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 rest his eyes. Later the Hungarian Janos Flesch played 52 games without sight of the board, but his claim unravelled because many opponents resigned after a few moves, and it seemed that Najdorf’s performance would never be approached.
But last month a little-known 41-year-old 2300-rated German master, Marc Lang, toppled the record with 46 games in 21 hours. In previous years Lang set a German record, then broke George Koltanowski’s historic European mark 0f 34 games played at Edinburgh in 1937. Lang spent several months preparing for the world attempt, taking time off from his computer business and seeing little of his family.
During the 21 hours at Sontheim in south Germany Lang sat in the same room as his opponents with a barrier which stopped him seeing his opponents’ boards. He typed his moves on to a computer screen which showed only the latest move played, and at the end scored 75 per cent. Most of his opponents were rated under 1700, weak club standard, but they could all see the board.
All blindfold specialists use techniques to aid memory. Lang divided the games into groups of five, taking the black pieces on every fifth board. He gave each group a theme such as 1 Nc3 or 1 e4 and opened with the theme move in the first and last games of each group.
Past blindfold experts were mostly also great players in normal chess like Alexander Alekhine, Harry Pillsbury and Najdorf, so the question is how a journeyman master could surpass them. Lang may have been helped by typing his moves rather than announcing them verbally, he had 19 draws, while some opponents played feebly as in the two games below. Allowing for this, Najdorf and Alekhine gave more impressive performances – but in world records it is the total number of games that counts. The fact that Najdorf’s landmark could be broken at Lang’s first attempt suggests that the potential human level is higher still, perhaps now sparking interest from other contenders as occurred in the 1920s and 1930s.
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– GM Susan Polgar