Tal System: A system of accurate attack

Tal has been the most aggressive and attacking player till date. He developed a system of attack which could rip through the defences of most of the champions of that time including Botvinnik (in their first World Championship match).

The elements of Tal System of attack are as follows (step by step):
1. Keep the opponent king in the centre and yours away from centre (till endgame)
2. Achieve breakthrough in the centre
3. Increase the assault ratio (through initiatives)
4. Open Invasion Trajectories (files & diagonals)
5. Open your lines of communication  and cut those of opponents.
6. Maintain Outposts
7. Eliminate defenders of opponent king
8. Take your pieces near opponent's king
9. Destroy the opponent king's fort.

Now a bit more details about these elements:
Element 1- King in the Centre: Tal says "As long as my opponent has not yet castled, on each move, I seek a pretext for an offensive. Even when I realize that the (opponent) king is not in danger".

Element 2 - Breakthrough in the Centre:  In practical play, domination of one player in the centre completely rules out activity by the other. An advantage in the centre almost always allows an attack to be obtained, either in the centre itself or on one of the flanks, depending on the concrete features of the position. With a mobile pawn centre, the strength of attack grows greatly after a breakthrough in the centre, which usually achieves several aims like - 
* opening of lines along which rooks and bishops at our queenside can instantly join the attack (whose scope is often limited by the centre pawns),
*vacating of the central square via which a knight can join the attack or a rook can switch ranks or
*disruption of the coordination of the enemy pieces.
Thus, a breakthrough in the centre is always start of an attack which may be swift or explosive or can grow by degrees. Voluntarily conceding the opponent a mobile pawn centre or only a single pawn in the centre which is capable of advancing is too dangerous.

Element 3 - The Assault ratio: The player with a lead in development is obliged to attack, or risk losing this advantage. A successful attack on the king (in the centre or castled) is guaranteed only when an especially strong piece grouping can be created in the attack zone, when the power of such an assault exceeds for certain the defensive possibilities.

Thus assault ratio (a new term coined by Tal) can be explained mathematically as:
Assault ratio =   Total power of our pieces in the opponent's king zoneThe power of opponent's defending pieces near his king

Another new term in chess introduced by Tal is "Launching". This term has been taken from Canadian Ice-Hockey where a player passes the puck not to a team member but close to the opponent's goal in the hope that one of his team-mates will get to it first and will be able to shoot it at the opponent's goal. In chess also, a piece may be moved close to the opponent's king without any concrete aim but with a hope that future developments will utilize it and plan further game as per this piece.

Launching had a surprise effect on many opponents of Tal. This was one way of gradually increasing the assault ratio.  
 
Element 4 - Invasion Trajectories: A key idea in Tal system is the "Invasion Trajectories" which are the diagonals, ranks and files which are initially blocked by pawn barriers of both sides and increasing the mobility of pieces is main problem for both players. To get clear trajectories for his pieces, a player has to battle, sacrifice pawns and pieces or make positional concessions. A related term is "holes in the fortress walls". Like an attack along a weak diagonal, a whole complex of weak squares in the vicinity of the opponent's king can be attacked depending on different pawn formations near the opponent's king. There is a single attacking mechanism in such cases - establish your pieces on the unprotected squares which from close range pursue the opponent's king completely destroying its protection.

Element 5 - Lines of Communication: Communication lines are files and diagonals. Success of our attack depends on how our pieces behave on these lines of communication and can we cut these lines of our opponent's pieces. 

Tal introduces a concept of "Barrier". Barrier can be material or non material through which a whole group of pieces is unable to pass. Barrier is a communication line under close-range fire and the creation of one is a basis for future success. A term related to barrier is "Interference". While barrier is positional in nature, interference is a purely tactical blow aiming to cut-off the opponent's forces from the defence of some key points. Another key idea is "Obstruction" or "Obstructive Sacrifice". This is a barricade which can be erected in the path of enemy forces. Obstruction is achieved normally through a pawn sacrifice which disrupts the quiet course of the game.
  
Element 6 - Outposts: An outpost is defined as "a well defended fortification in an advanced position". A piece on the outpost (usually a knight) in the heart of the opponent's position beyond the demarcation line cramps the opponent's forces, hinders the maneuvers by opponent aimed to bring his pieces to the main part of the battlefield and controls various key squares. It is outpost which helps in increasing our assault ratio.

Element 7 - Eliminate opponent king's defenders: An important task in any attack is to eliminate those defenders that stand in your way to the opponent's king, even if a considerable price has to be paid. Out of many ways, the most convenient way of doing this for the attacking side is to force its exchange.

Element 8 - Reach the Royal Court: The royal court is the two extremes at either end of the board, first and second ranks or seventh and eight ranks. An invasion of the opponent king's residence is a highly effective means of attack and most suitable pieces for doing this are rooks and queen. There are two aims of doing this - either to give back rank mate or to drive the opponent king out of his residence into the open field to bring it under the fire of other pieces. Nimzowitsch also stressed on this point in his "My System" that seventh rank must be captured with rooks and queen. Thus from both positional and tactical points of view, invasion of seventh rank with rooks and queen is a good achievement.

Element 9 - Destroy the Fortress Walls:  The pawn ranks f7/g7/h7 (in king-side castling cases) or a7/b7/c7/d7 (in queen-side castling cases) is the wall behind which the black king seeks shelter until an attack destroys these fortress walls. The pawns are most solidly placed on their initial squares in which case, the attacker must spend much more time on the concentration of the forces. 

A rapid  attack is possible from a far against a pawn that has advanced to h6 or a6. The pawn at h7 in king-side castled cases is most often a weak one and target of attack to draw the king out with classic bishop sacrifices and then mating with knight and queen combinations. Also, double bishop sacrifices on h7 and g7 bare the black king completely. 

Sacrifices on g7 are effective when the pawn rank has been disturbed and heavy artillery like rooks or queen is available on the g file. But unlike the h7 sacrifices, a precise calculation is not possible for g7 sacrifices.

Though Tal System has later been modified by Fischer, Kasparov, Topalov and Anand for Standard Chess tournaments but this system is still the best bet for a chess player to win blitz chess (3 0, 5 0 or 20 5) tournaments.

Example Game 1: Attacking Opponent's King in the Centre: Tal beats Larsen in Alekhine Defence (Please click mouse on the first move and then either arrow key on keyboard or mouse click on next moves to see game on the board. Enjoy and comment !)

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Example Game 2: Breakthrough in the Centre: Tal creates an active pawn centre with a pawn sacrifice and beats Spassky with Nimzo-Indian Defence


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Example Game 3: Assault Ratio and Launching: Tal beats Averbakh with Ruy Lopez by launching a knight and increasing assault ratio

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References and suggestions for further study (Kindly, study following important books for practical demonstration and better understanding of the Tal system of attack):

1. "Attack with Mikhail Tal" by Mikhail Tal & Iakov Damsky (English translation by Ken Neat), Everyman Chess,  1999.


2. "The Life and Games of Mikhail Tal" by Mikhail Tal, Everyman Chess, 2005.


3. "The Magic of Mikhail Tal" by Joe Gallagher, Everyman Chess, 2001.


4.  "Mikhail Tal: Tactical Genius" by Alex Raetsky, Everyman Chess



5. "My Great Predecessors Part II (Euwe, Botvinnik, Smyslov, Tal)" by Gary Kasparov, Everyman Chess, 2007.
 



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