07 Dec

Playing A Blinder

Chess is hard enough as it is, but blindfold chess - that is, playing chess without the use of a board and pieces - has always been seen as a bit of a showstopper, mainly a party-piece for the grandmasters who are accustomed to being able to juggle several positions in their heads at the same time. And many blindfold exhibitions in the past have been hailed as being among the world’s greatest intellectual feats.

After 14...Bh3+!

François-André Danican Philidor, the greatest player of the 18th century, amazed the crowds by managing to play (and win) three blindfold games simultaneously in 1783 - an event that made the newspapers of the day. In 1858, Paul Morphy took on eight strong players (scoring six wins and two draws), and the great English master Joseph Henry Blackburne reportedly played up to 16 blindfold games at once.

The intellectual arms race really took off, though, in the 20th century. It all started with America’s Harry Nelson Pillsbury playing 20 blindfold games simultaneously in Philadelphia in 1900 and then Czechoslovak player Richard Reti increased the record. World Champion Alexander Alekhine then took up the blindfold cudgels, culminating in 1934 in Chicago by extending his own record to 32 blindfold games (19 wins, four losses, and nine draws).

When Miguel Najdorf played 45 chess games simultaneously blindfold in São Paulo, Brazil, in 1947 the exhibition took over 23 hours, including an interval for Najdorf to change his perspiration-soaked shirt and to rest his eyes. Later the Hungarian Janos Flesch played 53 games without sight of the board, but his claim unraveled because opponents resigned after a few moves, and it seemed that Najdorf’s performance would never be approached.

But in 2011 a little-known 2300-rated German master Marc Lang, surprisingly topped the record - and with it, immortality in the Guinness Book of Records - with 46 games in 21 hours. Quite a feat, but last weekend at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, the Uzbekistan-born American grandmaster Timur Gareyev took on 48 players in a blindfold simultaneous, which he now hopes will be internationally accepted as the new official record.

It was the culmination of many years preparing to break the record for the self-proclaimed ‘Blindfold King’. Gareyev's blindfold simultaneous ran from Saturday 8:30 a.m. until Sunday 3:39 a.m. There was a half-hour break because of a fire alarm so, in total, his simul lasted 19 hours and 9 minutes.  

Timur Gareyev | © Lennart Ootes

And with the field being of a decent rating strength (from top seed Tom Brownscombe at 2150, with the average rating claimed to be 1700), and all the games starting at the same time, Gareyev turned in an impressive strike-rate of 80 percent, scoring 38.5/48 - all crucial components in order to be officially recognised by the guardians of the records at Guinness.  

Oh, and if you think that was impressive, Gareyev also did his blindfold simultaneous while riding an exercise bike - this additional twist being his own party-piece on the original grandmaster party-piece!

Tom Brownscombe - GM Temur Gareyev
Las Vegas Blindfold Simul
Ruy Lopez, Moeller Defence
1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 a6 4.Ba4 Nf6 5.0-0 Bc5 In the Moeller Defence, Black gets a chance to acquire an active development and fight for the initiative right from the start - and White can go very wrong very quickly, especially if he goes on Ruy Lopez autopilot. 6.Re1? And here, White does! This is a standard Lopez move, but the correct way was 6.c3 with the idea of going for a swift d4 to hit the bishop on c5. But now the die is cast, and Black's attack is simply winning. 6...Ng4! 7.Re2 0-0 8.c3 No better is 8.h3 Nf6 9.c3 d5! and Black has easy and active play. 8...d5! Black's attack is swift and deadly. 9.exd5?! White really has to bail-out here with 9.Bxc6 bxc6 10.d4 Bd6 and accept he has a difficult path ahead, as Black has the more active piece-play with the menacing bishop-pair. 9...e4! 10.dxc6 exf3 11.gxf3 Nxh2! The sacrifice cannot be accepted, so now Black forces home the winning attack - and just look how all of Black's pieces are primed and aimed at the White king. 12.Re5 Taking the knight leads to mate: 12.Kxh2 Qh4+ 13.Kg1 Qg3+ 14.Kh1 (No better is 14.Kf1 Bh3+ 15.Ke1 Qg1#) 14...Qxf3+ 15.Kh2 Bh3 16.Qh1 Bd6+ 17.Re5 Bxe5+ 18.Kg1 Qg4+ 19.Qg2 Qxg2# 12...Qf6 13.Rxc5 Nxf3+ 14.Kg2 Bh3+! 15.Kxh3 Qh4+ 16.Kg2 Qg4+ 17.Kf1 Nh2+ 18.Ke1 Rfe8+ 0-1 


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