Slyusarchuk's incredible chess memory feats

by ChessBase
5/1/2011 – Remember Andriy Slyusarchuk? The chess amateur who read three thousand books about the game and then went on to beat Rybka blindfold? The Ukrainian professor performs other mental feats, like memorizing 80 chess boards in 4½ minutes and then identifying changes made to them. GM Georgy Timoshenko took part in the act and wrote a wonderfully entertaining expose.

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Believe it or not – part II

We recently received word, from Chinese media and other sources, that on Andriy Slyusarchuk, a Ukrainian chess amateur, but apparently a man with an immensely advanced brain (or super-natural powers, as one starry-eyed student told a TV news channel), had read three thousand books about the game and then gone on to beat Rybka 4.0 in a two-game blindfold match. The 39-year-old doctor, who says he can recite 20,000 books by heart and has memorized 30 million digits of Pi (the official world record: 67,890 digits), went on to perform other prodigious feats of chess – we provided you with video links in our previous report.

The reaction of our readers was predictably plentiful and vigorous. Joeri Piet from Amersfoort assumed that it had to be a belated April Fool's prank, Philip Roe of Ann Arbor, USA, speculated that Slyusarchuk may have pulled "the old one of playing Rybka White versus Rybka Black?" K Yunus Camsari of West Lafayette wrote: "Since when are you paying attention to worthless news items like this? I want five minutes of my life back. I think we are past 1st of April so why are you directing traffic to pay attention to such nonsense?" – Because we, dear reader, are simply shocked to see how gullible spectators and the media can be. That became clear in a Ukrainian TV report we showed you, where "he demonstrated his abilities to scientists and students" in Kiev.

Mateo Arcos of Montevideo, Uruguay, wrote: "It is a big disappointment that so many people believe this man. Thank heavens you were not one of them."

In one of the videos we showed you Andriy Slyusarchuk is confronted with eighty chess boards with random positions set up on them. He walks through the rows of tables, stopping just a few seconds at some of the boards, and then leaves the room, having spent a total of 4½ minutes studying the positions. Watch the video:

The chess part starts at around seven minutes and ten seconds into the report

After that a helper changes the position of four pieces on random boards. The professor returns and starts to examine the positions. Note that at around 11 min 30 sec he appears to have problems and asks for a break. It is not clear whether he leaves the room. When he restarts things are much better:

Slyusarchuk gets the first two boards and changes right, then has problems with the third: he knows something has happened on board fifty, but he can't figure out what it is.

Take a look at the chess board that is causing him grief: the position is relatively nonsensical, but what is of relevance is that the board coordinates are the wrong way around. This plays a role in the article that follows.

Slyusarchuk knows that a piece has been moved, but it (what exactly?) doesn't make sense to him. You can see him throw a tantrum, starting from around 12 minutes 30 seconds, scenes that must be watched if you want to enjoy what follows.

We were in the process of providing an explanation of how Slyusarchuk most likely performed his chess memory feat when we received word from GM Georgy Timoshenko, who had actually experienced a session with the professor in a TV studio. Georgy described his adventure in an article on the web site His report was translated for us by Steve Giddins. It is one of the most entertaining chess pieces we have read in years.

I first became acquainted with Professor Slusarchuk about 18 months ago. This meeting was the occasion for a funny story and jokes that I told my friends. However, recent events make me feel I should tell a wider audience about what happened.

GM Georgy Timoshenko of Ukraine

I got a call from the studio of the popular science programme on Channel 1 +1 (a popular Ukrainian television station) and was asked to speak as an expert in an unusual event, concerning the exceptional capabilities of a human being. Intrigued, I agreed. The action took place in Kiev Lyceum No. 100. The participants were the crew of Channel 1+1, a little less than a hundred students with chess sets, and Professor Slyusarchuk and his friend, with a video camera. As explained by Slyusarchuk himself, a parallel live film of the event would provide a fuller record.

Slyusarchuk announced that he could remember the location of the pieces on all of the boards and, moreover, to restore the position of the four boards, where changes would be made. The children were asked to place the pieces on the boards in arbitrary positions. Slyusarchuk walked along all of the boards, spending about three seconds on each, and then left the room. I said to myself that had I tried such a task, three seconds per board would have been insufficient. But the fact is, he was a genius!

I was asked to choose four boards and to make a move on each, call out the number of the boards (all boards were numbered) and the move played, using long algebraic notation. At two boards, I decided to complicate the task and made the most difficult reproducible move, from my point of view, namely a subtle pawn move. On one board I made a knight move, and on the last I thought I made the easiest move to see, long castling. After some time, Professor Slyusarchuk returned to the room and asked all the children to leave. Then he went round the tables. He quite confidently found the number of the boards where the position had been changed. First he reproduced the move b7-b5 easily. The move Ng8-f6 caused difficulties on the second board, and Slyusarchuk decided to return to this board later.

The real comedy began when he went to the third board. The fact was that that the arrangement of pieces contradicted the coordinates given around the edges of the board (the board had been set up with the white pieces at the a8-h8 end of the board). When Slyusarchuk started looking at the top left corner of the board for the move h2-h3 that I had made, it all became clear. However, after long confusion he finally managed to cope with this task and reproduced the move correctly.

The most interesting thing came on the fourth board. The genius obviously had difficulty with the identification of the queen and king. He asked me which was the queen, and which the king. I wondered why he needed to know this, since he remembers a picture of the board, and not the names of the pieces. However, I pointed out to him where the king was. And then it became clear that Slyusarchuk knew that my move was long castling, but he did not know how this move is done! After prolonged unsuccessful attempts to return to the original position, he eventually decided, and simply swapped the king and rook, which were on d1 and c1.

Then we returned to the position on the second board. Somehow, returning the knight from f6 to g8 was for him an impossible task, perhaps because he did not know that a knight could jump over a pawn. We stood before this board for several minutes. That was quite enough to remember the position, and I decided to conduct another experiment. I removed all the pieces off the board, and said I could restore the position and invited Mr. Slyusarchuk to do the same. He did not even bother trying.

In my commentary for the film crew, I said that I could be 99.9% certain that the entire show was a scam. Mr. Slyusarchuk clearly had contact with his assistant in the room (remember his friendly camera operator?), and had received the board numbers and the moves I had made. But because of his poor knowledge of the rules of chess, he could not always show these moves on the board.

A few days later I received a call from a girl at the TV company, and was told that the film would not be shown, as Slyusarchuk had threatened legal action.

Georgy Timoshenko

Our reaction to this piece: if you are doing spectacular and incredible feats of chess you should at least learn how the pieces move. And secondly: someone who does not know the rules cannot, we are bold enough to venture, in a few monthis read three thousand books on the the game and then go on to beat Rybka 4.0 blindfold.

Addendum – the match against Rybka

Andriy Slyusarchuk played Rybka on April 27, 2011, at 10:00 a.m. It was organised in the President Hotel in Kiev, under the patronage of the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports in Ukraine. The machine used had a IntelCore i7-2600K processor running at 3.40GHz. The opponent was "Fritz 11 Deep Rybka 4 x64". Here are the games:

Slyusarchuk,Andriy - Rybka 4 [B80]
Kiev, 27.04.2011
1.e4 c5 2.Nc3 e6 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 Qc7 6.g3 a6 7.Bg2 Nf6 8.0-0 d6 9.Re1 Bd7 10.Nxc6 Bxc6 11.Nd5 Bxd5 12.exd5 e5 13.Re3 Be7 14.Rc3 Qd7 15.a4 0-0 16.a5 Rfc8 17.Rb3 Rc4 18.Bf1 Rc7 19.Be3 Re8 20.Rb4 e4 21.Bg2 Qf5 22.c3 Bf8 23.Qb3 Qh5 24.Re1 Qxd5 25.Qxd5 Nxd5 26.Rxe4 Rxe4 27.Bxe4 Nxe3 28.Rxe3 g6 29.Bd5 Rc5 30.c4 Rxa5 31.Rf3 b6 32.Bxf7+ Kh8 33.Bxg6 Bg7 34.Be4 Bxb2 35.Rf7 h5 36.Bd5 b5 37.cxb5 axb5 38.Rd7 Ba3 39.Kg2 Bc5 40.f4 Ra7 41.Rd8+ Kg7 42.Kh3 Kg6 43.Kh4 Re7 44.Rg8+ Kf6 45.Kxh5 Rh7+ 46.Kg4 Rxh2 47.Rf8+ Ke7 48.Rf7+ Ke8 49.Rb7 Kd8 50.Rxb5 Rd2 51.Be4 Rd4 52.Kf5 Rb4 53.Rxb4 Bxb4 54.Ke6 Ke8 55.f5 Kd8 56.g4 1-0.

Rybka 4 - Slyusarchuk,Andriy [B94]
Kiev, 27.04.2011
1.e4 c5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 cxd4 4.Nxd4 Nf6 5.Nc3 a6 6.Bg5 Nbd7 7.f4 e5 8.Nf5 Qb6 9.Qd2 Qxb2 10.Rb1 Qa3 11.fxe5 dxe5 12.Bc4 Qa5 13.0-0 Qc5+ 14.Ne3 b5 15.Bd5 Ra7 16.Kh1 Rc7 17.Rb3 h6 18.Bh4 b4 19.Ncd1 a5 20.Nb2 Be7 21.Nd3 Qb6 22.a3 Nc5 23.Nxc5 Qxc5 24.axb4 axb4 25.Bg3 Bd6 26.Bh4 Be7 27.Bg3 Bd6 28.Bh4 Be7 ½-½.

Previous ChessBase article

Amateur beats Rybka blindfold – while hell freezes over
29.04.2011 – Chinese media and other sources tell us that Ukrainian chess amateur Andrew Slyusarchuk beat Rybka 4.0 in a two-game blindfold match after reading three thousand books on the subject. The reports also says the 39-year-old doctor can recite 20,000 books by heart and has memorized 30 million digits of Pi. There are lots of video demonstrations, but as Robert Ripley used to say...

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