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Tal’, Mikhail Nokhem’evich

(1936–1992), eighth world chess champion. Born in Riga, Mikhail Tal’ learned to play chess from his father, a physician, at the age of seven. A meeting with chess master Aleksandr Koblents (1916–1993) played a decisive role in his life. His brilliant career started when he was 21, when he won the first of his six USSR chess champion titles. Tal’ became the youngest world champion in chess history after winning the title from Mikhail Botvinnik in 1960; however, he lost the return match against Botvinnik the next year. Nevertheless, his legendary skill in creating elaborate strategic combinations granted Tal’ a unique place in the chess pantheon.

In the late 1960s, Tal’ declined the request of a group of Riga Zionists to sign an open letter demanding freedom for Jews to emigrate to Israel. Yet he always stressed his Jewish background, loved Yiddish songs, and was well acquainted with the Jewish actress Ida Kaminska. In Warsaw, Tal’ went to the Yiddish Theater, and unfailingly laid flowers at the monument to the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Unfortunately, he was forced to yield to the authorities and cosigned a collective letter condemning the emigration of Viktor Korchnoi.

Tal’ was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Riga, near the graves of his other family members. At the suggestion of a friend, a chess set was placed in Tal’s coffin.



Translated from Russian by Chaim Chernikov