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Mikhail Tal vs Alexander Tolush
"'Tis Better Tolush and Lose than Never Tolush at All" (game of the day Apr-24-2010)
USSR Championship (1956), Leningrad URS , rd 17, Feb-06
Sicilian Defense: Najdorf Variation. Poisoned Pawn Accepted (B97)  ·  1-0



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Kibitzer's Corner
< Earlier Kibitzing  · PAGE 2 OF 2 ·  Later Kibitzing>
Mar-10-03  drukenknight: im crazy, is my Q on a3, isnt it QxB?
Mar-11-03  ughaibu: Black's queen is on a3, white's bishop is on g5 so QxB is not possible.
Dec-11-03  Petrosianic: Black can improve significantly here with the seemingly innocent interpolation 12... h6. Then after 13. Bh4 Qxa2 14. Rb3 Qa1+ 15. Kf2 Qa4 16. Bb5 ab 17. Nxb5 (as in this game), Black no longer has to play the ugly f6. Instead he can play 17... Bc5+! And after 18. Nxc5 Qxh4+ (now possible because 12...h6 had forced the B onto that square) 19. g3 Qd8 20. Qd6 Nxc5 21. Nc7+ Qxc7 22. Qxc7 Nba6 23. Qb6 Nxb3 24. cxb3 O-O, Black has a Rook, two pieces and a pawn for the Queen. After losing this game, Tolush discovered this improvement and used it to beat Korchnoi in 1958. The later Korchnoi-Tolush game was not in this database, but I've just uploaded a copy.
Jul-05-04  acirce: Very detailed analysis on (an excerpt from Kasparov's OMGP).
Sep-15-04  Sergey Sorokhtin: NEW KASPAROV'S CORREKTION!!!
Game 121
USSR Championship,
Leningrad 1956, 17th round
Sicilian Defence B97


Intuitively sensing that the position demands a sacrifice, Tal immediately sacrifices – at just the right moment, but… the wrong piece and on the wrong square! Soon afterwards they found 15.Nxe6!! fxe6 16.Nd6+ Bxd6 17.Qxd6 Rf8+ 18.Kg3 with a very strong attack.

Here are a few typical variations: 18…Nf6 (18...Rf7? 19.Qxe6+ Kf8 20.Bc4 is totally bad) 19.exf6 gxf6 20.Be2! Nd7 21.Bh5+ Kd8 22.Be3 Rg8+ 23.Kh3 Rg6 24.Rc3 Qa5 25.Rc5+– (Sorokhtin) or 20…fxg5 21.Bh5+ Rf7 22.Bxf7+ Kxf7 23.Rf3+! Kg6 24.h4!, and White’s heavy pieces catch the Black king.

15...axb5 16.Nxb5 (‘hinting’ at Nc7 mate) 16…f6 17.exf6 <…> 17...gxf6? <…> 18.Re1!!

A brilliant flash of genius, after which White is now out of danger zone (if, of course, one can say such a thing about this game!): his king is comparatively safe and all his pieces are in play. The combination of these factors is the best insurance policy in such positions.


The only sensible defence. Black loses quickly after 18...fxg5? 19.Nc7+ Kf7 20.Rf3+ Nf6 (20...Kg8 21.Qxg5+ Bg7 22.Nxe6) 21.Rxf6+ Kg8 22.Rxf8+ Kxf8 23.Qd8 + etc.

19.Bxf6 Nxf6 20.Nxf6+ Kf7.


Terrifying, would you not agree? Impending over the Black king is the deadly threat of a discovered check. However the «straightforward» 21.Ne4! (Sorokhtin) won immediately. 21...Be7 22.Rf3+ Kg6 23.Qf4 or 21...Nd7 22.Qg5 Be7 23.Qh5+ Kg7 24.Rg3+ Kf8 25.Rf3+ Bf6 26.Qg5 etc.


Jul-12-05  fgh: A beautiful tactical game.
Sep-27-05  Queens Gambit: Masterpiece, awesome, Tal was a magician!!!
Oct-07-05  who: Can someone post the improvement that Kaspy gives for move 17. The link acirce gives doesn't work (anymore?).
Oct-28-05  Sergey Sorokhtin: This link is working For move 17 garry gives another( old ) comments ( not incorrect)
Nov-03-05  tarry knight: ughaibu: is that a salad fork or a dinner fork? any club player could see this coming. just another over rated game by tal.
Nov-03-05  ughaibu: See what coming?
Dec-14-05  you vs yourself: I assume the poisoned pawn in this game is the b2 pawn. Can anyone explain how white benefits from giving up that pawn in this sicilian variation? I see the rook gets an open file, but is that it?
Dec-14-05  aw1988: Lead in development, mainly.
Dec-14-05  you vs yourself: <aw1988> Thanks, but can you be more specific:)
Dec-14-05  aw1988: Well, that's basically it, lead in development.
Dec-20-05  DeepBlade: well <you vs yourself> just look at the position on the 13th move. White has 2 Knights planted in the center, and one active Rook. Consider it (the posioned pawn variation) as an gambit (for development) with the bonus of early (Black) Queen development ;)
Apr-24-10  Shams: So feeble that it almost can't be called a pun.
Apr-24-10  WhiteRook48: good game but bad pun
Apr-24-10  randomsac: That is really stretching it for a pun. In no way does Tolush resemble "to love." Too bad, it ruined a great Shakespeare line for me.
Premium Chessgames Member
  kevin86: Tal copying Fischer's poison pawn move-very ironic.
May-06-10  Xeroxx: < good game but bad pun>

Well, I guess you can't have both.

Jun-13-11  DrMAL: Tal's sac was unsound, if his opponent had a good computer from the next century and a few hours more time, he probably well maybe could have won or, well, at least not lost LOL.

It must have been very frustrating to answer back then with any real confidence, where exactly DID black go wrong? First, Tolush was guilty of being mortal and hence having to use some intuition which, like mine, made a suboptimal choice on move 17 as well as at other times. We know this because it's 2011 and an engine like Rybka 4.1 can estimate the merits of each choice, given enough time to be confident of its calculation.

For example, on move 17 my intuition, like Tolush, led to the worst of three unwinning top choices. Note that the score for each move shifted more and more in white's favor at greater depth of calculation, and all three lines lead to similarly unbalanced, unclear endgames:

[-0.44] d=21 17...Qxe4 18.fxg7 Bc5+ 19.Re3 Qf5+ 20.Ke2 Qg4+ 21.Ke1 Ra1+ 22.Kf2 Qf5+ 23.Ke2 Rg8 24.Rxa1 Qg4+ 25.Ke1 Rxg7 26.Rg3 Qe4+ 27.Qe2 Qxe2+ 28.Kxe2 Na6 29.Be3 Rxg3 30.hxg3 Kf8 31.Kd2 Ne5 32.Bxc5+ Nxc5 (5:41:24) 3054502kN

[+0.00] d=21 17...Nxf6 18.Nxf6+ gxf6 19.Nc7+ Kf7 20.Bxf6 Bc5+ 21.Ke1 Qe4+ 22.Kd1 e5 23.Nxa8 Bg4+ 24.Kc1 Kxf6 25.Qh6+ Qg6 26.Rf1+ Ke6 27.Qd2 Rc8 28.Nb6 Bxb6 29.Rxb6+ Rc6 30.Rxb7 Rd6 31.Qc3 Nd7 32.Ra7 Bf5 (7:44:02) 4222460kN

[+1.03] d=21 17...gxf6 18.Re1 Nc6 19.Bxf6 Qxe4 20.Nc7+ Kf7 21.Bxh8 Qh4+ 22.Kg1 Ra3 23.Nxe6 Rxb3 24.Nxf8 Nxf8 25.cxb3 Ne6 26.Bc3 Qg5 27.Qf2+ Ke8 28.Qf3 h6 29.b4 Ne7 30.Re5 Qg6 (10:05:49) 5605781kN

This is presented in response to incorrect and misleading criticism such as, "black could have taken with the knight and ended up a piece."

15.Nxe6 was objectively a better sac as Kasparov so delicately points out. It certainly looks much more intuitive and straightforward to me and, provided both sides find all the best or "close enough" moves the game will end up as predicted. However, this argument does not show that what Tal played was unsound. It is a different line, they are unrelated. Moreover, when played OTB such a straightforward approach may be easier for the opponent to understand and hence chose to play "close enough" moves.

Examining alternatives and knowing what is objectively best gives deeper understanding but what should actually be played is a subjective decision, dependent on style of play. There is no one choice for "best" here. Given this knowledge now I would play 15.Nxe6 like many others I too saw this move when re-playing the game out. Tal made his decision based on his style of complicating and unbalancing, it worked brilliantly!

Jul-16-13  MindCtrol9: Unsound or not,who was playing him could not figure out the craziness of the combinations that Tal was the only one to see on the board.It has to pass many years to see another Tal.I don't think there is nobody of the actual Grand Masters that get close to him.I do love Tal's games more than any other due to the exicement and surprises playing White or Black.He was an amazing player,and may he rest in peace and his spirit be with all chess lovers forever.
Jun-12-16  whiteshark: <Sergey Sorokhtin: <18...Ra6! <The only sensible defence...>>> 18...Nc6!, no?
Dec-19-17  Olsonist: Fischer wasn't really on the map yet in 1956. His first Poisoned Pawn is against Bruno Parma at Bled 61. It's more likely Fischer was influenced by Tal.
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