Twenty three years ago, this day (28th June, 1992) Mikhail Tal passed way and the chess world was plunged in grief. The following obituary appeared at the time-Ed.
Misha Tal is no more. There could not have been a more cruel blow to his numerous fans all over the world. Kasparov and Karpov may claim greater sporting success than Tal. But neither won spontaneous public affection notwithstanding the superstar status. Tal was different. He was the darling of the chess public, loved and adored even when he was well past his prime. What endeared him to the public was his boundless love for the game and his unfailing modesty. Tal wore his genius lightly on his sleeve. If Botvinnik and Smyslov remained the high priests of their art Tal brought the true democratic spirit into the game.
When he was not engaged in serious play he could always be found playing five-minute games with all and sundry. It’s no wonder that he remained the idol of children and the young. At a time when scientific method was all in chess Tal brought back the romance and adventure of youth into the game. His best games pulsate with wonderful fantasy and amazing daring. Hence, the Russian proverb, “Tal is Tal!”
It took years for fellow grandmasters to come to terms with Tal’s brilliant attacking play. At last nemesis caught up with the development of defensive technique by grandmasters like Petrosian, Korchnoi and Spassky.
Besides, Tal’s star had begun to wane with frequent bouts of ill-health. His fans were dismayed by his results. He who had shunned draws like plague was obliged to split points with fellow players in later years. Tal had burned himself out. When D.V.Prasad, an Indian IM won against him in 1987 Interzonal, his countrymen exulted in his victory. But there was also a twinge of regret when it came to be known that the loss had cost Tal his rightful place in the Candidates’.
Tal was not without his share of weakness in life. There was little room for dissent in the Soviet Union during the Karpov era. Independence of views could have entailed constant harassment and virtual banishment from chess life. Sadly, he chose to side with Karpov and the official establishment.
It was only in later years that he distanced himself from both Karpov and Kasparov camps.
Over the years it had been a wrench for his fans to see their once youthful, ebullient and charismatic hero turn into a cadaverous shadow of his former self with the ravages of time.
The upheaval in the former Soviet Union had also cast him adrift. He had hoped to find his moorings in his native land Latvia. That was not to be. The maestro is gone, the magic lingers.
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1)This obituary first appeared in Chess Mate, India Magazine in 1992.
2) The first three images are from the Russian chess site, ChessPro.Ru
3)The last image is from public domain.