The old riddle of Fischer vs Taimanov

by Karsten Müller
5/13/2020 – The endgame of the fourth game of the famous candidates match Vancouver 1971 is very instructive. But one question has remained puzzling. Was the adjourned position already lost or was Taimanov's 42nd move a decisive mistake? Once again we invite you to debate this question with leading endgame experts, including our own GM Karsten Müller. With the help of chess engines you can win the analytical duels and show them where history needs to be corrected.

Master Class Vol.1: Bobby Fischer Master Class Vol.1: Bobby Fischer

No other World Champion was more infamous both inside and outside the chess world than Bobby Fischer. On this DVD, a team of experts shows you the winning techniques and strategies employed by the 11th World Champion.

Grandmaster Dorian Rogozenco delves into Fischer’s openings, and retraces the development of his repertoire. What variations did Fischer play, and what sources did he use to arm himself against the best Soviet players? Mihail Marin explains Fischer’s particular style and his special strategic talent in annotated games against Spassky, Taimanov and other greats. Karsten Müller is not just a leading international endgame expert, but also a true Fischer connoisseur.


Five months after the Palma de Mallorca Interzonal (1970) qualifier, the quarterfinals of the Candidates Matches were held. American GM Bobby Fischer faced the experienced Soviet star Mark Taimanov in a ten-game match, which was held in in Vancouver, Canada.

The first game was a very tense fight, but Taimanov was shaken by a mistake on his 36th move. The second game was adjourned several times in drawn positions. But after losing the third game due to a mistake in the 20th move, which continued to haunt him for days and nights to come, Taimanov also lost the dead-drawn adjournment of the second game, and so he was already shaken when the fourth game started.

Later Taimanov said: "Until the match with Fischer in 1971, everything went smoothly in my chess career. This dramatic match changed my life into hell. The sanctions from the Soviet government were severe. I was deprived of my civil rights, my salary was taken away from me, I was prohibited from travelling abroad and censored in the press. It was unthinkable for the authorities that a Soviet grandmaster could lose in such a way to an American, without a political explanation. I therefore became the object of slander".

The adjournment of game four was a great disappointment for the Soviet grandmaster. But the position remains a mysterious riddle even today. What had the mighty Soviet analysts missed that led to the mistake 42...Kd8? Was the adjourned position not lost?

When preparing for the presentation of the book Bobby Fischer, The Career and Complete Games of the American World Chess Champion in the Max Euwe Center in Amsterdam, I had to select a few positions to show the audience. One I used was the following famous classic, with the typical material constellation for the Fischer endgame — rook and strong bishop vs rook and knight:

Endgame literature generally considers this position to be already lost for Black, but Charles Sullivan had drawn my attention to an interesting defensive try. Instead of the game move 42...Kd8? allowing the exchange of rooks, when White's king will penetrate slowly but surely by using the sharp endgame weapon zugzwang again and again, Andrew Soltis had suggested 42...Rf6.

[Event "Candidates qf Fischer-Taimanov +6-0=0"] [Site "Vancouver"] [Date "1971.05.25"] [Round "4"] [White "Fischer, Robert James"] [Black "Taimanov, Mark E"] [Result "1-0"] [ECO "B47"] [Annotator "Mueller,Karsten"] [SetUp "1"] [FEN "8/3k4/1pn2rp1/pBp2p1p/P4P1P/2P1RKP1/1P6/8 b - - 0 41"] [PlyCount "60"] [EventDate "1971.05.16"] [EventType "match"] [EventRounds "6"] [EventCountry "CAN"] [SourceTitle "ChessBase Website"] [Source "ChessBase"] [SourceDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceVersion "2"] [SourceVersionDate "1999.07.01"] [SourceQuality "1"] {The old riddle of Fischer vs Taimanov The endgame of the 4th game of the famous candidates match Vancouver 1971 is very instructive. But one question has remained puzzling. Was the adjourned position already lost or was Taimanov's 42th move a decisive mistake?} 41... Rd6 {The sealed move} 42. Ke2 Kd8 $2 {Now it should definitely be lost. At least the sources agree here on this verdict. It is difficult to say, what the Soviet analysts had overlooked in their analysis of the adjourned position.} ({Later Andrew Soltis claimed in Bobby Fischer Rediscovered that the defence} 42... Rf6 {should have been played with good drawing chances. But I think that White wins in any case.}) 43. Rd3 $1 {Without rooks Fischer had proved a win in his adjournment analysis. } Kc7 44. Rxd6 Kxd6 45. Kd3 Ne7 46. Be8 Kd5 47. Bf7+ Kd6 48. Kc4 Kc6 49. Be8+ Kb7 50. Kb5 Nc8 51. Bc6+ Kc7 52. Bd5 Ne7 53. Bf7 Kb7 54. Bb3 Ka7 55. Bd1 Kb7 56. Bf3+ Kc7 57. Ka6 Nc8 58. Bd5 Ne7 59. Bc4 Nc6 60. Bf7 Ne7 61. Be8 Kd8 62. Bxg6 Nxg6 63. Kxb6 Kd7 64. Kxc5 Ne7 65. b4 axb4 66. cxb4 Nc8 67. a5 Nd6 68. b5 Ne4+ 69. Kb6 Kc8 70. Kc6 Kb8 71. b6 {So the challenge is: I claim that the position after 42.Ke2 is won for White in any case and I ask readers to send winning proofs. But of course drawing proofs can also be sent and if readers find a draw after the game continuation 42....Kd8? that would be extremely interesting as I am convinced that without rooks it is a clear win for White. With rooks it is a borderline case even for the modern engines.} 1-0

We need your help

This is where we want to enlist your help. Does Andrew Soltis new defence 42...Rf6 draw or can you show a winning line for White? Is the adjourned position already lost? What had the Soviet analysts missed? Did Bobby prove a win after the rook exchange (after 43.Rd3)?

I am interested to see if a reader will create a major sensation by finding a drawing proof after the rook exchange. But of course the most intriguing question is whether the adjourned position was already lost in all cases or not. This is still a borderline question even for the modern engines, and I am curious if a drawing proof or a winning proof will win the analysis competition.

By the way: I think that the adjourned position is won anyway, but of course I am not 100% sure. So I need your help!

You probably know that in our replay boards there are a large number of functions you can use to really appreciate the games. Recently we published a comprehensive tutorial on how to get the most out of the live broadcast game viewer. Learn about all the powerful features and buttons that make the ChessBase's replay one of the best watching experiences around.

One big advantage is that you can start an engine (fan icon) that will help you to analyse. You can get multiple lines of analysis by clicking the + button to the right of the engine analysis window. The "!" key, incidentally, shows you the threat in any position, which is incredibly useful in the case of unclear moves.

There is one more thing you can do. It is a lot of fun, but also a serious challenge: Click on the rook icon below the notation window. This will allow you the play the above position against Fritz, at your level of playing strength (e.g. "Club Player"), right here on the news page. Note that your analysis, in which you can delete, move or promote lines, is stored in the notation as new variations. In the end you will find the game with your analysis in the cloud. So nothing is ever lost.

Please send any analysis you have, or the games you played from the above position against the built-in engine, to Karsten Müller. You may also like to use more powerful engines to assist you in your efforts. Fat Fritz, for instance, goes for some unconventional continuations and surprises...

I will evaluate your submissions and discuss them with you. The best contribution to our final appraisal of the position will receive a ChessBase software product, signed by at least one World Champion. Something like the one shown here — which was awarded in a previous contest.

In the previous session we showed how Tigran Petrosian could have held the key sixth Candidates Final game against Bobby Fischer. There were a number of very productive analytical duals between our readers and me. The clear winner of prize was Zoran Petronijevic, who worked hard to basically confirm the conclusions I had reached. Zoran supplied much of the analytical justification for them, and I did not find a single error in his analysis.

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 5/18/2020 11:14
To illustrate the winning process German GM Luis Engel adds to catalanFischer's line after 48.Bg2 new instead of 48...Kd6:
48...Kd8 (48...Rd6 49.Rd3! Rxd3 50.Kxd3 Nc8 51.Kc4!+–)
49.Bd5 Kd7 50.Re2! zugzwang 50...Rd6
(50...Kd6 51.Re8 Nc6 52.Bg2 Kd7 53.Rh8+–; 50...Nc8 51.Kb5+–; 50...Kd8 51.Re6!+–)
51.Bf7! Rf6 52.Be8+ Kd8 53.Bb5! Nxb5 54.Kxb5 and White wins.
PhishMaster PhishMaster 5/15/2020 02:51
Karsten, I just wanted to let you know that I enjoy your column very much. Thank you.

I should probably call you "New Benko" since I used to read his columns faithfully every month back in Chess Life (and Review). RIP GM Benko.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 5/15/2020 02:20
Yes I agree. Your plan is very logical and convincing. CatalanFischer's lines are good additions to show how to proceed, when Black avoids the rook exchange and gets passive. Sullivan's old winning proof included several non trivial rook endings. Your proof is much easier and more elegant. It was new to me. Of course most sources claim that White is winning in the adjourned position, but your proof was new to me. Well done!
PhishMaster PhishMaster 5/15/2020 01:56
As I looked at that position initially, there were A LOT of lines possible, and probably many more ways to play it, and I did not include all of them, or even attempt to. I tried to focus on explaining a plan that a human could aim for no matter how black played, which I think I succeeded at.
Lexionius2384 Lexionius2384 5/15/2020 05:47
after analyzing with stockfish 11 on a 16 cpu ryzen 7 4.4 ghz system mr phishmaster conclusion is defiantly irrefutable absolutely no doubts hes correct grats sir. from the looks of the analysis Fischer's opponent was in trouble right after book move ended

32...Kd6 33.a4 Ne7 34.h3
34.Bb5 Nc8
34...Nc8 35.Bb5
35.h4 h5
35...Na7 36.h5
36.g4 hxg4+ 37.Kxg4 Ne7
36...Kc7 $16 37.Rd5
37.Re3 Kd6
38.Rd2 Rf6 39.Re2 Kd7 40.Re3
40.Rd2+ Kc7 41.Bb5 Kc8
40...g6 $2
40...Na7 and Black could well hope to play on
41.Bb5 Rd6 42.Ke2 Kd8
the final mistake, not that it matters anymore
43.Rd3 Kc7
43...Rxd3 cannot change what is in store for 44.Kxd3
44.Bxd3 Ke7
44...Na7 45.Kc4
44.Rxd6 Kxd6 45.Kd3 Ne7 46.Be8 Kd5
46...Ke6 what else 47.Kc4 Nc8 48.Bxg6 Nd6+ 49.Kd3 Ne4 50.Bxh5 Nd6
47.Bf7+ Kd6 48.Kc4 Kc6 49.Be8+ Kb7
49...Kc7 doesn't change anything anymore 50.Kb5 Kb7 51.Bf7
50.Kb5 Nc8 51.Bc6+ Kc7 52.Bd5 Ne7
52...Nd6+ no good, but what else? 53.Ka6 c4
53.Bf7 Kb7 54.Bb3 Ka7
54...c4 does not solve anything 55.Bxc4 Nc8 56.Bd5+ Kc7 57.Kc4
55.Bd1 Kb7 56.Bf3+ Kc7 57.Ka6 Nc8 58.Bd5 Ne7
58...Nd6 there is nothing else anyway 59.Bg8 Ne4
59.Ba2 makes it even easier for White 59...Nc8 60.Bf7 Ne7
59...Nc6 60.Bf7 Ne7 61.Be8 Kd8 62.Bxg6
62...Nxg6 63.Kxb6 Kd7 64.Kxc5 Ne7 65.b4 axb4 66.cxb4 Nc8 67.a5 Nd6 68.b5
Ne4+ 69.Kb6 Kc8 70.Kc6 Kb8 71.b6
71.b6 Nd2 72.a6 Ne4 73.a7+ Ka8 74.b7+ Kxa7 75.Kc7 Ka6 76.b8=Q Ka5
77.Qb3 Nc5 78.Qb6+ Ka4 79.Qxc5 Kb3 80.Qc1 Ka2 81.Kd7 Kb3 82.Qd2 Kc4
83.Kc6 Kb3 84.Kb5 Ka3 85.Kc4 Ka4 86.Qb4#
PhishMaster PhishMaster 5/15/2020 03:13
Thank you. I didn't read the article close enough to even realize it was a contest. I just came back tonight to see what transpired. I just sent a message to the feedback link. Thank you, Kevin Cotreau, aka PhishMaster.
albitex albitex 5/15/2020 02:43
Mr. @Muller write question: "Do you have sources on this?"
Yes, I've got it! The fact is that the update was made after White's 41st move, (41. Bb5) and not after 42nd. The selead move was 41 ... Rd6 (not 42. Kd8). This was written by Tal in his comments on the match in the authoritative Russian magazine "64". At the link below you can download the PDF with the comments of Tal's 4th match written in 1971 for the magazine "64".
Lexionius2384 Lexionius2384 5/14/2020 11:20
({0.70 Stockfish 11 64 POPCNT:} 40. Rd2+ Kc7 41.
Bb5 Kc8 42. Rd3 Ne7 43. Ke2 Nc6 44. Re3 Kd8 45. Kd3 Kc7 46. Kd2 Kd8 47. Kc2 Kd7
48. Kb3 Rh6 49. Be2 Ne7 50. Kc2 Nc8 51. Bb5+ Kc7 52. Kb3 Rg6 53. Be2 Kd7 54.
Bxh5 Re6 55. Rxe6 Kxe6 56. Kc2 Nd6 57. Bf3 Nc4 58. h5 Nd6 59. Kd3 Ne8 60. g4
fxg4 61. Bxg4+ Kd6 {1.42/30}) even if you go back early as move 40 and have 40. Rd2+ by move 62 with Ke4 with a score of 8.14 pts white is very much in the drivers seat
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 5/14/2020 07:59
I agree with catalanFischer's analysis. The resulting winning proof is much easier than Sullivan's old winning proof. So PhishMaster is indeed a deserved winner. I was surprised that this riddle was solved so quickly and elegantly. Many thanks!
But for me it is still not clear what happened regarding the Soviet adjournment analysis. Is albitex right that Taimanov simplified on purpose to force Fischer to find a perfect maneuver ? The problem I see is that Fischer most likely had analysed all this in his adjournment analysis and Taimanov "in a way knew that". Do you have sources on this ?
catalanFischer catalanFischer 5/14/2020 04:57
If we all agree that the rook exchange wins why not try to avoid it
I have tried handling PhishMaster variation and instead of 46....Rd6 keep the rook on f6 and go 46...Kd7 47.Kc4 Na7 48. Bg2 Kd6 49. Re8! Kd7 50.Rg8 Nc6 51. Kb5 Ne7 52. Rb8 Nc8 53. Ka6 Kc7 54. Rb7+ Kd6 55. Bf1 heading to c4 and black is completely uncoordinated. One of the g6 or b6 pawns will fall
albitex albitex 5/14/2020 03:34
Probably the Russian masters, realizing that the position was lost, opted for the exchange, choosing a final where White had to make a perfect maneuver to win. That is, they simplified, chose the less complex situation.
albitex albitex 5/14/2020 01:38
English version of Fritz training (my old training on this position)
Frederic Frederic 5/14/2020 10:05
@PhishMaster -- please contact us for prize negotiations (postal address, photo). Please write to us using the "feedback to the editors" link above, or to Karsten, whose email is in the third-last paragraph.
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 5/14/2020 08:52
I still have one question: what was the result of the Soviet adjournment analysis. Did they find out that Taimanov is lost in any case and so it does not really matter or did they misevaluate the rook exchange or...? In any case 42...Kd8?! makes it much easier for Fischer. Can you find the answer in your sources ?
Karsten Müller Karsten Müller 5/14/2020 08:28
Many thanks for your quick feedback! Here indeed it seems that I have underestimated the strength of the modern engines especially Stockfish 11. When I made a deep analysis together with Charles Sullivan for Endgame Corner 106 it was much more work and Sullivan's winning proof is also much more complicated. And the Let's Check before also did not look so clear to me. Thanks to you it has changed now. I suggest that PhishMaster wins as he was the first to bring a winning proof, which is also much clearer and easier than Sullivan's winning proof.
Magic_Knight Magic_Knight 5/14/2020 06:05
I find it perplexing that with super strong chess engines nowadays, that we are still wondering about what the ending is for any giving position. Especially in the endgame.
Lexionius2384 Lexionius2384 5/14/2020 06:05
computer analysis for whats its worth they lack the human factor

41.Bb5 Rd6 42.Ke2 Kd8
( {3.36 Stockfish 11 64 POPCNT:} 42...Rf6 43.Kd3 Rd6+ 44.Kc4 Kc7 45.
Kb3 Rf6 46.Re8 Rd6 47.Re2 Rf6 48.Re3 Kd7 49.Re1 Kc7 50.Bc4 Kd7 51.Re2
Na7 52.Ba6 Nc6 53.Kc4 Kc7 54.Re3 Rd6 55.Bb5 Rf6 56.Re8 Rd6 57.Kb3 Rf6
58.Bc4 Kd7 59.Re1 Ne7 60.Bb5+ Nc6 61.Kc2 Kd8 62.Re3 Kd7 63.Bc4 Na7
[%eval 123,37]} )
albitex albitex 5/14/2020 04:13
I had created a Fritz training on this ending (it doesn't answer Muller's questions, it's only a play training). The Fritz training can be downloaded here:
PhishMaster PhishMaster 5/13/2020 11:00
I do not think that there is any doubt that white can still win after 42...Rf6. The problem is that white can force zugzwang and either force Re6 and the rooks need to come off, or Rd3 in similar lines to the game and the rooks come off due to the pin. The bishop ending seems just won no matter what, at least with the help of a computer.

(42... Rf6 43. Kd3 Rd6+ 44. Kc4 Rf6 (44... Kc7 {Transposes.}) 45. Kb3! Kc7 (45... Rf8 46. Bxc6+ Kxc6 47. Re6+ Kd5 48. Rxg6 +-) 46. Bf1! Rd6 47. Bc4 {Threat Re6} Kd7 (47... Kc8 48. Re6 $18) 48. Rd3 {+5 per Stockfish 11 with lines similar to the game.})