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Moro & Anand Win Amber 06

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Melody Amber is over in Monaco. Anand dominated the rapid, as usual. Moro dominated the blindfold, as usual. The Russian obviously has a special gift for visualization, and/or his unorthodox brand of play is even harder to deal with when his opponents can't see the pieces. Anyone who has ever played blindfold knows that it's more difficult when your opponent makes unusual moves, even if they are bad. (Not that Moro's are, of course.)

I once played a few blindfold games against a friend's 11-year-old, who had only been playing for a year. The nearly random moves in the opening, but without hanging anything, made the position harder to keep track of than going through a GM game! Kramnik was also always particularly good at the blindfold in Monaco, and his play is hardly unorthodox. I went over some historic blindfold tidbits in an article on Amber a few years ago.

I've long pushed visualization exercises for students, especially in White Belt. (Some samples here.) Of course they help for practical play, but they also help you get a lot more out of your printed chess materials. Most players end up jumping from diagram to diagram when they read, rarely bothering to set up a board. The prevalence of chess software for going over games is a mixed blessing. It's incredibly handy, irresistibly so. But when you see every single move, main line and subvariations, you don't have to visualize anything. If you wonder how a variation will work out, it's too easy to just zip through it, probably with an engine running at the same time to make sure you don't use your brain at all.


Blindfold Simul Champion George Koltanowski used to say that oddball moves were EASIER for him to remember and that they actually aided him in distinguishing between the many boards.

In Edinburgh 1937, Koltanowski played 34 boards blindfold scoring +24 =10 in 13.5 hours. This record is still recognized by many as the official record because strict monitoring of the effort was made which was not the case in other efforts such as that by Najdorf a few years later. At Chicago in 1933, World Champion Alexander Alekhine had played 32 blindfold games simultaneously scoring +19 =9 -4.

I saw IGM Nick DeFirmian conduct a 2 or 3 board blindfold simul at the recent US Championship's Chess Festival. He told me that IGM Larry Christiansen is excellent at blindfold simuls.

Up to how many boards do you think a top chessplayer of today could play simultaneously blindfolded without falling apart at remembering the boards? Could they even approach Alekhine's and Koltanowski's 30+ boards?

Christiansen has also commented on the tricky nature of facing weak players who play strange moves. It screws up all the pattern recognition we're used to using.

There's a talent factor, but regular practice no doubt makes a big difference, just like doing it on one board. I see no reason to doubt most GMs could work their way up to playing 20 boards competently, if perhaps not with the virtuosity of Koltanowski and Alekhine. Since it's out of fashion we'll never discover the best blindfold players these days.

Chess master Roy Ervin, who may or may not still be alive - there are various stories about him - was able to play a half-dozen players blindfolded at the Santa Monica Pier chess area back in the early '80s. The positions got real weird and unorthodox. But Roy never made a mistake and won all the games (a couple lasting over 60 moves). Afterwards, he remembered all 6 games, move for move, and provided an analysis for the players. Amazingly, he performed the analysis blindfolded as well!

On a related topic:
My father is blind and has played chess for the 30+ years since he lost his sight in an industrial accident. Does anyone know what the highest rating achieved by a blind player is/was? I've had the opportunity to watch a lot of blind players, and some of them are quite good, especially when you consider that those who are totally blind (not just legally)have few training methods other than OTB play since most chess books are not published on tape/cd, and the diagrams would be useless anyway.
Going to tournaments with my father to play his "second board" (he uses a braile board, while I would sit across the regular board from his opponent)is how I learned notation and my first opening moves long before I ever played in a tournament myself.


The US Braille Chess Association could probably tell you. (They're the group recognized by the USCF, and help organize the US blind chess championship). They have a monthly magazine on audio and a lending library of quite a few chess books on audio cassette. There are also some published commercially in braille.


There is also a monthly chess magazine from England published in Braille.

By the way, as you may already know, Helen Keller played chess, but just socially.


Helen Keller had been a leading contender for the "U.S. Blind Women's Championship" until Duif's protests shut down that event.


I remember the name E. Schuyler Jackson as being a famous blind American player. International master Tim Taylor used to work with blind players--in US Amateur Team Championships, he would accompany a team of blind players, I think as a coach.

Kramnik said in an interview that the could be going over a position in his head, blindfolded, while carrying on a normal, non-chess conversation with someone. I find that fascinating. To be so imbued with chess!

Julian, I may be wrong and thinking of someone else. If so, I apologize ahead of time, but I believe that Roy Ervin committed suicide some time in the middle-to-late eighties. I might add for the sake of clarification, that my reply has nothing to do with April Fools.

Here's my blindfold chess page.


"More than what you wanted to know."

Curiously, although I took part in only a few California / Nevada tournaments, I played Roy Ervin three times. We never discussed blindfold chess, though.

My take on Morozevich's blindfold games at Amber is that he toned down the strategical thought, making simple, active, aggressive moves, saving vital clock time to concentrate on tactics. It worked like a hoover.

i tried hard in google and accoona to find out if Roy Ervin died. I found he was born in Jan 1951, so he would still be fairly young. I did not find anything on his death.

but I could have worked harder at it. maybe someone knows a better way to ask questions of google and accoona.

Suicide is a very serious thing and I dont think we should be saying that unless we first check it out. it should not be posted so lightly and then walk away. what if I were to post on the internet that I think you committed suicide. you would be upset. we need to be more careful here.

I wish I could have found something. Hopefully someone who knows how to search will find something.

Here's my blindfold chess page.


"More than what you wanted to know."

Curiously, although I took part in only a few California / Nevada tournaments, I played Roy Ervin three times. We never discussed blindfold chess, though.

My take on Morozevich's blindfold games at Amber is that he toned down the strategical thought, making simple, active, aggressive moves, saving vital clock time to concentrate on tactics. It worked like a hoover.


Before I start receiving the love everybody ad nauseum routine, did you take the time to read my SHORT post in its entirety. Don't even begin to imply that I don't take suicide seriously.

No, I wouldn't be upset if you were to post that information about me. I would let you know that you were misinformed, just as I hope someone will for me if I'm incorrect. If I were taking it lightly, I doubt if I would be apologizing ahead of time and making it clear that my intention to JULIAN was serious about what I posted.

You know, for someone that constantly preaches peace, love and sugar coated candy, you certainly have a penchant for controversy.

The read question is: how would we all react if Tommy announced that HE had committed suicide? I don't think anyone could survive such news. It'd look like Jonestown around here.


I believe that the world blindfold champion is Leo Williams. He played 27 simultaneously. Does any living person have more?

Didn't Najdorf once hold the blindfold record at something like 36 games?


Najdorf holds the record at 45 games set in 1947. As Jonathan indicated, the current live record holder is Leo Williams at 27 games.

Regarding Koltanowski's 34 board effort and Najdorf's later "record"...

In "Mechanics' Institute Chess Room Newsletter"
Newsletter #288, 03/21/2006 .
By IM John Donaldson.

IM Donaldson cites NM Tom Dorsch:
"His (Koltanowski's) claim to the world's blindfold title was a good one. The two events that claim to have "broken" the title, the one by Najdorf in Argentina and the one by Fleisch in Hungary, were scrupulously researched by Kolty. It turns out that Najdorf was allowed to record moves, and that a number of Fleisch's opponents resigned immediately. Kolty's effort in Edinborough, 34 boards on his 34th birthday, was quite legitimate, although it must be admitted that the strength of his opposition was very weak compared to the opponents of Alekhine when he played 32 boards. But the feat of memory was indeed exceptional, and the fact that nobody else has tried it since testifies to the level of difficulty."

REPLY TO CHESSTRAVELER AND TOMMY REGARDING ROY ERVIN. It was widely reported by word of mouth that Roy did in fact commit suicide in the mid-80s. There was even a "Roy Ervin Memorial" tournament in San Francisco. I knew Roy personally, and know a number of people who knew him. One of those people is a prominent (now inactive) master who has a lot of credibility with me. This is double hearsay, I know, but he told me that somebody he knows had seen Roy subsequent to the Memorial tournament, playing chess under a pseudonym with a "B" rating. Roy was kind of a legend around Santa Monica, an extraordinary talent. He had psychological problems that were no secret. He played at Lone Pine. On his good days, he was an awesome force over the board. He played skittles games at the Santa Monica Pier with a number of powerful GMs (including Balashov and Seirawan) who would pass through en route from LAX to Lone Pine. Roy held his own against them in 5-minute games.


I didn't know him personally, but I did observe his mental decline over a period of time at tournaments in the Bay Area. At one tournament in Berkeley I was playing a few boards down from him; when it was his move he would sit quietly and concentrate, when it was his opponents move he would pace up and down the isles talking to himself and the voices we believe he was hearing. It was disconcerting and sad, but the tournament directors and player's were accepting of his illness. It must have been a year or so later that I heard of his (alleged) suicide.

I met Roy Ervin in 1972 on the pier when I was spending the summer bumming around California right before beginning my freshman year of college. Oddly, I don't recall playing any chess games with him. All I remember is that some months later, I made an adulatory reference to him in a poem I wrote about various characters I had met haunting the Santa Monica pier.

A couple of years later I was shocked to read that, after a late-round loss knocked him out of first place in some big tournament (the American Open?), he attempted suicide right there in the hotel. Evidently he survived that attempt; I did hear his name pop up sporadically after that.

USCF has an Obituaries archive, which I check from time to time. Don't know if he's on it.

While we're on the subject, similar stories surround someone I did know very well (who in fact I once considered my closest personal friend) - Peter Winston.

Peter was only 20 or so when he disappeared in 1978, and as a chess player he wasn't quite in Ervin's league, although he did play in the World Junior Championship one year after tying for first in the U.S. Junior Invitational with Larry Christiansen.

A related mini-story that pops into mind from time to time involved Winston and yet another star-crossed chessplayer: the late Tony Miles.

They met at that World Junior (it must have been 1974) and did not hit it off. Miles, who I understand was an acerbic wit (which he later used to great effect in skewering Anatoly Karpov in print after Karpov had misrepresented his personal record against Tony), said something cruel to Peter, who was only 15 or 16 and was doing poorly in his first international event. I can still hear Peter mimicking Miles' English accent as he said: "Everyone's l-a-www-fing at you."

Yeah, this is altogether too dark for this time of year. I better shut up.

Peter Winston's disappearance is the subject of an item in Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia (www.wikipedia.org). He is listed there as missing and presumed dead. Wikipedia lists one interpretation as to his disappearance, but other explanations have been suggested.

Either way, the event was a tragedy. He was a good person, very thoughtful and intelligent, who certainly did not deserve to lose his life at such an early age.

About Roy C Ervin (discussed in April 2006): the Social Security Death List gives a Roy C Ervin
(born Jan 1951) as dying in Red Bluff, CA, in
Nov. 2001. "Our" Roy C Ervin? The age is about right.

On the blindfold thing, Tony Miles played 20 and declared it trivial. Which frankly, I'm sure it is. I'd have thought the top guys could do 100 if they could be bothered.

maybe trivial for Tony Miles, one of the most talented chess players in history. Not for everybody. And yes, I've heard your pub blindfold simul story before..

Obviously not trivial for everyone: setting world records isn't. But the point is that 34 is not at all an impressive world record and does not represent anything remotely like the limit of human achievement in this field. I wonder what Tony Buzan or other memory experts could do if they gave it even a week's practice - subject of course to their presumably limited chess abilities.

I must just tip my hat to the understated irony of the poster above who spoke of Koltanowski's 'scrupulous research'. Obviously a fan of Edward Winter's.

There's a serious flaw in thinking that "memory experts" presumably from outside the chess world would have a leg up (even ignoring results of their games, of course).

I'm referring to the classic research (was it Newell & Simon?) that demonstrated the importance of "chunking" in chess memory. Although their focus wasn't blindfold play, it seems obviously applicable: strong chess players are in effect using "virtual memory" or some such shortcut to magnify their brain's data storage capacity, by organizing positions into familiar patterns.

My guess is this ability would carry them further than whatever techniques the non-chess "memory experts" might employ to help them remember lots of positions simultaneously.

Jon, memory experts use chunks and patterns as well, it's just that with chess positions they don't have such effective patterns that a strong player has.

Playing a Chess960 blind simul for example would be an interesting comparison between the two groups.

The focus of researches by Simon et al. was not to examine how memory works in chess, but to use chess as a tool to demonstrate how memory works in general.

rdh, you have to explain for the benefit of us who are more scrofulous with their knowledge of chess history the significance of your scrupulous comment.

Try googling Edward Winter + Koltanowski. Or go to Chessnotes.com, or whatever EW's site's called.

Let's just say Kolty was a raconteur rather than a historian.


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