In Memoriam Mark Taimanov (1926-2016)

by Dagobert Kohlmeyer
11/28/2016 – Today, Mark Taimanov died at the age of 90 in his hometown St. Petersburg. The Russian Grandmaster was one of the greatest personalities in the history of chess and a man with many talents. After being a filmstar when still a child he later formed a famous piano duo with his first wife, and was one of the world's best chessplayers though he lost his most famous match 0-6 against Bobby Fischer. Obituary...

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In Memoriam Mark Taimanov (1926-2016)

Mark Taimanov is dead. The Russian Grandmaster died last night in his hometown St. Petersburg. The chess world mourns a great personality of our game. Mark Taimanow leaves his fourth wife Nadjeshda and two children aged 12 behind. When I called his widow to express my sympathies her voice is calm and collected. „Mark had been seriously ill for one-and-a-half years. And he reached such a high age. For that we are all grateful.“

Kasparov, Nadja and Mark Taimanov, 2011

In February the grandmaster celebrated his 90th birthday. Back then Taimanov mentioned in an interview that 80 students studied at in his chess school which is situated close to Nevsky Prospect. „It will continue," Nadja assures.

Mark Taimanov was a multi-talent. His first chess teacher was no other than Mikhail Botvinnik. Botvinnik predicted a great chess career for the 11-year old. But Taimanov also delighted countless people at home and abroad as concert pianist. He often toured with his first wife Ljubow Bruk and recorded prize-winning records.

Ljubov Bruk and Mark Taimanov at the piano

Mark Taimanov 1970

Taimanov was Soviet Champion, olympic gold medalist and World Championship Candidate. In 1971 he played a legendary candidate match against Bobby Fischer in Vancouver - Taimanov lost 0-6.

During his long career Mark Taimanov met great chess players but also a large number of renowned personalities such as Churchill, Khrushchev and Fidel Castro. The latter, who died on Friday, was also born in 1926. In 1993 and 1994 Mark Taimanow became World Senior Champion. In 2004, at the age of 78, he became father of twins.

The Taimanov family, 2012 in Dresden

Artur Jussupov: "Mark was a positive person"

Artur Jussupov, too, was distressed when he heard about the death of Mark Taimanov. On the phone he said: „I was lucky to meet Mark more than once. He was a very positive person. Yesterday, during one of my lessons, I happened to show a game we had played against each other. Taimanov had a good positional style. Even when he was not young anymore he proved his class. When he had the position under control, he could play with great ease. But he lacked doggedness, the killer instinct which you need to make it to the very top. Maybe this was due to Mark Taimanovs easy way of living. The defeat against Fischer certainly affected his self-confidence. After that he was no longer part of the world's top. But Taimanov has never lost his humor. He liked to tell wonderful stories about his long chess life. I will remember him as a person with a positive charisma.“

Mark Taimanov, Boris Spassky, Evgeny Vasiukov 2012 in Dresden

Taimanov followed current events in the chess world until last. Acouple of years he came with his family to Dresden to meet old companions during the "Meeting of Grandmasters 75+". The talks with him were a treat - not least for the chess journalist in me.

Mark Taimanov

Apart from chess and music Mark Taimanov had another passion... the ladies. His fourth (!) wife Nadjeshda (who today is 55) knew this only too well. Twenty years ago, during the match Ladies vs Veterans in London, I had the chance to talk with Mark Taimanov and her.

Mark, what do you put first in life?

Women are my greatest passion. Music and chess only follow next. I want to quote the words of the great Siegbert Tarrasch: „Chess, like love, like music, has the power to make man happy.“

You started to play chess relatively late in life...

Yes, I was already eleven years old. Funnily enough, music and film brought me to chess.

What happened?

When I was seven years old I learned to play the piano at a musical school in Leningrad. A bit later, in 1937, they made the film "Beethoven's concert". I was cast to play the leading role but in the film I did not play a piano player but a violinist.

That is, you also learned to play this instrument?

Yes, I had to. Incidentally, the film was a huge success and won first prize at the International Film Festival in Paris. Suddenly I was a well-known actor.

And chess?

At that time I also went to the recently opened Pioneer Palace in Leningrad were the most talented girls and boys were instructed in various areas of culture. When I was asked what else I am interested in, my inner voice said: 'Go to the chess club!' Which I did.

Who was your first teacher?

I had some rudimentary knowledge about the game. But the director of the chess club was no less than our great Mikhail Botvinnik who at that time lived in Leningrad. He was a remarkable teacher. Thanks to him my chess career started.

And what happened to your musical talent?

After World War II I finished the conservatory in Leningrad and together with my first wife I toured for many years in the Soviet Union and in many countries of the world. We belonged to the world's five best piano duos and also made records. My chess career ran parallel to that. I played rather successfully and even managed to become a candidate for the World title.

Who are your favorite composers?

Why don't you ask which openings I like best? That would be easier to answer. But well, the great Bach, Mozart, the romantics Chopin, Schumann and the Russians Tschaikovsky and Rakhmaninov.

And which openings are you particularly fond of?

With Black the Nimzo-Indian and the Sicilian, of course. I wrote a number of books about these openings, and these book also appeared in Germany. I also wrote a book about the English Opening.

But you also published other titles...

Yes, for instance the book "How I became Fischer's victim".

Well, you can say that again.

In my candidates match against Fischer in Vancouver 1971 I went down like a lead balloon, but I am still happy to have played this match against Fischer. He was a unique phenomenon.

The sixth game of the match Fischer vs Taimanov 1971 in Vancouver

You are married for the fourth time. Are you in favor of polygamy?

I have to admit that I have never been particularly monogamous in this area of life.

Will Nadjeshda be your last wife?

Yes, that is for sure. I officially commit myself here: she is my swan song and occupies a very special place in my life.


No woman is like the other. Nadja has something of everything. I love her very much, and not only because she is so young. I won't find a better one. Among all other things she is also an excellent housewife. You should try her pelmeni! A restaurant in Zurich prepares this Russian specialty after Nadja's recipe.

Nadjeshda, are you sure of Mark?

Nadja Taimanov: I don't really know. One of my friends, whose son is in seventh grade, recently said: „Perhaps Mark's next wife sits next to my son in class." - Mark Taimanov: That's a nice joke, but out of the question.

That's how he was. A man who loved life. Mark, we miss you.

Translation: Johannes Fischer


Dagobert Kohlmeyer is one of the best known German chess journalists. For more than 25 years Kohlmeyer, who lives in Berlin, has been travelling all over the world to report about and to capture impressions of Chess Olympiads, World Championships, and top tournaments.


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