At the Foundations Building on the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) campus, beginning on the morning of Saturday, December 3, 2016 and ending in the early morning on Sunday, December 4, 2016, chess Grandmaster (GM) Timur Gareyev set a new world record for blindfold chess games played simultaneously. Many people are familiar with the game of chess, considered by many to be the world’s premier strategy game. But few people have ever witnessed a blindfold simultaneous chess exhibition, and very few people have ever successfully performed one.
Whenever a chess player plays a game of chess without viewing the board, that player is playing blindfold. This is true regardless of whether that person is actually wearing a blindfold or is unable to see the chess board for some other reason. A blindfold chess player makes his or her moves by announcing the moves using chess notation, and he or she “sees” the opponent’s moves by listening to a verbal announcement of the moves (also using chess notation). The blindfold player must maintain a representation of the chess board in his or her mind for the duration of the game, because he or she never actually has the opportunity to look at a physical chess board. Many tournament chess players have the ability to play a game of blindfold chess, and most chess masters can play two or three blindfold games simultaneously. But nobody has ever played 48 blindfold chess games simultaneously, until now!
Timur Gareyev was born in Uzbekistan on March 3, 1988. According to his mother, Anastasia, he showed a great talent for chess at an early age and won many chess tournaments as a young boy. He quickly moved through the ranks of international chess titles, earning the FIDE Master (FM) title in 2003 and the GM title in 2004. In 2005 Timur came to the USA to study at the University of Texas at Brownsville (UTB) and lead the UTB chess team to win its first national championship. He currently has a Federation International des Echecs (FIDE) standard rating of 2618 and a United States Chess Federation (USCF) regular rating of 2703. These ratings currently place him 184th in the world and 11th in the USA among active tournament chess players. These regular ratings are exceptional, but regular chess is not Timur’s greatest strength. Blindfold chess is the discipline in which he truly shines. He has been practicing blindfold chess for years as part of his preparation to set a new world record for simultaneous blindfold play.
The world record event began on the evening of Friday, December 2 with a reception held at the Foundations Building on the UNLV campus. This reception gave GM Gareyev’s opponents the opportunity to meet GM Gareyev and familiarize themselves with the venue. Event organizer Jennifer Vallens and tournament director Tom Brownscombe assigned board numbers for the players at this time. Brownscombe is a USCF certified National Tournament Director and a FIDE licensed National Arbiter.
Between 7 and 7:30 AM on the morning of Saturday, December 3, the players arrived and checked in with Vallens. When they entered the main room, they saw an amazing display. The centerpiece was a stationary bicycle, which GM Gareyev rode throughout most of the event. Gareyev says “Exercising while playing chess not only helps direct blood flow to my brain, but also empowers me with a consistent rhythm of play. Once I get in the rhythm, exercising creates ‘white noise’ vacuum for my thoughts and visualization process to flow.” A U-shaped row of tables with 18 chess boards was placed around the bicycle, and a second row with 30 chess boards was arranged around the first row. Each chess board was numbered and had a sign identifying the player at that board. Each board also had a goodie bag provided by event sponsor Off da Rook. The walls of the room had several flat screen televisions which were displaying photos and videos of GM Gareyev. During my more than 30 years of directing and playing in chess events on three different continents, I have never seen a better chess venue than this outstandingly prepared room.
As players entered the room and took their seats, the chairs started to fill up. But the chairs by the final five chess boards of the second row remained empty. These five boards were reserved for players who were physically located more than a thousand miles away from Las Vegas. These players represented three different continents: North America, South America, and Europe. Included among these internet players were international chess journalist Albert Silver and chess expert Luciano Andrade. Silver is a former chess champion of the city of Rio de Janeiro. He has a current FIDE rating of 2149 and has had a FIDE rating as high as 2240 in the past. At age 92, Andrade was the oldest participant in the event. He has participated in a previous world record setting blindfold simultaneous exhibition conducted by the legendary GM Miguel Najdorf and has a current FIDE rating of 2003. Both Silver and Andrade were representing the nation of Brazil.
After some opening remarks, each of the players introduced themselves. Then GM Gareyev held a short question and answer session. He asked: “Who is the youngest player?” There were two nine year old chess players in the room, but they could hardly be called beginners. Each of these nine year old players has already played in over two dozen USCF sanctioned tournaments, and both of these players have earned a rating above 1000.
Then GM Gareyev put on his mindfold blindfold and began pedaling the bicycle, beginning a world record setting journey that may be the greatest achievement of combined mental and physical performance in the history of the human race. GM Gareyev’s opponents were a very diverse group of men and women and boys and girls. Some were tall, and some were short. Some were young, and some were no longer young. Some were thin, and some were not so thin. The players represented a wide variety of races and ethnic backgrounds, including White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Indian. Many of the players were Las Vegas residents, but there were also quite a few players from other states. At least two players, 1441 rated James Aber of Kansas and 14 year old 1768 rated Turner Gough of Tennessee, traveled more than 1000 kilometers to participate in the event.
The players had a variety of different styles, in both their chess play and their personal appearance. Perhaps the most interesting juxtaposition of personal styles could be seen on boards nine and ten. Andrew McGregor, the founder of the Los Angeles chess boxing club, sported a 1433 chess rating and a black and white chess themed outfit. Meanwhile, on the neighboring board 10, Simone Sobel sported a 1933 rating and a sequined outfit that some observers described as “sparkling”. Although this group of chess players had many differences, they all had two things in common. They all love the game of chess, and they were all thrilled to have the opportunity to take part in this historic event.
As the hours passed, Gareyev began to accumulate victories. The first player to fall to Gareyev’s aggressive, attacking style was 11 year old Titus Lester. Titus was one of the youngest and least experienced players in the field, having played in just 7 rated chess games in just two USCF sanctioned tournaments. So perhaps Gareyev’s ability to checkmate Lester in just ten moves was not a big surprise.
But some observers were surprised that Gareyev managed to quickly defeat one of the most accomplished players in the field, FM Tom Brownscombe. Brownscombe sports a current USCF rating of 2200 and a current FIDE rating of 2149. In the past, his ratings have gone as high as 2351 USCF and 2335 FIDE. Brownscombe’s chess accomplishments include winning the 1985 Maryland high school chess championship, winning two Nevada state chess championships, and winning two Kansas state chess championship titles.
But in his game with Brownscombe, Gareyev demonstrated the difference in strength between a strong Grandmaster and an ordinary master level player. Gareyev offered a pawn sacrifice on move 8, which Brownscombe should have declined. But when Brownscombe played 9. exd, post-game computer assisted analysis shows that Brownscombe’s position immediately went from equal to dead lost against best play. And best play is exactly what Gareyev demonstrated. Gareyev followed up his pawn sacrifice by sacrificing both of his bishops to expose Brownscombe’s castled king to a devastating mating attack, forcing the white king to return to its starting square at e1. After 18 moves Brownscombe had two extra bishops. But he could easily see the upcoming forced mate in 2, so he resigned.
But not every game was going Timur’s way. On move 19 in his game with Tony McCarthy, who is rated 1915, Timur played the horrible blunder 19. Re6, apparently believing that he was capturing McCarthy’s e-pawn. If the black pawn had been on e6, Gareyev’s move would have been a winner. But McCarthy’s pawn was actually on e7, and Gareyev’s rook was trapped. Gareyev struggled on for a few more moves, but he graciously resigned on move 25 in a position in which he was down a rook for just a pawn and no other significant compensation.
By the end of the night, a total of 6 players managed to achieve victory against the Grandmaster: Anthony McCarthy, Marius Lucan, Steven Merwin, Josh Smith, Bjorn Rost, and Shiwani Lyle. Of these six victories, perhaps Lyle’s is the most remarkable. Shiwani Lyle is an 11th grade student at Palo Verde High School in Las Vegas, NV. She has played in 14 USCF sanctioned tournaments, achieving a rating of only 595. I wish I could say that Shiwani played a brilliant game to defeat the Grandmaster. But the truth is that Gareyev apparently lost track of the position in this game, blundering not once, not twice, but three times before resigning the game on move 29.
In the post game interview, Shiwani said that she was adopted at age 7. She then spoke about the difficulty of adjusting to her new home because of her limited English language skills. And she said that she started to play chess in order to be able to connect with other kids in a manner that didn’t require her to speak English. Her English is perfect now, and she certainly connected with a lot of people this weekend!
After approximately 19 hours, Timur had achieved a record of 33 wins, 6 losses, and 6 draws, with three games remaining. On board 32, Ben Tyson, rated 1534, had been struggling to regain equality after losing a pawn in the opening. He finally achieved equality with a knight fork on move 43, simplifying into a completely equal ending of king, knight and two pawns for each player. On move fifty, in a position that appeared to offer few winning chances for either player, Gareyev offered a draw, and Tyson accepted.
And then only two players remained: Matthew Ritesh of California and 1955 rated James Jorasch. Jorasch, who was playing via internet connection from his home in New York, was represented in our physical world by Lennart Ootes and his trusty laptop. Ootes, who describes himself as a creative chess professional, has made a career for himself as a professional chess webmaster, photographer, journalist, live video streamer, and game broadcaster. He worked tirelessly to ensure that all of the games were broadcast live on chess24.com , frequently circling the room to manually input moves from many of the games.
In the final position of the game between GM Gareyev and James Jorasch, Jorasch had material equality in a rook and pawn endgame. But his position was far from equal. Gareyev’s pawns were much further advanced, and Jorasch had no reasonable defense against Gareyev’s combination of mating threats and pawn promotion threats.
Matthew Ritesh was one of the least experienced players participating in the event, having previously played in only one USCF sanctioned tournament. But Ritesh was the last man standing, literally. He was out of his chair, on his feet, staring down at the board, trying desperately to salvage a very bad position. Gareyev had a strong pawn chain that included three advanced, connected, protected passed pawns. Ritesh managed to stop them, but only at the cost of both a bishop and a rook. Ritesh made a futile attempt to advance his remaining two passed pawns. But when Gareyev’s rook captured one and then threatened to capture the other, Ritesh conceded the game.
Gareyev removed his mindfold blindfold and celebrated his world record achievement. He had faced 48 opponents , winning 35 games, drawing 7, and losing only 6, for an overall winning percentage of 80.2%. But the 48 chess players may not have been his greatest challenge. His greatest challenge may have been an overcooked hotdog. The official event food vendor, Joe of Joe’s Magic Foods, burnt one of his hotdogs, setting off the building’s fire alarm. Everyone had to evacuate the building for approximately half an hour while the emergency responders determined that there was no danger.
Timur’s microphone also proved to be quite a challenge. Timur began the event wearing a portable microphone to provide sound for the live broadcast on the blinfoldchess channel on twitch.tv. But one of the players thought that the microphone looked suspicious. So tournament director Tom Brownscombe asked Timur to remove the microphone. Then Brownscombe did an interview with live broadcast host Jay Stallings, explaining that the device that Timur had been wearing was a portable microphone that could not possibly be used to receive any type of signal, run any type of chess software, or be used in any way in any conceivable cheating scheme.
Stallings also conducted interviews throughout the day with a wide variety of people, including event organizer Jennifer Vallens, Marck Cobb, National Master (NM) Ron Gross, Nevada state chess champion FM Elliot Liu, Juan and Sabrina Jauregui, NM Mike Zalozny, Timur’s mom, and many others. The live broadcast also featured several game analysis sessions with Jay Stallings, chess expert Ryan Phillips, FM Tom Brownscombe, and NM Mike Zalozny. Timur would like to thank Ryan Ray, Keith Ray, and all of the other technical staff from Killer Dutch productions for their excellent work. Timur would also like to thank Jennifer Vallens and all of the event sponsors: OFF da ROOK, Dewain Barber, Al Losoff, the San Diego Chess Club, Dwight and Yana Holcomb, Joe’s Magic Foods, Mindfold, Killer Dutch, Coach Jay’s Chess Academy, the Las Vegas Chess Center, Chessbase, Play Chess, Karpov ICIM, the UNLV Foundation, and Paul Azzurro – Chess on DVD.
You might think that after such an amazing achievement Timur Gareyev might want to rest for a while. But resting is not Timur’s style. He is already talking about trying to break his own record by doing a another blindfold simultaneous exhibition with 50 or more boards, possibly as soon as the spring of 2017. So keep your eyes open for more news from GM Timur Gareyev, the blindfold king!
If you would like to see the games from the event, please visit chess24.com.