Boris Spassky was the surprise revelation of the opening day of the 2016 Tal Memorial. The 79-year-old 10th World Champion told the story of Botvinnik’s escape against Fischer in the 1962 Olympiad before the modern players engaged in a fast and furious nine rounds of blitz. Mamedyarov cruised to victory with six wins and three draws, leaving second-placed Aronian two points adrift. Nepomniachtchi, Svidler and Giri were the other players to win the prize of five Whites in the main event, while Kramnik narrowly missed out.
There are benefits to holding a chess tournament in Moscow, and being able to get World Champions like Anatoly Karpov and Boris Spassky to drop by meant it was possible to get multiple first-hand accounts of the legendary 8th World Champion, Mikhail Tal (1936-1992).
Boris Gelfand and Vishy Anand were chosen to appear at the opening press conference, since they’d both met Tal, but when Mark Glukhovsky introduced Gelfand as the only one of the participants to have played a classical game of chess against Tal, Boris had to disappoint him. In fact, he revealed they’d played the card game Belote during the eventful 1990 Manila Interzonal, which included an earthquake. It was a Swiss event, though, and they didn’t meet at the chessboard, with Gelfand finishing 1st (Anand was 3rd) and Tal 36th.
The press conference was mainly in Russian, although Vishy speaks English
Vishy Anand, meanwhile, had played a classical game against Tal, in the Cannes Battle of the Generations in 1989. He paid homage to one of his chess heroes:
Even though Mikhail Tal was only World Champion for one year, I think he won more fans in that year than many others in their lifetime. He’s obviously one of the most popular World Champions ever, and I have a personal connection as well, in that I grew up in the Mikhail Tal Chess Club in my home town of Chennai. I even had the privilege of playing him – and Boris Vasilievich (Spassky) – in the same tournament in Cannes, many years back. We were commentators once together in Brussels so I had a chance to meet him as well. He’s one of the nicest people I’ve met and it’s an honour. I’m glad that his memory’s being kept alive.
After that Glukhovsky introduced Boris Spassky, saying that the 10th World Champion would be happy to answer private questions from journalists. A sprightly Spassky was having none of it, though, and demanded the microphone! He launched into a monologue on one of the most famous episodes in chess history, introducing himself in style:
Good evening. I’m Spassky, Boris Vasilievich - still alive!
I really love Misha Tal, and I have the very brightest memories of him. First of all, I’d like to say that Misha Tal was a bright personality. And now… one stupid story. In 1962 the USSR team ended up in Golden Sands, because the World Chess Olympiad was there, in Varna, Bulgaria. I don’t remember which round, but Botvinnik adjourned a game with Fischer in a worse position.
1. c4 g6 2. d4 ♘f6 3. ♘c3 d5 4. ♘f3 ♗g7 5. ♕b3 dxc4 6. ♕xc4 O-O 7. e4 ♗g4 8. ♗e3 ♘fd7 9. ♗e2 ♘c6 10. ♖d1 ♘b6 11. ♕c5 ♕d6 12. h3 ♗xf3 13. gxf3 ♖fd8 14. d5 ♘e5 15. ♘b5 ♕f6 16. f4 ♘ed7 17. e5 ♕xf4 18. ♗xf4 ♘xc5 19. ♘xc7 ♖ac8 20. d6 exd6 21. exd6 ♗xb2 22. O-O ♘bd7 23. ♖d5 b6 24. ♗f3 ♘e6 25. ♘xe6 fxe6 26. ♖d3 ♘c5 27. ♖e3 e5 28. ♗xe5 ♗xe5 29. ♖xe5 ♖xd6 30. ♖e7 ♖d7 31. ♖xd7 ♘xd7 32. ♗g4 ♖c7 33. ♖e1 ♔f7 34. ♔g2 ♘c5 35. ♖e3 ♖e7 36. ♖f3+ ♔g7 37. ♖c3 ♖e4 38. ♗d1 ♖d4 39. ♗c2 ♔f6 40. ♔f3 ♔g5 41. ♔g3 ♘e4+ 42. ♗xe4 ♖xe4 43. ♖a3 ♖e7 44. ♖f3 ♖c7 45. a4 ♖c5 The game was adjourned here.
46. ♖f7 ♖a5 47. ♖xh7 ♖xa4 48. h4+ ♔f5 49. ♖f7+ ♔e5 50. ♖g7 ♖a1 51. ♔f3 b5 52. h5 ♖a3+ 53. ♔g2 gxh5 54. ♖g5+ ♔d6 55. ♖xb5 h4 56. f4 ♔c6 57. ♖b8 h3+ 58. ♔h2 a5 59. f5 ♔c7 60. ♖b5 ♔d6 61. f6 ♔e6 62. ♖b6+ ♔f7 63. ♖a6 ♔g6 64. ♖c6 a4 65. ♖a6 ♔f7 66. ♖c6 ♖d3 67. ♖a6 a3 68. ♔g1
Botvinnik needed to find an escape. Our commissars couldn’t allow Botvinnik to lose that game, and they shut Misha Tal and me in a room and said look, analyse the adjourned position and find a way out for Botvinnik. Misha and I started the clock, and in five minutes played out that adjourned position and immediately came to a death sentence for Botvinnik. Things were bad for Botvinnik – Botvinnik should lose. After that Misha and I were asked to leave and told, “that’s not how things will go”. And then, ceremoniously, titans entered the room – Paul Petrovich Keres, then Efim Petrovich Geller and, who else? Isaac Yefremovich Boleslavsky, it seems.
During that time Misha and I had already made our exit and given them the slip. We found Fischer and fed him black caviar – we had no vodka. Bobby was very happy. Bobby spent his time listening to some Soviet broadcasts, in English, and was hungry. Bobby was always hungry, and Misha was having fun. Misha was always having fun. I know other stories, but they’re absolutely forbidden...
At 7am in the morning, Geller found an escape for Botvinnik. Botvinnik came to the resumption of the game without his thermos flask, letting it be known that his position was hopeless. In Botvinnik’s thermos flask was orange juice, grapefruit juice, lemon, sugar… I think that’s all. When Bronstein played a match with Botvinnik, Bronstein once decided to play a joke. He came to play with a thermos flask, and knowing that Botvinnik had spies and would check everything closely, David put 5-star cognac there – pure cognac. And Botvinnik got to know about it. I don’t know what conclusions you could draw from that…
Botvinnik nevertheless made a draw in that game. Fischer was upset.
You had the sense that Spassky could have gone on all night, but there was business to attend to… not that we got straight down to it! Vladimir Kramnik’s flight had been delayed and it was unclear if he would make it to the venue on time. In the end, though, it was decided to wait 30 minutes so the 14th World Champion could join the action… and when the 9 rounds of 3-minute + 2-second blitz began there was hardly a pause between each round. You can replay all the action using the selector below:
And also watch the commentary with Daniil Dubov and Evgenij Miroshnichenko:
It’s impossible to sum up all that goes on in 9 rounds of
blitz, so let’s first jump to the final crosstable:
And then a few of the stories:
Shakhriyar Mamedyarov had a tough Olympiad under the immense pressure of playing at home, but he seemed to let his hair down in Moscow – relaxing with a buddy:
His tournament was almost perfect. After a draw against Svidler he went on a scintillating run of four wins. Gelfand resigned with mate-in-6 on the board, while Nepomniachtchi in the next round was only a move away from execution. Ian had gone for an exchanging sequence but missed a sting in the tail:
Simply 26.Qd7!, and there was no good answer to the threat of Rc8+ next move. Shak then managed to outwit both Kramnik and Aronian in long games, though not without one moment where the fate of the tournament might have turned:
If Levon had spotted 41...f5! it’s game over, as all White can do to stop Rf2+ mate next move is give some checks and give up material. Instead after 41…Nxh2+? Mamedyarov went on to win the endgame.
A couple more draws and a couple more wins and Mamedyarov had made a real statement of intent before the tournament proper!
With most players (Nepomniachtchi is an exception) it soon became clear what form they were in. Anand, for instance, lost to Gelfand in Round 1 in the battle of the players who’d competed with the “press conference handicap” and never got back on track, losing two more games and winning none. For Anish Giri it seemed as though everything was going wrong (again!). He was an exchange up against Nepomniachtchi when he threw it all away in Round 4 with 32…Rd1??
Yes, 33.Qb3+ was what he’d missed, if you hadn’t spotted it yet! Round 5 was even worse:
Though you had to admire how Anish managed to make that game the last of the round to finish after 77 moves…
There are second chances, though, as Giri had tweeted earlier:
Suddenly he hit back with an “uneven” win over Aronian, before winning a rook ending against Anand.
It was all capped perfectly with a win on demand against Evgeny Tomashevsky in the final round. After being slightly worse to dead lost for 40 moves, it all came down to this:
Tomashevsky, who had lost three games in a row, cracked, with 59…Bxa6?, when it turns out the a-pawn will win the game. Instead picking up a pawn with 59…Rxg3! seems to hold, with 60.Rf6+ changing nothing, since 60…Kg5 keeps the rook en prise.
That was a crucial moment, since it punished Vladimir Kramnik not only for delaying the start but for acquiescing to a quick Berlin draw with Nepomniachtchi in the final round. If Giri had drawn that would have been enough for Kramnik to get five Whites in the main tournament, but as it happened, Giri snatched away that prize.
So how did Peter’s 3-hour Banter Blitz practice on Friday prepare him for Moscow? Pretty well, it seems! There was one minor incident, when he somewhat overlooked the not-so-subtle point of Tomashevsky’s 39.b4:
39…Bb6?? 40.Bxa2 Oops. Resigns.
But that was the only game Svidler lost. He bounced back to beat Gelfand in the next round and then got the sweetest of wins with the white pieces against Kramnik. It may not have been the smoothest of conversions, but who cares when you can end like this:
Mate is coming. Remember – if you Go Premium for 1 year or more from now until the end of the tournament you’ll gain a free month of membership (per year) for any win Peter scores in the main classical event!
So then… the prize for Svidler, as well as Mamedyarov, Aronian, Nepomniachtchi and Giri, is to have five games with the white pieces. And, as fate would have it, Svidler starts with the white pieces once again against Kramnik. You can see all the pairings for all rounds in the selector below:
Don’t miss the action that starts at 15:00 Moscow time (14:00 CEST) on Monday, with live commentary in English, Russian and Spanish.
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