I have always liked the way Mikhail Tal played and I noticed on chessgames.com, that his most played openings are:

As White:

Sicilian (B46, B43, B82, B32, B40)
Ruy Lopez (C92, C95, C93, C96, C84)
Caro-Kann (B14, B17, B18, B12, B10)
French Defense (C07, C18, C09, C05, C16)
English (A15, A14, A13, A17, A16)

As Black:

Sicilian (B43, B40, B46, B22, B52 )
King's Indian (E94, E92, E98, E69, E62)
Queen's Pawn Game (E10, A46, E00, A40, A41)
English (A15, A14, A13, A10, A17)
Nimzo Indian (E48, E52, E53, E46, E56)
Modern Benoni (A56, A64, A61, A62, A65)

Mikhail Tal is regarded as the best attacking chess player of all time, but are the openings above indicative of his style? Are they openings that are indicative of an agressive, attacking player?

I know there is more to learning that openings, but basically my main question is if a certain player had a style, does playing their openings help you play with their style?

  • 2
    If I recall correctly, in his later years Tal didn't strive for extreme complex positions as younger Tal did. It is possible that less tactical openings were added to Tal's repertoire later in his career.
    – Akavall
    Jun 18, 2012 at 23:32
  • @Akavall - But you would think that the majority of his openings were played when he was younger, correct?
    – xaisoft
    Jun 19, 2012 at 13:41
  • maybe, I but I am not sure. One needs to check up on that. If I remember right, "older" Tals was still pretty active, and also somewhat drawish. I don't know at what point (what year) we can refer to Tal as "older Tal". I guess that point that I trying to make here is that Tal's style changed significantly during his career. Sorry that I don't know/remember the details.
    – Akavall
    Jun 19, 2012 at 17:11
  • ON an unrelated point, Tal holds the highest and the second highest unbeaten streak of games in chess history. He wasn't just some unsound magician but a really good player. Nov 30, 2014 at 4:52

7 Answers 7


In general those are aggressive openings. Ruy Lopez and Sicilian especially are rated as some of the more aggressive openings available.

I have not heard the French Defense called aggressive before, but maybe that is just part of the genius of Mikhail, sprinkle in some clogged openings so your opponent never truly knows what is coming.

Black is a little harder to define what an aggressive opening is, since it is somewhat relative to the opening white began the game with.

Personally I think it is a great learning tool to use another GM's openings. The main reason is there is such an available database of the GM's games, so if you are playing electronically or notating your own game, you can always go back and see if historical games resemble your own and where the GM may have differed.

  • Yes, I was a little confused about some of the openings because they did not appear to be agressive or in the style of Tal. You make a good point about using the openings of GM'S because you can compare your own games with theirs. My only concern is are some of these openings considered out dated now.
    – xaisoft
    Jun 18, 2012 at 20:59
  • 3
    I would not be concerned about an opening being outdated. Unless you are reaching the same level of play as GM's those openings will give you exactly the kind of practice you mentioned you wanted.
    – Justin C
    Jun 18, 2012 at 21:06
  • 2
    Regarding the statement, "I have not heard the French Defense called aggressive before," note that the French Defense is listed among the most common openings in games where Tal had the white pieces. The list of openings for his white games only show that he played a lot of 1. e4, and the openings that appear there are just the most common openings arising after that move (except for the English of course).
    – ETD
    Jun 22, 2012 at 14:47

The openings are a good start; they give players like Tal the opportunities for combinatorial wizardry. But it's a lot to ask of oneself, to play like Mikhail Tal.

They say that Tal played a lot of speculative sacrifices. That is, he felt the sacrifice was sound enough, but he didn't calculate it out to be sure. Maybe. Be advised, however, that the man didn't get to be World Champion by guessing. He could calculate.

Unlike mere mortals, Tal's brain could cash the checks his fingers wrote.

If you want to play like him then develop your tactics specifically where unbalanced positions are concerned, look for opportunities, and don't be afraid to lose. You'll have to be just as fierce, fearless, and skilled, relative to your peers.

NOTE - remember, what matters is that you win (or lose) the game well. It does not matter if someone uses some computer to refute your moves after the fact. The only refutation that matters is the one your opponent finds over the board.


Yes, I cannot say yes enough times that playing a set of openings defines who you are as a chess player.

If you are examining these games by Tal, then I suggest you look not only at commonalities, but more importantly at positions that he attempts to transpose to. Although using different openings, many times a similar attack can be observed. Looking at how that is approached and how tempos and pieces are used as diversions can give good insights into why attacks are successful and which ones are truly meant to be attacks instead of diversions.

Mastering the set of openings Tal played will certainly improve your chess and make you "Tal-esque".


Copying the openings of a famous player will "put you in his shoes," (as of the end of those moves).

From then on, it's up to you. You may try to mold yourself after a particular player, but depending on your talent and aptitude, develop differently.


There are players who have an intuitive talent that sets them apart, even from their world class opponents. I think Tal is one of those players, as is Karpov or Carlsen. Often with those players, there is no strong connection between their style and the openings they play. They just try to "get a position", because they are able to outplay their opponents in the middle- or endgame. They don't have much of a scientific vibe, unlike players like Kasparov, Kramnik or Botvinnik.

That's not to say that Tal didn't play aggressive openings, the benoni is certainly aggressive, as is the sicilian. But he also played rather solid mainline stuff and not only in his later years. I think he was basically ok with any line that kept the queen and enough pieces on. If you look through his games, I think you will find that the craziness in them doesn't stem from the opening variations.

So you can certainly copy his openings, but that will not lead to "Tal-like" positions. These are the result of very creative and radical middlegame decisions.

It is bit ironic, but if you chose any of Tal's openings, it will probably make sense to look at the games of a more scientific player, who specialized on this variation, to find out how to play it.


Yes, to an extent.

It's best to learn openings chronologically.

If you're just starting out you should look at the era before Morphy. As you get better you can look at more modern openings. Doing it that way way you can see how the ideas build on the previous generation's ideas.

Tal is probably most appropriate for the 1800-2200 range.


It's not a good recipe for learning how to play like a famous player, but it's a good recipe to follow to find out if you should try to play like them.

IOW, check out how comfortable you are playing those positions. You may want to play like Tal or Shirov, but you may discover you're more adept at playing like one of their opponents (meaning the moves made by an opponent like Petrosian or Karpov or Kramnik were easier for you to find while playing over the games than your "target"). Everyone has natural tendencies as a chess player, and especially during development it's good to figure out what they are and use them to your advantage. You'll progress quicker and have more fun. When that has taken you as far as it's going to, then will be the time to "branch out" into other positions.

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