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Walk Through Tal - Larsen, Candidates Match (g.10), Bled 1965
'If you are destined to lose, there is no need for the reason to be cowardice.' - Mikhail Tal

With this article we continue the About Chess game walk throughs, featuring in-depth analysis of famous games. Follow the 'Walk Through' link to see our game notes and diagrams from key positions. Our games in this series are taken from 'Classic Chess : 64 Great Games' (found in the link box at the bottom).

This walk through features a tactical battle between Mikhail Tal of the Soviet Union (Latvia) and Bent Larsen of Denmark, played during the 10th game of their semifinal candidates match, Bled, 1965. The winner would face Boris Spassky in the final candidates match to determine the next title challenger for World Champion Tigran Petrosian.

Tal, 28 years old at the time of the game was widely known as the magician from Riga. He had become World Champion in 1960 by beating Mikhail Botvinnik, but had lost the title a year later in a return match against the same opponent.

Larsen, 30 years old, was one of the stars of the Western World. He had tied for first place with Tal and two other players at the 1964 Amsterdam Interzonal tournament. This qualified both players for the candidates matches.

The ten game semifinal match was tied at +2-2=5 when the two players sat down to play the last game. The three previous games had all ended in hard fought draws.

Our notes to the walk through incorporate two sources.

  • The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal by Tal himself; he was an excellent annotator and his book is a classic of chess literature.

  • My Great Predecessors by GM Garry Kasparov; also an excellent annotator, Kasparov's books on the World Champions are destined to become classics.

Tal's daring sacrifices have long enchanted chess players of all levels. Even strong grandmasters marvel at his creativity. After one particularly stunning move Bobby Fischer wrote (My 60 Memorable Games), 'Setting off a dazzling array of fireworks! I thought Tal was merely trying to confuse the issue'. Of another game Larry Evans wrote (Modern Chess Brilliancies), 'like many of [Tal's] vintage brilliancies this game has a murky quality'; murky or not, of 101 brilliancies in his book, Evans selected 19 games by Tal, more than by any other single player.

In his notes to our game, Tal traced the thoughts that led to one of his most famous piece sacrifices: 'If in the end, Misha, you are destined to lose this match, there is no need for the reason for this to be cowardice'.

The walk through is spread across 10 web pages. If you find it difficult to follow, note the 'Print this page' function available on each of those pages. This function gathers all 10 pages into a single, printable page. You can also find the game in our game viewer (see the link box again) and in PGN format (also in the link box) for loading into your favorite chess playing software.


Mikhail Tal (USR) - Bent Larsen (DEN), Candidates Match, Game 10, Bled, Yugoslavia, 1965. • ECO B82 • Tal's own comments (abridged) are noted wherever they have been used. Kasparov analyzed the game in My Great Predecessors II. The two ex-World Champions often have different opinions on the key moments of the game.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e6 5.Nc3 d6. First the players negotiate the opening system to be used in the game. Another common move order is 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 e6, the Scheveningen Variation of the Sicilian Defense. The next move for each player confirms the Scheveningen.

6.Be3 Nf6 7.f4 Be7 8.Qf3. Kasparov: 'One of the sharpest variations.' Note the move order. White played f4 & Qf3, but only after Be3 to protect the Knight on d4, which is left undefended by the Queen move.

After 8.Qd1-f3
After 8.Qd1-f3

8...O-O 9.O-O-O. See the diagram in the next section.

After 9.O-O-O

After 9.O-O-O
After 9.O-O-O

The players have castled on opposite wings. This often signals opposing Pawn storms; White will play g4 & g5; Black will play ...a6, ...b5, & ...b4.

Tal: '[9.O-O-O is] more energetic than 9.Be2

9... Qc7 Tal: 'This normal "Sicilian" move leads Black into difficulties. It would appear that he should first have developed his Queen's Bishop, 9...Bd7.

10.Ndb5 Now we get a difference in opinion on the best move. Tal says 10.Ndb5!; Kasparov says 10. g4!.

Tal: 'True, the immediate 10.g4 is now met by the rejoinder 10...Nxd4 11.Rxd4 e5 12.Rc4 Bxg4 13.Qxg4 Qxc4, but White can embark on his attack after forcing the Black Queen onto an inferior square.'

Kasparov: 'There is more venom in 10.g4! Nxd4 11.Bxd4 (11. Rxd4?! e5 12. Rc4 Bxg4) 11...e5 12.fxe5 dxe5 13.Qg3!.

10...Qb8 11.g4 a6 12.Nd4

After 12.Nb5-d4

After 12.Nb5-d4
After 12.Nb5-d4

Compare this diagram with the previous diagram (after 9.O-O-O). Both players have made three additional moves:

  • White has made only one move visible on the board: g2-g4. The other two moves were Nd4-b5 and Nb5-d4, when the Knight is still on d4.

  • Black's three moves were ...a7-a6 and Qd8-c7-b8.

Compared with Black, hasn't White lost two developing moves? No, because the Black Queen has not been developed; it has been transferred to another back rank square. Tal's note to the 10th move ('White can embark on his attack after forcing the Black Queen onto an inferior square') indicates that he thought the Queen is placed worse on b8 than on d8.

The end result is that in three moves played on the board, each players has made one move to further the goal of launching a Pawn attack at the enemy King. The game continued

12...Nxd4 13.Bxd4

After 13.Be3-d4(xB)

After 13.Be3-d4(xB)
After 13.Be3-d4(xB)


Tal: 'A very important moment. After the move made by Larsen it is obvious that White's attack will develop more quickly, which in such positions is often the decisive factor. Black should have played 13...e5, to which I would have replied 14.g5. Now the attempt to win the exchange fails: 14...Bg4 15.Qg3 Bxd1? 16.gxf6 Bxf6 17.Nd5 and Black loses (17...exd4 18.Nxf6+ Kh8 19.Rg1). But by continuing 15... exd4 16.gxf6 dxc3 17.fxe7 cxb2+ 18.Kb1 Bxd1, Black keeps quite good defensive chances, since the position has become considerably simplified.'

14.g5 Nd7

After 14...Nf6-d7

After 14...Nf6-d7
After 14...Nf6-d7


Tal: 'How should White develop his attack? At first I wanted to play the prophylactic 15.a3 so as to maintain the Knight on c3. Variations of the type 15...b4 16.axb4 Qxb4 17.Qh5 Rb8 18. Rd3 Qxb2+ 19. Kd1 appeared quite attractive, but then my attention was drawn to the idea of the Knight sacrifice on d5, opening lines for the attack.'

Kasparov: '15.a3 is unfavourable in view of 15...b4 16.axb4 Qxb4 17.Qh5 Nc5 18.Rg1 Rb8 19.b3 Bb7.'

15...b4 Tal: 15...Bb7 16.a3. Kasparov: 15...Bb7 16.Qh3!.

16.Nd5 Kasparov: 'Now after the quiet 16.Ne2 e5 (or 16...a5) 17. Be3 exf4 and 18...Ne5, Black has no reason for complaint.'

After 16.Nc3-d5

After 16.Nc3-d5
After 16.Nc3-d5

16...exd5 17.exd5. Here we have the most critical position of the game, which continued 17...f5.

Tal: 'On 17...g6 White can continue the attack by 18. h4 or 18.Qh3 which is, in my opinion, more active.' Tal's editor disagreed and added this comment: 17...g6 18.Qh3 Nf6 19.Qh6 Nh5 when White has nothing to show for the sacrificed material. Kasparov goes much further.

Kasparov: 'The wrong pawn! Instinctively one is drawn into making this move, but only 17...g6 could have cast doubts on White's bold conception.

  • '18.Qh3 Nf6 19.Qh6 Nh5 20.Be2 Re8 21.Bxh5 Bf8!.
  • '18.h4 Nc5 19.h5 Nxd3+ 20.Rxd3 Bf5 21.hxg6 fxg6 22.Rxh7 Kxh7 23.Re3 Qd8 24.Qe2 Bxg5 25.fxg5 Qxg5.
  • '18.Rde1 Bd8 19.Qh3 Ne5 20.Qh6 Bb6 21.fxe5 Bxd4 22.Re4 Bf2 23.e6 fxe6 24.dxe6. Here Black can play for a win in two ways.'

'After missing this far from obvious chance, Larsen also stumbles on the next move, and as a result he suffers a catastrophe.'

Kasparov's analysis is always impressive and he may be right that White is lost after 17...g6. Still, there are other resources in White's position. Let's look at Tal's suggestion again.

  • 18.Qh3 Nf6 19.f5 (instead of 19.Qh6, which after 19...Nh5 buries the Queen on h6) 19...Nh5 20.Qe3. The White Queen controls the e-file, controls the a7-g1 diagonal, and protects the Pawn on g5. Black has several moves, but the Black pieces are not developed in aggressive positions. One interesting line is 20...Qc7 21.Rhf1 Bxf5 22.Rxf5 gxf5 23.Bxf5 Ng7 24.Bxg7 Kxg7 25.Qd4+.


After 18.Rd1-e1

After 18.Rd1-e1
After 18.Rd1-e1


Tal: 'Now Black has an unpleasant choice: either to defend his bishop with his rook from f7, but then the position of the rook gives White the possibility of opening lines on the Kingside with gain of tempo (g6!), or else to move yet another piece away from the K-side [with] 18...Bd8.'

Kasparov: '18...Bd8 was essential. 19.Qh5 Nc5 20.Bxg7 Nxd3+ 21.Kb1 Qc7 22.Bxf8 Nxe1 23.Rxe1 Qf7 24.Qxf7+ Kxf7 25.Bxd6 a5 and Black's chances in the ending are at least equal.'

19.h4 Kasparov: 'It is probable that the attack is already decisive.'

19...Bb7 20.Bxf5

Tal: 'Here the state of the match had its effect. If this position had occurred in any game but the final one, I would no doubt have played more sharply: 20.g6 hxg6 21.h5 g5 22.Bxf5 with very dangerous threats. However, at this moment I wanted to make certain, and at the board I could not find a forced win after 22...Bf6 23.Be6 Qf8 On the question of whether there was one, I had no doubt (I am just as certain now), but the experience of previous games warned me against wasting time on the calculation of long complicated variations -- that is how to get into time trouble. Besides, after the move which I made in the game, my position remains highly favourable.'

Kasparov: 'Today a program such as Hiarcs, Fritz, or Junior quckly finds the winning 24.Bxf6.'

20...Rxf5 Tal: '20...Nf8 21.Qe4.'


After 21.Re1-e7(xB)

After 21.Re1-e7(xB)
After 21.Re1-e7(xB)

21...Ne5 Tal: '21...Rf7 22.Rxf7 Kxf7 23.g6+ hxg6 24.h5'

22.Qe4 Qf8 Kasparov: '22...Rf7 23.Rxf7 Nxf7 24.g6 hxg6 25.Qxg6 Qf8 26.Rg1'

23.fxe5 Rf4 24.Qe3

After 24.Qe4-e3

After 24.Qe4-e3
After 24.Qe4-e3

24...Rf3 Tal: 'After this move White wins without great difficulty. The basic variation of the combination beginning with 20.Bxf5 was 24...Bxd5 25.exd6 Rxd4 (25...Bxh1 26.Rxg7+) 26.Qxd4 Bxh1 27.b3. Here Black probably does best to return the piece immediately by 27... Bf3.'

25.Qe2 Qxe7 Tal: '25...Qf4+ 26.Qd2 Rf1+ 27.Rxf1 Qxf1+ 28.Qd1; or 25... Bxd5 26. exd6'

26.Qxf3 dxe5 27.Re1 Rd8 28.Rxe5 Qd6 29.Qf4 Rf8 30.Qe4 b3 31.axb3 Rf1+ 32.Kd2 Qb4+ 33.c3 Qd6

Post Mortem

After 33...Qb4-d6
After 33...Qb4-d6


Tal: 'A not altogether necessary (there were many ways to win), but amusing concluding combination.'

34...Qxc5 35.Re8+ Rf8 36.Qe6+ Kh8 37.Qf7 1-0

Tal wrote of his Knight sacrifice (16.Nd5), 'On this occasion I fairly easily persuaded myself not to reject such a tempting, though not unhazardous idea. The amusing variations which I found at this moment (after Black's 18th move), reinforced the conviction that to refrain from such a sacrifice would be simply shameful. All the time the after-taste of the fourth game was somehow weighing on my mind, and I even used a sort of internal monologue in order to make up my mind: "If in the end, Misha, you are destined to lose this match, there is no need for the reason for this to be cowardice".'

In the fourth game Larsen had defended with Alekhine's Defense, 1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.d4 d6 4.Nf3 dxe5 5.Nxe5, and then played the unusual 5...Nd7. Tal spent 50 minutes calculating 6.Nxf7, but played 6.Bc4 instead. He wrote, 'I rejected the sacrifice after prolonged thought, and this was a psychological blunder, for even after I had gained the advantage, my thoughts kept returning to the position.' Suddenly he decided that he had overlooked a line where 'White in fact gains a decisive advantage. This I could not endure, and I played the second part of the game aimlessly, which led after 40 moves to a lost ending.'

 Related Resources
• In Game Viewer
• In PGN (offsite)
  Famous Chess Players
• Mikhail Tal (offsite)
• Classics : 64 Great Games
• World Championship Terms (offsite)