Reports | February 05, 2009 18:03

Ponomariov wins eight games blindfolded

Ponomariov blindfold simulEx-World Champion Ruslan Ponomariov beat eight Basque players in a blindfold simultaneous chess exhibition that took place during the annual chess tournament organized by Eire tavern, in Gipuzkoa, Spain. Despite being totally unexperienced in this discipline of chess, Ruslan didn't hesitate to accept the challenge.

By Jesus Maria Rodriguez

The event took place on Sunday, January 25. It started at 12:30, after the official welcome with the music of txalapartas (a Basque musical instrument made of wooden logs) and the traditional welcoming aurresku (Basque dance). The games started immediately afterwards. At the beginning Ruslan seemed quite nervous and had some communication problems when telling his moves. For this task he received the useful help of In?©s Go?±i Alonso, whose perfect English and knowledge of the game enabled her to execute the moves that Ruslan said aloud.

After the first four moves on each board, the communication went smoothly and Ruslan was clearly much more relaxed and focused in the games, we witnessed a display of absolute control on each and every board. And so, the eight finalists from last year's Eire tournament started resigning one by one: when there were only two or three boards left, the result was clear.

When the last board resigned, the public broke into a deafening applause that went on for five minutes. Then Ruslan finally relaxed and the face that had looked so serious during the last three hours wore now a bright triumphant smile on it. It was a very moving moment for all, difficult to describe in words. He had achieved what seemed impossible.

Five games have been preserved:

before the start

Ponomariov, about to start playing against eight boards, not seeing one of them

ines makes moves.jpg

In?©s Go?±i Alonso, Ruslan's girlfriend, executing the moves


The event attracts many spectators in the street, watching through the window


Flowers and a trophy for the winner of eight blindfolded games - an amazing achievement!


All participants, the organizers and In?©s & Ruslan

Thanks to In?©s Go?±i Alonso, Ruslan's girlfriend, for translating the article and providing all material - it seems Ponomariov got himself an excellent pr manager 'simultaneously'! ;-)

Peter Doggers's picture
Author: Peter Doggers

Founder and editor-in-chief of, Peter is responsible for most of the chess news and tournament reports. Often visiting top events, he also provides photos and videos for the site. He's a 1.e4 player himself, likes Thai food and the Stones.


jose's picture

Hi, I'm one of the players. I stopped playing official games whwn I was 23. Then I had 2030 ELO. Now I play for fun. It's a fact that we were not the best players in the world but not the worst. It was quite difficult for us to play because os the lack of time.
The real thing is that Ruslan was incredible, his strong games and speed were impossible to be attacked. I didn´t expect that he could do it, but after watching this incredible event I only have one world to say: Impressive.

Thanks to Ruslan and In?©s for their kindness I've had an unforgetable experience

JM's picture

Musicians are aided by the fact they can use two different kinds of memory to remember the notes. Firstly, 'muscle memory', secondly, knowing consciously what notes/chords will be played. This is illustrated by the fact that when studying a piece of music at fast pace this doesn't automatically mean you're able to play it at a slow pace. For complete mastery of the music, you need to know the music consciously as well. As an illustration, some professional pianists are known to study very fast music at an incredibly slow pace even after they've mastered the higher speed. (sorry for my English, I hope it's still understandable).

Alexander's picture

In my opinion playing chess blindfolded and playing music without score do have something in common. From a layman's point of view, blindfold chess seems incredible because one tends to imagine that the blinded chessplayer can follow the track of just any game, or keep in mind just any position; and as for the playing music without score, layman also imagine the musician as capable of remembering just any sequence of tones. The truth is of course different: the blindfolded chess player can follow without difficulties only well-structured and sensible games; musician can, mutatis mutandis, easily remember only composition which follow the rules of his musical education. It would be extremely hard for a blindfolded chess player to play up from a position with all 16 pawns madly scattered everywhere on board, with knights somewhere in the corners, with kings near the center and so on. The same goes for musicians: remembering a score without any sensful modulation is indeed much harder for him.
As was suggested before, blindfolded chess player relies on patterns. In my opinion, blindfolded chess player never recalls in his mind's eye a complete position. In a game of KID, he doesn't have to constantly remind himself of the rook on f8 or a pawn on e4. The fact of him knowing that it is a KID he is playing makes his job a lot easier: he only have to remember and consider the variables (whether the f5 was already played, what is the structure of white queenside pawns etc.). The more the player is skilled, the bigger is his power of abstraction of a position to a few important details he has to keep in mind. And once again, the musician also knows that a shift from one key to another won't follow abruptely, he knows that there is - to put it simply - never just any note that he can play. He also relies on the abstraction: he is able to anticipate (in a given stage of his performance of a composition) only few sensful continuations of a piece he is playing. For a skilled musician, every sequence of notes he play is like an arrow directing him to a right path.

Layman's mistake (his utter fascination, which neglects the real source of chessplayer's and musician's virtuosity: their studies) stems from the fact that he thinks that the blinded chess player have to recall before his mind's eye the same thing the layman sees on board: position in it's every detail. However, what the chess player recalls in his mind are the key relations and abreviations of positions (for example, where newbie sees the complex configuration of pawns on h7, g6, and f7, bishop on g7, king on g8 and rook on f8, the chessplayer simply recalls the abstract "fianchetto"). It is similar with our fascination with the skilled musician: we think he has to remember every note, ignoring the logic, regularity and lawfulness of their succesion.
In a nutshell: I think both musician and the blinded chess player use the same faculty - abstraction.

Arne Moll's picture

Frits, I thought you meant remembering and playing (fixed) music rather than composing or improvising, which is of course something completely different. Clearly, a composer composing new music does not have to remember all the notes he wrote before by heart. Even improvising (as in a band) is still limited (e.g. by time and fixed chord schemes). But a professional pianist who plays, say, Bach's Goldberg Variations by heart has to remember all this incredible amount of details of the music, not only the notes (many thousands of them, including more than one voice), but also tempo, volume, echos, etc. It's really something else completely in my opinion, even though here, too, memory can be helped by default schemes, experience and intuition, of course.

Frits Fritschy's picture

By the way,
I can't retrace that story about those pranksters who played against a blindfold simul player b6, Ba6, Bb7, Bc8, Bb7 etc. in different orders on different boards. Those anybody know the name of the simul player?

Frits Fritschy's picture

Hi Arne,
Get my name right! (It's real.)
I must admit, I'm a complete moron when it comes to music. But hearing musicians, I cannot imagine music is just long-term memory. What about improvising jazz musicians? Mozart composing while rolling balls at the billiard table (seen the movie? - just to draw the picture). The same with (blindfold) chess: it's absolutely not just short time memory. The simple prove (which you acknowledge) is that it's easier to play blindfold against players from which at least you understand the moves they make. If it fits the melody, you can answer the call.
I don't think the difference between long-term or short-term memory has much to do with it. Memory is a difficult conception. I'd rather stick to music to explain, even taking in to account what I said in my first sentence.

By the way, Bootvis, it was b6 - Ba6 - Bb7 that once drove a blindfold simul player insane, as far I memorize the story.

Bootvis's picture

It's indeed much harder for to play against week oppenents. I've read an interview with Ton Sijbrands ( somewhere (AD probably) sometime (after his last attempt probably). Pattern recognition is pretty important and players that don't know what to do don't follow these patterns.

It's much harder to play against a team of opponents that open for example like this:

1 .. g6
2 .. Bg7 or Bh6
3 .. Bh6 or Bg7 or other trickery or a usefull development move. This becomes to much for the short term memory pretty quickly.

Frits Fritschy's picture

What really amazes me, is what musicians do: keeping track of all those different notes, and not just in one piece, but in hundreds! Not even playing from paper!
I once played blindfold against 5 players. I remember it was more tiresome than difficult; I saw it as five different 'melodies', where I just had to tune in to. Typically, I had no problems against a player who was only 200 elo points weaker, but I missed a mate in one against a beginner – the game presumably had no recognizable ´harmony´.
Ponomariov might have done the same against 2200-2300 players, maybe it would have been even easier...

Garcics's picture

Harry Nelson Pillsbury used to give as many as 20 to 22 games simultaneously blindfold, and sometimes he played Checkers and Bridge (not blindfolded) at the same time (in another room) Note. He would tell the organizers "The BEST players you have, no one easy!" One player had accidently pushed his queens rook pawn forward to a6 and when Harry played Nb5 he played axb5. When they told Harry axb5. He said (From the other room. This move is illegal) But the player
had become used to the Pawn at a6 and insisted that it was there.
Harry from the other room had them reset the pieces and recanted the moves to show the player who could see the board that the blind one knew better than he.

Arne Moll's picture

@Fritsch F., the difference between playing a blindfold simul and playing music is the difference between short-term memory and long-term memory. Of course, musicians study hundreds of hours to get to know the music and play it by heart, while blind simul players have to rely on short term memory which is much less stable and can contain much fewer information. You're right that it may well be more difficult to play against weak players because known pattern likely play a lesser role in these games.

Vlad's picture

The field was obviously weak ...

Vlad's picture

I would say way under 1800.

Nuisance Man's picture

There was a guy, can't remember his name, who played something like 50 blindfold games simultaneously and then had to enter a sanitorium. He couldn't get the positions out of his head!

R.Mutt's picture

He also dyed his girlfriend's hair blindfolded.

Hortensius's picture

Wasn't that a checkers player?

gogomil's picture

I think the record was Lasker's 56 simultan blindfold , he said he would never do it again

Declan's picture

Hey, Pono's gf isn't so bad :-)

Mike's picture

Typo error: Not "king size atack", he he, but "King side..."...

Mike's picture

@Saldy: I agree..I myself played only three or four blindfold games in my life (I at the blind side), only one at each time, against 1100 rating or below (family people..). I won them all, but I think it is really very very difficult for even a GM to beat eight simul blindfold rated 2000 or so. Very nice achievement..!

ChessGirl's picture

IMHO, when you are playing 8 blindfold games your biggest enemy is not behind the board, but inside your head. Personally I cannot even start imaginning how to keep in my mind the exact position of 256 pieces that are constantly moving.

Felix's picture

Did you ever play blindfold chess "chessgirl"?
You don't remember the position of pieces but games, that's quite a difference. You remember patterns, at least I don't see a board in my head when playing, but use the constellation of pieces at one part of the board to make my move, the pieces at other parts of the board are mostly not important and something like a bishop can be easily added to a pattern. The worse case is a position with many pieces like rooks, bishops, queens all over the board, but normally that's no problem.
My rating is about 2000 Elo and I just overlook much more things when playing blindfold, but playing against 4 - 8 boards is not that a big achievement as it may sound. The big achievement is playing good chess at all those boards :)
It's like after a rapid tournament, it's not that hard to remember those games at least till the critical point.
Of course that's only true if you play a lot of chess and do some training, as always in chess :)

Peter Doggers's picture

Forgot to mention that Aitor Gallastegi recently managed to draw in a (normal) simul against Magnus Carlsen.

Ricardo's picture

"Always impressive. But how impressive is it really…. How strong were these players? Could you give us some ELO ratings?"

I could only find two of them:

Gallastegui: 1982 (FIDE rating)
Erostarbe: 1920 (FEDA rating)

PP (NL)'s picture

Under 2000. The others might not even have a rating. Still amazing because it blindfold is in my opinion, but these are not top-class players of course.

Elvis's picture

Still very weak games for players with elo 1982 and 1920

Mike's picture

Good fair play on part of players, but it seems Ruslan's opponents were to much ingenuous, characteristic of below 2000 players...(I'm one...). Anyway I would never choose the Sicilian against a GM (to try to get a longer game only..) because this is a completely lost opening since the beginning because I think the king size attack is so natural and sharp that only a GM knowing every Black's new move (reply) on Chess Theory until move Nr.20 or so can sustain a battle with this opening (Sicilian)...

Saldy's picture

Still, this is an achievement. Winning a blindfold simul against 1900 (or even 1800) is not always an easy task. You take it this way - if you take a seat in front of a chessboard and against you is a 1800 player with whom you are playing one on one, is it a sure win for you?

Hortensius's picture


PP (NL)'s picture

Always impressive. But how impressive is it really.... How strong were these players? Could you give us some ELO ratings?

Q's picture

Replay the games, you will get an idea of their strength.

Khondakar Nazre Mowla's picture

Congratulations to GM Rulan Ponomariov.
Games were really very poor.
I guess Ruslan's opponents FIDE rating not more than 1600, at least according their game or they didn't able to play at their level for anyhow. They played very roughly. What was the time control?
Blindfold chess is not a regular chess. It's quite a fun.
I believe if anyone eager to play blindfold he should play same strength of him as it is fun.
Thanks to all.

Jan's picture

Nonsense. But Pono did a great job.

Frits Fritschy's picture

I have liked to read what people who have very much more to say about music than I have, think about this issue. Musicians expect a certain pattern and so don't have to rely just on their long term memory, blindfold chessplayers recognize patterns that have emerged in a game and so don't have to rely solely on their short term memory. Musicians may 'play from the past' and chessplayers may play 'toward the future', but in the end they meet in the present (playing a move or a note) called 'pattern recognition'.
In the end, what I wanted to say, is that being good at blindfold chess, doens't make you a circus attraction, an autistic 'idiot savant', an anomaly. It's just as with all (other) arts: when you are good at it, really work and live for it, it comes natural to you, and rightly so this will amaze people.

Janis Nisii's picture

Thank you In?©s for this article! I'm always very impressed by a blindfold simul, I think it requires a special talent that some of the top players don't have (for example Topalov by his own admission).
@Declan: careful, I think chessgirl is she ;) And yes, she's very pretty too!

chess dude's picture

WOW!!!!!! that is crazy! I coun't do 3 blindfold games and yet he did 8!! Again, just amazing!

Nep's picture

One of the players (Pedro Castro) is author of the Danasah chess engine. He posted all the games at talkchess, on this thread:

kas's picture

ELO average was 1863 points.

@ Elvis, the games are weak for this level of ELO, but it is not a game official with your time: 90 min + 30 sec, In simul the first are very slow and then from move 15 go too fast . Sometimes you may have trouble in a particular move but you must move fast because Ruslan is already on your board.

@ Mike, players played the Sicilian because Ruslan usually uses the Spanish.

Of course this is not a world record blindfold, but win 8 players in simul blindfold without losing any game even with ELO 1800-1900 is not easy.

cris's picture

still im not convince maybe its a scripted play.

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