Mark Taimanov, Soviet chess legend who lost to Bobby Fischer, dies at 90

Mark Taimanov is best known for his stinging 0-6 loss to American grandmaster Bobby Fischer at the World Championship Candidates match in 1971


Mark Taimanov became a chess grandmaster at the age of 26, kicking off a career which flourished throughout the 1950s and ‘60s. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Mark Taimanov became a chess grandmaster at the age of 26, kicking off a career which flourished throughout the 1950s and ‘60s. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Saint Petersburg: Mark Taimanov, a chess grandmaster who was ostracised by the Soviet authorities after losing to American Bobby Fischer during the Cold War, has died aged 90, Russia’s chess federation said Monday.

Taimanov was born in 1926 in Kharkiv, Ukraine, and moved to Leningrad, now Saint Petersburg, where he studied piano at the prestigious music conservatory.

He became a chess grandmaster at the age of 26, kicking off a career which flourished throughout the 1950s and ‘60s.

In 1956 he became the Soviet champion, and participated in the Soviet championship more than 20 times while pursuing a professional career as a concert pianist.

Yet he is best known for his stinging 0-6 loss to American grandmaster Bobby Fischer in 1971 at the World Championship Candidates match.

Soviet authorities during the Cold War viewed the US-Soviet chess matches as having symbolic importance, and punished Taimanov for the embarrassing failure, suspecting that he had lost on purpose.

Following this, officials stripped Taimanov of his titles and forbade him from going abroad for a year and a half, making it impossible for him to earn a living.

“I was a victim of our regime because of that match, they could not forgive me for losing,” Taimanov said in a 2009 interview. “They suspected me of treason... I was subjected to a public execution.”

A chess theorist whose name is memorialised in a number of signature chess moves, Taimanov went on to become a chess journalist.

In another, unrelated loss for Russian chess, a 20-year-old grandmaster, Yury Yeliseyev, fell to his death Saturday from the 12th floor of a Moscow apartment building, the chess federation said.

Yeliseyev was a Russian junior chess champion who reportedly also pursued the highly dangerous sport of parkour, which involves running, climbing and jumping through an urban environment.

Investigators said he fell while trying to scale the building from an apartment window onto a balcony.

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