Grandmaster Timur Gareev was surrounded by 40 chess boards and opponents.
One by one he made his moves for each game, thinking carefully about what play would be the best option.
And he did it all while sitting blindfolded.
The feat established a U.S. record for the grandmaster, who is ranked third in the country and 76th in the world. The Uzbekistan native resides in San Diego, but was a guest Wednesday at the Anatoly Karpov Chess School in Lindsborg.
“It was incredible,” he said after the matchups. “It was super challenging.”
That says a lot coming from the 25-year-old who has played since age 4 and was the North American Open Chess Champion in 2012, among many other awards.
Gareev visited Lindsborg at the request of Marck Cobb, president of the International Chess Institute of the Midwest. Within the Institute is the Anatoly Karpov Chess School, and instructor Gabriel Purdy.
Purdy has taught 250 students in 15 school programs in Kansas during the past year and encouraged them to attend the matchup. Attendees ranged in age from 7 to 50, but were mostly elementary, middle and high school students.
Also playing Gareev were chess club members from Demidov University Skype.
Tristan Donaldson, 14, of Lindsborg, said the Gareev’s talents provided extra motivation for him.
“When I first heard that, I thought I had a better chance because he wasn’t just focusing on my game,” he said.
“It’s intimidating,” Marleah Mullen, 16, of Wichita North High School, said. “You don’t know what to expect.”
What they soon found was an opponent who could successfully visualize in his head 40 chess boards and the moves of both players. Gareev sat at the center of the room and stated his moves, while Purdy moved the pieces on each board for the students to see. Each student then stated their name, their board number, and their move.
To accomplish the task, Gareev ties the picture of the board to the opponent voices. Using a meditative, focused state, he also lowers his other senses and focuses on auditory sounds. A silent room is needed to do this.
This is much different than a one-on-one game with open eyes. In this scenario, it is always his turn.
“It goes in circles, so there’s no down time to that,” he said. “I can certainly take time to breathe and collect presence of mind for the next game, but there’s still a consistent flow of thought and commitment to the process.”
The appeal, he said, is like a magic trick.
Page 2 of 2 - “That’s the cool part of it,” he said. “It think on a certain level it makes chess more accessible, or maybe more mysterious in a direct way. You can play one game and figure it out, but how do you play that many games?”
The idea to take on this challenge came from a chess camp in Hawaii, where he played 33 opponents blindfolded. This took nine hours.
“As soon as I started playing, I was trying to figure out what was happening on the first couple boards,” he said. “And I was like, ‘What did I get myself into?’”
In Lindsborg, he was only blindfolded for the beginning part of the matchup. He took off the blindfold so he could finish the games sooner to accommodate his younger opponents. Several hours later, he won all 40 games.
“I enjoy the battle,” he said. “I like pushing the limits, so whatever is possible, whatever I’m capable of.”
And although he enjoys it, he plans on taking a break from intense chess for a few months before the end of the year. In November he plans to play 50 opponents blindfolded, and in December he will play 64 — the same number of squares on a chess board.
The current world record is held by German Grandmaster Marc Lang, who played 46 players in Germany in 2011.
Cobb said the event in Lindsborg was organized to be part of Gareev’s training program, but also to use him as a role model for Kansas students. This includes the chessmaster’s discipline of focus and his healthy lifestyle.
“There’s no doubt — I’ve talked to kid after kid — and once they learn to focus on chess, they can focus on math and reading. Once they learn the power of concentration, they can apply it to so many endeavors,” Cobb said. “I’m not trying to get these people to be grandmasters. I’m just trying to get them to find out who they are, where they want to go, and be able to get that focus so they can be an asset to that community.”
Contact Jenae Pauls at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @PaulsSentinel