Eliot Hearst and John Knott blog about blindfold chess
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).

Marc Lang runs a computer business and is therefore very familiar with various ways of programming computers to handle both simultaneous and successive blindfold events. He decided a few years ago that he would never have the time to try to achieve an IM or GM rating by traveling to one regular tourney after another, but could establish a chess reputation via blindfold exhibitions. Besides, he is very attached to his young family and does not want to be away from them for long periods of time.

Each one of the 60 games Lang played in succession was played on two laptop computers, both connected to the internet. An opponent saw a normal board with pieces on his monitor and he clicked first on the square that indicated where a particular piece was located and next on the square to which he was moving it. As the above photo caption states, this move was transmitted auditorily to Lang’s earphones. Lang’s monitor displayed only an empty board and the times indicated in the next photo.

He also clicked on squares to indicate his replies, which were immediately transmitted to his opponent’s monitor. Lang’s display is virtually the same as that used by competitors in the Amber grandmaster blindfold tourneys over the past 20 years, in which of course both players viewed empty boards and clicked on squares to transmit their moves.

Marc Lang

Left: What Lang saw on his monitor: the empty board, and three time measures (at the bottom the time he had consumed for all his moves, at the top the time his opponent had consumed for all his moves, and in the middle the difference between his and his opponent’s times).

Because Lang’s clock started exactly when his opponent’s move began to be heard, sometimes he would lose a few seconds before the move of his opponent was completely “announced”. Therefore, for each player the exact time limit for a game was a total of five minutes plus a 5-sec time increment for each move made – the Fischer method applied to blindfold rapid chess!

The exhibition (held in Sontheim, Germany) began at 1 PM on July 16, 2011 and ended at 3 AM on July 17. There were a few short breaks between groups of games during the display’s 14-hr duration. The opposition was quite strong, its approximate average USCF rating being 1750 (8 unrated players and the other 52 ranging from 920 to 2370). Lang’ score was better than he expected to achieve: 45 wins, 11 draws, and 4 losses, a wining percentage of 84%. He was White in 31 of the games and Black in the other 29, with these colors alternating from one game to the next, with three exceptions.

Marc Lang

Left: The arrangement showing an actual game in progress between Lang and Andreas Weitz, his strongest opponent (approximate USCF rating 2370). The game ended in a draw.

Lang wrote to me that he thought of his achievement not so much as setting a new “world record” as just plain fun! He added that he “didn’t like the empty board at all and found out that it was best for me to play by looking on the board as if it was far away, so that it turned dizzy in my view. Otherwise it simply distracted me as it is much different from the board I see in my head”. He did not have any empty board available in his simultaneous exhibitions, although there was a tiny chessboard icon at the top of the computer monitor he viewed. In that situation he states that he never even looked at the icon.

In this connection it is interesting that Koltanowski claimed the Amber tourneys were not really blindfold chess because all participants had an empty board on their computer monitor. Just as for Lang, they clicked on it to input their moves. I recall that when I watched the 2008 Amber tourney in Nice, France, many players did not stare straight ahead at the monitor while deciding on their moves but looked up in the air or (for Ivanchuk) out at the audience! Reuben Fine maintained that having an empty board available during simultaneous blindfold displays was more a hindrance than a help and he never allowed one to be displayed after his first exhibition of that sort. Still, some critics argue that Kolty was correct in insisting that no chessboard, large or small, should be available during a blindfold event, even if there is little or no evidence that the exhibitor paid attention to it in calculating moves. Lang has promised that there will be no chessboards, large or small, visible to him when he attempts to break the world simultaneous record by playing 46 without sight in November. He has even joked that that no one wearing a checkered shirt or sweater will be allowed to attend that exhibition.

Congratulations to Lang on his fine performance in the recent successive-blindfold-games display and we wish him luck in his forthcoming attempt to break the more important and difficult simultaneous-blindfold-games world record later this year.

Readers are directed to two German websites, the first covering details of his 60-board consecutive display and giving the names and German ratings of all 60 opponents as well as the outcomes of each game, and the second providing many photos from the event, including the three included in this blog.



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