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|1962 Varna Olympiad - Tal vs. Mohrlok|
|Every Move Explained|
This game was played between Mikhail Tal and Dieter Mohrlok (sometimes spelled Mohrlock) at the 1962 Varna Olympiad. Tal was 25 years old at the time of the game; Mohrlok was 23 and would earn the IM title in 1969.
World Champion for one year in 1960-61, Tal had a difficult year in 1962. In June, he withdrew because of illness from the Curacao Candidates Tournament which was to determine the next challenger for the World Championship.
When the Olympiad started in September, Tal played as second reserve for the USSR, the lowest board on the six man Soviet team. The game with Mohrlok, the second reserve on the West German team, was played in the fourth round of the preliminary stage.
Tal played the White pieces.
Next move: 1.e4 • For more about White's first move, see our tutorial Chess Openings - Initial Position.
Although Tal had a preference for 1.e4 on the first move, he also played 1.d4, 1.c4, and 1.Nc3. He used both 1.e4 and 1.d4 at Varna.
The present game was one of 100 included in Tal's 'The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal'. It was also chosen for 'Modern Chess Brilliancies' by Larry Evans, a four time U.S. Champion. Our notes incorporate comments by both Tal and Evans.
Next move: 1...c5 • For more about Black's responses to 1.e4, see our tutorial Chess Openings - King's Pawn Openings.
The Sicilian Defense (1...c5) is one of Black's most popular reactions to 1.e4. It is aimed at counteracting White's d2-d4 with the idea of trading the non-central c-Pawn for White's central d-Pawn.
The Soviets maintained extensive chess records on international chess players. Tal probably knew before the game that he would be facing Mohrlok as White and that his opponent played the Sicilian.
Next move: 2.Nf3 • For more about White's different plans against the Sicilian Defense, see our tutorial Chess Openings - Sicilian Defense.
The King's Knight develops to its natural square. After 2.d4 cxd4 3.Qxd4, the White Queen would be exposed to attack by 3...Nc6. White prepares the advance 3.d4, planning to answer 3..cxd4 with 4.Nxd4.
Tal was an aggressive, attacking player with a flair for tactics and combinations. He could calculate complicated variations accurately and preferred playing on a board unobstructed by Pawn chains, where his pieces had greater freedom for action. The Open Sicilian (2.Nf3 and 3.d4) produced exactly the type of position he liked and he always played 2.Nf3 against the Sicilian.
Next move: 2...Nc6 • For more about Black's responses to 2.Nf3, see our tutorial Chess Openings - Sicilian Defense 2.Nf3.
The Queen's Knight develops to its natural square. Although it eyes the d4 square, it doesn't prevent White from playing 3.d4, when White's Knight and Queen protect the d-Pawn adequately against Black's c-Pawn and Knight.
In many variations of the Sicilian, Black's Queenside Knight is developed to ...d7. For this reason, the move 2...d6 is often played with the idea of seeing the next few moves before committing the Knight to a specific development.
Next move: 3.d4
White continues with the plan initiated by 2.Nf3. The move 3.d4 has a slight drawback in allowing Black to trade the non-central c-Pawn for the central d-Pawn by ...cxd4. White reasons that that after the recapture Nxd4, the Knight will be well posted on a central square. If Black drives it away by ...e5, Black's d-Pawn will become backward, and the squares d5 and d6 will become chronically weak. The strong Knight is fair compensation for having one less Pawn in the center.
Next move: 3...cxd4
Black continues with the main idea behind 1...c5, trading the c-Pawn for the d-Pawn. Any other move would be inconsistent.
The Pawn exchange leaves White with a semi-open d-file and Black with a semi-open c-file. This has consequences for the further development of both armies.
White will likely develop the major pieces -- the Queen and the two Rooks -- with the idea of doubling on the d-file. Black will develop the major pieces with the idea of doubling on the c-file.
White retains the option of castling on both sides of the board. If White castles Queenside, the Queen's Rook will be developed immediately on the d-file. Black can also castle on both sides, but without having the Rook reach an open file on the castling move. Instead Black's King will be on the open c-file, making the King a little less secure than after castling on the Kingside. Black castles to the Kingside far more often than to the Queenside.
For this reason, games that start with an Open Sicilian (2.Nf3 and 3.d4) often end up with the players castling on opposite sides: White to the Queenside and Black to the Kingside. In these games, Pawn storms by both players against the opponent's castled King are a natural evolution.
Next move: 4.Nxd4
White recaptures the Pawn with the Knight. The move also frees White's f-Pawn for subsequent action. The moves f2-f3 or f2-f4 are often seen in the Sicilian.
Next move: 4...Nf6 • Other moves frequently played by Black are 4...e6 and 4...g6.
Black develops the King's Knight to its natural square, attacking the undefended e-Pawn at the same time. White can't defend the Pawn by pushing 5.e5, because Black has 5...Nxe5 or even 5...Qa5+ followed by 6...Qxe5+.
Next move: 5.Nc3
White develops the Queen's Knight to its natural square, and defends the e-Pawn. The players have spent the first five moves addressing the center and the development of the Knights. The next moves will involve choices for the development of the Bishops, the disposition of the Queens, and the choice of which side to castle.
Next move: 5...d6 • Black's next move reaches a position of the Sicilian Defense often seen by a different move order: 2...d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 Nc6. The only difference between this and the Tal - Mohrlok game is that Black's second and fifth moves have been switched: 2...d6 and 5...Nc6, instead of 2...Nc6 and 5...d6. For more about the 2...d6 variations, see Chess Openings - Sicilian Defense - ...d6 Variations.
Black opens the c8-h3 diagonal for the development of the Queen's Bishop. The move 5...d6 also stops White from thinking about Nd4xc6 and e4-e5. The e5 square is now under Black's control.
The position shown in the diagram, often reached by the move order discussed in the previous note, is sometimes called the Classical Sicilian. Neither player has given much information about the further development of the forces. Black, in particular, retains the option of keeping the King's Bishop on the a3-f8 diagonal or developing it to the long a1-h8 diagonal.
Next move: 6.Bg5 • Other moves played here are 6.Bc4, known as the Sozin Attack, and 6.f3, which can lead back into our game.
White threatens to double Black's f-Pawns and prevents Black from playing 6...g6 (the Dragon Variation). The move 6.Bg5 is known as the 'Richter-Rauzer Attack' (or 'Richter-Rauser' or simply 'Rauzer').
Tal used the Richter-Rauzer almost exclusively when confronted with the Classical Sicilian. He always followed up with 7.Qd2 and 8.O-O-O.
Next move: 6...e6
Black avoids the doubling of the f-Pawns by allowing a recapture by the Queen after 7.Bxf6 . The move 6...Bd7 is sometimes played. In those games Tal avoided 7.Bxf6 and continued 7.Qd2, as in the current game.
The move 6...e6 weakens the d-Pawn, leaving it on the open d-file. Black has to pay attention to this weakness over the next few moves.
Next move: 7.Qd2
White continues with the plan of castling Queenside. After 8.O-O-O, the Queen and Rook, doubled on the d-file, will press on Black's d-Pawn.
Next move: 7...Be7
Sooner or later, Black will have to play ...Be7, because there are no other squares available to the Bishop. Black decides to play it immediately.
The immediate 7...Be7 has a catch. After 8.O-O-O, White has two threats: 9.Bxf6 and 9.Ndb5. After 9.Bxf6, if Black then plays the natural 9...Bxf6, White can continue 10.Nxc6 bxc6 11.Qxd6, winning the d-Pawn.
For this reason, some players prefer to delay the development ...Be7, continuing 7...a6 instead. Then after 8.O-O-O, Black can play 8...Bd7 or 8...h6, delaying the development of the King's Bishop for another move.
Next move: 8.O-O-O
White continues with the original plan and doubles the heavy pieces on the d-file. It looks now as though Black has to attend to the threat of 9.Bxf6 Bxf6 10.Nxc6 bxc6 11.Qxd6, winning a Pawn.
Next move: 8...O-O
What's this? White ignores the threat of 9.Bxf6 Bxf6 10.Nxc6 bxc6 11.Qxd6, because 11...Qa5 gives good counterplay against White's castled King. Another attempt to win the d-Pawn, 9.Ndb5 Qa5 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.Nxd6, can be met with 11...Rd8.
Here Tal made his first comment on the game:
My opponent played the opening stage of the game very quickly, and it was not difficult to assume that he had made preparations to meet this variation. I consider the system with 9.Nb3 to be highly promising, which made it all the more interesting to see what Mohrlok had planned. This position has occurred in several of my games.
Most of my opponents played 9...a6, after which White can capture the Pawn: 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.Qxd6 and Black has insufficient compensation for his material deficit.
Next move: 9.Nb3 • The most popular continuation here is probably 9.f4, a move which Tal also played from time to time.
Like many good chess moves, 9.Nb3 balances attack and defense. On the attacking side, it opens the d-file for the Queen and Rook battery against the d-Pawn. On the defensive side, it stops Black from playing ...Qa5 or from exchanging Knights.
As Tal pointed out in his note, 9...a6 loses a Pawn to 10.Bxf6 Bxf6 11.Qxd6. The alternative 10...gxf6 saves the Pawn, but leaves White's Kingside weak.
Next move: 9...Qb6
Black's move develops the Queen and frees d8 for a subsequent ...Rfd8, protecting the d-Pawn. It also attacks the Pawn on f2, which is defended only by the White Queen.
The move 9...Qb6 has the disadvantage of blocking the b-Pawn. If Black later wants to launch a Pawn atack on White's King with ...a6 and ...b5, the Queen will have to move from b6.
Tal mentioned that he had already played against 9...Qb6 in two games. This is undoubtedly the opening that his opponent had prepared to play against him.
Next move: 10.f3
Both sides have castled and Black has adequately protected the d-Pawn. White seeks a new plan. The move 10.f3 is another multi-purpose move. Its primary purpose is to prepare White's Pawn attack against the Castled King with a subsequent g2-g4. On the defensive side, it bolsters White's e-Pawn, freeing the Knight on c3 from guard duty. It also removes the f-Pawn from the attack of the Black Queen.
White's move has another small point, easily overlooked. It takes a Pawn off the second rank, clearing an eventual path for the White Queen to g2 (after g2-g4) and h2 (after h2-h4). On those squares the Queen will provide more direct support for a Kingside attack.
Next move: 10...a6
Both players are combining attack and defense. The move 10...a6, the first step in Black's attack against the White King, prepares a subsequent ...b5. It also prevents White from playing Nc3-b5, an attacking maneuver made possible by White's last move protecting the e-Pawn.
Next move: 11.g4
White advances the g-Pawn and launches a Pawn attack against Black's castled King. The move will soon be followed by h2-h4.
Next move: 11...Rd8
Black has two ways to meet the oncoming attack. The first way is to launch the Queenside Pawns against White's castled King. The second way, following the classic strategy 'the best place to counter a flank attack is in the center', is to seek counterplay in the center.
The move 11...Rd8 initiates the second plan -- play in the center -- by preparing a subsequent ...d5. This position illustrates an elementary counting exercise: When exchanging multiple forces on a square, the optimal exchange is in increasing order of value.
In this position, White's pieces are not positioned optimally to attack d5. If it were Black's move now, the ...d5 push would be possible. Even though four White pieces attack d5, while three Black pieces defend, White's Queen and Rook are posted to capture in the wrong sequence.
Next move: 12.Be3
The White Bishop, which has done a good job of putting indirect pressure on d6, now finds itself in the path of the advancing White Pawns. It moves out of the way and attacks the Black Queen at the same time, thereby gaining a tempo. The square g5 is now free for the White g-Pawn.
Next move: 12...Qc7
Black moves the Queen away from the Bishop's attack. The square c7 is the Queen's only safe square. Any other move would allow White to win substantial material.
Black's Queen retreat unblocks the Black b-Pawn, allowing it to advance on a subsequent move. The move ...b5 will be the first step in Black's Queenside counterattack.
Next move: 13.g5
White continues with the advance of the Kingside Pawns, attacking the Black Knight. Other plausible moves, like 13.h4, would allow Black to counter 13...d5 immediately. The move 13.g5 removes one of the defenders of the d5 square.
Black has three reasonable Knight moves to escape the Pawn's attack: 13...Nd7, 13...Ne8, and 13...Nh5. Which square to choose? The correct decision is obvious when we notice that Black's b6 square is also weak. White has the option of playing Nc3-a4 or Qd2-f2, threatening Be3-b6 in both cases. This would win the exchange for White.
Only one of Black's three Knight moves keeps the b6 square protected. This is the move that Black should make.
Next move: 13...Nd7
Black moves the Knight out of harm's way and covers the sensitive b6 square. After Black eliminates the threat on b6 -- the move ...b5 preparing ...Rb8 will be adequate -- the Knight will be well placed to assume a new role. The offensive moves ...Nc5 and ...Ne5 come to mind, as does the defensive move ...Nf8, protecting h7.
Next move: 14.h4
White continues with the plan of advancing the Kingside Pawns. In general, a Pawn attack involving several Pawns on adjacent files is best played by keeping the Pawns on the same or on adjacent ranks. This keeps some flexibility in deciding the future course of the attack.
Here the g-Pawn can't advance any further without support. Black plays 14.h4, planning to play h4-h5 very soon.
Next move: 14...b5
Black continues with the Queenside Pawn attack. The move ...d5, Black's alternate plan, just loses a Pawn for nothing because the d5 square is no longer adequately protected by the Black pieces.
The move 14...b5 also frees the Knight on d7 from the job of defending the b6 square. The attack by Nc3-a4 is no longer possible, while the attack by Qd2-f2 can now be met by ...Rb8.
Here White can continue 15.h5, preparing the further advance of both the g- and h-Pawns to the sixth rank. Many players would do this, but Tal seizes another possibility.
Next move: 15.g6
White sacrifices a Pawn to open the g- and h-files to White's Queen and Rooks. Whichever way Black captures on g6, White will continue h4-h5.
It might seem astonishing, but the diagrammed position, showing White's 15th move, had already been reached in Tal's games. This often happens in chess games at the highest level. The players know how their opponents have played in the past and dare them to repeat an opening variation. The dare says, 'I have studied your opening and have prepared a new move against it. Are you willing to repeat the opening or are you going to chicken out?'
Tal had reached the position twice. The previous games, against Alexander Koblentz and against Gosta Stoltz were undoubtedly known to Mohrlok. Tal wrote:
Here Koblentz played 15...hxg6 16.h5 gxh5 17.Rxh5 Nf6 18.Rh1 d5, but after 19.e5 Nxe5 White could have obtained a very strong attack by 20.Qh2, instead of 20.Bf4. Stoltz preferred 15...Nc5, but in this case also after 16.gxf7+ Kxf7 17.Bh3 followed by the advance of the f-Pawn, the weakness of e6 told.
Many players bemoan the type of game which starts on the 15th move, proposing all sorts of remedies to eliminate it. The psychological duel between two masters that leads to reaching a known position is a fact of life in modern chess. Many games, especially those using sharp, complicated openings like the present game, are essentially over after two or three new moves have been played.
Next move: 15...fxg6
Mohrlok captured on g6 with his f-Pawn as in the game Spassky - Boleslavsky, 25th USSR Championship, 1958. He made this important decision instantly, and my supposition of specially prepared analysis became conviction. The move appears to be the most logical, since Black does not expose his King too much. Now White must at all costs open lines on the Kingside, and attack without being afraid to sacrifice.
The comment 'Black does not expose his King too much' might need some explanation. After 15...hxg6, given in the previous note, the open h-file offers a direct route to Black's King. After 15...fxg6, the h-file is not open, and the f-file is shielded by White's own Pawn.
Next move: 16.h5
White continues with the plan of opening the g- and h-files. Exactly how those files will be used depends on Black's defense.
Next move: 16...gxh5
Here Black had alternatives like ...g5 and ...Nf8. We can assume, like Tal did, that his opponent had studied the different options in his preparation for the game and had decided that 16...gxh5 was the safest response giving him the best chances.
Next move: 17.Rxh5
White recovers the Pawn before Black can protect it by ...Nf6 or ...h4. At the same time, the Rook moves to a forward position where it will serve as the first piece in a battery on the g- or h-files.
The position is reminiscent of the Benko Gambit (see our tutorial Chess Openings - Benko Gambit for more), where Black sacrifices a Pawn on the Queenside to open the a- and b- files for the major pieces. In our current game, the idea is even stronger, because the Black King sits at the end of the open files.
Next move: 17...Nf6
Black needs pieces on the Kingside to defend against the looming attack. The Knight moves back to f6 where it attacks the White Rook and defends its own h-Pawn.
Next move: 18.Rg5
The Rook evades the attack by the Knight. Tal: 'Only thus! White not only attacks the point g7, but also prevents the freeing move 18...d5.' This cryptic comment by Tal, with no supporting analysis, deserves attention. Why can't Black play 18...d5?
A little investigation shows that after 18...d5, White can play 19.exd5. If then 19...b4, White sacrifices a piece with 20.Qg2 bxc3 21.Rxg7+ Kh8, followed by 22.Bh6 and 23.Rxh7+. Analysis of other possibilities leads to similar conclusions.
It is unlikely that Tal calculated all of the variations when he played 18.Rg5. He had confidence both in his understanding of the dynamics in the position and in his ability to calculate complicated variations.
How should Black proceed? Tal: 'I think that Black should have played 18...b4, aiming to carry out the advance ...d5. In this case I was preparing to play 19.Na4 Rb8 20.Qg2 etc., but then the Knight on a4 can hardly take part in the attack.'
Next move: 18...Ne5
Black rushes the other Knight to the defense of the Kingside. The move also attacks the f-Pawn and prepares ...Nc4, when White will be forced to give up one of the Bishops for the Knight.
Next move: 19.Qg2
White creates a battery on the g-file, attacks the Pawn on g7, defends the Pawn on f3, and removes the Queen from attack by ...Nc4. That's not a bad list of accomplishments for a single move.
Next move: 19...Bf8
The threat of 20.Rxg7+ must be met immediately. White could have played a Knight move like 19...Ng6 or 19...Ne8, but the Bishop move has the advantage of opening Black's second rank for defense of the Kingside by the Queen and Rooks. The Queen already defends the sensitive g7 Pawn a second time and both Rooks are a move away from adding additional defense.
Next move: 20.Be2
Here Tal made a revealing comment:
Bringing the second Rook into play. Up to this point my opponent had used only five minutes on his clock, but here he spent a long time in thought. One can only suppose that the move 20.Be2 was a surprise to him.
First, we learn that when Tal said 'into play', he meant 'into the attack'. The Rook on d1 has been participating in the game since 8.O-O-O, but now it will participate in the Kingside attack by moving along the first rank to the g- or h-file.
Second, we learn that Black's home preparation failed to account for this move. What did Black expect? The move 20.f4 looks plausible. White's seizing of the open Kingside files will not be enough to penetrate Black's position, which is defended by the Knights. White can, however, chase the Knights away by advancing the f- and e-Pawns. Perhaps Black expected this maneuver immediately.
White's plan is now crystal clear: play with the heavy pieces on the Kingside files combined with a Pawn advance in the center. What is Black to do? There is a choice of several plans -- 20...b4 and 20...Nf7 spring to mind -- but none of them is clearly better than the alternatives. This was perhaps Black's toughest decision of the game.
Next move: 20...Nc4
Black decides to play actively. The threat is 21...Nxe3 and the Bishop on e3 has no better square than where it is already placed. If White takes the Knight with the other Bishop, Black might be able to create attacking chances on the open b-file.
Because of the forthcoming f3-f4, playing the Knight off e5 is inevitable. The move ...Nf7 blocks the defense along the second rank, while ...Ng6 might leave the Knight misplaced on several of White's continuations.
Next move: 21.Bxc4
How should White defend the attacked Bishop? Giving Black the open b-file is a lesser evil than leaving the Knight on c4. Even if Black's manages to build a battery on the b-file, White's most sensitive point, the Pawn on b2, can be easily protected.
Next move: 21...bxc4
Black recaptures the Bishop. Here Tal mentioned that 'White could have played "brilliantly": 22.Rg1, and if 22...cxb3 23.Bb6. But Black can reply as in the game: 22...Rb8.
Great tacticians don't play tactical moves 'because they're there'. They play them because they improve the overall position.
Next move: 22.Nd4
White avoids the threat of capture by the c-Pawn and keeps the Knight in the center. Here 22...e5 is an option, but it has the disadvantage of creating holes on both d5 and f5. Both squares could be quickly occupied by the White Knights.
Next move: 22...Rb8
Black tries to develop counterplay on the b-file. The move 22...Rb8 also prepares to bring the Rook to the second rank. The direct ...Ra7 remains bad because of the Bishop on e3.
Next move: 23.Rh1
White continues the plan of attacking on the Kingside and deems the h-file more interesting than the g-file. The Pawn on g7 is defended three times and can be further defended by the two Rooks if necessary. Black's Pawn on h7 is defended twice, but one of those defenders is the King and the other is the Knight that can be chased away by the advance of the e-Pawn.
The Rook move 23.Rh1 also clears the square d1 for the Knight on c3. The Knight move Nc3-d1 might be required to defend the b-Pawn.
Next move: 23...Rb7
Black places the Rook on the second rank as a safety precaution. When defending difficult positions it is often useful to play a safe move to see how the opponent plans to continue. Most of Black's pieces are already tied to defensive roles. For example, the Bishop on c8 defends the e-Pawn.
Here Tal commented on the continuation of the attack:
In order to bring his attack to a successful conclusion, White must mobilize his e- and f-Pawns in the form of a battering ram. However, in the case of 24.f4 Black can play 24...Kh8 25.e5 Ng8 followed by 26...Nh6, and it is difficult to break down his defenses. Therefore White forces the enemy King to move to f7, after which the Knight cannot leave f6, since the h-Pawn is left undefended.
Once the Knight is tied to f6, the sequence f3-f4 and e4-e5 has more force.
Next move: 24.Rh6
White attacks the Knight. Its protection is illusory because the g-Pawn is pinned.
Tal: 'The most difficult move in the game.' He gave some variations to show that he had the better position against any defense.
All of these variations are convincing.
Next move: 24...Kf7
As Tal pointed out in the previous note, this is Black's best chance to stay in the game. The King move protects the Knight and releases the pin on the g-Pawn, which threatens the Rook with capture.
Next move: 25.Rh4
White moves the Rook out of danger. Tal: 'Now on 25...Kg8 Black must reckon with 26.Rf4, to which he must reply 26...Ne8. Perhaps this was the best defense, although even in this case White has more than sufficient compensation for the Pawn.'
Next move: 25...Qb6
Not under immediate threat, and finding no way to improve the position, Black attacks the b-Pawn. The threat is easily countered.
Next move: 26.Nd1
White defends the b-Pawn and threatens 27.Nxe6, winning material with a discovered attack on the Queen.
Next move: 26...Qc7
Black moves the Queen away from discovered attack by the Bishop.
Next move: 27.f4
Finally White plays the move that has been threatening since the 20th move. Tal: 'Now the threat is 28.e5, when the h-Pawn will be under attack. In answer to 27...e5 White plays 28.Nf5 Bxf5 29.Rxf5, forcing 29...Ke8 whereupon the quiet move 30.Nc3 demonstrates the futility of further resistance.'
Next move: 27...h6
Black safeties the h-Pawn, which was defended only by the Knight, itself threatened by 28.e5. Tal: 'The weakening of g6 leads quickly to defeat. However, there was no longer a satisfactory defense.'
Next move: 28.Rg6
White threatens 29.f5 e5 30.Bxh6. If 28...e5, then 29.Nf5 Bxf5 30.exf5 wins.
Next move: 28...Re8
There is nothing Black can do to meet the threat of 29.f5.
Next move: 29.f5
White threatens 30.fxe6+ Bxe6 31.Bxh6 gxh6 32.Rf4, and the Black King is overwhelmed by threats.
Next move: 29...e5
Black tries to drive off the Knight, but White can ignore the threat.
Next move: 30.Nc3
White ignores the attack on the Knight and heads for the hole on d5. Tal pointed out that 30...exd4 loses to 31.Rxf6+ gxf6 32.Nd5.
Next move: 30...Qd8
Black overlooks a tactical point, but will lose material after any move.
Next move: 31.Nc6
Since 31...Qc7 32.Rxf6+ gxf6 33.Qg6 is checkmate, Black resigns.
In his introduction to the game, Evans wrote,
"This was the only game I played in 1962 which I felt satisfied about", Tal has said. Yet like many of his vintage brilliancies it has a murky quality and one cannot help wonder how he would have fared had his nemesis, Korchnoi, defended.
Black resigned: 1-0
For all games in the 'Every Move Explained' series, see