On the night of Wednesday 12 April 2017, anybody passing by the Strangers Room in the Reform, who had innocently popped their head around the door, would have been treated to a somewhat surreal site of a young man sitting on a chair cycling on a desk bike, blindfolded, munching at bananas, endeavouring to drink water without spillage and calling out ab-struse remarks like “c7c5”.
It might not require Sherlock Holmes to deduce that this gifted chap Grandmaster Timur Gareyev was conducting a simultaneous blindfold chess exhibition. After all, around him in a circle of desks arranged rather like a series of cowboy wagons under siege by native Americans were 10 suited gentlemen pondering hard with chess boards in front of them.
GM Gareyev is the Guinness world champion at blindfold chess, having taken on an extraordinary 48 players simultaneously on December 4, 2016.
It was back in 2013, that the head of the Reform Club chess circle Teddy Bourne and myself first discussed the idea of having a blindfold simultaneous exhibition at The Reform. We had a couple of false starts, when it looked all set for a match to take place only for some bureaucratic snag to raise its ugly head to scupper our plans.
Fortunately, we persevered, and rather like a chess player who initially had seen a mate in sight only to be thwarted by a devilish resource from his opponent, we all regrouped to get the job done.
It didn’t just require our own persistence. Mr Gareyev himself relentlessly pursued the idea, and we should not forget the patience of The Reform banqueting department who having had the inconvenience of a couple of cancellations were kind enough to bear with us and in the end their patience bore fruit.
We should be grateful also to Mr Nevil Chan, who stepped in at the last minute to be the grandmaster’s ‘eyes and ears’. As Mr Gareyev could not, of course, see any of the boards it was Nevil’s job, which he conducted expertly, to call out each player’s moves and play the GM’s on the board. Meanwhile in an added element of spice he also had to be very aware of the respective clock times and prioritise accordingly.
I should explain. Most simultaneous chess exhibitions are, of course, played sighted, but they are also usually based on the grandmaster playing his move and then expecting an instantaneous response from his opponents when he next reaches the board. This makes it much harder for his opponents, particularly when several of the games have finished and the GM comes around pretty quickly.
In a particularly sporting gesture Timur Gareyev insisted that we played with clocks and this, of course, allowed his opponents much more flexibility to take time over their moves.
Additionally, he played alternately as black and white, whereas most GMs insist on having the advantage of playing white throughout.
No doubt if you have read thus far, you are probably itching to know the match score! After all, if the GM lost all the games it makes his achievement a tad less impressive.
The upshot in this case was, however, that he won 9 games, drew just one and had no losses!
On top of all this, Mr Gareyev proved to be a thoroughly friendly chap, who took time before and after his feat to chat convivially with all those there, spectators included.
An inspirational character indeed.
For those wanting to know more about the event, I would direct them to a short video of the event posted on YouTube: https://youtu.be/BdL6fsTAAHk
As well as these links to his drawn game with Peter Evans and his victory over Richard Saldanha.
http://chessmicrobase.com/g/9y93n6br (notes by Peter Evans)
http://chessmicrobase.com/g/5vfgy10s (notes by Prof Martin Hazelton)
For the record his opponents were: Konstantin Yelin, Peter Evans, Richard Saunders, Mark Glover, Danny Rosenbaum (all Reform), Adam Lux (applying to The Reform); Sheldon Marshall and Henry McWatters (both RAC); David Openshaw (Roehampton); and Richard Saldanha (Oxford & Cambridge).