Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Edward Pariants' Poignant and Loving Tribute to Mikhail Tal

"Genius is pain."--John Lennon

In 1992, Edward Pariants penned a beautiful obituary about the incomparable World Chess Champion Mikhail Tal, who had just died at the age of 55 after an all-too brief life plagued by serious health problems. The entire piece is a wonderful remembrance of a great genius--a bon vivant and a good soul who was gifted not only at chess but also as a writer (his autobiography The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal is one of the greatest chess books of all-time)--but these passages are particularly insightful:

A beautiful man was gone, the brightest player of our century was lost. Earth possessed one genius less. Nature is not generous with genius. Should she perchance extend the offer to all, few, if they knew the conditions genius imposes, would readily accept...

Then, of course, there is fate. The monumental question is, Why? Why are there people here on Mother Earth who must live without a kidney or without half their insides. Why did this have to be his fate? This I can't understand. All too often, while the world awaited further sparkling victories a la Tal, he was in an ambulance, angrily demanding that he be made well enough to play chess "sooner, faster, quicker!"...

It goes without saying that Misha was a prodigiously talented player, but the secret of his genius did not lie in his amazing ability to calculate or in his phenomenal memory--he could show you all 40 games played in a simul!--his greatest gift was his love of the game.

I have heard it said that Tal did not know any theory, that he just played "off the top of his head." This is ridiculous. To be a genius in your profession a complete mastery of theory is a necessary starting point. Consider the great Spanish painter Velasquez. Velasquez' deep understanding of classical painting was the foundation that allowed him to diverge from classical theory more profoundly than anyone else of his time.

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