Knowledge? Intuition? Risk? Pt. 2

After chess knowledge and intuition in the Pt. 1, let’s now take a look at what risk has to do in defining style.

Life is double-edged. To succeed in it, one has to learn to take calculated risks and accept that as a normal aspect of life.

One has to take chances — sometimes it may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good, —William Faulkner.

Any progress involves risk, which creates the conditions under which a certain creativity can express itself and clever and exciting solutions could be reached. Only risk-taking and temperament are likely to pursue a creative path.

Risk is related to courage and aggressivity. A healthy dose of aggression and competitiveness, is an asset.1

Edouard Pape

Boy, those French! Chess on high risky places, the French problemist Edouard Pape (1870-1949) sitting astride steel girders in the upper reaches of the Eifel Tower, 800 feet from the ground (American Chess Bulletin, Sep 1921)

The positional and tactical are not the elements defining chess playing style. Risk, aggressivity and will to win seem to be the key elements. It is the personality of the chess player, not their chess knowledge and the way they use strategy and tactics.

Carlsen has the rating no other chess player has ever achieved. But his compter-like play appears almost risk-free (remember the match of pansies in Cheannai last year?) which makes it so little entertaining and inspirational for chess fans.

In contrast, the Magician of Riga’s games have become immor-Tal, admired and loved by all chess players around the world thanks to Tal’s never shrinking back from hair-raising complications.

In the Pt.2 of Knowledge? Intuition? Risk? article from the 1969 Magazine 64, Tal himself makes comments on risk:2

* * *

And finally, risk. I do not find it so easy to make a judgement about the place which risk occupies in chess. All the more so because in the eyes of the chess press I have for a long time been regarded as an apologist for risk.

What then can be considered a risk in chess? Does a chess player intentionally take a risk?

If we identify the concept of “knowledge” with a sort of scientific approach to chess, if we place intuition in the realms of art then to continue with the analogy risk should be linked to sport. It can even be expressed in the terms of the proverb, “Whoever does not take any risks never wins anything.” I should like to add to this that in my opinion a chess player is not really taking a risk till he knows what he is risking.

The ice hockey team which for the final minute of play leaves its own goal unguarded, the gymnast who decides to present at the decisive moment a move of a greatest level of difficulty and in which he is not always successful, the boxer who goes for a victory by KO in the last round and in doing so “drops” his own defenses – all that represents a risk. The risk in those cases represents a voluntary acceptance of the danger of the action animated by the wish — to win. To win at any cost!

A ship in port is safe, but that is not what ships are for. Sail out to sea and do new things. — Grace Hopper

A chess player has sacrificed a piece for an attack although that was not strictly necessary. Does that mean he is taking a risk? There is no doubt about that because his attack can be beaten off and his opponent’s extra piece comes back at him like a boomerang.

Fine then, but what about a position of the player who has accepted the sacrifice (although he could decline it) and in doing so reckons that he can beat off the attack? Is he risking something? Of course, he is! After all, the attack may be successful.

Who then is taking the risk? There are no scales which are able to determine this.

Vojo Stanic

art Vojo Stanic (Montenegrin)

I cannot help quoting myself. In the book on my 1960 World Championship match3 against Botvinnik I wrote that at a high level of modern chess, where everybody knows everything a chess player who wishes to achieve a measure of success must sometimes prove that 2 x 2 = 5. I have still not altered my point of view in this matter. But, since we have been speaking about risk, a more precise differentiation is required.When you try to make your opponent believe that 2 x 2 = 5, you are not giving up on the solution that 2 x 2 = 4, and that is what constitutes the real risk. In sporting situations that is often forced.

A chess player deviates much more often than one would think from the correct continuations. He is genuinely convinced that whoever invented multiplication table let a mistake slip into them today. A risk with the watchword “I believe” is very closely bound up with intuition.

In itself, this whole division of course appears extremely qualified. It is impossible to imagine a chess player, even a famous one, who would not be beset by doubts during a game. Equally, a master with an intuitive style will not achieve any significant success if he is quite opposed to the calculation of specific variations or if his intuition is totally fed by what he has read. As though daring to discover America, I have attempted to formulate a thought, namely that the main thing to do is to play well, in short to be in form. Then everything works for you – knowledge is exploited to the full, intuition is not suppressed and risk is justified…


1. This aspect is extremely important when building character in raising and teaching children. A highly structured and secure learning environment may be especially counterproductive for kids.

2. Tal’s original article in Russian from “64” can be found in Valentin Kirillov’s Speaks and Instructs Tal, Riga 2006, p.298.To the best of my knowledge, the article was first translated into English in full by Alexander Spektrowski on The translation above is from The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal, Learn from the Legend, by Muller and Stolze, ©2012 New in Chess.

The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal gets my highest recommendation. If you love Tal, you’ll love this book. If you love solving puzzles, you’ll love this book. If you love chess history, you’ll love this book. If you love looking at full games (and puzzle solutions) with rich notes and comments, you’ll love this book. If you love interesting prose by Tal, Botvinnik, Spassky, and many others, you’ll love this book. The Magic Tactics of Mikhail Tal: Learn from the Legend is, in my opinion, an instant classic that’s suitable for players of all ratings (beginner to grandmaster).” IM Jeremy Silman.

3. Tal-Botvinnik 1960 written by Tal is one of the greatest chess books ever.

“Mikhail Tal’s splendid account of his world championship match victory is one of the masterpieces of the golden age of annotation – before insights and feelings and flashes of genius were reduced to mere moves and Informant symbols.” GM Andrew Soltis on Tal-Botvinnik 1960.

You can find the Russian original here.

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