Eliot Hearst and John Knott blog about blindfold chess
Thursday, September 19, 2013

GM Gareev’s Blindfold Displays Have Created Exciting Publicity, But Are Not Really “Simultaneous”

American grandmaster Timur Gareev, who emigrated from Uzbekistan a few years ago, is now one of the top tournament players in the U.S. The 25-year-old won the North American Open in 2012 and tied for third in this year’s regular U.S. Championship. With a B.A. degree in Business Marketing from the University of Texas at Brownsville, he has been actively promoting scholastic chess as well as his own achievements in playing blindfold chess.

His frequent blindfold displays, so far all west of the Mississippi River, have produced the greatest interest in that kind of play by an American since George Koltanowski’s glory days touring the U.S. from the late 1930’s to the 1950’s. Before settling in San Francisco, Koltanowski twice set world records for number of opponents played simultaneously without sight of any boards or pieces, by opposing 30 in Antwerp, Belgium in 1931 and 34 in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1937. (Franco-Russian Alexander Alekhine’s blindfold exhibition against 32 in Chicago in 1933 forced Kolty to play to regain the world record with his 34-boarder). Since then, the world simultaneous blindfold record has been captured by GM Miguel Najdorf, playing 40 in 1943 and 45 in 1947 in South America, and (64 years later!) in 2011 by German master Marc Lang, who took on 46 at once in Sontheim an der Brenz, Germany. Blogs about Lang’s successively increasing size of displays, leading to his recent world record performance, have appeared on this website, which readers can consult for exhibition details and games.

These facts provide a historical background for our current focus on Timur Gareev’s blindfold displays. According to numerous media reports in newspaper chess columns, magazines, and websites Gareev has played as many as 27 and 33 games simultaneously while literally blindfolded and facing toward his opponents, instead of simply playing with his back to them, as is customary. Many sources include a photo of him playing blindfolded, as well as the physical arrangement of his opponents, and so there seems no good reason to reproduce any of those photos here. His 27-board display took place in Oahu, Hawaii in December 2012 and he won 24, lost only 1, and drew 2 of the games, a truly excellent score. However, the opposition included mostly middle-school students without USCF ratings and therefore it is hard to judge the quality of the opposition. The exhibition took 9 hours.

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Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 05:39 PM


Monday, February 20, 2012

Video: 60 Minutes Report About Magnus Carlsen and Blindfold Chess

Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 01:07 PM


Friday, December 16, 2011

After 64 Years: New World Blindfold Record Set by Marc Lang Playing 46 Games at Once

In 1947 GM Miguel Najdorf, while sitting in an isolated room, played 45 games simultaneously in São Paulo, Brazil. In another room his opponents sat with regular boards and pieces in front of them, and their and Najdorf’s moves were transmitted to each other via standard chess notation using a microphone. This performance exceeded his own previous world record of 40, set in 1943 in Rosario, Argentina. Until a few weeks ago, since 1947 only one player had played as many as 35 blindfold games at once under well-controlled conditions. That successful master was Marc Lang of Günzburg, Germany, who handled 35 opponents in November of 2010, surpassing blindfold champion George Koltanowski’s still-existing European and pre-Najdorf world record of 34 simultaneous games set in Edinburgh in 1937 (in 2009 Lang had set a new German record of 23). Lang’s only remaining goal was to exceed Najdorf’s 45 games and thereby gain the world record. For the past year he has been preparing to do just that, which he accomplished by playing 46 opponents on November 26-27, 2011.

It is remarkable that Lang is only a FIDE master, with an ELO rating around 2300. Except for Koltanowski (who did achieve an International Master’s rating in 1950 and was later awarded an honorary Grandmaster title by FIDE in 1988), the greatest simultaneous blindfold players of the past were top world-class tournament and match players like Harry Pillsbury, Alexander Alekhine, Richard Réti,and Najdorf. Lang’s ELO rating places him behind many hundreds of players of today who have gained International Master or Grandmaster titles and won major tourneys. The question remains whether Lang could have reached a much higher ELO rating had he not devoted himself to his computer business and family and rarely played in regular tourneys, or whether possession of excellent memory skills, a fairly high level of chess mastery, and strong motivation are about all you need to become a world blindfold champion.

[Continue reading...]

Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 05:36 PM


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Consecutive Blindfold Rapid Games: FM Lang Sets New World Record of 60, Beating Koltanowski’s 56

Several of my previous blogs have described German FIDE master Marc Lang’s exploits at playing many blindfold games simultaneously. In that type of exhibition he played 35 at once last November, surpassing the previous European record of 34 games set by George Koltanowski at Edinburgh, Scotland in 1937. He intends to play 46 games in the same manner in November 2011, to beat the current world record of 45 set by GM Miguel Najdorf in 1947 in São Paulo, Brazil.

Meanwhile, he has just broken the world record for playing many rapid blindfold games in succession, not simultaneously. In 1944 American GM Reuben Fine introduced this type of blindfold display, and with each sighted opponent and Fine having 10 seconds per move, his maximum number of opponents was 10 against very strong opposition in Washington, D.C. (+9, =1). In 1951 Koltanowski (“Kolty”, as everyone called him) decided to play far more than 10 consecutive games at the same speed and took on 50 relatively weak players in San Francisco, scoring +43, -2, =5 . The display took 8½ hrs. Of course Kolty played all the games without sight of a board and pieces, whereas all his opponents had regular boards and pieces in front of them. Later on, in 1960, Kolty exceeded his previous record by playing 56 successive games at 10-sec-a-move (+50, =6), again in San Francisco in an exhibition lasting 9¾ hrs. once more against relatively weak opposition. More details of all these events are described in our book on pages 90 and 112.

Marc Lang

Above: Marc Lang during the 60-board successive blindfold exhibition. He was “told” his opponent’s moves through ear phone messages via a computer speaker that was automatically triggered by each move of his opponent. He also wore ear protectors above the earphones because a “Volkfest” was going on nearby with very loud live music!

Today very accurate and durable chess clocks are easily available and we are in the computer age. As a result, there is a new and different way of playing rapid or “blitz” chess, as compared to use of a bell or buzzer that rang every 10 seconds in the Fine and Kolty era. Chess clocks or computer timers are usually set so that each player has a total of five minutes for the entire game. For a 40-move game this would average out to fewer than 10 sec a move, a generally faster clip than in the earlier era, although a player could take more than 10 seconds for some moves if he found it necessary (and he might move within a second or two at times, especially early in the game).

[Continue reading...]

Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 10:20 PM


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Urcan Questions Validity of Paulsen’s Simul Blindfold 12- and 15-Board World Records in 1858-59

In our book (pages 30 and 396-397) we credited Louis Paulsen with raising the world simultaneous blindfold record from 5 to 7 to 8 to 10 to 12 to 15 opponents during the years 1857 to 1859, although we stated that “regrettably, it has not been possible to discover more details of several of Paulsen’s displays”. There are many question marks instead of definite dates, overall scoring percentages, total time taken, etc., in our table on pp.396-397! Johannes Zukertort took on 16 opponents without sight of any boards or pieces in 1876 and was then hailed as the new world-record holder, presumably because he had exceeded Paulsen’s best total of 15 seventeen years before. We relied on reports in Bell’s Life in London, The Field, and Hooper and Whyld’s authoritative and encyclopedic Oxford Companion to Chess as sources for most of our statements and details.

However, in a recent column on the Chess Cafe website, dated July 30, 2011, the eminent chess historian Olimpiu Urcan of Singapore reports that his extensive research on Paulsen’s displays indicates that, while there is no doubt that he gave many blindfold displays on 10 boards, important questions remain about his 12- and 15-board exhibitions, especially the latter. The actuality of the supposed 12-board display in St. Louis in June 1858, which had been mentioned without details in several places after 1860, is apparently most dependent on material from a column by Max Judd in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat of November 14, 1875, which provides a game played by the father of a man who forwarded to Judd the score of his father’s game against Paulsen over sixteen years before and who reported that Paulsen scored 11 wins and 1 draw in that display. Urcan supplies the game, vs. O. Monnig, Sr., which was the one draw, but he mentions that other sources imply that Paulsen gave only 10-board displays in St. Louis during that period. So it is not completely clear that Paulsen gave a controlled 12-board display at any time.

The question of whether Paulsen ever gave a completely acceptable exhibition of 15 boards is much more uncertain. Urcan reports that any such display was reported in several newspapers to have occurred in November of 1858 in Dubuque and not in 1859, the usual year given for his supposed record-breaking exhibition of 15 boards. But the display was stopped after 9 hours and about 25 moves with no games finished, although reporters said Paulsen “would have won them”. The exhibition was probably terminated because it was 10 PM and the players were tired. If these reports are accurate, Paulsen never gave a complete blindfold display against 15 opponents and therefore the event should not be considered to have set a world record.

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Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 08:01 AM


Monday, July 25, 2011

Most of Us Underestimate Our Blindfold Skill: Try Blindfold Play as It Will Help Your Regular Chess

(The following article appeared in the July 2011 issue of Chess Life. Its title there was “Jeepers, Creepers: Who Needs Those Peepers?” The author, GM Andrew Soltis, and Chess Life magazine have given us permission to reprint the article on this website, with very minor formatting changes. It should inspire readers to try playing blindfold and gives examples that provide some instructional hints.)

Of all the creatures on this planet, chessplayers are among the least likely to be accused of modesty. But there’s one skill in which we underestimate ourselves. Believe it or not, it’s blindfold chess.

I suspect that you are better at blindfold than you think. In fact, I’d bet that at least a third of Chess Life readers can play through a game score mentally.

Furthermore, I’d wager that a substantial number of readers can play their own game without sight of the board. A smaller group can play more than one blindfold game simultaneously. And there are some — well, like Hikaru Nakamura — who can play 10 boards blind.

I know what you’re going to say: “Not me. I can’t picture the entire board in my mind.” But almost no one does that in blindfold chess — or in any other type of chess, for that matter.

Focus on those quads

White: GM Loek van Wely (FIDE 2683)
Black: GM Vassily Ivanchuk (FIDE 2750)
Melody Amber Blindfold Tourney 2007

blindfold chess diagram

This could be a Black-to-play-and-win position from our monthly quiz. Before reading on, cover up the next paragraph and try to solve it.

Black “saw” that White’s last move threatens 27. Qxh4. He also saw that 26…Qxe1+ doesn’t lead anywhere. But he found that 26…Bxg2+ 27. Kxg2 h1(Q)+! leads to a forced mate (28. Qxh1 Qg4+ or28…Rf2+).

Now if you saw all that — or even a fraction of it — you may have noticed how your attention was focused on the lower right corner of the board. You probably paid no attention at all to the knight at d7 or White’s queenside pieces, not to mention the distant pawns. You may have looked at only 16 squares, on the e- to h-files.

[Continue reading...]

Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 10:27 PM


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Simultaneous Blindfold: FM Lang Plays 35, Can He Beat Najdorf’s World Record of 45 in 2011?

Over the course of the last year and a half we have written two blogs on this website about the German FIDE master Marc Lang’s successive and dramatic increases in the number of blindfold games he has played all at once. He moved from playing 15 simultaneously in June 2009 to becoming the holder of the German record of 23 in November of the same year. Just recently (Nov.27-28, 2010) he successfully took on 35 opponents in Sontheim, Germany, which eclipsed the 34-board performance of George Koltanowski in Edinburgh, Scotland in 1937. Koltanowski’s accomplishment became the world record for number of simultaneous blindfold games played up to that time, but a decade later Miguel Najdorf played 45 at once in São Paulo, Brazil and this currently stands as the generally accepted world record.

So, with 35 games, Marc Lang now holds both the German and European records. Only Najdorf’s achievement stands between Lang’s and the world record. He expects to play 46 late next year to establish a new world record and it seems likely that he will reach this goal. Psychologists would consider all the displays mentioned above, as well as others described in our book, to be among the greatest memory feats that humans have accomplished.

Lang’s recent display received exceptional coverage in the German television and general print media, perhaps as much as or more than has been devoted to regular world chess championship reports. Maybe that is because no German GM has been a solid world championship contender for many years! If you know the German language you can read a detailed report of Lang’s 35-board display here, which also includes a listing of all the individual board results, photos and videos of the exhibition, as well as other historical and relevant material. It even shows Lang playing chess at home with his two young children and observing wife, or riding his bike to maintain his general physical health and to keep in shape for his strenuous displays. We reproduce here the U-tube video from German TV, which will give our readers a view of the playing arrangement and computer-controlled setup, as well as many other features of the exhibition. Unfortunately, the audio part of the video is in German, but the visual part is easy for most of us to follow, even without a knowledge of that language.

Rather than sending our readers to German language websites, I think they would like to find out some details and sidelights of Lang’s recent display written in English. He has corresponded extensively with me and much of what follows is derived from his emails. His final score was 19 wins, 13 draws, and 3 losses, a very good winning percentage of 72.9%. The whole event took 23 hours from about 9 AM on Saturday, November 27 to about 8 AM on Sunday, with a total of four breaks (half-hour each). Lang sat in the center of the exhibition room, facing all his opponents whose chess positions were concealed from him by cardboard barriers in front of each game. Lang has used this arrangement before and he could chat and joke with each opponent if he wanted to. Also, seeing the people he faced probably enabled him to build up stronger associations with the moves that had occurred in each game. Lang allowed opponents to be replaced by another person if they got too tired and did not want to stay until the finish.

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Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 01:53 PM


Monday, July 05, 2010

Economist Kenneth Rogoff and Blindfold Chess

The financial crises of the past few years have adversely affected almost all of us. Of course they are among the most common topics that politicians, bloggers, newscasters, Main Streeters and Wall Streeters, and just about everyone else discuss endlessly and debate vigorously. The publication last year of This Time Is Different by world-renowned economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart offered a historical investigation of disastrous monetary decisions from 66 countries over the last 800 years, not focusing on the application of recent economic theory but presenting data that many contemporary economists neglect, are ignorant of, or think are irrelevant to today’s major issues. The book is a best seller, having sold nearly 100,000 copies since last September’s publication.

So the book is basically non-theoretical in focus, unlike most current economic tomes, and is very factually oriented. An article about it by Catherine Rampell was featured in The New York Times of July 4, where she describes it as a “quantitative reconstruction of hundreds of historical episodes in which perfectly smart people made perfectly disastrous decisions.” Readers of our website can find the article here. Or they could have seen Rogoff in person on one of his numerous appearances on CNN and other television channels. However, they may be surprised that Rampell devotes some space to Rogoff’s chess career, which I think certainly did merit mention.

At the age of 17, Rogoff played first board for the United States team that won the Chess World Student Olympiad in Haifa, Israel, in 1970. He finally gained the grandmaster title in 1978 and soon afterward completely gave up serious chess! He decided to devote himself to the field of economics and after graduate work at MIT, he eventually became chief economist at the International Monetary Fund and later accepted professorships, first at Princeton and then at Harvard, where he is now located.

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Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 07:05 PM


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Marc Lang, Holder of New German Simultaneous Blindfold Record, Will Try 46 Games for World Record

FIDE master Marc Lang, who set a new German record of 23 simultaneous blindfold games last November, has announced that he will attempt something especially spectacular next year: to beat the long-standing world record of 45 games, set over 60 years ago by Grandmaster Miguel Najdorf in São Paulo, Brazil in 1947. Fans of this website will recall that we located Najdorf’s only surviving opponent from that exhibition and he contributed his memories of that event for a blog we posted last April 11. Check our list of blogs if you would like to read it over. In another blog (June 28, 2009) we noted that Lang had recently played 15 simultaneous blindfold games and was going to try to surpass the German record of 22, set by British GM Anthony Miles in Roetgen in 1984. Lang kept his promise and took on 23 last November 21. We are hoping he can keep his new promise and in 2011 successfully achieve a new world record of 46, earning himself a distinctive place in chess history.

Since no one has apparently played more than 26 simultaneous blindfold games since 1993, when Hans Jung of Canada played that many, Lang will be taking quite a leap forward and doubling the number of games he handled in his 23-board display. The 23-board display has not received adequate coverage in the non-German chess media and Lang was kind enough to send us more material about that exhibition, including a selection of games and a few photographs. We devote this blog mainly to his play in that event and will let you ponder whether he will be able to accomplish his goal of 46 games next year.

Lang, 40 and married with two young children, is a self-employed computer programmer and antique dealer, too busy with his business and family to play chess professionally. He lives in Günzburg, 60 miles west of Munich in Bavaria, and keeps up with chess by reading many relevant books and magazines without any chessboard available, in his bed or bathroom. Lang has remarked that “blindfold is just like I’m used to studying chess”.

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Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 11:24 AM


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Intriguing, First-Ever Comparison: Grandmaster Rankings in Blindfold, Rapid, and Regular (FIDE) Play

Grandmaster tournaments and matches are much more varied today than they were throughout most of the 20th century. The “old-fashioned” events had slow time limits and players rarely had to play more than one game a day. More recent tourneys are often played at a much faster overall pace, frequently have sudden-death blitz playoffs after a relatively slow start, and may involve computers or humans-plus-computer as entries. One of the most interesting new varieties has consistently attracted the top grandmasters in the world to its venue – the annual Amber tournaments in Monaco or Nice during March or April. There the contestants play two games a day with a single opponent, one at a rapid speed (25 minutes for the entire game, with a bonus of 10 sec for each move made) with a standard chessboard and pieces to move in front of them, and the other at basically the same speed with both players “blindfolded”, in the sense that they enter their moves on a computer keyboard but can see only a blank chessboard and their opponent’s last move on the monitor facing them.

The Amber tourneys allow an eventual comparison of each player’s world ranking at blindfold chess with his or her ranking in rapid chess or in chess at the traditional slow speed (“classical”, FIDE-rated games). Would the FIDE rankings of grandmasters correlate best with their blindfold play or with their rapid play, and would players’ rankings in blindfold and rapid chess differ significantly? Supposedly obvious predictions about these correlations might prove false if data were available to test them.

Elmer Sangalang of the Philippines volunteered to calculate ratings based on the 2,376 games played in the rapid and blindfold modes over all the 18 Amber tourneys that started in 1993, including the most recent event in March of 2010. Sangalang was the editor of the 2nd edition of Arpad Elo’s “The Rating of Chess Players, Past and Present”, published in 1986, which extended and corrected material in the first edition. Now retired, Sangalang worked mainly as an engineer, actuary, and applied mathematician. He has been a consultant for FIDE on the ELO rating system since 1984.

It was not an easy job to collect complete scoretables for every Amber tourney but ultimately Sangalang was successful and he could include all games from the blindfold and rapid halves of those events. On the other hand, FIDE ratings appear regularly every 2 months and he waited for the publication of the May 1, 2010 ratings and rankings to have the most recent results available for his analysis.

His method for calculating the Amber rapid and blindfold ratings followed the standard ELO procedure (Method of Successive Approximations). The calculations began by assigning every player an initial rating of 2600, to keep the numerical values completely independent of players’ different FIDE ratings. Starting with the players’ actual FIDE ratings seemed less reasonable and would bias the results in favor of the more highly-ranked individuals. So all the numerical ratings for the three groups presented below (Blindfold, Rapid, and FIDE) are independent of each other and cannot be compared in terms of their numerical values, that is, one cannot conclude that, say, Anand’s FIDE rating of 2789 means that he is better at slow chess than rapid chess (rating of 2688) or blindfold chess (rating of 2667). However, the rankings of the players (from 1 to 29) have no such limitations or restrictions and a comparison of these in the three groups is entirely justified. To increase the statistical reliability of the results, only players who participated in at least two Amber tourneys were included below, a total of 29 competitors.

Here are the results for the three types of play. We reiterate that each of the three sets of data are independent of each other, and the numerical values of the ratings cannot be legitimately compared. Before looking at the results, readers might like to guess, for example, whether FIDE rankings would correlate best with rankings in blindfold play or sighted rapid play.

RankingNameNumber of
Amber Tourneys
Blindfold
Rating
1Morozevich, Alexander82739
2Kramnik, Vladimir 162704
3Grischuk, Alexander22703
4Anand, Viswanathan162667
5Topalov, Veselin122644
6Shirov, Alexei112633
7Leko, Peter92628
8Carlsen, Magnus42628
9Aronian, Levon52620
10Ivanchuk, Vassily182615
11Svidler, Peter52614
12Radjabov, Teimor22594
13Kamsky, Gata42586
14Karpov, Anatoly92586
15Almasi, Zoltan32581
16Gelfand, Boris 112575
17Karjakin, Sergey32573
18Lautier, Joel62569
19Bareev, Evgeny42536
20Vallejo Pons, Francisco42531
21Nikolic, Predrag62516
22Polgar, Judit42515
23Polgar, Susan22513
24Piket, Jeroen102510
25Van Wely, Loek122503
26Ljubojevic, Ljubomir112486
27Seirawan, Yasser 22481
28Nunn, John22431
29Korchnoi, Viktor22350


RankingNameNumber of
Amber Tourneys
Rapid
Rating
1Aronian, Levon52703
2Anand, Viswanathan162688
3Bareev, Evgeny42683
4Carlsen, Magnus42667
5Ivanchuk, Vassily182655
6Kramnik, Vladimir162650
7Leko, Peter92648
8Kamsky, Gata42644
9Topalov, Veselin122642
10Shirov, Alexei112638
11Karjakin, Sergey32628
12Svidler, Peter52617
13Morozevich, Alexander82617
14Gelfand, Boris112613
15Karpov, Anatoly92608
16Polgar, Judit42591
17Radjabov, Teimor22553
18Grischuk, Alexander22546
19Piket, Jeroen102545
20Van Wely, Loek122534
21Almasi, Zoltan 32527
22Vallejo Pons, Francisco42515
23Korchnoi, Viktor22508
24Lautier, Joel 62498
25Ljubojevic, Ljubomir112494
26Nikolic, Predrag62478
27Seirawan, Yasser22474
28Polgar, Susan22454
29Nunn, John22432


RankingNameFIDE
Rating
1Carlsen, Magnus2813
2Topalov, Veselin2812
3Kramnik, Vladimir2790
4Anand, Viswanathan2789
5Aronian, Levon2783
6Grischuk, Alexander2760
7Shirov, Alexei2742
8Gelfand, Boris2741
9Ivanchuk, Vassily2741
10 Radjabov. Teimor2740
11 Karjakin, Sergey2739
12 Leko, Peter2735
13Svidler, Peter2735
14 Almasi, Zoltan2725
15Morozevich, Alexander2715
16Vallejo Pons, Francisco2703
17 Kamsky, Gata2702
18 Polgar, Judit2682
19Bareev, Evgeny2663
20 Lautier, Joel2658
21 Van Wely, Loek2653
22Seirawan, Yasser2644
23Piket, Jeroen2624
24 Karpov, Anatoly2619
25 Nikolic, Predrag2606
26 Nunn, John2602
27 Polgar, Susan2577
28 Ljubojevic, Ljubomir2572
29 Korchnoi, Viktor2564


After all the above rankings had been tabulated, statistically-determined correlations were calculated for each of the three possible pairs of comparisons: Blindfold vs. Rapid, Blindfold vs. FIDE, and Rapid vs. FIDE. Somewhat surprisingly, the FIDE rankings correlated most strongly with the Blindfold rather than with the Rapid rankings, even though both the FIDE and Rapid results involved games played with sight of a chessboard and the Blindfold games did not. All the different correlations were highly statistically reliable, but the strongest one was between FIDE and Blindfold; the next highest was between FIDE and Rapid, and the weakest was between Blindfold and Rapid. For those readers who are familiar with correlational techniques in statistics , the FIDE vs. Blindfold correlation for player rankings was +.84, for FIDE vs. Rapid +.76, and for Blindfold vs. Rapid +.72.

It is intriguing to speculate as to why a player’s world ranking (FIDE) in regular, “classical” chess would correlate best with his or her blindfold ranking, rather than with his or her regular rapid play. We offer one possibility and we welcome other suggestions from readers: Players may well be more cautious or careful in blindfold play than in rapid play with sight of the chessboard and thus try riskier lines of play in the latter, leading to more variable outcomes. (Recall the advice of world-class blindfold players like Alekhine who recommended that one “keep it simple” when playing without sight of the board). The fact that in the Amber tourneys the correlation between the Blindfold and Rapid conditions was relatively low (+.72) would be consistent with essentially the same kind of argument. At any rate, and speaking more loosely, you can predict a grandmaster’s FIDE ranking better from his Blindfold ranking than from his Rapid ranking.

We thank Mr. Sangalang for his careful and extensive work making the above calculations. Readers with questions or critical comments should send them to him or us via the “Comments” boxes below this blog. All of them will be published and answered.

Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 06:25 PM


Sunday, April 18, 2010

An Audio Interview With Eliot Hearst

An interview with Eliot Hearst, conducted by IM John Watson on the Internet Chess Club website, was published on Tuesday, April 6, at 3PM (ET). The interview focuses on blindfold chess, but covers other general chess topics.

Here is a direct link to a free preview of the audio interview with Eliot Hearst.

The ICC site features more than 100 other interviews with various chess personalities.

Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 02:19 PM


Monday, January 11, 2010

The First Regulated Multi-Board Blindfold Simultaneous by a Woman: Anna Zatonskih Plays Five

In the years we spent researching our book on Blindfold Chess we never discovered any report of a scheduled, well-regulated multi-board blindfold simultaneous display by a woman, although we do mention some individual games that women played without sight of the board (see pp.136-138 of the book and the games section). We asked the eminent chess historian Edward Winter if he had knowledge of such a performance and he could not recall a single case. So in his “Chess Notes” column of August 29, 2009 (CN 6289 at www.chesshistory.com) he asked his large number of readers whether any of them could supply information about a woman’s playing more than one or two games under well-controlled conditions. No one responded with an example.

The current women’s world champion, Alexandra Kosteniuk, has stated that she could probably manage three or four blindfold games at the same time, but has never really tried to play more than three (see her September 7, 2009 blog at www.chessblog.com). Apparently these three were not played under well-controlled, serious conditions, but were relatively informal. Therefore it seems very likely that the 5-board display recently given by U.S. Women’s Champion Anna Zatonskih is the first instance of an organized, refereed, formal multi-board simultaneous blindfold display by a woman. It was played in St. Louis in October, 2009 just before the start of the U.S. Women’s Championship, which was won by the defending champion, Anna herself, who has now won that championship three times. Throughout her exhibition Anna actually wore a blindfold, which was used for its dramatic effect since all her opponents were behind her and so she could not see any of the board positions anyway.

Woman GM Jennifer Shahade, one of the organizers of all the events connected with the championship (she did not enter the competition this time), devised a very original and clever idea to further promote blindfold chess during the festivities in St. Louis—a scheme that involved all 10 entrants in the tourney playing a single blindfold game together! In drawing numbers to determine the round-robin pairings in the championship, a necessary preliminary in all such tourneys, each woman picked a scarf from one of ten available. The players made their choices in a predetermined random order. Each scarf had a hidden number stitched on it, which would be the number assigned the player who chose it. Then the 10 players were blindfolded and sat in a row of numbered chairs that alternated in color. Number 1 started the group blindfold game by calling out her move (White’s first move) and then Number 2, seated next to Number 1, responded with Black’s first move, and so on, with the odd-numbered players composing the White team and the even-numbered players the Black team. The game was played rapidly and Black won eventually when a White player blundered away a queen. The White team had to resign and the crowd watching this spectacle gave all 10 women a standing ovation.

A video of the arrangement at the exhibition, including some vocal comments from Anna at the conclusion of play, follows. The video was filmed by Macauley Peterson of chess.fm and is also available at blip.tv:

[Continue reading...]

Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 10:00 PM


Sunday, December 20, 2009

Zukertort Interview (1883): How I Play Blindfold Simultaneous Chess

Although our book covers Johannes Zukertort’s blindfold career in detail, his answers to a reporter from The New York Herald on December 2, 1883, add some color and additional particulars about his play without sight of the board. Zukertort held the world record for number of simultaneous games played blindfolded for almost a quarter of a century. He set a new record by playing 16 at once in 1876 in London, which was not equaled or exceeded until Harry Pillsbury played 16, 17, and 20 total games in 1900. Here are some of Zukertort’s comments from the 1883 article, seven years after he set his record and when he was touring New York. The article is titled “What The Memory Can Do” and two subtitles are “A head full of pigeonholes” and “Mental pictures that come and go like those of a magic lantern.”

The NYH reporter first asked Zukertort to explain the method by which he is able to play a number of blindfold games at once:

I was first taught the moves on a chessboard in 1860, when I was eighteen years old. I was at college studying the natural sciences. Soon after that I went to the University of Breslau, where there was a chess club, and where I was beaten nine out of every ten games I played. This was in June, 1861. Then I began to study chess — in fact, I became infatuated with the game. I played in the day time and read chess books at night. By the following February there was no man living who could give me the odds of a knight. The great Anderssen was in Breslau, and we played together a great deal. In a series of twenty-four games, in which he gave me the odds of a knight, I won twenty and drew two.

In reading the chess books so much I discovered my capacity for carrying on a game as I read it, without looking at a board, in much the same way as a musician might read music. I cultivated the faculty, and finding that I could play one game blindfold I tried to play two games, and was successful. In January, 1868, I gave my first public exhibition of blindfold playing. I played seven games at that time, and afterward nine games. I never played eight that I can remember. Gradually I ran the number up from nine to twelve, and finally to sixteen. That is as many games as I have ever attempted blindfold, and no other player has ever done as much. I played the sixteen in the West End Chess Club of London December 11, 1876, against sixteen of the strongest amateur players of the St. George’s and West End clubs. I won twelve, drew three and lost but one. The single winner was an American gentleman living in London, Mr. W. Ballard.

The reporter asked: Can you play more than sixteen games, do you think?

[Continue reading...]

Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 10:36 AM


Monday, November 16, 2009

Both Without Sight: Two of the Best Blindfold Masters Faced Each Other in 1923

Alexander Alekhine, generally accepted as the best simultaneous blindfold player of all time, considered Friedrich Sämisch (1896-1975) as a brilliant blindfold player, “technically perfect, fast, and confident”. Many chess historians rate Sämisch as Germany’s best-ever blindfold player, although most of his displays were on only 10 boards (his maximum was 20, which was not a world record at that time). In a vast collection of blindfold games amassed by Hindemburg Melao of Brazil, we recently discovered a game in which they both played blindfolded (the exact conditions of this one-on-one contest were not spelled out). Here Alekhine won by a sparkling queen sacrifice, and most readers will have no trouble figuring out why it led to Sämisch’s resignation.

A. Alekhine-F. Sämisch      B30
Berlin,1923 (Both players blindfolded)

1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Be2 e6 4.0–0 d6 5.d4 cxd4 6.Nxd4 Nf6 7.Bf3 Ne5 8.c4 Nxf3+ 9.Qxf3 Be7 10.Nc3 0–0 11.b3 Nd7 12.Bb2 Bf6 13.Rad1 a6 14.Qg3 Qc7 15.Kh1 Rd8 16.f4 b6 17.f5 Be5

Alekhine vs. Samisch

18.fxe6!! Bxg3 19.exf7+ Kh8 20.Nd5! 1–0

Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 02:34 AM


Monday, October 05, 2009

Two Australians and a German: Absent From Our Book But Worthy of Mention

In writing our book on blindfold chess, we had strict space and page limitations imposed by McFarland Publishers to prevent the book from being prohibitively expensive. Consequently we had to delete from our final manuscript many games that we would have liked to include (of the thousands we collected) and to abbreviate descriptions of the achievements of masters who did not seem to us to deserve much more than a few sentences or a footnote, in comparison to the champions we believed required appreciable attention and emphasis. It’s been almost a year since publication of the book and correspondents around the world have not informed us of more than a very few blindfold experts that we had really completely overlooked and failed to mention at all. Here we discuss three players that fall in that category, two Australians and a German.

Writing in The Washington Post (August 31, 2009) Lubomir Kavalek notes the absence of Australian blindfold masters in the book (which is especially disappointing to me because my children are half Australian!). One person Kavalek lists is John Kellner (1931- ) who holds the Australian record for number of opponents faced in a simultaneous blindfold display. He set this record in 1973 when taking on 17 players at once. He is also known for his prowess in postal chess, where in 1968 he achieved the title of International Master of Correspondence Chess. If readers from Down Under or elsewhere can supply us with details of his record-setting exhibition and other accomplishments in blindfold chess, we will be glad to publish them on this website. Please insert your remarks in the email Comment section below this blog.

A more internationally-known Australian blindfold player is Grandmaster Ian Rogers (b. 1960, GM 1985), who in addition to his triumphs in regular chess has given numerous displays of 12 boards or fewer without sight of any of his opponents. Kavalek published a blindfold game of his against Josef Horejs, played in Prague in 1996. Rogers’s score in that exhibition was 9 wins and 1 draw against 10 club players rated up to 2300.The display took about 4 hours. Here is the score of that game:

1.c4 c5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.g3 d5 4.cxd5 Nxd5 5.Bg2 Nxc3 6.bxc3 Nc6 7.Rb1 e5 8.Qa4 Qc7 9.Bxc6+ Qxc6 10.Qxc6+ bxc6 11.Nf3 Bd6 12.d3 Be6 13.c4 0-0 14.Ng5 Rab8 15.Rxb8 Rxb8 16.Nxe6 fxe6 17.Kd1 Kf7 18.Kc2 Ke7 19.Be3 Kf6 20.Rb1 Rxb1 21.Kxb1 g6 22.Kc2 Ke7 23.g4 Kd7 24.h3 Ke7 25.Kd2 Kf6 26.f3 Ke7 27.Bg5+ Kd7 28.Ke3 Bc7 (and then seeing that White will pick up his e-pawn, Black resigned).

Reviewing our book on ChessCafe.com. on August 23, 2009, Olimpiu Urcan noted a 19th-century German who was a promising blindfold player. He was Berthold Suhle (b.1837 in Poland, but who spent most of his life in Germany; he died in 1904).Urcan gives the following quote from The Chess Player’s Chronicle (1859, pages 71-72):

In Germany a new star has also appeared on the Chess horizons, which threatens to dim the light of the Morphy star. Herr Berthold Suhle, in Bonn, twenty-one years of age, has completely defeated several of the German Chess celebrities, amongst others the well-known player Captain Bothe in Cologne, and the strongest player of Venice, Signor Torliko. In blindfold play he has successfully rivalled the performance of Morphy and Harrwitz, having on 20th December last [1858] played eight players at the same time, without seeing the board, and, in a series of 295 moves, won six games and drawn two.

The same journal supplied the score of one of the games played by Suhle against Mr. Kr. in this display, as follows:

1.e4 e5 2.f4 exf4 3.Nf3 g5 4.h4 g4 5.Ne5 h5 6.Bc4 Rh7 7.d4 Bh6 8.Nc3 c6 9.Nd3 Qf6 10.e5 Qf5 1l.Nc5 Qg6 12.Bd3 Qg7 13.Bxh7 Qxh7 14. N3e4 b6 15.Nd6+ Kd8 16.Nd3 f6 17.Bxf4 Ba6 18.Qd2 Bf8 19. Rf1 Bxd6 20.exd6 Qe4+ 21.Qe3 f5 22.Qxe4 fxe4 23.Bg5+ Ke8 Here Suhle announced mate in ten moves with the continuation 24.0-0-0! c5 25.Rde1 Bb7 26.Ne5 Bd5 27.Ng6 Bf7 28.Rxe4+ Ne7 29.Bxe7 Nc6 30.Bg5+ Ne7 31.Bxe7 …. 32.Bg5+ Be6 33.Rf8 checkmate. [Since some of these 10 moves are not absolutely forced, it is doubtful whether Suhle was justified in announcing a mate in 10 moves. Perhaps Black could have lasted longer than that and perhaps Suhle could have mated more quickly than in 10 moves. Ask your computer!: E. Hearst]

Urcan goes on to note that Suhle drew a match with Adolf Anderssen in Berlin in 1864 and became an active chess writer in later years. Urcan does not know whether Suhle continued to give frequent blindfold displays after the above event, but it is significant that by December 1858, Louis Paulsen had already played 8-, 10-, and 12-board blindfold displays and Morphy had given two exhibitions of 8 boards each. So Suhle did not set a new world record in this display, but he did equal Morphy’s number.

We thank Kavalek and Urcan for providing information about the blindfold achievements of the three players we have mentioned above. Whether they deserved a reasonable amount of space in our book we will let readers and book critics decide, especially since we had strict word limitations imposed by our publisher.

Permalink  |  Posted by Eliot Hearst at 09:55 PM


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