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:
Here are the five games from the display, which took about two hours. In my opinion Anna made no real mistakes in the entire event. She played rather cautiously and took very few risks, which is generally a good strategy in multi-board simultaneous blindfold exhibitions, anyway. Note that all five opponents were males! (Jennifer Shahade tells me that they had planned to include at least one strong woman player among the opposition but their first choice got sick and other available women were registered for a different event. The organizing committee then figured that from a feminist point of view it might even be more striking to have only male opponents. This decision could have backfired if Anna had scored poorly in the display, but she won all five games). The USCF ratings of the opponents ranged from approximately 1500-1800.
Anna Zatonskih - Nathan Phan
October 3, 2009, Board 1 (of 5)
French Defense C08
1.d4 e6 2.e4 d5 3.Nd2 c5 4.exd5 exd5 5.Ngf3 Nf6 6.Bb5+ Bd7 7.Bxd7+ Nbxd7 8.0–0 Be7 9.dxc5 Nxc5 10.Nb3 0–0 11.c3 Re8 12.Be3 b6 13.Qc2 Qc7 14.Rad1 Rad8 15.Rfe1 Bf8 16.Bg5 Nce4 17.Bh4 Rd6 18.Nbd4 Qd7 19.Bxf6 Rxf6 20.c4 Bb4 21.Re2 Rc8 22.Nb3 Rxc4 23.Qxc4 dxc4 24.Rxd7 cxb3 25.a3 Nc5 26.Rd8#. 1–0
Anna Zatonskih - Matt Lodge
October 3, 2009, Board 2 (of 5)
Queen’s Pawn Game A56
1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 c5 3.e3 Nc6 4.d5 Nb4 5.a3 Qa5 6.Nc3 e6 7.Bd2 Na6 8.e4 exd5 9.Nxd5 Qd8 10.Nxf6+ Qxf6 11.Bc3 Qc6 12.Bd3 Nc7 13.Ne2 Ne6 14.0–0 Bd6 15.f4 0–0 16.e5 Be7 17.f5 Nc7 18.f6 Bxf6 19.exf6 b6 20.fxg7 Bb7 21.Nf4 Ne6 22.Bxh7+. 1-0
Anna Zatonskih - Stephen Zhang
October 3, 2009, Board 3 (of 5)
King’s Indian Attack E17
1.d4 Nf6 2.g3 e6 3.Bg2 d5 4.Nf3 Be7 5.0–0 0–0 6.b3 b6 7.c4 Bb7 8.Qc2 Nbd7 9.Rd1 Rc8 10.Nc3 c5 11.dxc5 Rxc5 12.Ba3 Rc8 13.Bxe7 Qxe7 14.cxd5 Nxd5 15.Nxd5 Bxd5 16.Qb2 Nf6 17.Rac1 Rfd8 18.a3 Rc6 19.Rxc6 Bxc6 20.Rc1 Ba8 21.b4 h6 22.h3 Qe8 23.Qc2 Bd5 24.Qc7 Rd7 25.Qc8 Rd8 26.Qc2 Be4 27.Qb2 Bd5 28.g4 Rc8 29.Ne1 Rxc1 30.Qxc1 Bxg2 31.Kxg2 Qd8 32.Nd3 Qd5+ 33.f3 g5 34.Qc7 Qa2 35.Kf2 Qxa3 36.Ne5 Nxg4+ 37.hxg4. 1–0
Anna Zatonskih - Bob Heller
October 3, 2009, Board 4 (of 5) French Defense C10
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nd2 dxe4 4.Nxe4 Nd7 5.Bd3 Ngf6 6.Qe2 Be7 7.Nf3 c5 8.Nxf6+ Nxf6 9.dxc5 Bxc5 10.Bg5 0–0 11.0–0–0 Qe7 12.Ne5 h6 13.h4 Bd4 14.c3 Bxe5 15.Qxe5 Re8 16.Rh3 Nd7 17.Qe3 Qc5 18.Qxc5 Nxc5 19.Bb5 Bd7 20.Bxd7 Nxd7 21.Rxd7 hxg5 22.hxg5 Rab8 23.Rhd3 a5 24.Rc7 b5 25.Rdd7 Rf8 26.g6 b4 27.c4 a4 28.Rxf7 Rxf7 29.Rxf7 Rc8 30.b3 axb3 31.axb3 Rb8 32.Re7 Kf8 33.Rf7+ Kg8 34.Kd2 Rb6 35.Ke3 e5 36.g3 Rxg6 37.Rb7 Rf6 38.Rxb4 Kf7 39.c5 Rc6 40.Rb7+ Kf8 41.b4 Ke8 42.Rxg7 Kd8 43.Ke4. 1–0
Anna Zatonskih – Rex Sinquefield
October 3, 2009, Board 5 (of 5)
Sicilian Defense B20
1.e4 c5 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Nc6 4.d3 Bg7 5.f4 d6 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.h3 Bxf3 8.Qxf3 Nd4 9.Qd1 e6 10.0–0 Ne7 11.c3 Ndc6 12.Be3 0–0 13.Nd2 Rc8 14.Bf2 b6 15.g4 f5 16.Bh4 Bf6 17.Bxf6 Rxf6 18.a4 a5 19.Qb3 Qd7 20.exf5 gxf5 21.g5 Rg6 22.h4 Kh8 23.Rae1 d5 24.Re2 Re8 25.Qxb6 Qd6 26.Qb3 Rb8 27.Qc2 Re8 28.Qc1 Nc8 29.Nf3 e5 30.fxe5 Nxe5 31.Nxe5 Rxe5 32.Rxe5 Qxe5 33.Qf4 Qxf4 34.Rxf4 Ne7 35.Rf2 Re6 36.Kf1 Re3 37.Re2 d4 38.Kf2 f4 39.Be4 Kg7 40.Kf1 Nc8 41.Rf2 Nd6 42.cxd4 Nxe4 43.dxe4 Rxe4 44.dxc5 Rc4 45.c6 Rxc6 46.Rxf4 Rc1+ 47.Ke2 Rc2+ 48.Kf3 Rxb2 49.Kg4 Rb4 50.Kf5 Rxf4+ 51.Kxf4 Kg6 52.Kg4 Kg7 53.h5 h6 54.g6 Kf6 55.Kf4 Kg7 56.Ke4 Kf6 57.Kd5 Kg7 58.Kc5. 1–0
A good number of colorful photos (snapped by Betsy Dynako)and more about the blindfold exhibition, the drawing-of-lots setup followed by the 10-person blindfold game, and other festivities can be found in Jennifer Shahade’s article on the USCF website. All of the events were sponsored by the Chess Club and Scholastic Chess Center of St. Louis, founded and funded primarily by Rex Sinquefield, who gave Anna Zatonskih her toughest battle (see Game 5 above).