FIDE master Marc Lang, who set a new German record of 23 simultaneous blindfold games last November, has announced that he will attempt something especially spectacular next year: to beat the long-standing world record of 45 games, set over 60 years ago by Grandmaster Miguel Najdorf in São Paulo, Brazil in 1947. Fans of this website will recall that we located Najdorf’s only surviving opponent from that exhibition and he contributed his memories of that event for a blog we posted last April 11. Check our list of blogs if you would like to read it over. In another blog (June 28, 2009) we noted that Lang had recently played 15 simultaneous blindfold games and was going to try to surpass the German record of 22, set by British GM Anthony Miles in Roetgen in 1984. Lang kept his promise and took on 23 last November 21. We are hoping he can keep his new promise and in 2011 successfully achieve a new world record of 46, earning himself a distinctive place in chess history.
Since no one has apparently played more than 26 simultaneous blindfold games since 1993, when Hans Jung of Canada played that many, Lang will be taking quite a leap forward and doubling the number of games he handled in his 23-board display. The 23-board display has not received adequate coverage in the non-German chess media and Lang was kind enough to send us more material about that exhibition, including a selection of games and a few photographs. We devote this blog mainly to his play in that event and will let you ponder whether he will be able to accomplish his goal of 46 games next year.
Lang, 40 and married with two young children, is a self-employed computer programmer and antique dealer, too busy with his business and family to play chess professionally. He lives in Günzburg, 60 miles west of Munich in Bavaria, and keeps up with chess by reading many relevant books and magazines without any chessboard available, in his bed or bathroom. Lang has remarked that “blindfold is just like I’m used to studying chess”.
When giving blindfold displays,which he had done several times before setting the new German record, he reports that he does not visualize boards and pieces, but only “spots” and “functions”. “For instance, I know there is something called a rook on a1 and I know where it can move to from there in that particular position. That’s all. There are no colors, no shapes, nothing. When I was younger, I used to see the board with yellow and black squares, but now even that is gone”. This account of “abstract” rather than “concrete” visualization is typical of what experienced blindfold masters of the past have reported; there is much discussion of this counter-intuitive finding in the Hearst-Knott book.
It’s time to concentrate on Lang’s German record-setting display in Ditzingen, a small town near Stuttgart. As in his last previous blindfold exhibition against 15 opponents, the physical arrangement for the 23-board performance was different from virtually all serious displays over past centuries. Lang did not want to be blindfolded, sit with his back to the players, or be located in a separate room or cubicle; he preferred to face the players and chat with them as the event progressed. So cardboard barriers (DHL postal-service yellow plastic boxes) were placed in front of each opponent’s chessboard . This prevented him from seeing the chess positions but enabled him to see his opponents’ faces and converse with them as they announced their moves. He thinks this arrangement permits him to more easily keep the various games separate in his memory because he can associate a face and a voice with a particular game. The below photograph shows the setup at the start of the exhibition.
His opponents’ ratings ranged from about 1200-2300, according to the USCF system. He had found in earlier displays that he did not play so well when he opened with moves he would not normally play himself, like 1.b3 or 1.b4. At Ditzingen he played only c4, d4, e4, or Nf3 as his first move on successive boards, starting with c4 on Board 1, d4 on Board 2, and so on. He subsequently chose different variations when his opponents’ answered these first moves similarly, to help keep separate games distinctive. He plans a more detailed and well-rehearsed system of opening play when he takes on 46 players next year. Perhaps he will take the Black pieces in some game numbers, as Najdorf did to keep each of the three sets of 15 games separate in his memory (described in our book, he took Black on the 13th and 14th games in each set of 15, and played an unusual move on the 15th board in each set).
After 3 hours of play the score was 2.5-0.5 in Lang’s favor and he was wondering whether the exhibition might last until midnight (it had started at10:30 AM). But the different positions were quite clear in his mind after 2 hours; before that he occasionally had to replay some games mentally to order to get to the correct current position.
Around the 7th hour of play he began to “grow very, very tired”, even though all the individual positions were still clear in his mind. So he decided to use a tactic tried by the teams of Germany and Austria when they faced each other at the soccer World Cup matches in Spain in 1982. Germany needed a win to get to the next round and Austria had to avoid a loss by two or more goals. After Germany went ahead 1-0 both teams stopped playing seriously for the rest of the game. They just passed the ball back and forth, without attempting to score. So Lang decided merely to make moves without too much purpose, to gain a draw in the even games or worse positions and then to concentrate on the games where he had a definite advantage. The exhibition ended after about 11 hours of play at 10 PM. A few hours before then he had recovered his alertness and motivation and he gained 4 1/2 points from the last 5 games. Perhaps he was also sustained by the snacks that his wife had provided for him in a special snack bag she had given him for good luck, as well the thermos and bottles of various liquids he kept in front of him. The table in front of him is shown in the below photograph.
Lang ended up winning 9 games, losing only 2, and drawing 12 for a score of 15-8 (65.2%). At the end he said to himself “Never again!”. But soon his attitude changed and now he plans to beat Najdorf’s 45-board record by playing 46 on 4/6/2011; note that the date corresponds to the number of boards he will play (in Europe the day precedes the month, so the official date will be June 4, 2011). He intends to limit the strength of his opponents to around 1800 USCF because he figures his own rating will decrease by considerably more than 400 points when he takes on so many opponents. He will practice during the next year by playing 30-35 opponents at once. Because it is so difficult to gather so many players together for such long sessions, he has the idea of playing 35 computer games at once! As a computer expert, he says he can easily organize this kind of arrangement (he has 6 computers at home and each computer can host several games, with maximum ratings set around 1800). He will only need one or two friends to handle the transmission of moves back and forth. An ingenious way to prepare for setting a world record…
We conclude by presenting two nice games from Lang’s 23-board display that set a new German record for number of simultaneous blindfold games:
M. Lang - M. Schmidt
Ditzingen, Germany, November 21, 2009; Board 22 (of 23); French Defense; CO2
1.e4 e6 2.d4 d5 3.e5 c5 4.c3 Qb6 5.Nf3 Bd7 6.Be2 Bb5 7.c4 Bxc4 8.Bxc4 Qb4+ 9.Nbd2 dxc4 10.0–0 cxd4 11.Nxd4 c3 12.bxc3 Qxc3
13.Nb5! Qc6 14.Qa4 Nd7 15.Ne4 a6 16.Ned6+ Bxd6 17.Nxd6+ Kf8 18.Qf4 f6 19.Ba3 Nxe5 20.Nc4+. 1–0
M. Lang - O. Schömbs
Ditzingen, Germany, November 21, 2009; Board 20 (of 23); Irregular Opening; A00
1.Nf3 Nf6 2.Nc3 d6 3.e4 Nbd7 4.d4 g6 5.Bc4 Bg7 6.Bxf7+ Kxf7 7.Ng5+ Kg8 8.Ne6 Qe8 9.Nxc7 Qd8 10.Nxa8 Nf8 11.e5 Ne8 12.0–0 Bd7 13.Bg5 h6 14.Bh4 dxe5 15.dxe5 g5 16.Bg3 Qxa8 17.f4 Bc6 18.f5 b5 19.Qe2 Qb7 20.Rae1 h5 21.h3 Nd7 22.a3 a5 23.b4 axb4 24.axb4 Qa7+ 25.Kh1 Qa3 26.Qe3 Qa8 27.Re2 h4 28.Bh2 g4 29.f6 exf6 30.exf6 Nexf6 31.Qe6+ Kh7 32.Qf5+ Kg8 33.Qe6+ Kh7
34.Nxb5! gxh3 35.Qxh3 Ne4 36.Qf5+ Kg8 37.Qf7+ Kh7 38.Nc7 Qf8 39.Qh5+ Kg8 40.Rxf8+ Bxf8 41.Qg4+ Bg7 42.Rxe4. 1–0