TWENTY-one years ago, on June 28, 1992, one of the most popular champions of all time, Mikhail Tal, died in a Moscow hospital at just 55.
But in a fitting conclusion to his own legacy, the Magician from Riga – who was dying of major organ failure – somehow managed to escape from his intensive care bed on May 28, to play in the very strong Moscow Blitz championship.
The eight-player double-round robin was led by World Champion Garry Kasparov himself, who at this time was at the peak of his powers. No one expected Tal to play, and many – including Kasparov – were said to be visibly shocked when the pale and emaciated figure walked into the tournament hall. But then, Tal only ever lived to play chess, and in the first round, with pandemonium breaking out around the hall, he first offered a queen sacrifice and then went on to beat a stunned Kasparov.
Remembering the game, Kasparov commented: “I couldn’t solve all the problems he set in five minutes. It is sort of a higher chess truth that even in his last days he was still able to play the type of chess that made him immortal.” That game was to be Tal’s swan song. Exactly a month later he died in the same hospital bed he escaped from wearing just a dressing gown and slippers, and was buried in his native Riga.
But as queen sacrifices go, none is more thrilling than this early one offered up by Tal in today’s game, during the 1958 World Students Team Championship in Varna, Bulgaria, against the then Bulgarian champion.