On June 6 in Krumbach, Germany, FIDE master Marc Lang took on 15 opponents at once, without sight of any chessboards or pieces. We believe that this is the largest number of players anyone has attempted to play simultaneously since 1993, when Hans Jung of Canada played 26. Lang’s ease at handling 15 opponents has encouraged him to strive for greater heights and to oppose 23-26 players at once this fall. The record number of simultaneous blindfold games played in Germany was for a very long time the 21 opponents that Harry Pillsbury of the U.S. faced at Hanover in 1902, but in 1984 Anthony Miles of England topped Pillsbury’s record by opposing 22, as part of the centennial celebration of the Roetgen Chess Club. We describe both Pillsbury’s and Miles’s displays in our book, to which readers may refer for more details.
Email exchanges with Lang have provided us with interesting information about Lang himself and his recent exhibition. Lang, 39 and married, has had little time to play in regular tournaments because he must devote himself to his computer programming business in Günzburg, 60 miles west of Munich in Bavaria, as well as to his growing family: a son,7, with another child due in October. He keeps up with chess by reading many relevant books and magazines without any chessboard available, in his bed or bathroom. “Blindfold is just like I’m used to studying chess”, he says.
Lang claims that his memory is not exceptional at all, but quite chess-focussed (this is typical of expert blindfold players). He jokes that he always forgets what his wife has asked him to do, and that when he puts frozen pretzels in the oven, 80% of the time they are burnt to “coal” before he remembers he put them there. He admits to a weakness in remembering faces and names, but chess games “stick in his head” and he even recalls parts of blitz games he played when he was a youngster.
His introduction to blindfold chess was unusual. Around 15 years ago, he was playing his friend, the now IM Mathias Duppel, a series of regular games in a café in Stuttgart when the waiter told them that chess playing was not allowed there. Their first reaction was to leave and never enter that café again, but Mathias suggested they play a 10-board blindfold simultaneous match against each other. No one could prohibit that! Lang won, 6-4, and not long afterward began to give standard blindfold displays, starting with 4 and ending up with 13 in 1998. He had to stop there and hardly played any chess at all over the next decade because he started his company, married, and eventually his son was born.
However, his vicarious interest in blindfold play continued and not long ago he decided to try to beat his previous personal record of 13 by playing 15. He says he was very nervous before that display a few weeks ago and slept poorly the night before the exhibition. But it turned out to be relatively easy. The opposition ranged in strength from around 900 to 2074, according to the German national rating system. The physical arrangement for the display was different from virtually all previous serious exhibitions over past centuries. Lang did not want to be blindfolded, sit with his back to the players, or be located in a separate room; he preferred to face the players and chat with them as the event progressed. So a cardboard barrier was set up that prevented him from seeing the chess positions but enabled him to see his opponents’ faces and converse with them as they announced their moves. He thinks this arrangement may have permitted him to more easily keep the various games separate in his memory because he could associate a face and a voice with a particular game.
Like other experienced blindfold players, he does not visualize boards and pieces, but only “spots” and “functions”. “For instance, I know there’s something called a rook on a1 and I know where it can move from there in that particular position. That’s all. There are no colors, no shapes, nothing. When I was younger, I used to see the board with yellow and black squares, but now even that has gone”
The display lasted a little over 8 hours and Lang scored 5 wins, only 1 loss, and 9 draws. At the end, because the four remaining players were getting tired, they simultaneously offered him draws. Although he had the advantage in two of the games and the other two were fairly equal, he decided to accept. In his next exhibition he thinks it would be a good idea to take a break of about a half-hour after five hours or so, to give both the remaining players and himself a rest period.
Lang expects to try to break the German blindfold simul record in November by playing at least 23 opponents and he has already contacted the potential organizers of the display in a town near Stuttgart to arrange the details. We wish him luck and thank him for taking the time to give us the above information about himself and blindfold chess.
Finally, here are two games from his recent 15-board exhibition:
M. Lang - H. Reif
1.d4 d5 2.c4 e6 3.Nc3 c6 4.e4 dxe4 5.Nxe4 Bb4+ 6.Bd2 Qxd4 7.Bxb4 Qxe4+ 8.Be2 Qxg2 9.Qd6 Nd7 10.0-0-0! Qg5+ 11.f4 Qe7 12.Qd4 e5 13.Qd2 Qe6 14.Nf3 f6 15.fxe5 c5 16.exf6 Ngxf6 17.Ng5 Qb6 18.Bh5+! Nxh5 19.Rhe1+ Kf8 20.Bxc5+ (Black now loses by force; if 20…Qxc5 21.Ne6+ and if 20…Nxc5 21.Qd8+) 1-0
M. Lang - E.Fischer
1.d4 g6 2.c4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.e4 Nf6 5.Nf3 0-0 6.Be2 Nbd7 7.0-0 e5 8.Be3 Ng4 9.Bg5 f6 10.Bc1 a6 11.h3 Nh6 12.dxe5 Nxe5 13.Nxe5 fxe5 14.Be3 Be6 15.c5 dxc5 16.Bxc5 Rf7 17.Qc1 Rd7 18.Be3 Nf7 19.Na4 b6 20.b3 c5 21.Qc2 Qc7 22.Rfd1 Bf8 23.Rxd7 Bxd7 24.Nc3 Bc6 25.Bc4 b5 26.Bd5 Rc8 27.a4 b4 28.Bxc6 Qxc6 29.Nd5 a5 30.Rc1 Nd6 31.f3 c4 21.Nb6 Rc7 33.bxc4 Nb7 34.Nd5 Rc8 35.Qb2 Nc5 (This was one of the final four remaining games that were agreed drawn at this point. White can maintain the better position by say, 36.Rd1, but after more than 8 hours of play both the players and exhibitor were willing to stop here!) 1/2-1/2