I was very sorry to hear about the recent death of Mark Taimanov, who I met and played several times. Having made it to 90, he was one of the last of the golden era of Soviet Chess players and I thought I’d share some personal reminiscences.
We first played in a tournament in Portugal in 1985. I saw one of his games from an earlier round against Jorges Guimaraes which went 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 Nge7 7.O-O Nxd4 8.Qxd4 Nc6 9.Qd3 Nb4 after which Guemaraes quickly retreated his queen to d2. I was wondering why White couldn’t play 10.Qg3 after which 10…Nxc2 11.Bg5 f6 12.Bf4 gives White a strong attack for the sacrificed pawn, the tactical point being that 12…Nxa1 loses to 13.Bh5+ g6 14.Bxg6+ hxg6 15.Qxg6+ Ke7 16.e5 d5 17.Qxf6+ Kd7 18.Qxh8 Nc2 19.Qh7+ picking up the knight.
This led me to trying an open Sicilian in our game in this event, but Taimanov cannily sidestepped this with 6…Qc7 instead. When we made a draw I showed him 10.Qg3, which was a bit naive of me because maybe I’d have had another chance to spring it on him. After trying to defend his position he admitted that the situation was most unpleasant for Black and never repeated this line.
Interestingly it was Jim Plaskett who got to play 10.Qg3 in a game against Bill Hartston, and won in brilliant style. We hadn’t prepared it and I hadn’t shown him, Plaskett just found it over the board:
I played in several more tournaments with Taimanov and invited him to the Owen’s Corning tournament in Wrexham in 1997. Despite being 71 at the time he played in great style and took first place. And his game against John Donaldson showed his class, tying White’s rooks down in the endgame and then getting in with his king:
Besides being a great chess player Taimanov was also a concert pianist and he successfully managed to combine his careers in these two arts. I found this clip of him playing alongside his first wife on Youtube:
For those who’d like to know more there’s also a nice interview with Taimanov here. I’d just like to say that he was a real gentleman and it was a privilege to have met him.