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Your move! Chess guru to take on 16 opponents, wearing a blindfold

The year was 1879 and the cream of Dublin society and a scattering of British nobility, including the 7th Duke of Marlborough, John Spencer-Churchill, and his wife, Lady Frances, arrived by horse-drawn carriage to an imposing building at 35, Molesworth Street to watch a game of chess.

The Duke, then Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and the Duchess were there to cheer on their son, Lord Randolph Churchill MP (father of Sir Winston), who was one of 12 chess players who would simultaneously take on the greatest player of the day, the mercurial Polish-born Prussian Grandmaster, Herr Johannes Zukertort

What made the event such a novelty was that Zukertort was blindfolded as he played the 12 matches.

Young Randolph Churchill played well and was one of the last three opponents standing.

Now, in a recreation of that event, Alex Baburin, Ireland’s only Chess Grandmaster, is taking on a challenge that would fry the brains of even the best exponents of the ancient game.

The Sunday Independent  chess columnist will take on not 12 but 16 opponents simultaneously, a feat of extraordinary mental acuity.

Like Zukertort, Alex will take the audacious challenge blindfolded to break a record that has stood for 135 years.

To complete the challenge, Alex will have to memorise the constantly changing positions of 512 chess men on 16 boards with 924 squares.

He will be playing against 16 accomplished chess players, who are themselves members of clubs around the country.

The Dublin-based Russian native will have to win 12 of his 16 games to officially surpass Zukertort’s achievement.

His opponents selected from across the spectrum of Irish chess players have an average rating of 1,500 — the strength of an average club player in Ireland. Law firm Arthur Cox is sponsoring the event.

As a nod to that historic encounter, participants of this year’s event will be wearing formal eveningwear and ball gowns as the players would have worn in 1879. While there is no dress code for the audience, there is a “dress smartly” request and there are prizes for best dressed chess fans.

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“It is a tough challenge, but I have been doing a lot of practising. The aim is to boost interest in chess,” Alex said.

According to several studies, the benefits of playing the game include raising IQ and improving memory and problem-solving skills.

Celebrities, including Boris Becker, Bob Dylan, Bill Gates and Stephen Fry, play.

U2’s Bono has also written passionately about his memories of playing chess as a child at the Phibsboro chess club and he made sure to meet

his  hero, Gary Kasparov, when he visited Dublin last year. Kasparov won in three moves.

President Michael D Higgins is patron of the Irish Chess Union and is said to be a decent player

The unique event will start at 5pm this Wednesday in the Poddle Room in the Printworks, at Dublin Castle. Many of the record-attempting games will be streamed online at www.icu.ie, and there will be live analysis by chess masters to explain the finer details of game to the audience. All the games will be finished by 11pm.

More details at 086-8249736.

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