Simuls, a Little Different
By Jennifer Shahade   
April 1, 2009

The simul is perennially interesting to both chess aficionados, who get to play someone stronger than they'd usually be paired to, and to the uninitiated, who are amazed by the chessmaster's ability to defeat so many at once. I love giving classic simuls but I also have a lot of ideas to add twists to this go-to chess promo.

I gave two particularly challenging simultaneous exhibitions this month in Princeton and in Philadelphia. At the Princeton Public Library, I showed a video which I also plan to show at my SuperNationals seminar (April 4, 11 AM), did some Q+A and then played a 25-board simul. The beginning was unusual, even for those who'd been to dozens of simuls before. Check out this clip, shot by the organizer, Susan Conlon on her cell phone!
I managed to win 23 games and draw two in the simul, even though I was losing in at least three games toward the start of the simul, like this game:
Position after 1.Qg6

Here 1...Rf6, 1...Rc6 win most easily but the flashier 1...Rxf2 is also crushing. But my opponent chose 1...Bb5, allowing me to play 2.Qxh6. I still thought I was in trouble after 2...Qg7, but according to my engine, the position should be a draw after 3. Qxg7 Kxg7 4. Bf5! Bxf1 5.Bxc8 Rxf2 6.Nxf1 Rxb2+ 7. Kh2 Bd6+ 8.Kg1 Bc5+ 9.Kh2 Bd6+ and so on because 9.Ng3 fails to Rb3.  I know that line is sort of random, but I've never seen a perpetual quite like that.
Analysis position after 6...Rxb2+

 Instead after 2.Qxh6, my opponent continued with 2...Rxf2? and I won after Bf5+ and Be6+. 

I'm ready to give a full-on hulachess simul one day, though it would be a construction challenge (eight boards all hanging from the ceiling?) I already converted my brother's childhood room into a hanging chessboard/hulachess studio, which was particularly satisfying since I was always jealous as a kid about his larger bedroom.

Event organizer and librarian Susan Conlon often takes advantage of area chess stars to host great events. New York and Philadelphia are not too far but the closest GM of all is Sergei Kudrin, who lives in Princeton. Kudrin has previously given simuls at the library and also stopped by for mine. Check out a full photo gallery from the event on

On March 27, in Philadelphia I set myself with a very tough challenge in a clock simul. The Philadelphia event was part of a 24-hour chess marathon called,  "CheckMate Violence." CheckMate Violence was hosted by ASAP (After Schools Activities Partnership), a non-profit in Philadelphia that provides youth after-school programs in Scrabble, Chess, Debate and Dance. ASAP also sponsors with 9queens monthly Queens Academies (all girls' chess classes that I teach) at a Philadelphia library in Chinatown. Philly has a high crime-rate, and Checkmate Violence raises exposure for chess, a great non-violent activity that's addictive enough to play all night. I think it's a great promotiaonal idea that should be emulated in other cities. Philadelphia's Mayor Michael Nutter came out two years in a row to kick off the event. 

I wanted to set a fittingly "extreme" tone to my simul. I played 20 opponents, many of who were students from my 9Queens' Academies-- and I got 45 minutes on each board to 25 minutes for my opponents. The problem was that the boards were set up in one straight line, so I had to run from one end to the other rather than blitz out moves by turning around and around in a "U." In the end, I lost three games, drew three and won 14. Two of my losses were in completely winning positions on time. Without a lot of running, jumping and "double moves" in which I'd try to blitz a couple moves on each board, I'd probably have lost half the games! "You looked like you were at track practice", said one spectator.

I have a soft spot for marathon style events. In 1996 just before my sixteenth birthday, I first broke master at one of the Marshall Chess Club's infamous "insanity events", a ten-round G/30 that began at around 9 PM and ended the next morning at 9 AM.  The 70 rating points were a bit of a mixed blessing, as I was not yet master strength during normal hours. I dipped below and back up several times in the next year. 

I encourage other organizers to ponder how you may be able to add a twist, be it a hula-hoop or a race against time, to your next promotional event.  

Going to the SuperNationals? It's not too late to sign up for a simultaneous exhibition with one of many stars scheduled to attend: GMs Ashley, Kosteniuk, Zatonskih, Shulman, Stripunsky or Shabalov. Check out the complete schedule of events here. For more on hulachess and to give feedback on Chess Life Online, attend web editor Jennifer Shahade's seminar and Q+A, "Chess, Writing and Art" on April 4, Saturday at 11 AM.