Reports | October 25, 2010 22:31

Gershon breaks Guinness record with 523-board simul

Geshon breaks Guinness record with 523-board simulAlik Gershon broke the Guinness Simultaneous Chess World Record. Last Thursday the grandmaster from Israel played against 523 chess players in the biggest simul ever, held in Tel-Aviv. The exhibition lasted 18 hours and 30 minutes after which 454 wins, 58 draws and just 11 losses (86% in total) he secured the required 80% norm for the record.

By Yochanan Afek

The toughest record of Alik Gershon

The Guinness record for simultaneous chess was shattered last Thursday in Tel-Aviv when GM Alik Gershon challenged a huge field of 523 players in Rabin square at the very heart of the city. The magnificent exhibition lasted 18 hours and 30 minutes after which 454 wins, 58 draws and just 11 losses (86% in total) secured the required 80% norm to make it the new official Guinness record by the representatives of the international prestigious establishment who attended and controlled the event. His remarkable achievement is an improvement on the former record of the Iranian GM Morteza Mahjoob who played last summer in Teheran against 500 opponents.

Gershon (30), twice world junior champion at the time and once Israeli champion trained for more than two months in order to be fit for the long journey around the square in the never ending 30 degrees Celsius plus highly humid summer of Tel-Aviv. It should be stressed that he had never had the slightest doubt that he would eventually get into the Guinness book “either as the record breaker or as the first person to drop dead while giving a simul…” he said in an interview just before the start.

The level was quite high with a representation of virtually all ages: the youngest was 5, and the oldest 84, who held on until the last hour. No less than 300 out of the 523 opponents to start the great show last Thursday at 11.30 AM were students of the Shevahch-Mofet chess academy, directed by GM Boris Alterman who also acted, together with the renowned organizer Rami Tal, as the director of the entire event. Amongst the other participants were also Israeli Arab chess players (from the chess school in the town of Tira) as well as Palestinian enthusiasts from nearby East Jerusalem. A special bus brought in a large group of former Russian veteran players who proved a hard nut to crack. Jonathan Amir (15) was the first chess academy student to beat the challenger and cash in the promised studies scholarship of 10,000 Shekels (approx. 2000 Euros). His school mate, 13-year-old Darya Tzubulski, was the last survivor on Friday at 6.00 A.M.!

'What now?' was the exhausted Alik asked by Arie Golan, a leading radio interviewer right after the great show: “I am going to break another record,” he was quoted replying in all morning news editions, “the Guinness record for… sleeping!”

“It was, in fact, a much more difficult effort than I imagined, and I realized it when I actually saw the 523 boards for the first time,” said Alik. “Even now, after some 7 hours of sleep , I woke up to eat something, and I am going back to catch some more rest, I am still pretty tired.”

Alik Gershon and Nathan Sharansky

Alik Gershon and Nathan Sharansky

Despite his immense tiredness the new record holder was gladly willing to share his impressions:

What were the most difficult moments of the session?
I had two breaking moments, both psychological, rather than physical. The first came after around 8.5 hours of play, when although the score was about 190 to 1, all the remaining games were against tough opponents and in complicated positions. At some point there I lost the pace of the simul, started spending lots of time at each board, and making mistakes. I believe around that time, although the games' number was cut in half, the time consumption per round was at peak, at around 50min/round (we started with about 30 min per circle). However, after a timeout, and a few very useful advices from Boris Alterman (who by the way, was of an immeasurable help throughout the preparations and the event itself), and got back on track, resigning difficult positions, spending less time per round and eventually getting the pace back to around 30 min, and less. The second shaky point was around the 13th hour, when I needed to score approximately 80 more wins (out of 180 or so games), but had only about 40 positions with clear superiority and about as many where I was clearly in a bad shape. Here again, a timely beak helped seal the deal: I regained composure ("seeing" the finish line was clearly of huge energy booster at this point), quickly finished the clear wins, resigned/drew some more of the difficult positions, and after 16 hours I officially reached the needed 420 wins.

So much for the mental process. How did you manage physically?
Physically, although very exhausting, I felt quite well (although judging by the concerned looks of the family and organizers) I must have not looked that well. :-) Now the legs hurt a bit, but that was never really a big issue during the game.

How do you feel now about the entire affair?
The feeling is, of course, amazing (although I don't really have enough energy to feel much yet). The event being so widely politicized and covered by the press of course added a great deal to an already huge challenge. The organization was really fantastic, which was really noted by the Guinness representative. Here I must really note the incredible effort made by my sister, Ilona, who was there for the entire time, basically walking the same distance as myself, and taking care of whatever I needed most of the time even before I would realize it myself. For me she's set the record for the most amazing sister, really!

Jack Brockbank with Alik Gershon

Jack Brockbank with Alik Gershon

The Guinness official was indeed impressed by the organization as well as the accompanying cultural events. Elsewhere in the square the public could enjoy the performance of opera singers in an improvised café. Another simul was given to a group of celebrities by WGM (IM) Sofi Polgar and by the man behind the event, the chairman of the Jewish Agency Nathan Sharansky. A former minister, he is a decent player of master-candidate level. As a famous dissident in the Soviet Union he spent years in isolation imprisonment and managed to keep sanity by analyzing chess positions blindfold.

This special event, an idea and initiative of the Israeli Chess Federation (led by chairman Aviv Bushinsky and general manager Yigal Lothan) was organized with the cooperation of the Tel-Aviv municipality to celebrate twenty years of blessed Aliya (Jewish immigration to Israel) from the former Soviet Union and its contribution in all domains of life. Chess is obviously no exception.

It remains to be seen who will be next to challenge the fresh record and how soon it is going to happen. Meanwhile the world of chess in Israel has enjoyed an unprecedented attention of the local media, much more than when it earned both formidable silver and bronze medals in the last two Olympiads.

Photos thanks to Lior Sarlin and Sason Tiram (Jewish Agency)



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Yochanan Afek's picture
Author: Yochanan Afek

IM Yochanan Afek is a chess player, trainer, endgame study composer and writer. His complete selection of studies can be found here.


Joe Fiasco's picture


Noam Sivan's picture

In fact, the scoring percentage should be 92.4%, with draws counting. That's how it was also calculated in previous records set by Kiril Georgiev and Morteza Mahjoob (both in 2009). If the draws did not count, then both Georgiev's and Mahjoob's 's results would not be sufficient to achieve the desired 80%, and it seems that all chess media did recognize these records, so my conclusion is that draws should count.
Here is the complete data, collected from the relevant chessbase reports:
Gershon (October 2010):
523 opponents
454 wins
58 draws
11 losses
92.4% (counting draws)
86.8% (draws = losses)

Mahjoob (August 2009):
500 opponents
397 wins
90 draws
13 losses
88.4% (counting draws)
79.4% (draws = losses)

Georgiev (February 2009):
360 opponents
284 wins
70 draws
6 losses
88.6% (counting draws)
78.9% (draws = losses)

All that makes Gershon's record even more impressive - not only the largest number of opponents, but also a much higher winning percentage compared to the two previous record holders.

P.S. Greetings to Alik, Yochanan, and everyone else - keep up the good work!

Mariano's picture

Gherson play with Kramnik in 1991. Each simul is a world! Like the simul of Miguel Najdorf, blind simul in 1947, Sao Paulo. The oponents are weaks. Stress during the simul, for gain more points. These simul, dont more value of a coin of ten pounds. He played with White!. I think is more amazing play also with black! Gherson is GM! Polgar is GM! Najdorf too. I think for the book of guiness is ok. For the chess is marketing. More jobs for Gherson. For the chess in general is 0! more interesting is see games in Nanjing or Karpov rapid games against Polgar.

Septimus's picture

Wow, simply amazing. I'm surprised he did not end up in the hospital after this. 500+ serious games is no joke!

CAL|Daniel's picture

I know IM Dean Ippolito was planning to break the record too so I guess now he has to beat this one instead.

Pierre's picture

What was the average rating of his opponents ?

CAL|Daniel's picture

probably 1800 or less

Jhoravi's picture

He looks physically fit too! That's the secret.

noone's picture

Remember the players too. It hell ain't easy to sit at a board for 18 hours. Also if a round takes 30 minutes was it really difficult to last for 36 moves? I guess when the gm finally came to their board they blitzed their moves.

Septimus's picture

Even with 1800 as an average rating, you can't expect quick 15 move wins. Some noobs (like me) to grind it out till mate..hehe..

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