George Koltanowski bigraphy, stories - chess master

George Koltanowski : biography

17 September 1903 - 5 February 2000

George Koltanowski (also "Georges"; 17 September 1903 – 5 February 2000) was a Belgian-born American chess player, promoter, and writer. He was informally known as "Kolty". Koltanowski set the world's blindfold record on 20 September 1937, in Edinburgh, by playing 34 chess games simultaneously while blindfolded, making headline news around the world. He holds the current record with 56 games, set in 1960.

Simultaneous blindfold chess

In Edinburgh in 1937 Koltanowski set a record by simultaneously playing 34 games of blindfold chess. Later, both Miguel Najdorf and János Flesch claimed to have broken that record, but their efforts were not properly monitored the way that Koltanowski's was. Najdorf played 40 games at Rosario, Argentina in 1943 and 45 games in São Paulo in 1947. Flesch played 52 games in Budapest in 1960.Harry Golombek, Golombek's Encyclopedia of Chess, 1977, ISBN 0-517-53146-1

Blindfold Knight's Tour

Koltanowski's most sensational chess entertainment was the ancient exercise known as the Knight's tour, in which a lone knight traverses an otherwise empty board visiting each square once only. Of the countless patterns for achieving this feat, there are trillions of sequences for performing the more restricted version known as the re-entrant tour, wherein the knight on its 64th move lands on its original starting square. For Koltanowski, who claimed to have a "phonographic memory" (a keen memory for sequences), the trick relied on mastering just one re-entrant pattern. He could begin on any square in the sequence and complete the tour by rote. However, it was his original twist that gave Koltanowski's performance dramatic value well beyond the mechanical moving of the knight through the memorized sequence.

Koltanowski began his tour with a large chalkboard divided by lines into a grid eight squares by eight. As he solved problems on a large demonstration board, audience members were encouraged to come onstage to enter words and numbers into the squares. By the time all 64 squares were filled, it was common to see street and city names, names of months or days of the week, names of famous chess players, names of audience members, names of movie stars or TV personalities, telephone numbers and addresses, birth dates, serial numbers from bank notes, etc.

After concluding his problem solving challenges on the demonstration board, Koltanowski would turn his back on the audience and examine the chalk board for three or four minutes. Then he would seat himself with his back to the board and ask for any audience member to call out a square; for example, e4. He would recite from memory the entry in that square as an assistant crossed it off with a chalk mark. Making imaginary knight-moves through his re-entry sequence, Koltanowski would recite the contents of each square as the knight landed on it.

As amazing as this performance was, if time permitted afterward, Koltanowski would occasionally demonstrate his mental grasp of the board by reciting the information contained in the squares by rank or file, or even the two long diagonals. He occasionally performed the tour on two boards simultaneously. In Palo Alto, California, he conducted his performance on three chalk boards, jumping the knight back and forth between boards mid-move, until all 192 squares were completed. He made two errors and immediately corrected himself both times. At the time of this performance, Koltanowski was 80 years old.

Early life

Born into a Polish Jewish family in Antwerp, Belgium, Koltanowski learned chess while watching his father play his older brother. He took up the game seriously at the age of 14, and was the top Belgian player after the death of Edgar Colle in 1932.

He gave up a fledgling career as a diamond cutter to play full-time.

He served a short stint in the Belgian army, where his primary duty was the peeling of potatoes. While he peeled away absent-mindedly, he studied chess positions. "Soldiers were going hungry", he said, "because I was peeling the potatoes into smaller and smaller cubes."

Living octopus

Living octopus

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