Taimanov Sicilian Variation is one of the four chess openings (Taimanov Variations in the Nimzo-Indian Defense, Modern Benoni, Grünfeld Defense) bearing the name of the Russian Grandmaster Mark Taimanov. The Sicilian Taimanov Variation is marked with the initial moves 1.e4 c5 (Sicilian Defense) 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e6, but since the game almost always proceeds with 5.Nc3 Qc7, these moves can be included in the definition as well.
The Taimanov Sicilian Variation should not be confused with the Kan Variation of the Sicilian Defense, which uses a similar setup of inclusion of early …e6 with 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 e6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 a6. Although in many instances, concepts from both of these Sicilian Variatons are interchangeable.
- Winning percentages on both sides
- Key ideas in the Taimanov Sicilian
- Sicilian Taimanov Theory
- 6.Be2 a6 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Be3 Bb4
- English Attack: 6.Be3 a6 7.Qd2 Nf6 8.0-0-0
- Reasons to play Taimanov Sicilian
- Common Traps
- Trap №1
- Pros and Cons
- Is the Taimanov Sicilian good?
- How to play Taimanov Sicilian as black?
Winning percentages on both sides
|Win for white
|Win for black
Key ideas in the Taimanov Sicilian
While many versions of the Sicilian Defense involve black playing …d7-d6 and subsequently developing the bishop on e7 or fianchettoing it on the kingside, the fundamental concept of the Taimanov Variation differs. In this variation, the key idea revolves around placing the dark-squared bishop outside of the central pawn chain. By starting with …e6 and delaying …d6, black aims to activate the bishop on more aggressive squares like c5 or b4. This approach allows black to proactively apply pressure on white’s counterplay. For instance, moves like f4 with the intention of launching a kingside attack would weaken the g1-c5 diagonal, which black can exploit with moves like …Bc5 and …Ng4.
The placement of black queen on c7 proves itself useful in terms of controlling the e5-square, thus preventing white’s e4-e5 ideas. Alternatively, black can seek to create play on the queenside with a typical pawn expansion of …a6-…b5-..b4, followed by Bb7. The Taimanov Sicilian’s allure lies in its flexibility, as it enables black to operate on both sides of the board, providing diverse and dynamic opportunities for play.
Sicilian Taimanov Theory
In comparison to other variations of Sicilian Defense, such as the Najdorf Sicilian, the theory of Taimanov is relatively easier to digest as it can be learnt through thematic ideas rather than move-by-move memorization. The main branching point of Taimanov is the sixth move, after 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 4.Nxd4 e6 5.Nc3 Qc7. where white gets to choose between, 6.Be2, 6.f4, 6.Ndb5 and the so-called English Attack with 6.Be3, which deserves the most attention as it is the most challenging response against the Sicilian Taimanov.
6.Be2 a6 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Be3 Bb4
By playing 6.Be2, white already indicates that they are going to take a calmer approach and castle kingside. This gives black free hand to actively place their forces. But before anything else, with 6…a6, black shuts the door for any knight jumps to b5, but also reinforces the idea of queenside expansion with …b5 for later. 7.0-0 and black can develop 7…Nf6 without fear of e4-e5 thanks to the queen on c7. 8.Be3 Bb4 and black already starts to exert pressure on white, e.g. threatening to capture on c3 and win a pawn with …Nxe4 at the moment. However, after white’s enigmatic 9.Na4, the most prudent move for black would be to retreat 9…Be7, because after 9…Nxe4?! white gets to create fireworks with 10.Nxc6 Qxc6 11.Nb6 Rb8 12.Bf3 f5, pinning the knight, f5, 13.Qd4, hitting both Bb4 and g7 pawn. After 13…Bf8 14.Bh5+ Kd8 15.Rad1, all forces of white join the party.
To avoid such an attacking storm, black should rather prefer 9…Be7, keeping all pieces coordinated. The same idea for white would not be as effective as the case of 9…Nxe4?!, because after 10.Nxc6 bxc6 11.Nb6 Rb8 12.Nxc8 Qxc8 13.e5 Nd5 14.Bc1, defending b2, black gets to unfold their forces once again with 14…Bc5. By pinning white’s f-pawn and depriving of f2-f4 advance, black intends to target e5 pawn with …Qc7 next.
The ambitious looking 6.f4 comes at the cost of weakening g1-a7 diagonal. So after the standard 6…a6, white will cover the diagonal first with 7.Be3. In reply to this setup of white’s, black will keep the bishop in a more defensive position, e.g. on e7: 7…b5 8.Bd3 Bb7 9.Nb3 d6 10.0-0 Nf6 11.Qf3 Be7 12.Qh3. White’s piece arrangement on the kingside may look intimidating, however black possess various defensive resources like 12…h5, 12…Rd8, 12…Nb4 and capturing on d3 or even 12…Nb8 with the idea to reroute the knight to d7 and threatening …b4 to dislodge the c3-Knight defending e4.
Alternatively, white may opt for queenside castle after a move like f2-f4, but this approach leads to an attacking race on the wings, which give black practical chances:: 7.Nxc6 Qxc6 8.Bd3 b5 9.Qe2 Bb7 10.Bd2 (10.Be3 Nf6 and the e4-pawn is attacked thrice) 10…Bc5, black gets the bishop to the most active diagonal, 11.0-0-0 Ne7 12.a3 0-0 followed by …b4 next.
Black does not need to be concerned about the premature attack on the queen with 6.Ndb5 because after 6…Qb8, everything will be under control. White’s knight on d5 will be kicked away with ..a6 next, proving white’s attacking idea to be a loss of time. In the prospect of …a6, white may opt for a tactical sequence that leads to a position with imbalanced material, three minor pieces vs. a queen, starting with 7.Be3 to take control over the b6 square: 7…a6 8.Bb6 axb5 9.Nxb5, threatening Nc7+ fork, 9…Bb4+, black’s only defensive idea, 10.c3 Ba5 11.Nc7+ Qxc7 12.Bxc7 Bxc7
The resulting position could be argued to be slightly better for black due to its solid structure and the potential synergy of the minors. It would be highly recommended to try this position out with both colors against a human or computer for training purposes, as it can be very helpful in cultivating a deeper sense of piece harmony and coordination.
English Attack: 6.Be3 a6 7.Qd2 Nf6 8.0-0-0
The English Attack, characterized by the move 6.Be3 is not only the mainline of the Taimanov Sicilian, but perhaps the most thrilling option for both sides due to the opposite side castling. In the English Attack, white swiftly deploys their queenside pieces, 6.Be3 a6 7.Qd2 Nf6 8.0-0-0 (8.f3 is also possible, but 8.0-0-0 Ng4?! is nothing to be concerned about for white because of 9.Bf4) and gets ready to roll the kingside pawns, e.g. f3-g4-h4-h5.
To encounter white’s attack, black has to play energetically and pose as many challenges as possible, starting with 8…Bb4, pinning the c3 knight and putting pressure on e4. 9.f3, reinforcing f3, but also supporting g2-g4, is replied usually with 9…Ne5, tying white’s knight on d4 to the defense of f3 after 10.g4. Both sides will compete to be the faster in their attacks: 10…b5 11.g5 Nh5, a typical place for knight in these type of pawn storms in the Sicilian Defense.
With …Nh5, the black knight blocks white’s h4-h5 and significantly slows down the attack. Black has now capturing on c3 twice on their agenda to demolish white’s pawn structure and exploit this weakness in the endgame. For example, 12.Kb1 Bxc3 13.Qxc3 Qxc3 14.bxc3 Bb7 followed by …0-0 and …Rfc8 ideas to put pressure on the c3 pawn.
White may not always rush with the attack and prefer 10.Nb3. Black now needs to be mindful of the following tactical idea of white after 10…b5 11.Qe1, setting up the trap of the Nxb5 discovery attack on b4 and c7.
If white’s queens stood on d2, this tactic would not work due to Bxd2+ with check. The common way to deal with this threat is to retreat 11…Be7 and the game may follow as 12.f4 Ng6 13.e5 Nxg4, attacking the bishop on e3 and continue with …Bb7 or …0-0 as usual.
It is also useful for black to keep in mind ideas like 9…Ne7 with the intention of striking immediately at the center with …d5: 10.Nb3 d5 11.e5 Nd7 (11…Qxe5 12.Bf4 Qf5 13.g4 would be devastating) 12.f4 b6 13.Bd4 Nc5 would be an original way to exert pressure white’s queenside as in the game between Magnus Carlsen and Vassily Ivanchuk, which resulted in black’s victory.
Reasons to play Taimanov Sicilian
The Taimanov Sicilian presents a wealth of opportunities for counterplay across the entire chessboard, making it an excellent choice to confront the King’s Pawn Opening. It has endured the test of time, proving to be a sound and reliable option. However, it also harbors the potential to pose tactical challenges and traps for white, often featuring unique and unexpected tactical patterns that can catch inexperienced players off guard.
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 e6 (Taimanov Sicilian) 5.Nc3 d6 (a less popular alternative to 5…Qc7) 6.Be3 Be7 7.Qg4?? chasing the undefended g7 would be a fatal blunder due to …Nxd4! 8.Bxd4 e5, and white’s bishop and queen are under attack; 9.Qxg7 Bf6 and material loss for white is inevitable.
Pros and Cons
|An active expansion on the queenside characterized by a pawn avalanche.
|Potential weaknesses on the dark-squares for black
|The dynamic positioning of black’s dark-squared bishop on b4.
|Vulnerable kingside as most pieces are regrouped on the queenside.
The Taimanov Sicilian offers a more accessible theoretical landscape compared to other Sicilian defenses like the Najdorf. It’s characterized by black’s early aggressive challenges to white, including pinning on c3 and pressure on e4. This variation frequently leads to exhilarating attacking races, especially in opposite side castling scenarios. This aspect of the Taimanov Sicilian is particularly appealing to players who relish tactical battles and wish to seize the initiative when playing with the black pieces.
Is the Taimanov Sicilian good?
Taimanov Sicilian is a versatile and high-level opening that provides practical counterplay for black on both sides of the board.
How to play Taimanov Sicilian as black?
Taimanov Sicilian prioritizes swift development of dark-square bishop to b4 or c5 based on the “French” setup with the early …e6 and ..Qc7:, e.g. 1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.d4 4.Nxd4 e6 5.Nc3 Qc7 6.Be2 a6 7.0-0 Nf6 8.Be3 Bb4