What is the Taimanov Sicilian?
Let us demystify both the name and the opening.
The Sicilian Defense starts with 1 e4 c5.
It is an extremely popular opening at all levels of play, partly because it gives the second player an excellent springboard to play for a win as Black.
Black is controlling the d4-square and this deters White from trying to establish the classic pawn centre with 2 d4.
There are lots of different variations of the Sicilian Defense, starting as early as the second move. The most challenging way for White to play is to head into the main lines of the Open Sicilian with 2 Nf3 and 3 d4.
Black has many choices to make too. The Taimanov Sicilian occurs after 2 Nf3 Nc6 3 d4 cxd4 4 Nxd4 e6 (Black can also switch the move order; i.e. 2 …e6 and 4 …Nc6).
The Taimanov is not as sharp as some other Sicilian lines, such as the Najdorf and the Dragon. Play is typically positional rather than tactical.
White now has various ways to proceed.
5 Nb5 was very popular in former times. The knight is threatening to cause Black some discomfort with a check on d6. This can be prevented by 5 …d6 and then White plays 6 c4.
White’s pawns on c4 and e4 produce a structure known as the Maróczy Bind. This is named after the strong Hungarian player, Géza Maróczy (1870-1951).
The idea is to establish extra space and to clamp down on Black’s main pawn advances of …b5 and …d5.
Black has plenty of resources in this rich position. For instance, the white knight will have to move yet again after …a6 and the first player may find that maintaining the bind is big responsibility.
5 Nc3 is currently the most popular way for White to play.
White develops the second knight to its most sensible square, where it defends the e-pawn and exerts influence in Black’s half of the board.
Once again, Black has several possible paths from this position.
5 …d6, 5 …a6, 5 …Qc7 and 5 …Nf6 are all frequently seen. Transpositions to other variations are on the cards too. For example, 5 …Nf6 is a direct transposition to the Four Knights variation of the Sicilian Defense.
Taimanov Sicilian: Black’s Basic Plans
As in all Sicilian lines, Black intends playing on the queenside. The half-open c-file is an ideal place for the black rook and queen. This, together with the standard advance of …b7-b5, can give Black a lot of pressure and can lead to the White queenside collapsing completely.
White could close the c-file by exchanging knights with Nxc6, but after …bxc6 Black will be able to utilise the half-open b-file instead. Additionally, the central pawn break with …d5 will be even more effective as the d-pawn will be protected by two pawns instead of one.
Taimanov Sicilian: White’s Basic Plans
The aforementioned attempt to seize and maintain a space advantage with the Maróczy Bind still needs to be taken seriously.
Generally speaking, Sicilian endgames tend to favour Black for structural reasons. The extra centre pawn and the half-open c-file are both advantageous for the second the player.
White enjoys superior development early in the game and the knight on d4 is extremely well placed. Therefore, Whit his advised to make use of his advantages and to press Black in the middle game.
The English Attack is a particularly popular plan. White plays Be3, Qd2, 0-0-0 and attempts to destroy the black position with a direct attack.
The variation is named after Soviet Grandmaster Mark Taimanov (1926-2016).
His lengthy and successful chess career still struggles to be seen clearly from under the shadow cast upon it by his 0-6 defeat to a rampant Bobby Fischer in their 1971 Candidates match.
Nevertheless, he tied for the first place in the Soviet Championship on two occasions, represented his country at one Chess Olympiad and four European Team Championships and played in the great USSR v Rest of the World match in 1970.
Nor were his successes confined to the chess board. He was a concert pianist of great renown and became a father to twins at the incredible age of 78.
Brand New Course
Tomorrow we shall investigate the brand new Chessable course on the Taimanov Sicilian by Grandmaster Pentala Harikrishna.
Meanwhile, here are links to the other parts of our ongoing series on Chess Opening Basics.