Taimanov Sicilian: Opening Guide for White & Black

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taimanov sicilian opening guide for white & black
Table of Contents

Quick Summary:

  • The Sicilian Taimanov results after the move order 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6. It is considered one of the best e6 Sicilians. It is considered more positional and less theory-heavy than many other Sicilians.
  • Being an e6 Sicilian, Black has more options as to where to put their dark-squared bishop.
  • White can go for a slower game and castle kingside or go for a rapid attack by castling queenside and going for a pawn storm on Black’s kingside.

Introduction to the Taimanov Sicilian

The Taimanov Variation of the Sicilian Defense is a great option for players who are interested in the Sicilian Defense, but who are intimidated by the heaps of theory that go into variations such as the Najdorf.

This is a more positional opening, where general ideas and principles take precedent over complex line memorization. Players who prefer sharper attacking lines may be more interested in the Accelerated Dragon Variation or the Najdorf. 

Be sure to check out our Choosing the Right Sicilian Defense for You article.

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 powerful 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 chessboard. He was a concert pianist of great renown and incredibly became a father to twins at the age of 78.

The Starting Position of the Taimanov

The Taimanov is a variation of the Open Sicilian, there are many move orders via which it may be reached, but the most typical perhaps is 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6.

Black usually places their queen on c7. From here, the queen controls the e5 square. In contrast to other Sicilians.

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.

Maroczy BindWhite’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 a big responsibility.

5.Nc3 is currently the most popular way for White to play.

Sicilian Taimanov Main Line

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.

The main line however, is 5…Qc7. This is for a few reasons. By playing 2…e6, Black has weakened the dark squares around their Queen, so placing the queen here helps protect them. Additionally, it reinforces the crucial e5 square. If Black develops their knight to its natural place on f6, White could eject it with e5, and this move prevents that.

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 utilize 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 favor Black for structural reasons. The extra center 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, White is advised to make use of his advantages and to press Black in the middlegame.

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.

How to Play the Taimanov

After 5…Qc7 (known as the Bastrikov Variation) White has a few choices. The top three moves are 6.Be3 6.Be2 and 6.g3.

6.Be2

This signals that White plans to castle kingside. This is generally considered more passive than the top move, 6.Be3. If you are less of an attacking player and more positionally minded, this may be your preferred set-up.

After 6.Be2 a6 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Be3 Bb4, Black is taking advantage of one of the open diagonal for the dark-squared bishop, something that sets the Taimanov apart from the d6 Sicilians. 8…Bb4 is trying to pressure White’s center by capturing on c3 and threatening the e-pawn.

White has a tricky move here with 9.Na4. It may look odd putting this knight on the edge of the board, but here it hits the vulnerable b6 square, this thematic in the Taimanov.

If Black attempts 9…Nxe4, 10.Nxc6 Qxc6 11.Nb6 Rb8 12. Bf3, and White is much better off.

So, 9…Be7, the bishop has driven the knight awkwardly to the edge. 10.Nxc6 bxc6 11.Nb6 Rb8, the knight finds a home afterall, but Black has lots of central pawns.

6.Be3 The English Attack

This is the more active way to play for White. Some very interesting and fun games arise from here. White’s plan is to castle queenside and launch a pawn storm at Black’s kingside.

6…a6 7.Qd2 Nf6 8.O-O-O Bb4 9.f3

A typical position in the English Attack. Note that in all these set-ups, Black plays 6…a6 to stop Nb5.

However, if Black instead plays 6…Nf6 7.Nb5, the queen may retreat to b8 and White’s knight may not come into d6.

That said, 6…a6 is the better move, as the queen on b8 is not as active as it is on c7. The best move after 6…Nf6 for White is not actually 7.Nb5, but 7.f4, starting kingside expansion early and threatening e5.

8…Bb4. One of the advantages of playing the Taimanov is this highly mobile dark-squared bishop. 

The idea for White behind 9.f3 is to prepare g4 to launch the pawn storm, but also to protect the e4 pawn. If 9…0-0 10.g4, and Black is going to have to move their knight on the next move.

The correct move here for Black is 9…Ne5. This prepares Nc4, in order to get rid of one of White’s bishops, either via the light-squared bishop capturing on c4 or the dark-squared bishop on e3 (which White would rather not part with).

In this position, White should ignore this and play 10.Nb3. What if Black continues? 10…Nc4 is not a bad move, but after 11.Bxc4, White has just traded a piece they have moved three times, while White only used one tempo to capture.

Instead, Black should do what they’ve set out do to in the Taimanov, and play 10…b5. Queenside expansion! Black must start trying for an attack of their own before White comes at Black’s kingside.

The Szen Variation 5.Nb5

Going back to this move, the 5.Nb5, known as the Szen Variation is a way to avoid the main lines of the Taimanov. It is also known as the anti-Taimanov variation.

Black must play 5…d6, lest Nd6+ Bxd6 Qxd6, and Black’s position will be very cramped. Black gets a nice space advantage with the Maroczy bind set-up with 6.c4.

Black continues development with 6…Nf6. 7.Nc3 and 7…a6, chasing the White knight away.

8.Na3 Ba7 9.Be2 0-0 10-0-0, and this is the starting game of the Szen Variation.

The Maroczy Bind here can prove very challenging for Black (as in any Sicilian).  White can reroute the awkwardly placed knight on a3 to c2. On top of it all, this may confuse some lower-rated Taimanov players, and if Black forgets to play 5…d6, White will be much better.

Summary

Of all the e6 Sicilians, this is known to be the best. It is great for players that do not want to memorize theory, or for those who are more positionally minded. And though it is positional, it is far from boring (it is still a Sicilian after all).

Tactics and sharp games still arise in this variation, just perhaps a bit less than in the more theory-heavy Sicilians. The Taimanov will still have you playing for a win. If you are looking for flexibility in a Sicilian, rather than complex sublines, then the Taimanov is an excellent choice.

FAQs

Is the Taimanov Sicilian good?

Yes, the Taimanov is considered a very solid opening for players who are looking for less theory and a more positional-based Sicilian Defense.

What is the Taimanov Sicilian?

The Taimanov Sicilian is a chess opening that arises after the moves 1.e4 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6

Why play the Taimanov Sicilian?

The Taimanov is a great choice for players who do not want to study lots of theory or who prefer more positional-based openings.

How many variations are there in the Sicilian Defense?

The Sicilian Defense has several variations and sub-variations, making it one of the richest chess openings.

How do you beat Taimanov Sicilian?

One of the best ways to beat the Sicilian Taimanov is to launch a fast attack on Black’s kingside, usually by castling queenside. Tempi are key in the Taimanov, and developing rapidly is very important.

Note: This article was first published on November 24, 2020 by Sean Marsh and was updated by Matthew Astle on May 23, 2022.

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