Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Remembering stuff.

Over breakfast we usually catch up with email, Facebook (just me, as Phil is still a Facebook refusenik), the newspapers and suchlike. No, we are not completely antisocial; we are not one of those couples who sit in restaurants so busy with their mobile phones that they never say a word to each other. We comment on items of interest that we find, recommend articles to each other and generally swop and share stuff. All of this while consuming coffee and cereal and toast. We can multi-task!

And so this morning Phil informed me that chess Grand Master Timur Gareyev had broken the simultaneous blindfold chess-playing record. As a rule he does not share chess news with me but we met this odd young man in Portugal last year so he knew that I would be interested.

For those who do not know, playing blindfold means that you do not look at the board while playing. Your opponent tells you his move, you remember the state of the board, perhaps visualising it in your head, and then tell him your move. And so on. Doing this with one game at a time is clever stuff but over the last weekend young Timur Garayev played blindfold simultaneously against 48 opponents, winning 35, drawing 7 and losing 6.

Now, I call that pretty impressive, considering that some people have trouble remembering what they upstairs for!

We met Timur Gareyev, as I said, in Figueira da Foz in Portugal last year, when Phil was playing in the chess tournament there. I immediately thought he fitted into the category of "slightly odd chess player", although not as odd as some I have met. (No offence to chess players is intended ; every sport has its obsessives and eccentrics. I just happen to have met a fair few of the chess type.) Quite tall and skinny, he was full of a nervous energy, verging on manic, and frequently grinning. He seemed to be full of a sense of fun and appeared to be really enjoying life.

Looking up details of his record breaking, I came across this description by an American called Eric Vigil:

 "I had met GM Gareyev at the US Open in August in Indianapolis, Indiana where he had punked me out on Monday morning. He was wandering around the lobby at 7am. I had just gotten back from my daily constitutional, and he asked me where the Hotel’s restaurant was, as he needed to get some breakfast. He was an awful skinny guy and I thought he needed some food.

He then noticed my shirt with the Weber Elementary Chess Club of Iowa City, Iowa on it, and asked if I coached chess. I answered yes and we started off on a chess discussion. This young man seems very interested in chess I thought. I offered to buy him a US Chess membership and provide him with the tournament entry fees for the Quad.

He looked at me and in a very serious tone said, “Those crooks at US Chess would just be stealing your money!” then went on to say he would just win all the money at the quads and it would not be fair. I thought this young man is pretty full of himself. “Are you sure?” I asked, “Do you have something against playing rated chess?”

At that point another person came up and asked GM Gareyev for a selfie picture… DAWG! I was just swindled as GM Gareyev was pretending to be an average Joe. GM Gareyev was very gracious and came back with me to the breakfast area of our hotel and played my roommates in some blitz chess and talked up many of the delegates to the US Chess meeting."

That sounds just like the young man we met!

Memory is a strange thing though. It can be trained and improved. Phil said his personal record for simultaneous blindfold chess was five games at a time. I have seen his perform this party piece. Who knows how many he might have managed if he had decided to train himself up to it? I am always impressed at the way he can remember details of the moves in games played years and years ago.

But then, people have often asked me how I remember the grammar rules and vocabulary for the various languages I speak. It's just one of those things I can do; my brain and memory have programmed themselves that way. When I have been asked how I manage not to confuse the languages - a problem I have never really had - I explain that I think of it as having separate compartments in my head: a kind of box for each language I speak.

We see musicians playing lengthy pieces of music without reference to the score. Singers go through a repertoire of maybe twenty or thirty songs in a performance, without a songsheet there to remind them of the words. Only once or twice have I heard a singer say they did not know the words and in each case it has been a new song.

All of these feats of memory impress me greatly, especially as I sometimes fit into the grandma stereotype of having to go through the whole list of family names before coming up with the correct one!

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