The Elite Meet in Monte Carlo
chess circus is back in town! At least if your town is fabulous Monte Carlo,
Monaco. Twelve of the world's best are competing in the 12th annual Melody Amber
tournament. The event is organized and sponsored by the Association Max Euwe
and chess player/patron Joop van Oosteram, for whose daughter the tournament
Each round the competitors play one rapid and one blindfold game against the
same opponent. The player with the best combined score from the rapid and blindfold
tournaments is the winner. Last year it was first-time participant Alexander
Morozevich taking the title on the strength of his phenomenal 9/11 score in
the blindfold. (See last
The young Russian is back and will have to defend his title against multiple
title winners Kramnik, Shirov, and Anand. Three of the players just finished
the Linares supertournament and fatigue might play a factor, particularly in
the exhausting blindfold games. The playing schedule is March 15-27 with rest
days on the 19th and 24th. Here is the full list of this year's participants.
Vladimir Kramnik, Russia, 2809
Viswanathan Anand, India, 2753
Veselin Topalov, Bulgaria, 2743
Peter Leko, Hungary, 2736
Evgeny Bareev, Russia, 2729
Alexei Shirov, Spain, 2723
Boris Gelfand, Israel, 2700
Vassily Ivanchuk, Ukraine, 2699
Alexander Morozevich, Russia, 2678
Zoltan Almasi, Hungary, 2676
Loek van Wely, Netherlands, 2668
Ljubomir Ljubojevic, Yugoslavia, 2570
we know that Yugoslavia no longer officially exists (it's now "the State
Union of Serbia and Montenegro") and that Ljubo lives in Spain, but if
you ask him that's where he says he is from and who are we to argue? Ljubomir
Ljubojevic's best results on the crosstables are likely behind him now that
he is over fifty and rarely plays. He is a friend of van Oosteram and the multi-lingual
Ljubo is the life of any event he attends whether he is playing or not! He won
the event in 1993 and enjoys showing the youngsters that he can still
be 2700 in the middlegame.
There is an official site here: http://chess.lostcity.nl/amber/.
The promised live coverage did not seem to be working during today's round one.
Linares winners Kramnik and Leko started off well with blindfold wins over Almasi
and Bareev, respectively. Kramnik used to own the blindfold event until he looked
mortal last year. He might be back to his winning ways in 2003.
The conditions in Monte Carlo are first class, the prize fund is enormous ($190,000),
and there are no rating points on the line, what more could a chess pro ask?
First he could ask that he not embarrass himself by hanging his queen or any
other large pieces of chess furniture in the blindfold games.
happens at least once per year. In 2002 it was Bareev playing the the unfortunate
20.Bxc6 Bxc6 21.Nxc6 Qxc6 white resigns against Shirov.
The players sit facing computer screens and make their moves on the computer
with a mouse on a board with no pieces, so there are no illegal moves possible.
This lacks the 19th century flair of Morphy sitting with his back to a huge
Paris crowd and calling out the moves, or having a silk scarf tied over the
eyes, but it's considerably more comfortable.
Blindfold chess was a sensation for centuries and only started to decline in
the 20th, when it become better known that any strong player could play at least
one game without sight of the board. It can still impress, however, and as we
have seen before, the public has a short memory.
When the legendary Philidor played two blindfold games simultaneously in 1744
it was considered close to miraculous and the papers wrote in breathless words
about this unrivaled display of genius. This despite the fact that blindfold
chess was recorded hundreds of years earlier with the first known event in Europe
occuring in Florence in 1266!
Morphy wowed the Parisians over a century later and just about every top
player of the 19th century added to his income considerably with these seances.
The American Pillsbury would add other memory tricks to the show, and also played
a very high level of chess during his exhibitions. On an off day during a tournament
in 1902 he played 21 blindfold games simultaneously and all the participants
were playing in the event's B tournament! Pillsbury's score of +3 =11 -7 doesn't
look so great, but considering he couldn't see the boards and that all of his
opponents were seasoned players, it is phenomenal.
The generally accepted record for most simultaneous blindfold games is held
by George Koltanowski, who was a memory magician with few equals and was recently
the subject of a ChessBase article
on the knight's tour. In 1937 he played 34 amateurs in Edinburgh and finished
with a +24 -10 score in over 13 hours of play. (Miguel Najdorf's 45-board blindfold
simul in Sao Paul Brazil in 1947 was more of a publicity event than a serious
competition. Najdorf had access to scoresheets and there were multiple opponents
per board during the marathon.)
100 years ago there was a lot of "how do they do it?" and many Masters
discussed the subject. Tarrasch wrote of seeing the board "as a plastic
object" in his mind and about how each move modified the image, "as
the photographic plate receives the impression of the object on which the light
Perhaps partially due to the later mental health problems of several prominent
players, Morphy and Steinitz in particular, many believed that blindfold play
was too taxing and led to mental sickness or even death. The USSR banned the
displays in 1930, according to the Oxford Companion to Chess. Botvinnik spoke
out against it, which may be why his top student, Kasparov, has declined to
test his blindfold play. Most of the Melody Amber players agree that it is more
tiring than a regular game even with a faster time control.
play is something you can practice and improve at apart from your regular chess
game. A player who practices it regularly will beat a player hundreds of rating
points higher if the stronger player has never tried it before, at least at
the amateur level. Give it a try and wow your friends! Unlike your knowledge
of the subtleties of the Semi-Slav, this is actually something that non-players
are impressed by.
Grandmasters rarely have trouble visualizing the board during a single game,
although as mentioned above, accidents do happen.If you need more proof, this
diagram is from Melody Amber blindfold 1998. It's the great Anatoly Karpov to
play and he grabs the unprotected f-pawn with 13.Rxf7. No points for
figuring out how Matthew Sadler responded...