Mark Taimanov, who turned 85 this month, talked of his twin careers as a world-class grandmaster and pianist in recent interviews with Russian media.
He recalled playing chess with Fidel Castro in Cuba and analyzing positions with Che Guevara. Che was stronger, he said. “His evaluation of moves showed that he played at the strength of our candidate masters.”
Taimanov played blitz games with David Oistrakh, until the violinist finally won one and said, “That’s it, we won’t play further. I want this game to remain memorable.”
When Taimanov was sent to a 1952 tournament in England, a top Soviet apparatchik told him, “You must take first place! Do you know who signed your travel permit? Josef Vissarionovich!” — meaning Stalin. “I nearly fell out of my chair,” he said. Three years later, he convinced Stalin’s successor, Nikita Khrushchev, to pay Soviet players when they competed abroad.
Dimitri Shostakovich told Taimanov how he worked as a young pianist in a Moscow movie theater. During one intermission, a tall, blond moviegoer agreed to play a game. Shostakovich was crushed. “Don’t get upset,” said his opponent. “You lost to Alexander Alekhine.”
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– GM Susan Polgar