Mikhail Tal (1936-1992), known as the "Magician from Riga", was a chess player from Latvia, which was part of the Soviet Union for most of his life. He was known for his very aggressive, attacking style of play, featuring many sacrifices. He defeated Mikhail Botvinnik in a match for the title of World Champion in 1960, at the age of 23, but lost his title in a return match a year later. He never regained the title of World Champion, but remained one of the top players in the world for the rest of his life, even winning the World Blitz Championship in 1988, four years before his death.
Tal had an engaging personality, and had no known enemies, which is amazing considering the many feuds and vendettas in international chess. He was also a gifted writer; his book The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal is an entertaining recap of his early career, replete with many humorous anecdotes and over 100 of his most entertaining games. For example, in the book, Tal, tells the story of his famous "hippopotamus" game, in which he spent much of his time wondering how one would drag a hippopotamus from a marsh instead of thinking about his game, yet still made a strong sacrifice to win the game.
Tal struggled with health problems his entire life, and especially suffered from bouts of kidney problems. Despite this, he was a heavy smoker and drinker. Kidney failure finally did him in, and he died in 1992, at the age of 55. He had continued to play chess, almost to the very end.
- Mikhail Tal (reprinted 1997), The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal, Cadogan Books.
- Burgess, Nunn & Emms (2004), The Mammoth Book of the World's Great Chess Games, Carroll & Graf.