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Grandmaster Profile: GM Mark Taimanov

While in Wijk aan Zee in 2001, GM Alex Baburin had the opportunity to conduct an interview with Grandmaster Mark Taimanov, which we would like to offer for your attention here. This interview was originally published in Chess Today.

Mark Evgenyevich, I believe that you are here as a guest?

Indeed, the Max Euwe Association invited me here in connection with the 100th anniversary of Euwe's birth. They invited Smyslov and me, but unfortunately Vassily Vassilyevich could not come.

Mark Evgenyevich, you saw a lot of things in chess during your long career. How would you assess the current situation in our game - when we have different World champions, different time controls, etc. What is your attitude to this?

Every time has its own rules and this reflects on chess. It is only natural that in the age of computers, chess has changed as well. In my opinion chess changed to the worse, but some may think that chess became better. In my time the creative and artistic aspects of chess were most important, while the sporting element came next. Now the sporting side of chess is prevailing and every change in the rate of play is speeding up this process.

Do you think that the quality is suffering?

Yes. First adjournments disappeared...Adjourned positions gave a lot to the art of analysis and the theory of the endgame. Many discoveries were made while analysing adjourned positions. Then the rate of play became faster and now there is a tendency to speed it up even further. This is probably inevitable, but still regretful... In the 50s and 60s, which I think was the golden age of chess, Grandmasters explored chess, they tried to find new strategic paths and ideas. But it happened that the last player, who discovered something significant in the opening theory, was Sveshnikov with his system - nobody discovered anything considerable after him.

Maybe the reason is that everything has been discovered already?

No! I think that possibilities are endless in chess. But nobody is trying to find them - everyone is using known recipes... It must be said though that Kasparov tried and found new ideas in old openings, like, for example, in the Scotch. When he started to play it, it became clear that there had been many hidden opportunities in that opening. But nobody else seems to be interested in studying chess now, when the result became more important than the process. If you think of it, even Fischer - the great Fischer - did not discover anything, but just brilliantly interpreted and improved ideas of players before him.

I cannot agree with all this criticism, as it seems that now it is just impossible to come up with anything new so early in the opening. For example, I work with Alexander Morozevich and see that he is constantly looking for new ideas. And other top players search for them too, albeit their ideas come at later stage in the game and look more like improvements.

I like how Morozevich plays - he is not afraid to take risk, he is a player. But I still think that it is still possible to find ideas early - again look at the Scotch and the Petroff Defence. That opening was regarded as dull and now it became so popular!

How about the change of people's perception of the game and image of chess?

It has devalued too. When there were 5-6 main tournaments a year they attracted huge media interest. Now there are hundreds of events and many of them are good, but there is little interest in the media. In old times Botvinnik, for example, was a public figure in the USSR and Fischer was the same in USA. In 1970 when we played in Belgrade in the match 'USSR vs. The Rest of the World', we played in a huge hall with 2,500 seats. It was full and demonstration boards were installed in the streets, where hundreds of fans could watch the games and even rain could not distract them. Of course, then chess players felt that they were part of something important. Now a chess player is just a player - he could be stronger, he could be weaker, but not many people cared. But there are some good changes too, that now people can play chess and make a living, can travel abroad, etc. The game has become more democratic.

You played against many great players. If you were to name three of the best players in chess history, whom would you chose?

As I value the creative side of chess above its other aspects, for me names of Alekhine, Tal and Kasparov are most important.

Mark Evgenyevich, thank you very much for the interview!

You are welcome!

This interview were originally published in Chess Today.

All text Copyright Alexander Baburin unless otherwise noted