Book review: Taimanov's Selected Games - Mark Taimanov

[This review first appeared in Westward Ho!]

Book review: Taimanov's Selected Games

by Mark Taimanov (tr. Ken Neat) Cadogan 1995 ([[sterling]]?.??) viii+198pp.

Among the cream of chess literature have always been game collections: those of Alekhin, Fischer and our own John Nunn are among my (and surely others') favourites. There can be few more pleasurable experiences than reading well-annotated GM games. Mark Taimanov has recently added his contribution in this nicely produced book from Cadogan. How does it sit in the canon?

  Taimanov, like many other Russian authors, enjoys verbal exposition more than the interesting variations given by Fischer, and he has not been so immodest as to exclude draws, mistakes or losses, (and in this respect scores over Alekhin), although he shows off his finest achievements with justifiable pride.

  This collection stretches from a games played in 1938 (at 12 years of age) to 1993, and includes games from the arenas of the USSR Championship and the World Candidates' tournaments. Unusually for a collection of this type, the games are not arranged chronologically but by theme, as follows:

  1. Games won... at Home (opening preparation)

  2. Strategical concepts in opposition (KID, Sicilian, NID)

  3. Storming the Royal Fortress (uncastled, castled, opposite castling, attack with small army, counterattack)

  4. By Technique Alone

  This thematic organisation makes the book more than usually instructive, but there is colour too. There are illuminating personal glimpses, for example in his long battle against a 17-year-old Bobby Fischer at Portoroz 1958(*), and in the account of his other Fischer near-miss in the 1971 Candidate's match, where after 2 pages of dense analysis he concludes endearingly:

"Perhaps the position also harbours other secrets, but, to be honest, after all the endless analyses it provokes in me feelings of anguish".

  On the instructional side, there is much to be gained in the understanding of openings. As a lifelong 1.d4 player Taimanov has brought many new ideas to the Indian Defences, e.g. 9.b4 and 9.Nd2 in the Classical King's Indian, 4...Nc6 for Black in the Nimzo, 4.Bg5 for White in the Grunfeld, and of course there is his system with ...Nge7 in the Sicilian. The opening preparation is interesting for an insight into GM homework, but even better are the sections of the second chapter, which are actually little monographs on the strategy of each defence.

  Among the games less dominated by opening themes there is quality, drama and depth. The quality is seen in several brilliancy and best game prizes, including his victory over Petrosian at Zurich 1953.

  Here a bit of drama:


Can you find Taimanov's win as Black in this position against World Champion Karpov in 1977? Champions play so much these days that many GMs have a win against one in their lives, but this must have been quite special.

  And depth? I have often read elsewhere what Taimanov says in his notes to his game with Averbach in 1949:

"In positional play the accumulation of advantages usually proceeds via their transformation".

  But Taimanov gives the whole thing a nice crisp analysis, and shows the sort of subtlety needed to beat GMs. He makes this comment after the moves:

  1. d2-d4 Ng8-f6 2. c2-c4 e7-e6 3. Nb1-c3 Bf8-b4 4. e2-e3 O-O 5. Bf1-d3 d7-d5 6. Ng1-f3 b7-b6 7. O-O Bc8-b7 8. Bc1-d2 d5xc4 9. Bd3xc4 Nb8-d7 10. Qd1-e2 c7-c5 11. a2-a3 Bb4xc3 12. Bd2xc3 Nf6-e4 13. Ra1-c1 , and adds:

"Thus here White is immediately prepared to part with one of his bishops in order to activate his forces along the half-open c-file. From this point of view 13. Rfc1 was a more cunning move, in order to 'frighten' the opponent with the possibility of Be1 and urge him to make the exchange, which would have allowed White to save a tempo on doubling rooks"

  His play in this game reminded me of Capablanca, the finish also being similar to a famous win of Capa over Nimzovitch.

  I enjoyed this book a great deal; I don't think in terms of the games or annotations it is outstanding, but I was offered entertainment and illumination throughout.


  (*) This whole game with notes from this book can currently be seen on the InterNet at URL


  Solution to Karpov-Taimanov: ...Ng3+ and if hxg3, Ra8. Beautiful!