Zurich 1953: Mark Taimanov, the Romantic!
Much is already available about the biography of this well rounded chess player. On chessbase.com you can find an autobiography written in 2006 when he turned 80.
Being born on February 7, 1926 made him 27 at the time of Zurich. He was a freshly minted GM ( in 1952) and it sure showed. Though he tied for 8th place in this candidates match, his style shows a strong positional player who knows how to build on accumulations of small advantages meet hyper-modern games with some ingenuity .
Let’s start with looking at how he defeats Petrosian in round 5 with the Black pieces. Taimanov launches into a Queen’s Indian defense and Petrosian starts out by provoking the move c7-c6 to block that queen-side fianchettoed bishop. The game bounces in a typical White attack on the queen side versus black trying to stir up a central attack. Not willing to get strangled, Taimanov opens up the center by taking a risky knight move to e4. He follows through with the exchange and parries a double threat by exchanging his rook and 2 pawns for two knights.
(see diagram after move 17 ...Rxe4) This creates the right psychological imbalance as he secures White’s central pawns. Despite his exposed King hiding behind his pieces, Taimanov prevents Petrosian from rallying his rooks and exchanges one pair off the board while creating his own mating threats. In the end, the bishop pair trumps the white pieces.
He takes Averbakh, the end game technician if you recall, to task in round 6 through the exploitation of more than one weakness. The Game takes on a sort of Nimzo-Queen’s Indian flavor. Taimanov, as White, provokes the bishop exchange for knight on c3 as an incremental advantage to gain control of long term dark squares and a Bishop pair. Averbakh underestimates the weakening of the dark squares and the importance of a knight on f6 or f8 as he tries to create structural unsoundness in the center for white. The middle game struggle continues with Taimanov keeping his game flexible with a central knight posted. He fakes with a pseudo minority attack on the Queen’s side which gets Averbakh moving his forces in the wrong direction. Then he drives home with a bold mate threat. The threat itself is not the advantage but its how Black has to respond that leaves him in a positional zugzwang. In short, the long diagonal ( a1-h8) becomes too much to defend as this Romantic plays a late game King’s gambit ala Taimanov to open up a the diagonal black desperately tries to close.
In round 9, Stahlberg is taught a less on three weaknesses. Placing pawns on the same color as the remaining bishop is very sad. Getting rid of the king’s fianchettoed bishop makes for a weakness on g2. Finally, seizing the 7th rank is overwhelming when you have your pieces immobilized.
The interesting thing in round 12 against Geller, is that the wedge pawn formation of white’s c4-d5-e4 versus black’s c5-d6-e5 is actually more advantageous for white. Taimanov demonstrates the increased mobility having three ranks to maneuver versus two as he clears the third rank of pawns and swings his queen from one side of the board to the other like Tarzan and doubles rooks on an open b-file.
Taimanov faces Petrosian’s grudge match in round 20. Petrosian fights with the black side of a Nimzo-Indian and Taimanov takes him down an old and odd line of the Rubestein variation that almost looks like a Hubner. Taimanov also knew that in several earlier games of this match, it was important to take control of the center and get e3-e4 in. Otherwise the results seemed drawish at best in this attacking line for Black. He realizes that attacking the Queen’s knight allows him to play f2- f3 and e3 –e4. He then goes after controlling the dark squares which psychologically puts Petrosian on the defense early on in the game. At the last stage of the game,
he sacs a rook ( giving back material actually) to create an unstoppable mate threat.
But, wait, there’s more! A long game with Stahlberg again in round 24 shows in 72 moves the finesse of a knight ending. But the last one I want to relate is his victory over ( think like a grandmaster) Kotov in round 26. As white in a Nimzo-Indian variant with a d5 thrown in. He shoves that d5 down Stahlberg’s throat and opens up the c-file, creates structural pawn problems for black and storms the back rank.
Mark Taimanov beat 6 world champions in his dynamic career defeating Botvinik, Smyslov, Tal, Petrosian, Spassky, and Karpov. It’s with regret to know because of his defeat by Fisher 6-0 in 1971, the USSR stopped his salary and prevented his ability to travel overseas. The man beat 6 other World champions!
It comes as no surprise that he has a a few opening variations named after him in the Sicilian, Benoni and, of course, the Nimzo-Indian.
Now, about the romantic, with his first wife, Lyobov Bruk, he formed a piano duo. He made some recordings that were included in the Great Pianists of the 20th Century ( Philips and Steinway series). You can learn more from the link provided above to his chessbase.com article. He goes on to mention about being a child actor of all things.
He doesn’t mention his brief marriage to Averbakh’s daughter in the 1970’s mentioned in my last post. After that marriage dissolves ( little reference on that and I am not 100% sure the accuracy of this), He marries a young Nadya and fathers twins in his retirement!
He is still playing some sweet music to this day on 88 keys and 64 squares.
As for my lead-in photo, I could not resist the shot with Che Guevara. In Taimanov’s words:
This is one of my most cherished photos. In it, following my game at the Capablanca memorial in Havana in 1964, is one of its organizers and spiritual leaders, one of the most legendary figures in the history of Latin America and of the revolutionary movements – Che Guevara. We were on very good terms, met at this and at other tournaments and even played chess in the Soviet embassy building. This was the brightest, romantic person, an idealist who thought that his place was in the barricades and not in the offices. This photo is also dear to me because it is signed: "To my friend Mark Taimanov. Che."