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Korchnoi - Tal Candidates Semifinal 1968
Compiled by WCC Editing Project

Tal qualified by winning the Game Collection: Tal - Gligoric Candidates Quarterfinal 1968, and Korchnoi qualified by winning the Korchnoi - Reshevsky Candidates Quarterfinal (1968).


This again was the best of 10 games. Before the match Tal had won only once against Korchnoi (Curacao 1962), lost 8 times and drawn 11 games. The very close result marks a considerable psychological achievement on Tal's part.

-<Hilary Thomas, "Complete Games of Mikhail Tal 1967-1973" (Batsford 1979), p.28>

Moscow, USSR 26 June - 14 July1,2

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Pts. Korchnoi, Viktor 1 1 0 5 Tal, Mikhail 0 0 1 4

<Venue> "in the lecture hall of the Central House of the Soviet Army" <"Mikhail Tal Chapter 2- Matches, Tournaments, Rivals Part 2" In "Chess Library Encyclopedia">


Alexander Koblents (Tal)

Semyon Abramovich Furman and Viacheslav Osnos (Korchnoi) <Korchnoi "Chess is My Life" p.62>


1 Di Felice, "Chess Results 1968-1970," p.95

2 Rounds and dates from Alexander Khalifman, ed. "Mikhail Tal Games II 1963-1972" (Chess Stars 1995), pp.210-216

Original collection by User: Hesam7; introduction and game dates by User: WCC Editing Project



For the three months before that, in an interview with the weekly "64" I called Tal "big player template." In his defense, he was made editor of the "64" Petrosyan said. Article angry he hit me, saving Tal from my attacks.

<Viktor Korchnoi, "Antishahmaty. Scrapbook villain. Returning defector" p.9 (online edition)>



-<Victor Korchnoi, "Chess is My Life" (Edition Olms 2004), pp.61-64>

(p.61) I was now faced with the semi-final match against Tal to be played in Moscow. Prior to the match the psychological situation was rather strange. After all, I had won practically every game I had played against Tal, and even the colours had made no difference. I realized that, when playing against me in tournaments, Tal took risks, trying to get even with me for the indignities suffered, and that in a match he would be much more cautious, since it was the result of the match as a whole that was important, and not just individual games. During the short time available I prepared myself as well as possible theoretically, but psychologically, as it turned out, I was not ready for a serious struggle against him. At the start of the match Tal began playing closed openings against me, in which he is not a great expert. On the other hand, the character of the play was quieter, and no doubt he wanted first of all to draw several games, so as to gain self-confidence. In the very first game I rather (p.62) underestimated my opponent, and went into a very difficult pawn ending. It was amazing that Tal failed to win it. The second game quickly ended in a draw, Tal having confidently equalized. Then in the third game Tal caught me in a prepared variation. Though I thought over one move for 100 minutes (!), I nevertheless failed to find sufficient counterplay. My position started going downhill, especially since I was in time trouble right from the opening. But the miraculous occurred: Tal failed to find a winning continuation, and I was able to take play into a rook ending a pawn down. It was probably still lost, but Tal was too uncertain of his endgame technique to win such a position.

Soon after the third game, as I later found out, Tal's personal doctor arrived in Moscow. Tal certainly has troubles with his health, but to have a personal doctor- such a thing just isn't done in the Soviet Union. At the start of the fourth game, Tal was a few minutes late, and, on greeting me, appeared somewhat embarrassed. I somehow associated this moment with the arrival of his doctor. Play began. In this game I adopted one of my prepared lines. Tal did not manage to resolve things at the board, in addition thought for twenty-five to thirty minutes over each move, and was soon in time trouble. His position was very difficult, but here I had a recurrence of my old weakness, and at the first opportunity won a pawn, thus losing, as it turned out, all my advantage. A draw seemed imminent, but in time trouble Tal blundered and lost.

In the next game... Tal attempted to pull one back. He began with his favourite 1.e4. In a Ruy Lopez he was rather slow in organizing pressure on the black position; I managed to seize the initiative and won quickly. The match seemed to be decided. I held an imposing lead, and had the white pieces in the next game. I remembered that I could and should be pressing Tal in every game. I obtained an advantage in this game, but ran short of time, allowed my opponent the opportunity to seize the initiative by an exchange sacrifice, and lost. Incidentally, during the match I had two seconds: Furman and Osnos. Just before the sixth game Furman, who was a member of the Central Army Sports Club, was unexpectedly called away to Leningrad to take part in some insignificant team event. This incident disturbed me, but at the time I couldn't think of any real reason why anyone should want to damage my chances.

The loss of that game, and the departure of my main helper- all (p.63) this put the match in jeopardy. I took the decision (perhaps incorrectly) to settle for draws in the remaining games- this decision was quite i accordance with my confused state of mind at that point. At the same time I took a further step. Tal's doctor was all the time in the hall, and never took his eyes off the board at which we were playing. More accurately, he did not disturb me, but all the time kept Tal in his field of vision. I suspected that Tal was taking drugs before the game. From the point of view of the FIDE rules, there was nothing illegal in this. It no doubt helped Tal, although it is known that drugs lower a person's will-power. In view of this, I thought that the doctor was exerting a visual influence on Tal during the game, and was reassuring him. I consider that this hypothesis of mine may well have a scientific basis. Without expressing my views, I wrote a letter to the control team, with the request that the doctor, who was sitting very close to the stage, should be moved back to the eighth row. The Tal camp- his assistants and he himself- were unhappy about the action I had taken, but the control team fulfilled my request. However, there is nothing unusual in this; matches for the World Championship with the participation of Fischer were, on his demand, conducted in the same way.

In the seventh game I chose a dubious opening variation, and straight from the opening went into a difficult ending, where for the full five hours I had to struggle for a draw by finding the only saving moves. In the eighth game I held a positional advantage, but it too ended n a draw. Again in the ninth game I chose an unpretentious opening variation. I equalized, and even gained a slight advantage, which proved insufficient to win. There remained just one game, where i had White. Tal, of course, had toplay for a win, and he chose a sharp variation of the Dutch Defence. I was not at my best in that game. I gained an advantage, but avoided all complicated continuations, trying to simplify the position (in this lies the psychological vulnerability of a player who is aiming for a draw, especially if he is used to playing for a win). By move 25 I was already losing. In the time scramble Tal was insufficiently energetic, or rather he gave up a pawn without sufficient justification, and left me some drawing chances. In what was still a difficult position, I sealed a move which, as it later turned out, was not expected by Tal. True, he afterwards maintained that after the best sealed move he had no winning chances. On the other hand, I (p.64) made a thorough study of the position after the move actually sealed. The two opponents spent a sleepless night analysing, and the next day came the tense, nerve-racking resumption. I had, of course, been able to analyse the position more deeply. After three hours' play we agreed to a draw, and I thus went forward to the Final Candidates' Match.

Immediately after the match, I gave an interview for the newspaper "Shakhmatnaya Moskva." Dissatisfied with my play, I also spoke disapprovingly of my opponent, calling him the 'great routine' player. There was some justification in me personally making such an assessment, especially since I had noticed the stereotyped natures of Tal's attacking play back in 1957. Tal had, and still has, many fans. His uncompromising style of play delights chess enthusiasts, and they are won over by his desire and ability to take risks and even bluff his way through. At the same time, Tal's skill in building up his game is inadequate, and is often based on routine assessments and routine methods. I consider the genuine masters of attack to be Alekhine, Keres and Spassky.



"Viktor Korchnoi interview after the 1968 Korchnoi - Tal Candidates' match"

-<"64" 24 July 1968>

My impressions about Grandmaster Mikhail Tal were always clear enough, but only after our match I have finally witnessed his true chess make-up. First and foremost (it may even sound paradoxical for those with little knowledge of the game), Tal is a very patterned player. His strategic plans aren't too new or original. But, combining his patterns with enormous tactical talent, inexhaustible optimism and outstanding sportsman's qualities, Tal had much success in tournaments. In tournaments, but not in matches. Because in matches between two equal players, the arsenal of original strategic ideas provides decisive advantage. This doesn't mean that it's easy to defeat Tal in a match. The Riga player's style is so dynamic and active, his determination is so strong, that his partners constantly remain under very high nervous pressure. In other words, Tal spares neither himself nor his opponent. I knew that our match is going to be tough and exhausting, but I couldn't imagine exactly how much. I had to work very hard to win. I even think that it's easier to play a dozen matches with other grandmasters than to play one match with Tal. The tactical pattern of our match was dictated by Tal. And I just had to adapt to his sudden maneuvers. There were three stages in our match: Stage one: Tal holds his zone
It quickly became obvious that Tal wasn't feeling too confident in the first games. He avoided any skirmishes, played "coldly", as though inviting me to start complications. He chose openings that didn't allow him to get his trademark "Tal-ish" positions. This tactic was almost successful. I thought that the "new Tal" that aimed only for a small opening advantage wasn't dangerous. Technical mistakes that I made in the games 1 and 3 could cost me dearly. But Tal seemingly didn't even think about winning at that moment. I think that's why he couldn't convert his advantage into victories. In the game 4, Tal had finally understood that it's impossible to beat me with just positional play. He lost the fight in the opening, not getting any tactical opportunities in return. But this game showed my disadvantages as well: the old disease, pawn-eating, reared its head once again.

Game Four

White to move 21.???

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Korchnoi vs Tal, 1968

White's advantage is obvious. The simple 21. Nf4 with subsequent 22. Rad1 or 22. Rfd1 (depending on circumstances) didn't leave any hope for Black. But I couldn't resist the temptation to capture a pawn, and after 21. Bxa5? Rg6 22. Ng3 d4! 23. Qxg5 Rxg5 24. Bb6 Ra1 25. Rxa1 Tal could probably draw after 25... d3!, because White can't play 26. Ra8 due to 26... d2, and 26. Rd1 Rb5 27. Bd4 Nxd4 28. exd4 Rxb2 gave Black good counterplay. Tal, nevertheless, didn't use this "gift" and played 25... dxe3?, which led to a hopeless position for Black after 26. Ra8 Ne7 27. fxe3 Rd5 28. b4. So, after 4 games, I took the lead, and Tal hadn't showed his trademark playing style yet. He did it in the game 5. Stage two: Tal's confidence grows
The defeat in game 4 made Tal change his strategy. In the game 5, he played 1. e2-e4 for the first time in our match. He was clearly playing to win, and it showed clearly in the next position:

Game Five

White to move 27.???

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Tal vs Korchnoi, 1968

No doubt that any chess player would play 27. Bxf7 Qxf7 28. Qxc3 with a small advantage for White. Of course, Tal saw that too. But he was against simplifications, he wanted to create tactical complications, whatever the price, and so he played 27. Rec1. His plan was along these lines: if Black replies with 27... Rc8, then the position after 28. Bxf7 Qxf7 29. Rxc3 Rxc3 30. Qxc3 is much better for him, because after the exchange of one Rook pair, it's easier for his pieces to invade the Black's camp. And what if Black replied 27... b4? Tal prepared a devious trap: 28. a3 a5 29. axb4 axb4 30. Ra7 Ne2+ 31. Kh2 Qxc1 32. Qxe2 Qf4+ 33. g3 Rd2 (this seems to be the end for White, but...) 34. gxf4 Rxe2 35. Bxf7!, and White wins one of the two black Rooks. Of course, not all Black's moves in this variant were forced. But other continuations also gave Tal the game he wanted. Nevertheless, there are still spots on the sun! And Tal, this combinational wizard, sometimes makes tactical mistakes. After 27... b4 28. a3, he overlooked a simple refutation of his plan: 28... e4! 29. axb4 Rd3 30. Qe1 e3!, and White remained defenseless. After 31. Bc2 Rd2 32. fxe3 Ne2+ 33. Kh1 Ng3+ 34. Kg1 Re2 35. Qd1 Qb7 36. e4 R8xe4 White resigned. Two defeats in a row could dishearten anyone but Tal. He came to the sixth game with a very concentrated and determined look. I had a two-point advantage and, of course, could choose a more conservative tactic. But I played White, and the temptation of essentially finishing the match immediately was too great. If I won my third game, I more or less won the entire match. I played this game very nervously and made a mistake in the following position:

Game Six

White to move 18.???

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Korchnoi vs Tal, 1968

White's advantage is clearly visible: not only because of the c7 pawn's weakness, but also because of Black Queen's very uncomfortable position. With 18. Rd1, I could present very serious problems to Tal. How were Black supposed to save their Queen after h2-h3, g3-g4 and Nc4-e5? And so I gleefully decided to catch the Queen immediately: 18. h3?, giving Tal an opportunity to sacrifice an exchange 18... Rxd4! and seize the initiative. Of course, I still shouldn't have lost after that, but I hadn't noticed the tide of psychological struggle turning. The score was 3.5-2.5, and the match wasn't very comfortable anymore. Of course, I was still ahead, but could lose the advantage in any moment. The third, last stage of the match began. Stage three. Tal is always Tal!
Yes, that's how the Riga grandmaster looked at the match's final stage: he was the true Tal, with all his advantages and disadvantages - brilliant, confident tactician and a hesitant "technician" who sometimes made unfathomable positional mistakes.

Game Seven

White to move 20.???

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Tal vs Korchnoi, 1968

That's a position from game 7. Black's game is seemingly lost. Any player of Tal's class should have found a simple way to win: move the a- and b-pawns forward. Instead, Tal first exchanged his active rook: 20. Rxd7? Bxd7 21. Rd1 Be8, and then threw away his queenside advantage with 22. c5?, which destroyed any chances of success after 22... Kf8 23. f4 b6 24. cxb6 axb6. Despite the occasional mistakes, Tal clearly had initiative at the match's finish. He played with colossal force, at his full strength, as in the years of his greatest sporting successes. I could only beat him off. During the struggle, I did have better chances at times (for instance, in games 8 and 9), but they didn't change the main battle's character. The 10th game was the pinnacle of the match. If Tal won, it would have been impossible to predict the winner. I'm not sure if I could withstand the strain of further struggle. Of course, I should have played for a draw in game 10. But I don't like and just can't specifically play for draw. Tal greatly exploited this disadvantage of mine. He got one of his favourite positions and devastated me utterly. 20 minutes before the time-out, my position was completely hopeless.

Game Ten

Black to move 32...???

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Korchnoi vs Tal, 1968

The simplest way for converting the advantage for Black was the maneuver Nh6-g8-f6, attacking the d5 pawn and threatening Nh5+. But this was a strategic solution, and that's why Tal, who strategizes only when he's forced to, preferred a tactical strike 32... g5? that ultimately achieved nothing. After 33. fxg5 Rg8 34. Kf2 Rxg5 35. bxc5 dxc5 36. Qxc5 White won a pawn and retained enough resources for defence. The danger of losing has passed. Afterword
I did manage to defeat Tal. But the match's games didn't give me much creative satisfaction. I'm content only with some opening improvements I've used, for instance, in games 4 and 8. But I was plagued by technical flaws during the entire match. My technique is considered very good. Yes, in the last few years, I won many "bloodless" games. But against Tal, a very inventive and resourceful practician, simple technique is not enough, you need very sophisticated technique, which I failed to deliver. My only consolation is that Tal made even more technical mistakes than me. The match against Tal was a tough test for me. The positive balance of our previous encounters put much more pressure on me than on Tal. I won't hide the fact that precisely because of that, I felt obliged to defeat the Riga player. Now, before the match against Spassky, I don't worry much. I undestand that Spassky is stronger than Tal and probably stronger than me, but that's why I'm going to play him less nervously.



-<Mikhail Tal, "The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal" (Cadogan 1997), pp.343-347>

(p.343) I returned to Moscow, and exactly half an hour later Victor Korchnoi, who was to be my opponent in the Candidates Semi-final Match, flew in from Amsterdam, where he had beaten Reshevsky.

In our match, the Leningrad Grandmaster was considered by chess correspondents to be the undisputed favourite. The score of our previous encounters appeared in the press, and it was recalled tht, in the last tournament where we had both participated (Wijk ann Zee), Korchnoi had finished 3 points ahead of me. I was confronted by the following problems: firstly, to make myself forget about our previous games, and secondly, to force myself to play as reservedly as possible, since Korchni is at his most dangerous in positions of a counter-attacking type, and feels less confident in situations where he himself has to take the initiative.

Therefore we decided at the start of the match to give preference to 1.d4, since previously I had always opened with my king's pawn against him.

Game 1

Tal vs Korchnoi, 1968

The very first game fully confirmed all our expectations. I began extra calmly, then came simplification, and straight from the opening the game went into an ending which I could not have lost if I had tried. Korchnoi could have gained (p.344) approximate equality, but he was completely discouraged by the way the game had gone, and made two anti-positional moves. A pawn ending was reached which was lost for him, although this still had to be proved.

Game one- White to move 28.???

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Here I wrongly made the mistake of not believing myself. At first I wrote down the winning move 28.e5, but then decided to work out all the variations to mate. To do this proved not at all easy. It was only several days later that a detailed analysis appeared, confirming tht, by avoiding many false paths, White could win by force. Being unable to find all this at the board, I rejected 28.e5, subsequently again played inaccurately, and Korchnoi found the only moves to force a draw.

The most amusing thing is that I was not at all upset: the game had shown that the match tactics we had planned were quite correct.

Game 2

Korchnoi vs Tal, 1968

In the second game I again avoided all the sharp conitnuations into which my opponent tried to provoke me,

Game 3

Tal vs Korchnoi, 1968

and in the third game once again chose the quiet opening variation which had been psychologically so unpleasant for Korchnoi in the first game. Here, and this doesn't happen often, my opponent fell into a prepared opening trap, and I obtained a completely won position with an extra pawn. I allowed myself to relax a little, which you can't afford to do against Korchnoi, and first made my task more complicated, and then in time-trouble lost all my advantage.

I realised that there was no cause for panic, and that this game would have played on Korchnoi's nerves no less than on mine, but my heart bgan to be tormented by doubts: one game I had not won, now a second. I was already somewhat softened up when I arrived for the next game.

Game Four

Korchnoi vs Tal, 1968

Korchnoi very keenly sensed this, played the first part of the game very energetically, adpoting an interesting theoretical innovation and obtained a clearly (p.345) superior, if not winning position. In addition, I was also dispirited by the fact that over the first 15 moves I had spent a mass of time, and Korchnoi practically none.

To avoid the worst I decided to get some play at the cost of a pawn, which, of course, Korchnoi should not have taken, but a recurrence of his old illness- a tendency to capture pawns of 'any quality'- almost allowed me to save the game. For the pawn Black's pieces came strongly into play, and only severe time-trouble 'led' me past a continuation which would have made Korchnoi fight for the draw. However, I blundered, lost a piece and the game.

Game Five

Tal vs Korchnoi, 1968

My good intentions were immediately abandoned, and after a lengthy discussion with my second, I decided to return to my old ways, and play 1.e4, although it had previously been unsuccessful against Korchnoi. In reply to this, Korchnoi chose a quiet variation of the Ruy Lopez, which he had played only rarely, promising White an active and superior game. I did not play the best way, and Korchnoi practically equalised. Of course, if I had not been burdened by the thought of my loss in the fourth game, and the chances missed earlier, I would have gone in for the quiet position planned by Black, but my nervious decision, taken on the spot, gave Korchnoi the chance to shine with a typical counter-attack.

Everything seemed to be settled. By tradition, the match against Korchnoi was lost, for I would never make up the difference of two points in the remaining five games, in three of which I would have Black, and

Game Six

Korchnoi vs Tal, 1968

I went along quite calmly to the sixth game. Korchnoi evidently considered even three draws to be a luxury for me, and went all out to 'finish me off.' Indeed, he obtained the better position, while I was once again in time-trouble, and took my only chance: to sacrifice the exchange for a pawn. The position became considerably sharper, but Korchnoi was evidently unpreparted for such a change, and when the time control had been reached it was clear tht, despite being the exchange ahead, White was lost.

The fate of the match once more hung in the balance, and Korchnoi's self-confidnce was markedly shaken. In the last games of the match he tended, uncharacteristically, to aim only for a draw. It became easier for me to play in such a situation, but not once was I able to realise any advantage I gained.

Game Ten

Korchnoi vs Tal, 1968

I began the 10th game very calmly. A loss and a draw were equally worthless to me, but there could be no question of any unjustified risk. In the first half of the game Korchnoi played unsurely; in a Dutch Defence I seized the initiative, and gained a winning position.

(Diagram on p.346) Black to move 32...???

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But here nerves came into the act. After all, in the event of a win, the psychological wind would be in my favour, and a sudden-death play-off would disturb Korchnoi's equilibrium. Intead of 32...Qg7 or 32...Qf8, followed by the knight manoeuver... Ng8-f6-e4, I sacrificed a pawn for an attack: 32...g5 33.fxg5 (p.346) Rg8 34.Kf2 Rxg5 35.bxc5 dxc5 36.Qxc5 Qh5 37.Qe7+ Rg7 38.Qf6 Rg6 39.Qe7+ Rg7 40.Qf6 Rf7. Here the game was adjourned in the following very sharp position.

White to move 42.???

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Korchnoi thought for a very long time, and when we arrived for the resumption, it turned out that he had sealed a move which we ha not analysed at all: 41.Qc3 (41.Qd4 was better). At the board I failed to find a very promising pawn sacrifice, whereupon Black's attack gradually died out, and before the second time control I was forced to agree to a repetition of moves.

It was then that our little incident took place on the pages of the press, when Korchnoi declared me to be 'a highly routine player'. On the pages of the weekly 64, only just revived, the editor, Petrosian, spoke up for me, and I thus became the object of a creative discussion.

JOURNALIST. But how did you yourself react to Korchnoi's declaration?

(p.357) CHESS PLAYER. I didn't. I knew Victor, and I knew that he was capable of saying what he did not mean. However I found it amusing how he expressed his dissatisfaction, when a couple of months later I turned up as correspondent for 64 at his Final Candidates Match with Spassky. Evidently he assumed that, exploiting my official position, I would try to get even with him."


Game One- June 26
Tal vs Korchnoi, 1968 
(E19) Queen's Indian, Old Main line, 9.Qxc3, 40 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game Two- June 28
Korchnoi vs Tal, 1968
(E06) Catalan, Closed, 5.Nf3, 28 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game Three- June 30
Tal vs Korchnoi, 1968 
(E19) Queen's Indian, Old Main line, 9.Qxc3, 41 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game Four- July 2
Korchnoi vs Tal, 1968 
(E53) Nimzo-Indian, 4.e3, 38 moves, 1-0

Game Five- July 4
Tal vs Korchnoi, 1968 
(C98) Ruy Lopez, Closed, Chigorin, 36 moves, 0-1

Game Six- July 6
Korchnoi vs Tal, 1968 
(A14) English, 42 moves, 0-1

Game Seven- July 8
Tal vs Korchnoi, 1968 
(B32) Sicilian, 41 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game Eight- July 10
Korchnoi vs Tal, 1968 
(D42) Queen's Gambit Declined, Semi-Tarrasch, 7.Bd3, 41 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game Nine- July 12
Tal vs Korchnoi, 1968
(C86) Ruy Lopez, Worrall Attack, 46 moves, 1/2-1/2

Game Ten- July 14
Korchnoi vs Tal, 1968
(A40) Queen's Pawn Game, 61 moves, 1/2-1/2

10 games

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