Eliot Hearst and John Knott blog about blindfold chess
Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Working Together: The World’s Two Best Blindfold Players Succeed in a “Tandem” Simultaneous Display

Most of you have probably witnessed a regular simultaneous display given by one person and you understand exactly how it is conducted. To be sure you know the details of such an arrangement an example may be useful. At the start of, say, a 20-board “simul” the exhibitor walks successively from Board 1 to Board 20, usually taking White and making the first move in each game. Then he returns to Board 1 and answers each opponent’s reply in succession. This general procedure continues as various games are finished. On the other hand, in a standard tandem display (also known as “leapfrog chess” or “piggy-back chess”) two exhibitors alternate moves so that after one exhibitor completes his moves on all boards the second exhibitor takes over and plays the next move on every board. Then the first player takes over again on all boards, followed by the second player on all boards, and so forth as the number of games in progress of course diminishes due to wins, draws, or (heaven forbid) losses by the partnership. The partners are never allowed to consult with each other, except when a decision has to be made about whether to accept or offer a draw, or to resign. The important point is that neither player ever makes two successive moves in any game.

Over the centuries there have apparently been only two recorded examples of a blindfold exhibition conducted in this way, because few strong blindfold players have had another strong blindfold player available or willing to play by such a method: Not only do you have to recall your own and your opponents’ moves , but also to recall the moves of your partner as well as to discern and try to cooperate — if possible, acceptable and clear to you — with the plan or threats your partner intended by his last move or series of moves.

Both these previous recorded attempts at tandem blindfold chess occurred in 1934, more than 80 years before the one to be described shortly in this blog post, in 2015 by Timur Gareyev and Marc Lang. Each of the two earlier ones involved the regular and blindfold world champion, Alexander Alekhine, whom most chess historians and blindfold experts consider the strongest ever individual blindfold player (I agree). Early in 1934 Alekhine teamed with Dutch chessmaster Salo Landau (1903-1944) in Rotterdam to play six pairs of strong consulting opponents who of course had regular boards and pieces in front of them. The Alekhine-Landau duo scored 2 wins, 3 losses, and 1 draw — nothing to boast about.

A few weeks later, Alekhine convinced the immediately previous world blindfold champion to partner with him. This master was George Koltanowski, who played 30 games at once by himself in 1931, only to be eclipsed by Alekhine’s 32 in 1933; later Koltanowski recaptured the world blindfold championship by playing 34 in 1937. The two of them conducted a tandem display in Antwerp against six teams, each consisting of four very strong players who could consult about move selection. Alekhine stated that he considered Koltanowski at that time to be the second best blindfold player in the world, after him of course. Koltanowski has written about his apprehension in combining forces with the great Alekhine and said after the exhibition that he was much more tired than if he had played 30 regular simultaneous blindfold games! Together they scored quite well, winning 3, losing 1, and drawing 2. All six games are given in our book (Games 326-331).

Now direct your attention to the only recent “tandem” display, one in which simultaneous blindfold champion FM Marc Lang of Germany, who holds the current world record for number of blindfold games played at once by an individual (46 in 2011), teamed up with GM Timur Gareyev of the U.S., who has been giving many blindfold displays here and overseas and hopes to break Lang’s record by playing 50 opponents at once by himself in Chicago in 2016. Despite the fact that they are strong competitors for the individual world record and their styles of play differ, could they get along well enough to work together and handle a tandem blindfold exhibition? Gareyev is a young, unconventional grandmaster, whose clothes, hair, and general personality make him stand out in a crowd, whereas Lang is a hard-working family man with a very successful computer business and a chess title of FIDE master (he has concentrated on blindfold chess because his family and business have prevented his traveling around to major tournaments to gain an IM or GM title; his blindfold displays have all been conducted near where he lives). And they met each other only a few days before giving their exhibition in Sontheim, Germany last July 31! Gareyev could meet Lang in person at that time since Gareyev occasionally visits his married sister who lives only a few minutes away from Lang’s hometown of Günzburg. Both Gareyev and his sister are originally from Uzbekistan. Gareyev is 27 years old and Lang 45.

They decided to play 7 opponents in their exhibition, one more than in Alekhine’s two tandem displays. The display started around 7 pm and lasted until shortly after midnight, with two 5-minute breaks. Note that they took the black pieces in one game. As is fairly typical in blindfold play the games were not very complicated tactical struggles and “safety-first” was a general guiding principle. All the game scores are supplied at the end of this article and you can decide whether my description is accurate. Neither Lang nor Gareyev made any illegal moves or major blunders. They won 5 and drew 2 of the games against their opponents, all of whom were members of Lang’s home club and whose FIDE ratings averaged a little over 1600, ranging from 1144 to 2109 (you can add about 200-250 points to convert these numbers to USCF ratings).

Lang writes that this was “the very first time” he has played with an actual blindfold. Previously, when conducting a blindfold exhibition by himself (including the times when he set European and world simultaneous records) he used a computer setup where he could type in his moves and receive his opponents’ replies on the monitor facing him. In that kind of arrangement he could see his opponents in the distance and chat with them, but the actual boards and pieces in front of his opponents were barricaded by cardboard blocks so he could not see the positions. Of course on the monitor he could see only his opponent’s last move and his reply to that, not the entire game. He writes that he felt uncomfortable using a blindfold and that it prevented his associating positions with faces and names, which helps him to differentiate among games. And he added that he didn’t like sitting in the darkness all the time!

On the other hand, Gareyev has always used a blindfold and asks his opponents to call out their moves to him, as was also the case throughout the tandem display Their different voices help him to differentiate among games. Thus Lang prefers visual cues to aid his performance and Gareyev auditory ones. I should point out that in virtually all individual world record performances before Lang’s the exhibitor either sat with his back to his opponents or was situated in a separate room, and moves were transmitted to him by a referee or set of referees. This arrangement seems to me the “purest” form of simultaneous blindfold play, because the exhibitor has no visual or auditory cues to help him differentiate among games — only the board number.

With respect to the tandem display, Lang’s only regret was that he had to work at his business center the entire day and he became fairly exhausted after the first two hours of play. He wrote me that he considered this “somehow unprofessional”. However, Gareyev was fresh and Lang was still able to concentrate well enough throughout the exhibition to make good moves and avoid any major mistakes.

Gareyev and Lang turned out to like each other very much, enjoyed similar kinds of humorous remarks, and developed great respect for the other’s blindfold ability. They are considering giving more tandem exhibitions and Gareyev hopes to lure Lang to the U.S. for some of them. Lang believes that Gareyev may be able to beat his world record for individual simultaneous blindfold play in his planned exhibition against 50 players in Chicago in 2016. His only reservations about that possibility involve his feeling that Gareyev may not work hard enough beforehand on developing powerful memory systems to differentiate among so many games. He writes that if Gareyev does set a new world record he may well try to play 64 games in 2017 and regain the world record.

Gareyev argued that by playing 7 games they could claim the world record for number of opponents encountered in a tandem display. My opinion is that this claim is somewhat unwarranted because there are so few examples of tandem blindfold play that “records” are not kept for this type of exhibition. A more critical point as to whether their performance constituted a new world record involves the fact that the display did not conform to conventional rules for tandem simultaneous exhibitions, as adhered to by Alekhine and those who have given tandem exhibitions in which neither exhibitor was blindfolded. Gareyev convinced Lang that they should alternate moves not by one player playing all 7 opponents in a row and then the other player taking over for the next 7 moves, etc., — the conventional method — but by actually alternating moves as they played the 7 opponents, that is, for example, Gareyev would move on Board 1, Lang on Board 2, Gareyev on Board 3, Lang on Board 4, etc., up to Gareyev moving on Board 7, and then Lang on Board 1. Unfortunately, this arrangement works whenever an odd number of players remain but not for an even number. To illustrate the problem: After one game was finished, and 6 players were left, this system of alternation forces one exhibitor to make successive moves on Boards 1, 3, and 5 and the other exhibitor successive moves on Boards 2, 4, and 6. A tandem display has always required that no player would ever make successive moves on the same board. Lang and Gareyev realized this quickly after the first game was finished and Lang later said the method was “bad” compared to the more “logical and clean” standard tandem arrangement, but they had to stick to it once play had begun. That is why I have often put quotation marks around the word “tandem” as it applies to this exhibition.

I have not described the games or the arrangement of the playing room in detail because I believe the following six photos and seven game scores will give the reader all that is needed to fill in those kinds of gaps in my presentation and still keep the text of this blog post within reasonable space limits.

Preparing in the kitchen (Gareyev on the left, Lang on the right).


All 7 opponents as play begins.


The setup near the exhibitors. Display boards behind and above them electronically record current positions in all games.


Hard at work.


Near the end of the display.


Afterwards: Gareyev and Lang (front center); 5 opponents in the back row; left front: Marck Cobb, President of the Karpov International School of Chess; right front: Ronald Mayer, Chairman of the Sontheim Chess Club.

All Tandem Games (7)


(1) Timur Gareyev/Marc Lang - Kevin Walter [D79]
1.Nf3 c5 2.g3 g6 3.Bg2 Bg7 4.0–0 Nc6 5.c3 Nf6 6.d4 cxd4 7.cxd4 d5 8.Ne5 0–0 9.Nc3 e6 10.f4 Bd7 11.Be3 Rc8 12.Bf2 Qe7 13.h3 Na5 14.Rc1 b5 15.a3 Nc4 16.Rc2 a5 17.Nb1 Ne4 18.Nxc4 Nxf2 19.Rxf2 bxc4 20.Nc3 Qd6 21.e3 Rb8 22.e4 dxe4 23.Nxe4 Qb6 24.Rxc4 Bb5 25.Rc5 Rfd8 26.Rd2 f5 27.Nf2 Rxd4 28.Rxd4 Qxc5 29.Rd8+ Rxd8 30.Qxd8+ Kf7 31.Qxa5 Bxb2 32.Bf1 Bd4 33.Qxb5 Bxf2+ 34.Kg2 Qxb5 35.Bxb5 ½–½

(2) Jochen Wegener - Timur Gareyev/Marc Lang [A26]
1.c4 g6 2.g3 Bg7 3.Bg2 Nf6 4.Nc3 0–0 5.e4 e5 6.Nge2 Nc6 7.0–0 d6 8.d3 a6 9.h3 Rb8 10.a4 Nd4 11.Be3 Nh5 12.g4 Nxe2+ 13.Nxe2 Nf4 14.Qd2 Nxg2 15.Kxg2 f5 16.f3 Be6 17.Nc3 c6 18.a5 h5 19.exf5 gxf5 20.Bg5 Qe8 21.Bh6 hxg4 22.fxg4 Qg6 23.Bxg7 Kxg7 24.g5 Rbe8 25.h4 Qh5 26.Rh1 f4 27.Ne4 d5 28.Nf6 Rxf6 29.gxf6+ Kxf6 30.Kf2 Qf5 31.Rag1 dxc4 32.dxc4 Bxc4 33.Rg5 Qd3 34.Qxd3 Bxd3 35.Kf3 Bc4 36.Rhg1 Bd5+ 37.Kg4 Be6+ 38.Kf3 Bd5+ 39.Kg4 ½–½

(3) Timur Gareyev/Marc Lang - Francesco Petitto [C18]
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.Nc3 Bb4 4.e5 c5 5.a3 Bxc3+ 6.bxc3 Bd7 7.Qg4 Ne7 8.Qxg7 Rg8 9.Qxh7 Qc7 10.Bd2 Ba4 11.Nf3 cxd4 12.cxd4 Bxc2 13.Bb5+ Kf8 14.Bh6+ Rg7 15.Bxg7# 1–0

(4) Timur Gareyev/Marc Lang - Daniel Walter [D30]
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.d4 d5 3.Bg5 e6 4.c4 c6 5.Qb3 Be7 6.Nc3 b6 7.e3 Nbd7 8.Bd3 dxc4 9.Qxc4 Bb7 10.e4 c5 11.Rd1 0–0 12.0–0 cxd4 13.Qxd4 Nc5 14.Bc2 Qxd4 15.Nxd4 h6 16.Bxf6 Bxf6 17.Rd2 Rad8 18.Rfd1 Bg5 19.Re2 Ba6 20.Ree1 Rd7 21.Nf3 Rxd1 22.Rxd1 Be7 23.b4 Nb7 24.b5 Rc8 25.bxa6 Na5 26.Rd3 Bb4 27.Nb5 Rxc2 28.h4 Bc5 29.Rd2 Rxd2 30.Nxd2 Nc6 31.Nb3 Nb4 32.Nxc5 bxc5 33.Nxa7 Nxa6 34.Kf1 Kf8 35.Ke2 Ke7 36.a3 Kd7 37.Kd3 Kc7 38.Kc4 Kb6 39.Nb5 Kc6 40.h5 g6 41.g4 gxh5 42.gxh5 f6 43.f4 f5 44.e5 Nb8 45.Nd6 Nd7 46.Nc8 Nxe5+ 47.fxe5 f4 48.Nd6 Kb6 49.Ne4 f3 50.Nf2 Kc6 51.a4 Kb6 52.Nd3 Ka5 53.Kxc5 Kxa4 54.Kd6 Kb3 55.Kxe6 Kc3 56.Nf2 Kd2 57.Kf5 Ke3 58.Ng4+ Ke2 59.e6 f2 60.Nxf2 Kxf2 61.e7 1–0

(5) Timur Gareyev/Marc Lang - Bernhard Masur [B01]
1.e4 Nc6 2.Nf3 d5 3.exd5 Qxd5 4.Nc3 Qa5 5.Bb5 Bd7 6.d4 a6 7.Bxc6 Bxc6 8.0–0 Qh5 9.d5 0–0–0 10.Ng5 Qxd1 11.Rxd1 Be8 12.Bf4 Nf6 13.Rd4 h6 14.Nf3 Nh5 15.Be3 g5 16.g4 Nf6 17.h3 Bg7 18.Rad1 Nd7 19.Re4 Bf8 20.Bd4 Nf6 21.Ree1 Rg8 22.Bxf6 exf6 23.Ne4 Be7 24.Ng3 Bd6 25.Nf5 Bf8 26.c4 h5 27.Kg2 Ba4 28.b3 Bd7 29.N3d4 hxg4 30.hxg4 Bb4 31.Re3 Rge8 32.Rh1 Bc5 33.Rxe8 Rxe8 34.Kf3 b5 35.Rh6 bxc4 36.bxc4 Re1 37.Rxf6 Rc1 38.Rxf7 Rxc4 39.Ne6 Bb6 40.Ne7+ Kb7 41.Nd8+ Ka7 42.Ndc6+ Bxc6 43.Nxc6+ Kb7 44.Rf5 Rc3+ 45.Kg2 a5 46.Rxg5 Rc2 47.Rf5 Rxa2 48.g5 Ra4 49.Kf3 Ra2 50.Kg3 Ra1 51.Kg2 Ra4 52.Ne5 Bd4 53.Rf4 Rb4 54.Nc6 1–0

(6) Timur Gareyev/Marc Lang - Jonathan Schmidt [D00]
1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 Bf5 5.f3 exf3 6.Qxf3 Bd7 7.Qxb7 Bc6 8.Bb5 Bxb5 9.Nxb5 Nd5 10.Qxa8 c6 11.Nxa7 Nb4 12.0–0–0 Qb6 13.a3 Na2+ 14.Kd2 Qxb2 15.Ne2 Qb6 16.Nxc6 Qxc6 17.Qxb8+ Kd7 18.Rb1 Qc4 19.Rb7+ Ke6 20.Qe5# 1–0

(7) Timur Gareyev/Marc Lang - Nathanael Hausler [D35]
1.d4 d5 2.c4 c6 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Nf3 e6 5.Bg5 Nbd7 6.cxd5 exd5 7.e3 Be7 8.Bd3 0–0 9.0–0 Nb6 10.Qc2 h6 11.Bh4 Nh5 12.Bxe7 Qxe7 13.Rfe1 Nf6 14.Rab1 Be6 15.b4 Rac8 16.h3 Qc7 17.a4 Rfe8 18.a5 Nbd7 19.Rec1 Qd6 20.Nd2 b6 21.Ba6 Rcd8 22.Ne2 c5 23.bxc5 bxc5 24.Bb5 cxd4 25.Nxd4 Rb8 26.Qc6 Qxc6 27.Nxc6 Rbc8 28.Ne7+ 1–0

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