"Right now, I feel very peaceful as I accomplished the goal of a lifetime."
The Anatoly Karpov International School of Chess in Lindsborg can now add "world record holder" to the credentials of one of its teachers.
Timur Gareyev, chess grandmaster and Uzbekistan native, set a new world record Dec. 3 and 4 by playing 48 games of chess at the same time, while blindfolded. The world record event took place at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas from 8:30 a.m. Dec. 3 to 3:39 p.m. Dec. 4 and was broadcast via live streaming to 20,000 viewers around the world.
For Gareyev, age 28, it's a goal that's taken a lifetime to achieve. He first learned chess from his grandfather and gained support from his parents and neighbors.
"The resources were just there for me," he said.
Gareyev went on to earn the title of Grandmaster, the highest title in chess other than World Champion. However, he wanted to take on the added challenge of playing blindfolded, and doing so better than anyone else.
Breaking a world record would be no easy task. The first blindfold chess record was set by Miguel Najdorf in Brazil in 1947. He played 45 simultaneous blindfolded games and emerged with 39 wins, four draws and two losses.
Mark Lang in Germany set a new record in 2011 after playing 46 simultaneous games, coming out with 25 wins, 19 draws and two losses.
To surpass Lang's record, Gareyev met with memory specialists to develop his ability to remember multiple games at once. He also built up his physical and mental endurance to handle the strain of playing so many games of chess for hours on end.
"I ran two marathon/ultra-marathon distances in the middle of October," Gareyev said. "To sharpen my mind, I exercise meditation and deep breathing — especially empowering during long walks."
Gareyev brings exercise to his games as well, often playing from the seat of a stationary spin bike. He says the physical exercise helps him find the rhythm of the game and improves blood flow to his brain.
"The biggest challenge was to attend to the experience at hand under multitasking and fatigue," Gareyev said. "The true mastery of blindfold chess is the awareness and sharpness of mind, paying attention to what happens in the moment, now. Being alert and aware, the master will avoid lots of mistakes and inaccuracies that may happen otherwise."
An unexpected challenge came up about five hours into his world record attempt, when a transmitter he was wearing to aid in the live streaming was mistaken for a receiver that could be used to get outside help. While the organizers knew it was a transmitter, they were concerned others would raise objections without clarification.
"I was very anxious," Gareyev said. Nevertheless, the situation was clarified, and the world record attempt went on.
While playing blindfolded is no small task, Gareyev said it's more similar to playing with eyes uncovered than some might think.
"Every player exercises the skill of predicting and seeing ahead as to what will happen on the chess board without moving the pieces," he said. "This is the skill inherent to playing a single game of chess, and that is indeed blindfold chess."
Gareyev recalled an occasion when he visited a prison in Iowa and faced eight inmates while blindfolded. After impressing them by winning all eight games, he suggested ways they could practice the game while inside their cells.
"Since they were not allowed to use physical chess sets during their time in the cell, I suggested they exercise simple ways to visualize pieces and their qualities. — say, place the queen on one of the very central squares and count how many squares it covers in each and every direction," he said. "Or imagine a knight maneuvering from one corner to the other — what’s the quickest way?"
The most difficult part of blindfolded chess, Gareyev said, is the opening. Because a lot of opening moves are similar, it can be easy to confuse one chess game for another in the early stages.
"Being able to refine the opening moves I would play as well as my responses to the likely scenarios of how the game would develop was essential. Thus I spent many hours visualizing my strategy," Gareyev said, adding that he practiced how to distinguish similar but slightly different opening scenarios in his mind.
After a day and a half of chess, Gareyev beat Lang's record by two games, winning 35, drawing seven and losing six.
So what's next for the new world record holder?
"At this point I intend to focus on hosting my blindfold events internationally as well as attend to my cool hobbies such as yoga, base jumping, riding motorcycles, all the fun stuff!" he said. "But right now, I feel very peaceful as I accomplished the goal of a lifetime."