Could Taimanov have beaten Fischer?

by Karsten Müller
5/24/2024 – In the 1971 Candidate Matches Bobby Fischer faced Mark Taimanov In Vancouver, Canada. The American defeated his opponent from the Soviet Union with a "dry" 6-0 score. But matters could have started differently. In the first game it was Taimanov who put on the pressure, and even had winning chances. He played 27.h3, which nobody considered a bad move – until Kasparov pointed out its defect in 2004. Today's riddle deals with the position before White's 27th move. Computers find it devilishly difficult to find the best continuation. Can you?

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Here is the critical first game of the Candidates, Vancouver 1971:

Nobody – not Byrne, and not Taimanov – thought that 27.h3 was a bad move, until in 2004 Kasparov suggested 27.Bb5. And then Lakdawala in 2015 suggested 27.Ba6!  Aagaard improved Lakdawala's variation and then Karolyi and Timman thought White was winning.

But is this really correct? What do the readers think?

Karsten Müller is considered to be one of the greatest endgame experts in the world. His books on the endgame - among them "Fundamentals of Chess Endings", co-authored with Frank Lamprecht, that helped to improve Magnus Carlsen's endgame knowledge - and his endgame columns for the ChessCafe website and the ChessBase Magazine helped to establish and to confirm this reputation. Karsten's Fritztrainer DVDs on the endgame are bestsellers. The mathematician with a PhD lives in Hamburg, and for more than 25 years he has been scoring points for the Hamburger Schachklub (HSK) in the Bundesliga.
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Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 5/28/2024 07:30
marcguy: Yes you also have a point and indeed "all" computer programs rate 27.Ba6 higher than 27.h3. But over the board 27.h3 is also dangerous. In my opinion in both cases Black's position looks very scary...
arzi arzi 5/28/2024 06:44
" In the first game it was Taimanov who put on the pressure, and even had winning chances. He played 27.h3, which nobody considered a bad move – until Kasparov pointed out its defect in 2004. "

Funny how expertise changes over time. At first the h3 move wasn't a bad move. Then, because of Kasparov's opinion, it became bad and at the moment h3 is the only move that prevents loss.
marcguy marcguy 5/27/2024 08:05
Extending the analysis below, 40.Bd3 Rf7 41.Re1 Bc5 42.Qc4 Rf2 43.Qd5 Qg7 44.h3 Qc3 45.Rb1 (46.Qe4 Rf7 or Qg7 seem to hold) Rf4 46.a4 Bb4 47.a5 Qd4 48.Qb5 Bf8 49.Rd1 Qa4 50.Qe5 Bg7 51.Qh5 Qb3 52.a6 Rf8. The computer rates this position as around +0.70. So sure Black can probably draw after 27.Ba6 but at least it requires precise defense, whereas 27.h3 gives absolutely no realistic winning chances.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 5/27/2024 07:19
albitex: Yes you have a valid point as it indeed seems that Black can defend in all cases anyway...
albitex albitex 5/26/2024 10:42
In my opinion 27. h3 is the best move. Ng4 must be prevented. However 27. Ba6 is a more active move, not bad, but does not offer a decisive advantage.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 5/26/2024 07:28
From Charles Sullivan:
"Dear Karsten,

A small point: The game score shoule be 40.Bxe3 (not 40.fxe3).

Best wishes,
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 5/25/2024 01:47
By German GM Jonas Lampert, who indeed gives Sullivan's main line:
"Dear Karsten,

in my opinion 27.Ba6, Ng4 28.Qg3, Nxf4 29.Bxb7, Bxd4 30.Qxf4, Bxf2+ 31.Kh1, Bb6 32.Bc6, Qf7 33.Bxd5, Qf8 34.Rf1, Rc8 35.Rb1 e3 36.Be6, e2 37.Bxf5+, Kh8 38.Qxg4, exf1Q+ 39.Rxf1, Rc7 the resulting endgame is defendable. So White does not get a winning position after 27.Ba6 and Karolyi/Timman would be wrong. What is your result?

Best greetings,
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 5/25/2024 01:42
Von GM Jonas Lampert:
"Lieber Karsten,

meiner Einschätzung nach dürfte das nach 27.La6, Sg4 28.Dg3, Sxf4 29.Lxb7, Lxd4 30.Dxf4, Lxf2+ 31.Kh1, Lb6 32.Lc6, Df7 33.Lxd5, Df8 34.Tf1, Tc8 35.Tb1 e3 36.Le6, e2 37.Lxf5+, Kh8 38.Dxg4, exf1D+ 39.Txf1, Tc7 entstehende Endspiel noch objektiv in der Remisbreite liegen. Folglich bringt 27.La6 Weiß keine Gewinnstellung ein und Karolyi/Timman würden falsch liegen. Wie ist euer Analysestand?
Beste Grüße
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 5/25/2024 11:41
ASM_RB: Well done! After Ba6 Rb6? Bb5 indeed gives White very good play. But what about Ba6 Ng4 ?
ASM_RB ASM_RB 5/25/2024 11:01
First play Ba 6 to lure the rook tho the sixt rank and then play Bb5 seems the solution