International Grandmaster Andy Soltis: "Mikhail Tal's splendid account of his world championship match victory is one of the masterpieces of the golden age of annotation - before insights and feelings and flashes of genius were reduced to mere moves and Informant symbols. This is simply the best book written about a world championship match by a contestant. That shouldn't be a surprise because Tal was the finest writer to become world champion."
Misha is no longer with us, but his highly acclaimed, deeply annotated account of his ascent of Mount Olympus continues to impress and intrigue players of all generations and strengths.
Going to write from the perspective for a 1900-2000 FIDE rated player.
I found this book absolutely amazing. (Hence the 5 stars). So good that this is the first review that I have ever written regarding a purchase, so I'm going to note the main reasons why I think this book deserves 5 stars.
1) The language and explanations in the book are very clear and concise, I never went away wondering why didn't he play this variation, or I don't understand why he said this move order was a loss.
2) You get a real feel of what its like to play a world championship match, the mental pressures, the tactics behind the game plans, I was often imagining the feelings and emotions that he felt at the time by these explanations.
3) Not only do you get commentary on the games by one of the worlds greatest attackers, but it is written in a very conversational language, allowing you to understand not only the moves, but also the thought process that came to the conclusion. Allowing yourself to reassess how you look at positions.
4) Although myself I do not play any of the opening variations in the book, I already feel like I have taken away many of the tactical motives, as Tal would often explain some of the plans that he had and why they don't work in this situation, also some amazing ideas that can be put to good use in many games.
All and all, its definitely worth the price you pay, and I am sure that you will often find it hard to put down. Well made book, easy to read, and I feel like I got a lot out of it.
Mikhail Tal's rise from obscurity to become the youngest person ever to win the World Chess Championship in 1960 is a very well-known story. However, the aggressive, tactical style of his play - a feature that he was never to discard - took its toll in 1961 when Botvinnik crushed him by eleven wins to five to regain the World Championship. After this, though Tal remained a strong grandmaster until his death in 1992, he was never able to sustain his form well enough to again come into serious contention for the title, despite a few superb spells such as his 86 games without loss in the early to middle 1970s and a brilliant win in the 1979 Riga Interzonal.
Throughout his career, Tal loved not only playing chess but also analysing it, and his published writings on chess are thus more highly regarded than those of any other player to reach World Champion status. This does show in "Tal-Botvinnik 1960" because, in contrast even to the first book I ever read on the topic of the World Chess Championship, there are some really good annotations of those moves important in shaping the game, from Tal's anti-positional opening in the third game, to Botvinnik's blunders in the sixth and seventh, to Tal's terrible exchange of queens in the ninth, and the key moves in his three later victories and the epic eighteenth game where Botvinnik failed to win because of a serious blunder. The analysis on Tal's seventy-two-move epic thrust-and-parry win in the eleventh game, which has been for a long time one of my favourite chess games of all time and certainly my favourite by Tal (though most would think its length makes it atypical of him) is very good and agrees wonderfully with later studies, whilst the two epic draws that bookended this highlight were analysed very well and there was a great deal I did not know about them to be found.
The introductions to the games, which in other books on matches are used to help the reader find out about the general course of the match, are instead used by Tal to show how he felt about the match as it was moving. This is a little hard to get used to even for someone who has had an extremely long history reading books on old chess matches and tournaments, but when one thinks about it Tal is in no way doing the wrong thing: indeed he might almost be doing a better job of looking at how real players actually approach the problem of playing in a chess match (which, as all serious students of chess know, is a very different thing from purely tournament-based play).
All in all, "Tal-Botvinnik 1960" does deserve its reputation as the best book ever written on a World Championship Match. This is certainly a justifiable claim when one considers how much less sophisticated analysis was in the 1960s compared to what it became in the days of Kasparov and Karpov. I have seen very little indeed that contradicts what Tal found about the course of games in this match.
What most people don't realize is that not only was Tal a remarkable combinative genius with superb positional understanding, he was also an exciting and insightful chess journalist, as his personal account of the 1960 FIDE World Chess Championship Match with Botvinnik attests.
Sure there are other chess books/authors which/who give detailed and complementary analyses (Kasparov) and by contrast few but critical threads/insights into games and players (Bronstein), but here Tal takes the reader game-by-game through his struggle in overcoming a formidable strategic genius. Each game is poignantly prefaced with some background about the state of the match. But moreover Tal gives an intimate perspective on his personal struggles and factors leading to the selection of game making/breaking plans of action. In this regard his strategic sense for this match was no less refined that Botvinnik's, who, it must be admitted, had not yet figured out how to contain this chess dynamo. Leave that for the Champion's obligatory return match one year later.
What one notices missing in this book are tables showing the game-by-game progress of the match. Nor is the outcome of each game succinctly stated as 1-0 or 0-1 or .5-.5. (I had to create my own table and summary--Tal triumphs 12.5-8.5 in 21 games.) Instead, the struggle is supreme and the closing paragraph of each game must be experienced to reveal all mysteries! The absence of such tables and the demanding writing style are intentional and successfully serve to create in the reader an enhanced appreciation of the struggle. When Tal nearly succeeds with the piece sac at e6 in the hotly contested variation of Caro Kan, the indelible impression is that method meets magic!
A note on production quality: Text appears in two running columns. Diagrams are clear, regular and sufficient. The well-formed algebraic (showing both start and ending square) has the elapsed timed following. Although the score is not strictly columnar, it is bold and easy to follow. Approximately a dozen or so photos scattered throughout. An excellent production.
This English version of Tal's book "Tal-Botvinnik 1960" receives a huge amount of praise, but I seriously wonder how many of those praising it have really read it in detail, cover to cover, and tried to make sense of it, as I have. I am a huge fan of the late Mikhail Tal but, in my opinion, in its present form this book does not do him justice, since the translation by H.Russell is so poor. I have recently studied the so-called "revised and expanded" 5th edition, "edited" by Taylor Kingston.
Compared with the fourth edition, some errors have finally been corrected, such as incorrectly spelt names (e.g. Liliental-Lilienthal, Flor-Flohr, Porreka-Porreca, Lipitsky-Lipnitsky, Fogelman-Foguelman), but not all (e.g. Gligorich, which is phonetically accurate but correctly spelt without the h).
There are still some small "technical" errors, which one would have expected to have been weeded out by the 5th edition, e.g. page 61, note to Black's 9th move, 9...Qb6: "Black immediately begins to take action against the d5 square." Of course, this should be d4, not d5.
There are also still some obscure or meaningless sentences, e.g. page 18: "Capablanca's 'lighter' system and other orthodox defenses seem to have been forgotten in the archives of history." Did you understand that? After much thought, my guess is that the reference is to Capablanca's once famous "simplifying manoeuvre" (...dxc4, ...Nd5) in the orthodox Queen's Gambit.
I checked the relevant pages against a list of errors pointed out in New in Chess magazine 1997/7 and found that most of these have still not been corrected.
I should be less concerned if all the errors in the book were trivial and did not spoil the sense. But how about these:
On page 19 there is a serious error: referring to the Modern Benoni, Russell's version reads:
"Aron Nimzowitsch was the first to use it in a game with Frank Marshall in the New York International Tournament of 1927. Marshall immediately transferred his knight to c4, and the instant Black hesitated (...) he was smothered in a few moves." In fact, in the game referred to here, Nimzowitsch was White and Marshall Black! This is a very famous game, and reversing the names of the players is arguably evidence of a deficiency in chess culture, as well as in Russian grammar.
On page 58; "There is a curious story behind the King's Indian Defence. It got recognition 20 years ago. Before that it was rarely, or as they say, spontaneously employed. In particular, Chigorin would never have selected such a system." The last sentence should read something like: "In particular, such a set-up was chosen long ago by Chigorin."
On page 59: (Discussing the history of the g3 system against the King's Indian): "Black's difficulties in this variation arose when he started searching for more active continuations..." This should read rather: "Black's difficulties in this variation prompted him to start searching for more active continuations..."
On page 59: Discussing the Petrosian system against the King's Indian (usually reached by 1 d4 Nf6 2 c4 g6 3 Nc3 Bg7 4 e4 d6 5 Nf3 0-0 6 Be2 e5 7 d5) "The talented Ukrainian master Leonid Stein has had the last word for Black in this variation in which he played h6 in answer to Bg5 and nipped White's idea in the bud, of course at the cost of a tempo." It should have been obvious to the translator and especially the editor that "In answer to Bg5" is an incorrect translation; it ought to say "before Bg5" or "to prevent Bg5". (Remember, these are just a few examples among many, and this is supposed to be the 5th revised edition!)
There is no doubt that, even with the errors and ambiguities, there is much to enjoy and learn from this book, but it could have been so, so, much better. Unless and until there has been a FULLY revised edition, potential readers should be at least somewhat wary of this book.
Though the annotations and variations are detailed and full of chess insights, in the end it is the chatty tone and charming frankness of Mikhail Tal that sets this book apart. Yes, you can read it and learn chess, or you can just enjoy the story.
Some of the games are themselves spectacular and suggest fun opening lines that are not always seen. For example, game 1 in the "solid" French features Black sacrificing his kingside pawns to a rampaging queen in return for an opposite side attack. These Qg4 lines you will at least commonly see in books on the French, but Tal's ideas against the equally solid Caro (Ne2, Nf4 and sacrifice on e6) are not as well remembered and lead to some wild, wide-open play that is easily emulated by amateurs.