Bxf3+ 26.Kg1 Bc5+ 27.Qxc5 Nxc5 28.Kf2 Bh5, and Black wins!] 0-1


Isaak Birbrager-Tal
Kharkov, 1953
[Notes based on NM SamCopeland’s excellent article, “Mikhail Tal’s Most Spectacular Queen Sacrifice – Birbrager vs. Tal, 1953”, chess.com, Sept. 9 2019]
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.Nf3 Bg7 8.Bd3 (White has several alternatives here; 8.Nf3, 8.Bg5, 8.Nd2, and even 8.h3.) 8…O-O 9.O-O Na6?! 10.Nd2 Nb4 11.Be2 {11.Bb1! +/-. This would have contained the knight more effectively and kept an eye on possible kingside actions.) 11…Re8 12.a3 Na6 13.Re1 Nc7 14.Qc2 Rb8 15.a4 b6 16.Nb5? a6 17.Nxc7 (17.Na7!?. The text move practically forces Black’s response.) 17…Qxc7 18.Ra2 Qe7 19.f3? Nh5! (Getting ready to steamroll the kingside pawns with the knight providing cover.) 20.Nf1 f5! 21.Bd3 f4! (The plan of …Be5, and …g5-g4 with a mating attack is deadly.) 22.g4! Bd4+ 23.Kh1 (23.Kg2? Qh4 24.Re2 Bxg4! 25.fxg4 Qxg4+ 26.Kh1 Qg1#.) 23…Qh4 24.Re2 Qh3? 25.Rg2 Qxf3 26.Nd2 (26.gxh5 Rxe4! -+ is a beautiful and punishing blow.) 26…Qe3 27.Nf1 Qf3 28.Nd2 (draw?)
28…Bxg4!! (No draw! Tal chooses to sacrifice his queen instead! This is a perfect example of a “Tal” sacrifice; there is not a clear idea to regain the material, but Tal’s pieces are alive and crackling with energy while White’s pieces struggle to find meaning in the position. Objectively, MAYBE White can defend, but there’s no clear refutation, and White collapses almost immediately.) 29.Nxf3 Bxf3 30.h4 Rf8 31.Be2?? Ng3+ 32.Kh2 Bxg2 33.Kxg2 Nxe2 34.Qxe2 f3+ 35.Qxf3 Rxf3 36.Kxf3 Rf8+ 37.Kg3 Be5+ 38.Kg2 Bf4 […Rf4 (before or after trading on c1) wins another pawn and the game.] 0-1


GM Tal-GM Velimirovic
USSR vs. Yugoslavia
Teslic, 1979
[A complete analysis by Tal can be found in Informant 27, game #64]
1.c4 c5 2.b3 Nc6 3.Bb2 e5 4.g3 d6 5.Bg2 Be6 6.Nc3 Qd7 7.Nf3 Bh3 8.Bxh3 Qxh3 9.Nd5! Qd7 10.e3 Nce7 11.Nc3! Nf6 12.0-0 e4 (12…Ng6 13.d4 +/-) 13.Ng5!? d5!? 14.cxd5 Qf5

15.Nxf7! Kxf7 16.f3! Nexd5 17.fxe4 Nxc3 18.Bxc3 Qxe4 19.Qh5+ Ke6 20.Qh3+ Kd6 (20…Kf7! 21.Rf5! is unclear but the advantage probably lies with White.) 21.b4!! Kc7 22.Rac1 +/- Rc8 23.Rf5!! Qg4 24.Be5+ Kd7 25.Qf1 Qe4?  26.Rc4 Qc6 27.Qh3 (27.Bxf6 gxf6 28.Rxf6 Qd5 29.Qh3 Kc7 30.Rf8 +-) 27…Qe6 (27…Kd8 28.bxc5+-) 28.Bxf6 gxf6 29.Re4! +- Qa2 30.Rxc5+ 1-0


World Junior Team Ch.
Varna, 1958
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 O-O 6.Nge2 c5 7.Be3 Nbd7 (Another move is 7…Nc6!?) 8.Qd2 a6 9.O-O-O Qa5!? (Aggressive, provocative, and encourages piece play by Black.) 10.Kb1 b5 11.Nd5
11…Nxd5! (Not only is it unexpected, it is also among of his most sound sacrifices. Tal’s pieces really come alive!) 12.Qxa5?

[Tal’s sacrifice is so well known that IM and GM players avoid taking the offered queen and instead play 12.cxd5 to liquefy the possibilities, but apparently not necessarily the stress brought on by Black’s active piece play.

Here are two games for future study of this game.

Abraham Neumann-Israel Gelfer (2340)
Israel Ch., Dec., 1967
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 O-O 6.Be3 Nbd7 7.Qd2 c5 8.Nge2 a6 9.O-O-O Qa5 10.Kb1 b5 11.Nd5 Nxd5 12.cxd5 Qxd2 13.Bxd2 f5 14.e5 Bb7 15.Bg5 Rfe8 16.dxc5 Nxc5 17.e6 Na4 18.Bc1 Nb6 19.Nf4 Be5 20.Be3 Na4 21.Rd2 Rac8 22.Ne2 Rc7 23.f4 Bf6 24.g3 Rec8 25.Rg1 b4 26.Rg2 Bxb2 27.Rxb2 Nxb2 28.Kxb2 Rc2+ 29.Kb1 Bxd5 30.Rf2 Bxa2+ 31.Ka1 Bc4 32.Nd4 Rxf2 33.Bxc4 Rxh2 34.Bd5 Rc3 35.Nf3 Rh1+ 0-1

Cicirone Spulber (2326)-Boris Itkis (2474)
Homorod, Romania, 1993
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 g6 3.Nc3 Bg7 4.e4 d6 5.f3 O-O 6.Be3 Nbd7 7.Qd2 c5 8.Nge2 a6 9.O-O-O Qa5 10.Kb1 b5 11.Nd5 Nxd5 12.cxd5 Qxd2 13.Rxd2 f5 14.dxc5 Nxc5 15.Bxc5 dxc5 16.Nc3 c4 17.Be2 Bd7 18.exf5 gxf5 19.f4 b4 20.Nd1 Rfc8 21.Rc2 c3 22.b3 a5 23.Ne3 a4 24.Bc4 Rxc4 25.Nxc4 axb3 26.axb3 Bb5 27.Rhc1 Rd8 28.Ne3 Bd3 29.Rd1 Be4 30.g3 Ra8 31.d6 exd6 32.Rxd6 Re8 33.Nd5 Bxc2+ 34.Kxc2 Re2+ 35.Kc1 Bf8 36.Rd8 Kf7 37.Rb8 Rxh2 38.Nxb4 Bc5 0-1.

Back to the Tal game.]

12…Nxe3 13.Rc1 Nxc4! (The strong knight threatens the queen and she doesn’t have good square to move.) 14.Rxc4 bxc4 15.Nc1 (White, despite giving back some of the material, finds his king stripped of defensive pieces and pawns and sitting on an semi-open file.) 15…Rb8 16.Bxc4 Nb6 17.Bb3 Bxd4 (Among other threats, the move …c4! wins at once.) 18.Qd2 Bg7 19.Ne2 c4 20.Bc2 (Not 20.Bd1? as White may need to move his rook to the queenside.) 20…c3 21.Qd3 (Winning for Black is 21.Nxc3? Nc4! 22.Qc1 Bxc3 -+.) 21…cxb2 22.Nd4 Bd7 23.Rd1 Rfc8! (There is no escape for White’s king.) 24.Bb3 Na4 25.Bxa4 Bxa4 26.Nb3 Rc3 27.Qxa6 Bxb3 28.axb3 Rbc8 29.Qa3 Rc1+ 30.Rxc1 Rxc1+ (This position deserves a diagram.)

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