Fischer - Taimanov 1971, annotated by Mikhail Tal


From the old 64 newspapers.

As a foreword: prognosis by Igor Bondarevsky, Boris Spassky's coach. Incredibly spot on, both about Fischer and Korchnoi.

Many commentators and especially the public wait impatiently for the match between Robert Fischer and Mark Taimanov. It's not only because the American grandmaster's name is popular both at the West and in our country, but also because of various facts and anecdotes that grow around his name. Besides, everyone wants to know how serious is Fischer's claim for the world championship this time.

We often hear that Fischer has little match experience. But Taimanov has even less: the Leningrad player had only one short match against Botvinnik in his career. So, other moments seem more important. Fischer is much younger and goes forward creatively. He's able to fight in every game, from the very beginning until the end, until the lonely kings - only a few players are able to do that. Of our players, only Korchnoi plays like that. Others sometimes let themselves rest at the distance, which can be beneficial though. But Fischer/Korchnoi-type character has an important advantage: such players develop a very dangerous, fighting style as they grow older. The partner doesn't get any rest - not for one game, not for one hour, not for one move... And it's especially hard to withstand such style in a match, when sometimes you're desperate for a "grandmaster's draw". That's why both Fischer and Korchnoi are so dangerous both in tournaments and in matches. (The other thing is that, strategically speaking, Petrosian and Spassky have their advantages in long matches, which are different from the short ones. But that's another question.)

As a chess player, I see Fischer as a prominent grandmaster of a great practical strength, with scientific understanding of the game. He consciously widens his opening repertoire, and used his long hiatus from active playing wisely. He did his homework, that's for sure. It seems that Fischer has carefully planned his further chess development. There are no tricks and no bluffs in his playing - he's a chess player of a pure, crystal clear classical style. People sometimes talk about Fischer's chess naivete, but Capablanca played in a similar style, and nobody ever called Capablanca naive. Those talks are seemingly caused by anecdotes that surround Fischer. The American grandmaster has a great endgame technique, and always plays until the lonely kings, which is especially dangerous with such a strong technique.

Taimanov should have prepared a serious and well thought-out opening repertoire for the match. The Leningrad player most probably didn't widen it, but he surely had to deepen his schemes (especially in the Sicilian), because Fischer playes Sicilian incredibly strong as White. Mark Evgenievich will have a very hard time in technical endgames: the opponent is just stronger. I think that Taimanov's chances lie in creating unusual, unconventional positions. When the fight gets tactical, when the course of play changes dramatically, when there's no clear-cut plan, it's easier for Taimanov. There, he's not weaker than his opponent.

Game 1

It's not an opportune time for any prognoses after the first game, but the beginning of the Fischer - Taimanov match, despite the Soviet grandmaster's loss, looks optimistic to me. The distance is short, of course, and it's hard to win a lost point back, especially against Fischer, but the game's character shows that the Leningrad grandmaster is in a fighting mood. I think that he's trying to force his partner into a 'clinch', because the practice shows that the American grandmaster is vulnerable in tactical fights.


In the first game, Taimanov mostly attacked, but in the second game, Fischer had both chess and psychological initiative. We often hear that while the American grandmaster's opening repertoire is huge, he's using only the tried-and-true moves, not adding anything to the theory. This opinion is wrong, as proven in the

Game 2

The story behind the variant, by Yakov Estrin

I would like to discuss the history of the opening of the 2nd game in Vancouver.

Game 3 was played on the next day. It seems that its result had a strong impact on the second game's result as well.

Game 4

Taimanov's four straight losses deprived him from any winning chances against Fischer. All subsequent games decided only the losing margin - it was a question of prestige, or something. To tip the balance, at least, the Leningrad player needed to win the fifth game. The American could settle for a draw, but he never avoids a good fight. And the next game was indeed very intense.

Game 5

Game 6

The story behind the variant, by Yakov Estrin

In 64, No 22, I covered the opening from the second Fischer - Taimanov game, when after 1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 Nc6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 e6 5. Nb5 d6 6. Bf4 e5 7. Be3 Nf6 8. Bg5 Black played 8... Qa5+. Now let's look how the game goes when Black prefer other continuations: 8... a6 and 8... Be6 (like in the 6th game).

Without a doubt, the variant that was played at the highest level will attract the attention of chess players and will be subject to further practical examination at various tournaments.

As an afterword.

Mikhail Beilin about the Fischer - Taimanov match

Robert Fischer again demonstrated the qualities of an indomitable fighter who strives to win every game. He's very active and very accurate at the same time. Taimanov's will to fight was literally crushed. After the Interzonal, some critics were too happy to find Fischer's mistakes, saying that in the earlier years, there were fewer of them... Complete precision in chess is impossible. And the fight is not easy even for the greatest chess players. Complete precision and drawing death are spectres of the past. Fischer's strength is obvious, he's on a roll.

In 1967, Fischer said that he wasn't going to play at Sousse - the prizes were too small. He started the tournament successfully, and then just quit. Before the Sousse tournament, I wrote, "At this time (1972), Fischer will be 29 years old. And he will be a grandmaster for 14 years. Didn't Fischer plan his ultimate fight for the 1972?

I think that it's one of Fischer's strategical maneuvers, perhaps even more deep and subtle than it might seem". Literaturnaya Gazeta, No. 3, 1967.

This speculation was based on a memory: Alekhine prepared for a world championship match against Capablanca when Lasker was still a world champion. He calculated a move ahead, if you will. And avoided playing Capablanca in tournaments. Why? Alekhine gave a clear answer: he played weaker than Capablanca then, but was sure that eventually he would be playing stronger.

Viktor Korchnoi about the Fischer - Taimanov match

I thought that Taimanov would put up more resistance to Fischer.

The Canadian match impressed me mightily. Taimanov looked good in the openings, but chess isn't just an openings game. You know, for some reason I think that Taimanov... underestimated Fischer. How can you underestimate a player with such colossal successes?! Anyway, Taimanov wasn't ready to face such a mighty opponent. Perhaps some articles in our press are to blame, that showed Fischer in a wrong light. He deserves utmost respect both as a grandmaster and a man who's completely dedicated to chess and, by the way, very humble in life, despite some of his antics. In the match against Fischer - and I'm sure that he would defeat Larsen, even though there'll be a real war on the board - Petrosian or I would face a very, very difficult challenge. Now, after the match against Taimanov, nobody can say that Fischer is only a tournament player. He's a chess fighter of exceptional strength. And we all should remember that.

Boris Spassky about the Fischer - Taimanov match

The American grandmaster attracts much interest from the entire world now. He won the US championship aged 13, shows extra class results in the last 7 years, and now he's on the finish line of the world championship cycle. The specialists think that Fischer will most probably become the world championship candidate. I think that Fischer represents a great chess strength. A great grandmaster with a clear, precise style. In the last years, he'd became much more mature, serious, solid, stopped giving too many interviews. Fischer is a true chess fanatic. I have a sympathy towards him. I think that 64 shouldn't have published A. Golubev's articles 'Subjectively about Fischer'.

Before the match with Fischer, Taimanov had to solve a lot of serious troubles. Taimanov was the first Soviet grandmaster to play a match with Fischer. Taimanov's chances were in good opening preparation and readiness for a harsh, no-nonsense struggle. It's hard to play against Fischer - he puts up difficult problems. We also have to consider the age difference (Fischer is 28, while Taimanov is 45). The American grandmaster has his vulnerabilities, even though there aren't many of them. He likes when his opponents sacrifice material to him. Also, he becomes flustered when he doesn't see a clear strategic plan.

Taimanov's playing in games 1 and 3 was too impulsive and nervous. He couldn't play a single game consistently strong. After losing the third game, when Taimanov could play Qh3 and pose more difficult problems for Fischer, everything was over. But such moves require concentration, willpower and iron nerves.

The score is frightening, to be frank. I discussed Fischer's chances before the start, but only Botvinnik (and Taimanov himself) was optimistic: "if Taimanov manages to put up a lot of work, choose the right way..." Other grandmasters, including me, predicted that Fischer would win. But nobody expected a 6-0 score.

Looking forward to 1972, I would like to play Fischer for the world championship. Do I fear him? Like Korchnoi, I fear myself most. Lasker said that the man is responsible for his work, not for its results, and he was right. I feel good enough, I have new ideas and am ready to grow. But in what form will I be, how good will be the decisive games - no chess player can say that for sure. Speaking of the possible match against Fischer, I'm in a good mood. The very thought of such an interesting competition causes much enthusiasm.