As you may have noticed, we decided to be presenting one positionally-tactical puzzle from the games of the Greats every Sunday for you to study over the week that follows. Last Sunday it was the position from the sixth game of the 1965 Tal – Larsen Candidates semifinal match in Bled, (then) Yugoslavia, to remember those days as we are watching Anand-Carlsen where we saw two quick bloodless draws in 16 + 25 moves so far. Now let me ask you, how many moves out of forty-one were conceived at the board? Bronstein may have been right after all, “Chess seems to have lost its creative component. It is no more the game it used to be. Imagination, quest for original creations”[4], it’s all gone. As he put it, “no more moves which are dangerous and exciting for both players and also for the audience.”

But let’s get back to our theme and see some bold moves from the past when the Greats respected the game. Our theme, again, is to show how strategy and tactics blend together in master games all the time. Strategy (the master) and tactics (the servant) are intricately related. To once again clarify things about the meaning of the two, here is an excerpt from GM Andrew Soltis’ great book What It Takes to Become a Chess Master.[1]

Amateurs consider moves as either tactical or positional. As GM Andrew Soltis puts it, they place them in separate boxes which, in turn, may make studying easier.

They can look at White-to-play-and-win positions to sharpen their tactical skill. They can look at a master game with positional themes to understand what strategy is all about. But this blinds them to the benefits of forcing positional moves.

You know what tactics are. They are the decisive moves you use to finish the majority of your games. Most of the other moves on your score sheet may seem like filler, passes that you made until you can pin a queen, skewer a rook or fork two pieces. But Masters use tactics in a different way. Sure, many of his games end the same way that yours do, when his opponent cannot meet tactical threats.

But to get to that point a Master builds up a position, usually slowly, until it is overwhelming. To achieve that he uses what most amateurs rarely do. He makes moves that are forcing, yet positional. That is, a move gets its energy from tactics. Typically, it’s a simple threat to win something, or making a sacrifice. But its primary purpose is positional, improving the placement of a bishop, weakening enemy pawns, or forcing the trade of a strong enemy knight.

These are ‘little tactics.’ They make seemingly minor, almost trivial changes in the position, in contrast to ‘big tactics,’ the one that win games. — Andrew SOLTIS[1]

Let’s get to the game and see how strategy and tactics go hand in hand in master games, and how inextricably intertwined they are.

The Pirate vs. Viking war has gone on for 15 moves. They’re pretty evenly matched. Larsen the Viking has just played 15…Nd5 and he needs just one more stroke to move his king to safety by castling. But it’s never going to happen! Because the Pirate devised the idea of a Trojan Horse. When the “Trojan Horse” was left at the gates of Troy, the Trojans thought the Greeks had left it as a pious parting gift because they had given up and sailed home. The Trojans welcomed the gift and took it within their walls, little knowing the belly of the beast was filled with armed soldiers who would soon destroy their city. Here the Viking actually had no choice, he had to accept the Trojan Horse offered by the Pirate. As a result, his king remains in the center and his men never get coordinated, his rooks never connected…

16. Nb5!!

Little tactics! I mean, great (so called little) tactics! Tal The Magician is offering the knight! The beast is actually threatening to go to d4 with effect, if 16…O-O 17.Nd4 Qh7 18.c4 Nb6 19.Bc2, the situation would be positionally very poor for Black, having a horrible choice between 19…g6 and 19.Qh8. Hence, the sacrifice must be accepted.

As is the case with most Tal’s combinations, when one is over, what was left on the board was not an “and wins” position but one that had got somewhat better strategically. That is what little tactics is all about, it improves an equal position, or turns a worse position into equality, or, often (which was Tal’s trademark!), makes an unclear position more unclear, GM Boris Gulko wrote.[1]

Michael Cheval, Knight offer

The Knight offer. Michael Cheval (Kotelnikovo, South Russia, 1966) is the world’s leading contemporary artist, specializing in Absurdist paintings; “absurdity” is an inverted side or reality, a reverse side of logic, like in the games of Tal the Magician.

16…cxb5 17. Qxb5+ Kd8 18. c4

The critical position, Tal commented here, Where should Black’s knight retreat? Larsen chose the path of least resistance returning the piece. However, his king remains stranded in the center and White easily organizes a decisive attack with only minimal material sacrifice.[2]


By returning his extra piece Larsen hoped to bring his king to e7 and develop his pieces. But he will never make it. 18…Qxe5 is actually losing by force. However, when faced with a choice between several unpleasant possibilities (and Tal was extremely good at presenting his opponents with such choices!) it’s very easy to go wrong, even for a great player.[3]

The main variation of White’s combination, however, was 18…Nf4 19.Rd1+ Kc7 20.Rd7+ Bxd7 21.Qxd7+ Kb8 22.Qxe7 Qxe5 23.Be3 Ng6 24.Qxf7 Qf6 25.Be8! (the crux of the combination) 25…Qe7 (25…Ne5 26.Bf4) 26.Qxg6 Rxe8 27.Bc5! Qd7 28.Bd6+ Kc8 29.c5 and the bishop on d6 is considerably stronger than Black’s rook.[2]

Tal-Larsen 1965 1

The only way to stay in the game was 18…Nb6, though after 19.Qa5 White gets his piece back and has some advantage:

19…Bd7? 20.Be3! and Black never gets to develop, 20…Kc7 21.Bxd7 Kxd7 22.Rfd1+ Ke8 (22…Kc7 23.c5) 23.Bxb6 and Black is material down with a horrible position.

19…Kc7! is the only defense. After 20.c5 Kb8 the black king finally finds relative safety 21.cxb6 axb6 22.Qb5 Ra5 23.Qb3 though White would also have good attacking chances (Tal) 23…Qxe6 24.Qxb6.

Tal-Larsen 1965 2


We have material equality, though with his safer king White should have some advantage. In general, in many of Tal’s games we do see that, contrary to general opinion, actually he did not bluff that much and most of the time did not take any crazy risks! Most of the time Tal’s opponents could have reached an equal or unclear position if they had defended flawlessly, but if they make mistake on the slippery road, like Larsen here, the game is quickly over.[3]

19.cxd5 Bd6

The point behind Larsen’s defense. With this tempo move he creates for himself the possibility to take with his queen on d5 on the next move – also with tempo, since White is not going to trade queens. He also vacates the e7 square for his king. Black’s problem is that he is still not going to be able to develop his Bc8 and connect his rooks. 19…exd5?? is a terrible mistake which loses to the prosaic 20.g3 with Bf4 and Rfd1 to come, and Black gets mated in the middle of the board.[3]

20.g3 Qxd5 21.Qe2

It now becomes clear that White has more than enough compensation for his pawn. Black’s king is stranded quite far from “home” and White should merely get his QB into play for a decisive attack.[2]

21…Ke7 22.Rd1 Qa5

Not being able to connect his rooks, or castle by hand by escaping with his king to g8, Black’s situation is hopeless.

23.Qg4 Qf5 24.Qc4 Qc5 25.Qd3 Qd5 26.Qc3 Be5 27.Qe1 Qc5 28.Bd2 Kf6 29.Rac1 Qb6 30.Be3 Qa6 31.Qb4 b5 32.Bxb5 Qb7 33.f4 Bb8 34.Bc6 A humiliating final picture! A terrible loss for the Viking 1-0

Tal-Larsen 1965 3

A great example showing the workings of little tactics and how important it is to build up your position to the point where its better known sister, big tactics, may come in to settle the matters. Little tactics can be difficult to appreciate because the improvements it brings about may seem marginal. Yet if you want to improve your play you must be aware of this aspect of the game and work on it. So come visit us Sunday and check our positionally-tactical puzzle featuring little tactics. You won’t regret it.


1. GM Andrew Soltis, What It Takes to Become a Chess Master

2. Tal, Karklins, Tal’s Masterpieces and Other Select Games 1960-1975

3. GM Ivan Sokolov, Sacrifice and Initiative in Chess

4. Even that astonishing sacrifice Anand made against Aronian (if I’m not mistaken) few months ago was “played” by software, not created at the board.

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