Perhaps it's not the best way to memorialize the late Mark Taimanov, but his 1971 Candidates match with Bobby Fischer was probably the defining event of his chess career, and game 3 - in particular, the 20th move of game 3 - was the defining moment of the match. So it's worthwhile to take a closer look at that moment, Taimanov's great white whale, and to see if we can get to the bottom of it.
Entries in Mark Taimanov (5)
Here's a very good one from Leonard Barden, who even played Mark Taimanov in a 1954 USSR-Britain match. (HT: Marc Beishon) To Barden's credit, he addresses the controversial matter of Taimanov's last-round win from the 1970 Interzonal:
In 1970, at the age of 44, Taimanov controversially became a world title candidate for the second time. His final round opponent at the Palma interzonal, the Yugoslav Milan Matulović, played feebly and at great speed, and Taimanov won easily. A rumour sprung up that Matulović had sold the point for $400, though most blamed Soviet officials rather than Taimanov himself.
I hadn't previously seen the blame going to the officials, so I hope that if the game was fixed Taimanov himself had no knowledge of it. I've never heard of any other controversies or shenanigans in his career, so one can hope that he was innocent in this case as well. If not, he was properly repaid by losing to Fischer 6-0 and in the aftermath he suffered from the Soviet authorities until Larsen also got bagled by Fischer, 6-0, in the next round of the Candidates.
Barden also repeats the oft-repeated claim that Taimanov missed a win in game 3 of the Fischer match:
Taimanov had what he thought was a winning position in game three, only to find his attack stalled. Frustrated, he avoided a critical line and lost.
Ten years later, he finally worked out how he could have won.
This is not so. Barden was right to mention Taimanov's claim, as the match was a significant part of the latter's career and he often repeated the claim. But the last sentence of the quote is simply wrong: Taimanov did not work out how he could have won, because there was no win - as numerous analysts have shown, and as can be confirmed with the engine.
One might charitably suppose that Taimanov was right as a practical matter: had he played the right move - 20.Qh3, in case you're wondering - then while the engine may claim that Black (Fischer) is fine, he wouldn't have been able to hold just using his flesh-and-blood resources alone. To this argument, three replies. First, the claim as uttered by Taimanov and repeated by Barden is still technically false. Second, if one is speaking about "practical chances", then how "practical" is analysis Taimanov needed ten years to work out? And third, Black's defense doesn't rest on spectacular or subtle computer moves; it's just that the computer confirms the reliability of Black's position.
I'll also note Chess24's obituary, which is mostly a repeat of the author's (Colin McGourty's) Chess in Translation interview from 2011, linked to in my initial obituary a couple of days ago. There are some neat tidbits added at the start of the new piece though, so it's still worth a quick look even if you read the older piece.
Mark Taimanov, one of the strongest grandmasters of the middle third of the 20th century passed away earlier today at the age of 90.
He is best known today for the eponymous variation in the Sicilian (1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6), an opening line which caused White much trouble over the years, especially recently. But there is much more to Taimanov's legacy, even as a chess theorist, but more than that as a player and a human being. Starting with opening theory, the line 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.d5 e6 4.Nc3 exd5 5.cxd5 d6 6.e4 g6 7.f4 Bg7 8.Bb5+ was one of his contributions, and for years frightened Modern Benoni players away from entering the opening using that move order. And he made many contributions to the theory of the Nimzo-Indian, not just the 4.e3 Nc6 line that also bears his name.
As a player, he twice tied for first in the Soviet Championship (losing a playoff to Mikhail Botvinnik in 1952 and winning one over Yuri Averbakh and Boris Spassky in 1956) and twice qualified for the Candidates (in 1953 and 1971). Unfortunately, his second trip to the Candidates is what he's best known for as a player, as it was there that he lost to Bobby Fischer in a 6-0 shutout. In a famous quip, he said after the match, "Well, I still have my music."
And this brings us to another aspect of his legacy: he was a famous concert pianist as well. He and his first wife Lyubov Bruk formed a piano duo whose work was so respected they were among the artists commemorated in the Philips series of Great Pianists of the 20th Century. It's a remarkable achievement to be world class in one field; to reach that status in two very different fields is literally almost incredible. (Perhaps part of the secret of his success was summed up in a little joke of his: "I did not mix my two professions, I alternated between the two. As I used to say, when I gave concerts I was taking a rest from chess and when I played chess, I was resting from the piano. As a result, my whole life has been one long holiday!" That approach and that attitude probably kept him fresh when working on the two fields, and it paid off richly for him.
Let's close with some links.
A 2002 ChessBase interview on his two careers, with a brief musical clip.
Taimanov at 90 (earlier this year).
A long interview on the Chess in Translation site, with old photos, recent video clips, and some of his opinions on contemporary players.
Taimanov's page on Chessgames.com.
This week's column is here, and the subject is learning from endgame studies. In fact there are many benefits that accrue from trying to solve studies, but the one I highlight is perhaps the least appreciated - the possibility of picking up themes from them to use in our own over-the-board practice. You'll find a spectacular example in the column, and although I don't know if Bent Larsen was aware of Leopold Mitrofanov's most famous study, he certainly might have been, and if he did it probably helped. But see for yourself, and see what you think.
Spektrowski's blog on Chess.com includes a treasure trove of material he has translated from old Soviet sources, and the latest one to catch my eye covers the Candidates match between Bobby Fischer and Mark Taimanov played in 1971. Mikhail Tal provided the regular annotations to the games, and there are theoretical articles by Yakov Estrin and comments by Viktor Korchnoi, Boris Spassky and others on the match. It's a treat for lovers of chess history.
(Modified to have a more clever title.)