The Sicilian Taimanov: Go For the Win

When you choose to include the Sicilian Taimanov in your repertoire, you choose an extremely flexible defense to 1.e4. Keeping your options open is always a good approach in any chess opening.

Sicilian Defense Taimanov Variation Play It With Ease Featured Images

The Sicilian Taimanov is named after the strong Russian grandmaster Mark Taimanov, a participant in the famous 1953 Zurich Candidates Tournament.

Playing the Sicilian Defense is much like playing the Ruy Lopez in the sense that both openings improve your overall chess ability.

One added bonus in playing the Sicilian Taimanov is that the Maroczy Bind isn’t very effective against this variation. Learn why you need not fear it from GM Damian Lemos.

Why Play the Sicilian Taimanov?

One excellent way to decide if an opening is reliable is to check who plays the opening. You will find that many world chess champions, including attacking players like Tal and Kasparov, have played the Sicilian Taimanov.

Other strong players who have included the Sicilian Taimanov in their repertoire include Judit Polgar, Peter Svidler, Vasily Ivanchuk, and another world chess champion, Vishy Anand. You know if it worked for them against the world’s best, it will work for you!

Another advantage of choosing the Sicilian Taimanov is that it has little theory compared to many other Sicilian Defense variations like the Dragon or the Najdorf variation.

Ideas and Strategies in the Sicilian Taimanov

The flexibility of the Sicilian Taimanov is a characteristic of both the pawn structure you can adopt and the development of your pieces.

Some of the options available to Black include:

  • adopting the Hedgehog formation with pawns on e6, d6, b6, and a6.
  • Keeping the pawn on d7 and developing the dark-squared bishop to d6, c5, or b4.
  • Transposing into the Sicilian Scheveningen Variation with …d6
  • Developing the knight to f6, e7, or f5.

The starting position of the Sicilian Taimanov is reached by 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 (diagram).

sicilian taimanov starting position.
Sicilian Taimanov Starting Position.

When learning an opening, a vital part of your studies includes the pawn breaks available to you. In the Sicilian Taimanov, the …d5 break is often a crucial move.

This move might be needed even if you chose to enter Scheveningen positions by playing …d6 early in the game. For example, …d6 is often played against 5.Nb5 to prevent the knight from landing on d6

Black will sometimes find it necessary to play …e5 even though he played …e6 on his second move. This move is usually in response to White’s bishop getting developed to f4, attacking the d6-pawn.

Another advantage to playing 2…e6 is you cut down on White’s Anti-Sicilian options. For example, if you play 2…Nc6 or 2…d6, you must know how to meet 3.Bb5.

Remember, no matter what variation of the Sicilian Defense you are playing, …g5 is an essential break for Black.

Judit Polgar played it as early as move 10 in her game against Alexey Shirov and won in under 30 moves.

Alexey Shirov – Judit Polgar, 1994, 0-1, Buenos Aires Sicilian Round 8, Buenos Aires ARG

Sicilian Taimanov With 6.Be2 

6.Be2 is a practical choice for White against many variations of the Sicilian Defense. Choosing 6.Be2 allows White to easily meet any transpositions from black.

Here the move is perfect for white because it is easy for black to transpose from the Sicilian Taimanov to the Sicilian Scheveningen.

Anatoly Karpov favored 6.Be2 because it suited his style of play. Instead of trying to win early, White develops classically and puts Black under pressure later in the game.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be2 (diagram).

Sicilian Defense Taimanov 6.Be2
Sicilian Defense Taimanov 6.Be2

In this position, Black can use the e7 square to develop his knight and simplify the position with an exchange on d4.

6…Nge7 7.0-0 Nxd4 8.Qxd4 Nc6 9.Qe3 Qc7 10.Qg3 Bd6 (diagram).

Sicilian Taimanov 10...Bd6
Sicilian Taimanov 10…Bd6

Black is in no danger of losing a pawn after White captures on g7 because he can play …Bxh2+ and …Be5 defending the rook on h8.

In the game between Werner Hobusch and Mark Taimanov, the queens were soon exchanged and the game ended in a draw.

Hobusch, Werner – Taimanov, Mark E, 2002.10.22, 1/2-1/2, Wch Seniors 12th Round 2, Naumburg

Johan van Mil won his game against Sander Los by transposing to an endgame with a better pawn structure.

Simplifying into a king and pawn endgame is an excellent strategy to deprive your opponent of the chance of complicating the game.

Of course, you must be sure the chess endgame is in your favor before simplifying, or else you will lack the resources to hold on for a draw.

Los, Sander – Van Mil, Johan, 2022.02.04, 0-1

Sicilian Taimanov With 6.Nxc6

In the Sicilian Taimanov, when White exchanges on c6, Black can recapture towards the center with …bxc6.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 (diagram).

Sicilian Defense Taimanov 6.Nxc6 bxc6
Sicilian Defense Taimanov 6.Nxc6 bxc6

White almost always plays 7.Bd3 in this position, although occasionally you will face 7.e5. The move 7.Bd3 has appeared in over 1200 games while 7.e5 got played in less than 200 games.

Despite the overwhelming odds of facing 7.Bd3, it is foolish to discount the dangerous 7.e5, which contains tactics that could surprise the unprepared Sicilian Taimanov player.

The 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3 Variation

Now it is black who almost invariably responds with only one move – 7…d5

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3 d5 (diagram).

Sicilian Defense Taimanov 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3 d5
Sicilian Defense Taimanov 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3 d5

Defending the e-pawn with Bd3 gives White the option of playing the aggressive Qg4. Instead of castling, when Bh6 is an excellent move for white, it is best to defend the g7-pawn with …Kf8 followed later with …g6 and …Kg7.

Play is likely to continue 8.0-0 Nf6 9.b3 Be7 10.Qe2 0-0 reaching the following position (diagram):

Sicilian Defense Taimanov 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3 and 10...0 0
Sicilian Defense Taimanov 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.Bd3 and 10…0 0

Black has excellent control of the center, and White’s bishops do not have any open diagonals or any objects of attack.

Yu Yangyi played a model game with the black pieces against Ax Rombaldoni in 2017.

Rombaldoni, Ax – Yu Yangyi, 2017.11.02, 0-1

The 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5 Variation

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5 (diagram).

Sicilian Defense Taimanov 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5
Sicilian Defense Taimanov 6.Nxc6 bxc6 7.e5

Although a pawn on e5 is good for attacking the black kingside this time, it’s the pawn that gets attacked. Black develops his queen to one of her favorite squares in the Sicilian Defense and forces White to commit a piece to its defense.

Remember, the bishop on f4 is undefended. In light of this, Black can gain space on the kingside with the aggressive …f5.

White cannot capture the pawn en passant because he will lose the bishop!

7…Qc7 8.Bf4 f5 9.Be2 Rb8 10.Rb1 Ne7 (diagram).

Sicilian Defense Taimanov 6.Nxc6 10...Ne7
Sicilian Defense Taimanov 6.Nxc6 10…Ne7

The knight is headed to g6, where it attacks the defender of e5. Notice that Black can also use the semi-open b-file to attack the bishop on f4 with a rook.

This game between Bruzon Batista and Kasimdzhanov shows how Black can develop a strong kingside attack against the white king.

Kasimdzhanov, Rustam – Bruzon Batista, Lazaro, 2021.02.06, 0-1

The Sicilian Taimanov 6.Be3 Variation

One of the most aggressive options for White against the Sicilian Taimanov is 6.Be3. This move is flexible and provides White with many options depending on how his opponent responds.

The best response for Black is often the classical development …Nf6 and …Bb4.

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nc6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Be3 Nf6 (diagram).

Sicilian Taimanov Defense 6.Be3 Nf6
Sicilian Taimanov Defense 6.Be3 Nf6

Black’s best response is 6…Nf6 because 6…Nge7 allows white to take advantage of the weak queenside dark squares with 7.Nb3 Ng6 8.Na4. 

If Black plays 7…b5 to prevent Na4, then White has 8.a4 b4 9.a5 threatening Bb6 winning the queen.

After 6…Nf6 7.f4 is the main move when Black continues with 7…Bb4.

The knight on c3 is ideally placed to take advantage of the d5-square when Black plays …e5, so exchanging it is a sensible approach by Black. The added bonus is damaging your opponent’s pawn structure as well.

8.Bd3 e5 9.fxe5 Nxe5 10.0-0 d6 11.h3 Bxc3 12.bxc3 h6 (diagram).

Sicilian Taimanov 6.Be3 and 12...h6 variation
Sicilian Taimanov 6.Be3 and 12…h6 variation

Along with giving the black king an escape square, the knight on f6 can use the h7-square. Black can use …Nh7 to prevent an exchange sacrifice with Rxf6, opening the king to attack after …gxf6.

Sergei Rublevsky is a powerful player who enjoys playing the Sicilian Taimanov. Following him and playing through his games will prove highly beneficial and deepen your understanding of the typical middlegame strategies.

Inarkiev, Ernesto – Rublevsky, Sergei, 2017.07.20, 0-1

Final Thoughts

In the database at lichess.org, 1…c5 appears in 506,921 games compared to the second most popular move, 1…e5, played in 244,648 games. The biggest reason for this is the Sicilian Defense has the highest winning percentage for Black from the top four replies to 1.e4.

Beginners and intermediate chess players are advised not to spend a lot of time working on your opening, yet it makes perfect sense to play the Sicilian Defense. 

The Sicilian Taimanov allows you to play the Sicilian Defense while keeping your theoretical opening workload manageable.

Many of the strategies used by black are easy to understand and based on classical chess principles. There are, of course, a few must-know strategies, but they are minimal in comparison to the Najdorf or Dragon variations.

Many players with White reduce their theoretical workload by playing one of the Anti-Sicilians. If your opponent plays an Anti-Sicilian, you have already reduced his winning chances on the very first move. Congratulations!

In as little as 8 hours, you can learn all the key concepts and main variations of the Sicilian Taimanov. While covering all the theory, GM Damian Lemos explains the ideas behind the moves and the strategies for both sides.

There is no need to fear getting caught out by surprise from White because you will clearly understand what your opponent is trying to do. As they say, forewarned is forearmed.

Go ahead and grab your copy of the Sicilian Taimanov (Lemos Deep Dive) opening course today and win the arms race! You can get instant access, a detailed course summary, and PGN files, all at 50% Off!

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