The age of love – Mark Taimanov at 80

by ChessBase
2/17/2006 – On February 7th Mark Taimanov turned 80. For decades he was one of Russia's leading grandmaster, internationally best known for his unfortunate match against Fischer. But has lead a very full life, as a child actor, concert pianist and now as a proud father. For his birthday Mark Evgenievich give us a unique insight into his personal photo album.

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Chess Career

Mark Evgenievich Taimanov was born on February 7, 1926. He became a chess grandmaster at the age of 23, in 1952, and was in the world's top ten for over a decade. He played in the USSR Championships a total of 23 times and twice tied for first, losing the playoff against Botvinnik in 1952 and beating Averbakh and Spassky in the tiebreaks in 1956.

Taimanov played in the Candidates Tournament in Zurich in 1953, where he tied for 8th. In 1971 he was a candidate for the World Championship, but lost 6-0 to Bobby Fischer, severely embarrassing the Soviet government in the process. The "disgrace" was moderated somewhat when to GM Bent Larsen was also defeated 6-0 by the American some months later.

Mark Taimanov has opening variations named after him in the Sicilian Defense and Nimzo-Indian.


  • Born Feb. 7 1926
  • Master of Sport USSR- 1945
  • International Master-1950
  • Accomplished Master of Sport
  • Participant of world qualification cycle-1953 and 1971
  • Participant of Interzonal tournaments- 1952, 1970, 1973
  • Participant of “Match of the century”-1970
  • Champion of USSR-1956, medalist of USSR Championships-1949, 1952,1954,1962,1965,1967,1969.
  • Winner of World Chess Olympiad-1956
  • Winner of European Team Championships-1977, 1961, 1965, 1970.
  • Winner of USSR Team Championsips-1960,1962; Medalist of USSR Team Championship and USSR
  • Spartakiads-1948,1955,1958,1969,1975,1983 representing the city of Leningrad
  • Champion of Leningrad-1948,1950,1952,1961,1973
  • Winner of RSFSR Championship (Russian Republic)-1960.
  • Senior World Champion-1993, 1994
  • Winner of European Team Cup-1976; Medalist-1982 representing team Burevsnik.
  • Owner of USSR Cups-1961,1968,1971,1974,1976 representing the best of club Burevesnik.
  • Winner and Medalist of 80+ international tournaments.
  • Author of Chess books and Monographs which were and are continuing to be published in different countries and different languages.
  • Excellent Chess TV-journalist, permanent expert on chess events in the media.
  • Pianist-Virtuoso, played in the piano duet considered one of the best in the history of music art.
  • Happy husband and father

The Age of Love – from my photo album

By GM Mark Taimanov

I can introduce you to my parents. Here I think I am about five, the exact date of this photo is unknown. These are my amazing parents. My chess achievements are connected to the genes of my father – he was a passionate chess player; and a musical talent. From my mother’s side, she was studying singing in the Kharkov Conservatory and was thought to have a bright artistic future. But then I appeared, and all attention was switched to the newborn.

Such was the beginning of my duet with Lubov Brook (“Lubov” also means love in Russian)

I think it isI1937. A simultaneous exhibition in the yard of Leningrad’s Palace of Pioneers is being given by candidate master Mr Budo. He later held high posts in management of city building, a charming person; he also conducted classes at the Palace. In this picture I am playing him along with Fima Stolar.

Bethoven concert , National Republic actor Vladimir Gardin

Snapshots from “Beethoven” filmed in Leningrad in 1937. I was able to play the main role of a young violinist. This fact proved to be very significant in my fate – the film became popular, famous, it was noted by reward at the international festival in Paris in 1937.

Valya Krainov, Borya Vasiliev

This film featured a wonderful cast: for example Vladimir Gardin, national artist of USSR, who played my father.

Movie shots of Mark Taimanov

The picture shows how I am playing a Beethoven violin concert at the end of the movie. It’s worth mentioning that I was not a violinist, I had to learn how to play a violin for this movie – it was a risky move on the part of the movie authors, but they decided that after a few months I will be able to master correct violin setting, memorize primes and fingering. To actually play the violin was going to be the remarkable violinist Miron Borisovich Polyakin. And behind the conductor’s control here is Karl Ili’ch Aliasberg, a wonderful conductor whose name was etched into the history of our city, because it was under his leadership during the Siege of Leningrad that the 7th symphony of Shostakovich was performed for the first time.

Why has this movie been so significant in my life? I at once became a famous actor, my photographs hung all over the city and when the Leningrad’ Palace of Pioners was opened I was invited as an actor-pionner. And when at the Palace’ grand opening ceremony I was asked where (what club) I would like to study, an inner voice suggested – in a chess club. And so began my chess career, through music, through cinema…

Photograph 1940. Guests at the Palace Club: a very young Keres, and Botvinnik who was in charge of our club and our main teacher. Very few people pictured here are alive today. Except Keres and Botvinnik, one can recognize Samuel Osipovich Vainshtein, a remarkable organizer and administrator of our club. Pictured here are also master E. Stolyar and yours truly!

This is my game with Botvinnik. It’s not written where it took place, but I am very young here and even Botvinnik is… We played a lot, even played in a match for USSR championship. This is someone whom I deeply respected, who was my main teacher, who took me under his wing and blessed me with attention beginning from school years. During my whole life, at critical moments, I would turn to him for chess advice. In particular, he gave me many interesting and valuable suggestions during my preparation for a match with Fischer. I remember one amusing recommendation: he suggested that during preparation period I should play a few training games with, as he put it, an “extra-strength grandmaster”. What does it mean? My seconds were Vasukov and Balashov, we prepared together. I played these games against them. They would be in a different room, they were allowed to communicate, move pieces around, had an extra hour and could also consult chess literature. Nonetheless, I played this match quite well, scoring -1, which under the circumstanced could be considered an achievement.

[Note: Jim Thompson of West Jefferson, NC, informs us that an examination of the picture shows it was the last game in which they faced each other, in the USSR Team Championship of 1967. The position is after Botvinnik's 17...Rc8, with Taimanov on move. He played 18.Qc3+ and resigned after his 42nd move.]

Another memorable photograph. In 1954 we played a match with Argentina’s national team. It was a unique breakthrough into Latin America. There appeared a new president Juan Perón, who took it upon himself to expel the Americans from Argentina. He started in the direction of rapprochement with USSR. Since Argentina is one of the chess nations, one of the important steps of this rapprochement was our chess match. Peron was very attentive to us; he opened the match, even made the first move in the game between Najdorf and Bronstein. He made the move e2-e4, but as soon as the president walked away from the board, Najdorf took the move back and played d2-d4. In this picture we are in the cabinet of the Argentine President.

Perón is at the head of the table; next to him are his secretary and one of advisors. Among the chess players on the left part of the photograph one can unfortunately see only the bold spot of Bronstein, the bold spot of Boleslavsky, a nice hair style of Flohr.

On the right it’s better. Here are Najdorf, Kotov, Taimanov, Panno. So I was fortunate enough to stay recognizable.

This is a photograph from 1954. I had already arrived as an elite chess player. Here my opponent is the young Boris Spassky, he is 17. Quite a rare photo…

I am not present in this photograph, but this is a historic shot. In 1955 (I think) we were playing a match with a US national team in Moscow. On July 4th, Independence Day, a US ambassador to USSR arranged a reception at his suburban villa to which only member of politbureau and chess players of both countries were invited. This photograph shows how Khrushchev and Bulganin tenderly embrace Reshevsky, to the left is Malenkov, Pervukhin.

The history of this photograph is this, I was approached by Shmulik, which is how we called Sammy Reshevsky, and said, “Mark, it would be such an honor if we could take a picture with the leaders of your country”. I approached Nikita Sergeevich, (Khrushchev) and said “our American colleagues would like to take a photograph with you”. “All right, gather everyone”… Next to Khrushchev on the right is the captain of American chess players, millionaire Mr. Bisno. There is Kotov looking out. There is Steiner… There are a lot of American chess players, as for our players naturally only Kotov is seen in forefront.

This photograph reminds me of another fate-turning moment for our chess. After some time Khrushchev approaches me and says” You guys, you are eminent chess players, often play abroad. Do you get paid for your performances? – “No, of course not, we are promoting the achievement of Soviet culture.” He says: All right, what about when you perform at home?” “Yes, what would we otherwise live on”? I reply. He thought about it and says: “But this is wrong. How is it so? You don’t take money from the rich capitalists, but you do receive it from us. This must be changed” Since Kruschev’s team were standing right there next to us, soon a special order came out that allowed us to earn a fee for the appearances abroad.

This photograph is significant because we are pictured here with the son of Capablanca. Vasiliy Vasilich Smyslov (second from left), myself, Capablanca and our ambassador to Cuba, Alexander Alekseev, a very colorful personality. He became ambassador all of a sudden, without having the corresponding diplomatic rank on the persistent request of Castro, with whom he spent time in the mountains during the revolution.

I am pictured here with Vasiliy Vasilievich Smyslov. I think this was taken in late 50’s. We are in London, at Trafalgar square. A long standing friendship and musical interests unite me with Vasiliy Vasilevich.

We repeatedly performed together – I would accompany him, and he has an excellent baritone.

This is one of my most cherished photos. In it, following my game at the Capablanca memorial in Havana in 1964, is one of its organizers and spiritual leaders, one of the most legendary figures in the history of Latin America and of the revolutionary movements – Che Guevara. We were on very good terms, met at this and at other tournaments and even played chess in the Soviet embassy building. This was the brightest, romantic person, an idealist who thought that his place was in the barricades and not in the offices. This photo is also dear to me because it is signed: "To my friend Mark Taimanov. Che."

Two never before published photographs. Approximately 40 years ago, in 1964 or 1965 a famous French conductor named Roberto Benci arrived to Leningrad. His biography was somehow interwoven with mine in a sense that at the age of 9 or 10 he was a famous wonderkind, he proved to be a talented conductor, and there were two movies about him: one was called “Prelude of Fame” Naturally, this theme was noticed by cinematographers and they made a movie about our children’s fate. But this was already after on the stage of Leningrad’s philharmonic together with the orchestra under the direction of Roberti Benci performed the “Carnival of animals”. After the concert we became friends. In the book titled “recalling those who are most special” I talk about a few funny episodes connected with him…

And then, 40 years later Roberto Benci once again came to St. Petersburg, where he had a concert in the same hall that we played in. I was feeling very emotional heading to this concert, after the concert we met and with pleasure reminisced about the old times… That’s how 40 years later, the second photograph appeared.

The following photograph has an interesting history. We have a Universtity of culture whose rector happens to be a very bright scientist and organizer Alexander Sergeevich Zapesotskiy. His university is simply one of the most prestigious in our city. Alexander Sergeevich is very attentive to the people of arts and is an inventive organizer. He was able to put together an idea that came to be called the Rector’s Club. Once every two weeks in the gym building of the university tables are setup for the gathering of the city’s intelligentsia. First people can play tennis, volleyball, work out, visit the sauna, and around noon usually people sit down for some appetizers which involve shashliks (shishkababs) and wine and have a casual conversation. Some perform vocal skits, others tell anecdotes, funny stories… One can meet many interesting people there With Mr Zatzepskiy we’re been acquainted many year. By the way Nadya (my wife) is a graduate of this university, so one can say that I have family ties here. Nadya’s major was on the Study of Art – it was called “The evolution of chess piece aesthetics”.

At one time Akexander Sergeevich asked me to invite Kasparov. I called him and said that you are most wanted and it’s a nice event…He came with his mom. And in this photograph you can see we are sitting at the table in sport jackets. However, this visit had a continuation. He came one more time and met a gorgeous lady named Dasha, student of the university. To make the long story short, today Dasha is his wife. The day before yesterday she called. She visited, my sister, Irochka at the hospital. Dasha sent her and Garik’s best wishes. We have a newspaper “Business” which publishes greetings and congratulations to famous people and Garik wrote a greeting for my anniversary…

Another nice shot. A boat ride on the Neva River with our guests during the Internet match Paris-St. Petersburg, with Anatoly Karpov and my Nadya.

My Family

Finally, a series of my most precious photographs, reflecting the most important event, I think not only in the latter stage but in my entire life.

These are my charming twins: Dimochka (m) and Mashenka (f).

Masheka with mom, Dimochka is with daddy.

And here in a little piano duet

And here are the authors of the twins. I must say that I am endlessly thankful to my co-author. Nadya has presented me with a new life, so to speak, when it already seemed like most things were behind me. It turned out they weren’t the most important ones…

The doting father...

...and those wonderful twins.


Simultaneous exhibition, given by M. Taimanov on the Palace Square of this beloved St. Petersburg is continuing all his life.

Above is a picture of Mark Taimanovs playing the piano. Click on the icon on the right to listen to him playing Mozart's Concerto in E-flat, KV 365 Rondo Allegro, with the Leningrad Chamber Orchestra.

The hands of the maestro

We wish Mark Evgenevich good health and to preserve the charge of cheerfulness for many years to come. Happy 80th Birthday!

Translation: Ilya Krasik


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