The making of a world record

by ChessBase
9/16/2005 – On August 1st former women's world champion Susan Polgar played against 326 players, breaking the previous world record held by IM Andrew Martin, and a number of others in the process. We received a letter from Martin asking for details. Susan Polgar replied, describing the world record attempts in fascinating detail.

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During her record-breaking event Susan Polgar walked a total of 9.1 miles though a Florida mall, in high-tech sneakers, drinking orange juice. She faced 326 opponents simultaneously, scoring an unprecedented 99.03%. After breaking the Guinness Book's simul record Susan Polgar went on to attack a few more. Here are the records she broke:

  • Most Simultaneous Games Played: official record against 326 players: 309 wins, 14 draws and 3 losses = 96.93% in 16 hours and 30 minutes (the previous record was 321 games, with 294 wins, 26 draws, 1 loss = 95.64%, by IM Andrew Martin, England).
  • Most games won: 309 (Andrew Martin: 294)
  • Highest percentage: 96.93% (Andrew Martin: 95.64%)
  • 1,131 Consecutive Games Played: Overall statistics which included 551 opponents: 1,112 wins, 16 draws and 3 losses = 99.03% (previous record: 1102 games by WGM Anna-Maria Botsari, Greece)

A few days ago we received a letter from Andrew Martin, who is by the way a prolific author of ChessBase training DVDs. Andrew wanted to know exactly how Susan had managed to achieve the above results. A few days later Susan sent us the reply, which contained a meticulous description of the preparation that went into the breaking of the world records.

A letter from IM Andrew Martin

I am interested in the statistics of the recent Susan Polgar simul records, in the light of my own experience as the previous holder of this Guinness Record.

Our display took six months of meticulous planning, day in, day out, to get 321 people in the same place on the same day. We had to provide Guinness with photographic and documented evidence to satisfy them that the opponents were of a minimum required standard. Right up until the last minute we could not be sure that we had the number of players needed.

We sent Guinness game scores and all ratings of the opponents (if they had one). Roughly 50-75 were of club standard, including several junior internationals and 30-40 1800+ players. I found this a really gruelling event and was only too glad when it finished. Yet Polgar seems to have taken this record to an entirely new level, but my question ?

Let's take a look at the stats.

  • 1st record (3 records according to the press release): Most opponents/Most games won/Highest percentage 326 opponents 309 wins 14 draws 3 losses 96.93%.

  • 2nd record Most consecutive games 1131 games – 1112 wins 16 draws 3 losses. The percentage is astronomical. Total opponents 554

I just don't understand this second record. How can one play so many games in such a short time? (16.5 hrs = 990 mins) That's less than 1 min per game overall! How long were these games, how many moves?

Somehow Polgar fits in an extra 805 games, winning 803 (!!) and drawing only two, finding an extra 228 opponents out of nowhere and fits it in seamlessly with the other record. Amazing!

How do you persuade so many people to sit there for so long waiting for the moves to be played? One round takes 30-40 mins minimum. Kids, OAP's, very weak players just aren't capable of it! We had serious crowd control problems on the day because we had a lot of kids.

Susan is a great player, so of course she is capable of a great result. But has the marketing gone too far on this occasion? What credibility can we attach to these figures? And should these records stand?

IM Andrew Martin

Susan Polgar's reply

I would like to say that the World Record Simul was the hardest and most complicated thing to organize and achieve. This was planned more than two years ago, even before Andrew's World Record. My team and I had discussions with New York, via Mr. Ken Podziba, NY City Sports Commissioner, about Grand Central Station or Central Park; and with California, via Mr. Erik Anderson, founder of AF4C, which organizes the annual $250,000 US Championship, about Lego Land; and also with others about hosting the World Record Simul, before we decided to choose the Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, one of the most prestigious upscale shopping centers in the state of Florida.

Before a final decision was made in regard to the location, we had a face-to-face meeting with the organizers in Palm Beach Gardens which included the management of Gardens Mall, representatives from the Palm Beach Sports Commission, the North Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Mayor’s office of Palm Beach Gardens, the Palm Beach Post, the local chess organizers, chess clubs as well as the Chief Organizers Mr. Joel Channing and Mr. Don Schultz. The reason why we chose Palm Beach Gardens was they offered the biggest staff to help organize every single little detail to make the event successful.

Even after the decision was made, it still took more than six months to organize this extremely difficult event. Mr. Joel Channing and Mr. Schultz had countless meetings with the staff in Florida during the six months preparation phase. They reached out to local government, sponsors, business owners, corporations, schools, clubs, etc. My team also did things from NY to reach out to additional people. Overall, more than 20 people worked on this project for more than half a year and more than 50 people helped in various capacities. As I mentioned earlier, this was the hardest and most complicated event to put together.

For your information, no one (especially me) had any intention of breaking any other record beside the 321 games by IM Andrew Martin. That was hard enough in itself. I will explain how the rest happened later in this letter. In addition, just to ensure that the record can be broken, I hit the gym almost daily for a year to prepare physically.

The team of helpers and enthusiasts who made the world record possible

Even with all the meticulous planning and preparation, we had to cancel the original date which was planned in June 2005. It was too difficult and we could not make it happen the first time. We could not get enough players to commit. Everyone involved unanimously agreed to delay the event by two months to August 1-2 to give us the best chance to succeed. Even with the extra two months, we had to literally go through hell to make it happen. We even considered canceling the event the second time because we did not think we would hit the numbers. At the end, we decided to give it our best shot and went for it on August 1, 2005.

We did have some luck a few days before the simul. I was in Palm Beach Gardens a week early, to meet the media and record my new animated chess DVD. The filming took place at the WPBF-TV (ABC) studio in Palm Beach Gardens. While I was shooting, Mr. Paul Azzurro (President of Chess on DVDs) and my business manager received a tour of the TV studio. That was when they accidentally met one of the station's anchors Mr. John Shainman.

When John heard about the World Record Simul, he thought that the event was fascinating so he decided to interview me immediately. I was then interviewed during the DVD filming lunch break. Various clips were shown about 8-9 times on WPBF-TV (ABC) a few days before the simul took place. This helped create a big buzz and got many more people to show up.

Susan being interviewed by John Shainman, ABC Palm Beach anchor

We also got tremendous help from many big newspapers in Florida promoting the World Record Event (Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, etc.). In addition, our organizers made calls to as many people as they could to up to the last minute. They contacted every single chess club in Florida and even some in neighboring states. At the same time, I was contacting everyone I know in Florida. My business manager sent out thousands of emails as well.

Even with all the preparation and hard work, we were on pins and needles on the morning of the simul. I personally arrived at 7 a.m. to mentally prepare. The simul was supposed to be at 10 a.m.. At 9:30 a.m., we only had about 250 players checked in. At 9:45 a.m., we had about 275 checked in. At 10 a.m., we had only about 305 people checked in. The simul was now officially late. We only managed to check in about 315 people at 10:15 a.m.. That is why we had to delay the event until approximately 10:30-10:35 a.m. to get 326 players and the simul officially began with Mr. Eric Jablin, former Mayor and current Vice-Mayor of Palm Beach Gardens. Multiple TV stations were on hand along with a number of print reporters.

Preparations under way to launch the simultaneous chess record

Approximately 45 minutes to an hour after the original 326 games had started, more and more players were still arriving because of the newspaper and TV promotion. As the number of extra people reached more than 50, the organizers came up with the idea of allowing these people to join the simul for an outside shot breaking the second record of consecutive games played. They came to consult with me and I told them that I have no problem with it. Since extra sets, boards and spaces were available, they immediately set things up and we were on our way to attempt to set both records at once. After a player lost, he/she had the option to start another game or give up the seat for another player to start a new game. The official record certifiers marked down each new game played and added it to the second total.

Boards and sets being put into place

The biggest help I actually got to successfully complete the simul came from the dazzling work of the professional engineering and designing staff. They worked very hard to come up with the most efficient method to set up the tables and chairs to minimize the walking distance to speed things up. The worked for a number of months to perfect the brilliant set up.

In addition, my team came up with an ingenious system in placing all the strongest players in one section knowing that their games would most likely last the longest. The organizers had a list of all the pre-registered players with full names and ratings if applicable. Each player had to wear their simul ID numbers in the front and on the back of their commemorative T-Shirts at all times. This plan saved additional hours to complete the rounds as the weaker players were eliminated much faster. The plan worked out perfectly. I estimated that it probably saved me at least a few hours from the total time.

The world record attempt is under way

During the simul, the official designated record certifiers were walking alongside with me the entire time to record all detailed information. They never left my side with the exception of a few rest room breaks. These dedicated officials probably ended up walking more than I did. As I was walking, I was wearing a pedometer to record the walking distance and steps taken. Hundreds of pictures were taken before, during and at the conclusion of the event.

Two important secrets for the world record success

Countless people were video taping the event (since it was in the middle of a shopping mall) including TV media. We are all disappointed that even though the organizers invited the Guinness people to send a representative, no one came. That is why the organizers decided to have additional record certifiers to make sure each detail is precisely authenticated. I am sure they would be more than happy to furnish the folks from Guinness with any additional information as needed.

There is one fact I would like to clarify. Each game did not take a minute to complete by both sides but only by me. While I was walking, my opponents had plenty of time to think. We did not allow any pass. Therefore, a move must be made as I arrive at the board. Then I responded basically instantly. My moves against the weaker players did not take more than a second or two at most. If each game averages 30 moves or even less, it would take about a minute or less to complete. After all, I gave more than 1,000 exhibition simul games in the last year or two throughout the United States and North America. Therefore, I had a lot of practice in advance.

World record attempt in a shopping mall, with restaurants and refreshment stores

Since the event was held in the middle of a very popular shopping center, we had no choice with the crowd. Thousands of people saw the event. Unfortunately, we made a minor mistake in holding the event during the school summer break. Therefore, we had a lot less young people than expected and the majority of the players were adults. That actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise even though some of the players that stayed almost until the end were children.

The mall was opened throughout the night while it usually closes at 9 PM. The mall management hired additional security personnel to stay with us until the conclusion of the simul. Restaurants located in the mall donated food for the players and volunteers, and Coca Cola donated the refreshments.

The last group of participants, after the records were broken, at 3:30 a.m.

Many sponsors such as Chess4Less, Excalibur Electronics, the World Chess Hall of Fame, American Chess Equipments and the Susan Polgar Foundation donated goodies for the players including the chess sets and commemorative boards. TV stands were also set up throughout the entire playing area with different movies playing to keep the children entertained. We had so many people volunteering to help. It was an incredible team effort from so many people for many months and everyone took pride in what they do.

I must say that Andrew Martin played a major role in helping me break the records. He was so gracious to offer his valuable advice in what and what not to do from his own personal experience. Therefore, we made sure to work out all the kinks before hand. Even though I physically worked out very hard, because of Andrew’s warning, I worked even harder with my physical fitness. I was exhausted at the end but I was in much better shape than expected due to the extra physical preparation. Thank you Andrew!

Thanks to the hard work of Mr. Channing and Mr. Schultz on behalf of the United States Chess Federation and the United States Chess Trust, members of the organizing committee representing Gardens Mall, the city of Palm Beach Gardens and Northern Palm Beach Sports Commission, etc., and countless other volunteers spending hundreds if not thousands of combine hours to make this event happen, we managed to pull it off. Playing chess was actually the easiest part.

I hope that Andrew will attempt to break this record as soon as possible. Then I will attempt again to break his new record. Perhaps we can start a new tradition for the benefit of chess. I think this will be beneficial to both countries and chess in general.

Best wishes,
Susan Polgar

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