Simultaneous blindfold exhibitions in draughts

Learn the story of two outstanding Dutch draughts masters who broke records and competed in a blindfold simultaneous exhibition. They played all the games in their heads.

Simultaneous blindfold exhibitions in draughts

Imagine playing a dozen or several dozen checkers games at the same time. Not an easy task, right? Now add to that the fact that you are doing it... blind without access to a single board!

What is a blindfold simultaneous exhibition?

A blindfold simultaneous exhibition (also known as simultaneous display or simul) is a simultaneous competition with many opponents, while not having access to the boards. The competitor is alone in a different room, separated from his opponents.

The player must remember every current position and all movements - simultaneously for a dozen or a few dozen rivals! 

The other players calmly look at their boards. It is not hard to guess that it requires absolute concentration - this is one of the most complicated achievements in draughts. Truly remarkable!

The first blindfold simul in the history of draughts

The first known blindfold simul in the history of draughts took place in 1926 in France. The Dutch draughts grandmaster, Ben Springer, decided to play two games simultaneously.

Then, in the years 1950-1955, two more brave men faced this challenge - the Dutch, Piet Roozenburg and Wim Huisman. Roozenburg played 5 blindfold matches, and Huisman managed to take on as many as 8 at the same time.

In 1982, a true champion entered the draughts stage and for a very long time bore the palm...

The birth of a champion 

On December 18, 1982, at 6:20 a.m. in The Hague, the Dutchman, Teunis (Ton) Sijbrands, began his first ever blindfold simultaneous display. He played 10 games, won 9, and drew one, giving him an impressive 95% score (18 points).

Since then, he has challenged himself, facing more and more rivals in a duel every few years. In 1999, there were as many as 20 of them, and the game lasted a whole 15 hours. However, only the blindfold simul played by Sijbrands in the new millennium gained greater world renown.

A draughts simultaneous display that has gone down in history

In 2002, Ton Sijbrands, already experienced in simultaneous play, raised the bar himself and challenged as many as 22 opponents. Of course, blindfold. For the record to be recognized, the contender (challenger) had to score at least 70% of the total 44 points, i.e. 31 points. How do you think he managed to achieve this?

In the blindfold simul, 2 points are awarded for each victory, and the player is given 1 point for a draw. Sijbrands won 17 games and drew 5, giving him a staggering score of 39 points, that is 88%. What's even more stunning, the grandmaster was already 53 years old at the time. 

You are probably wondering where such talent came from and what Ton Sijbrands did before.

Who is Teunis (Ton) Sijbrands?

Obviously, Sijbrands did not immediately play such complex blindfold displays. He is a Dutch international draughts grandmaster who won 6 Dutch, 4 European, and 2 world titles. He was born in Amsterdam in 1949. Let's take a closer look at this absolutely unique player.

Sijbrands became acquainted with club-level checkers at the age of 12 when his father took him to a youth checkers club one Saturday afternoon. Perhaps this meeting ignited a great passion for checkers because he was announced the youth champion of Amsterdam and the Netherlands soon after.

He became known throughout the country when, in 1965, at age of 16, he defeated the world champion, Vyacheslav Shtsjogolyev. He did it just 2 months after his debut in the Dutch championship! He earned the Dutch champion title in 1967, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, and 1988. In addition, he became the European champion four times: in 1967, 1968, 1969, and 1971. However, he did not stop there.

In 1972 and 1973, he emerged as the World Champion in Draughts. He defended this title in 1973 in a match against Andris Andreiko (score 22-18). After this clash, he withdrew from the top level for a while. In 1990, he played another world title match which ended in a draw, allowing Russian Alexei Chizhov to keep his title. 

Sijbrands is not only a highly successful competitor. He can confidently compete for the title of most unusual checkers player. For several years, he published weekly columns on sketches in the Dutch national newspaper "de Volkskrant" and wrote a few books on the game. Still, he is best known for breaking records in a blindfold simul.

More records in a blindfold simultaneous competition

On December 18, 2004, in the Dutch village of Lutten, Sijbrands attempted his blindfold simul world record. This time the game lasted 24 hours, and Ton decided to face 24 players at the same time. The match ended with an incredible 92% score! The famous Dutchman won 20 games and drew the other 4, finishing with a total of 44 points. Yet, this is not the end of the story - the champion decided not to stop.

At his next attempt, on October 5, 2007, at Tilburg University, he broke his own record again. This time he played 25 matches, winning 21 and drawing 4. Unfortunately, this incredible streak of the talented Dutchman ended soon after.

Stepping off the stage?

Meanwhile, in October 2006, Ton Sijbrands announced that he would end his career or at least refrain from participating in the 2007 World Cup (in Hardenberg). The reason he gave was to focus on working on his – very extensive – collection of memoirs. As it turned out, this was not the only real cause. 

Interestingly, Teunis (Ton) Sijbrands also disagreed with the changes and plans in checkers at the time, such as:

  • introducing anti-doping controls,
  • reducing time control in the game by about half an hour,
  • scoring changes (plus and minus draw system was introduced for draws).

All of them were rarely followed in practice, but they discouraged Sijbrands so much that he virtually withdrew from the competition.

After the 2003 World Cup in Zwartsluis, Sijbrands restricted himself to playing in Dutch checkers competitions, first for Heijmans Excelsior Rosmalen, then for Bart Smit Volendam and Amersfoort Dam Genootschap ADG (where he also played in mutual gameplays).

Finally, a worthy rival to the simul champion

In the same year in which Ton Sijbrands won his first World Championship title (1972), the next great player Erno Prosman was born in the city of Gouda, the Dutch capital of cheese. He has been the only man so far to break Sijbrands's record in a blindfold simultaneous exhibition. 

In 2008, at age 35, Prosman proved that Ton Sijbrands is not the only genius on the blindfold simul scene. It was then that Erno Prosman broke his compatriot's record, playing 27 games (2 more than Sijbrands in 2007) in 22 hours, scoring 70%! As you can guess, it didn't take long for a response… In 2009, there was another attempt to break the record, in fact; to take it from Prosman, Sijbrands played 28 games in nearly 42 hours, winning 18, drawing 7, and losing 3. However, this is not the end of the fascinating duel...

Who is Erno Prosman?

Sijbrands's worthy opponent, Erno Prosman, is a Dutch international grandmaster. In 1991, he became the Junior World Champion and, 5 years later, the Dutch Champion. His path to success differs markedly from Sijbrands.

Prosman's successes are not so remarkable, as he chose a different career plan early and did not devote as much time to checkers as the other champions. Despite this, he is undoubtedly considered one of the strongest players in the Netherlands and the world! It is also impossible to ignore the fact that (so far) he is the only person in the world who has dared to face Sijbrands's records in a blindfold simultaneous display. And with success!

The great, final rematch

Returning to the simultaneous exhibition topic, we have a correspondence rematch after 3 years of preparation! In 2012, Prosman took up the challenge of taking the record from Sijbrands again, playing 30 games in roughly 29 hours. The situation was repeated. He scored the minimum number of points to establish the record. He won 17 games, drew 8, and lost 5, making it a perfect 70%.

How did his rival, Teunis (Ton) Sijbrands, react to this? Although after his last record attempt in 2009, Sijbrands said: never again, when he heard about Prosman's new achievement, he began to consider trying. 

Two years later, in December 2014, the 64-year-old Sijbrands set about breaking the record once again. This time he decided to play 32 blindfolded games - 2 more than Prosman.

Who were Sijbrands's opponents? Their average rating was 1,050, which is the level of an average first-league player. The exhausting battle lasted over... 48 hours. During it, Master Sijbrands did not get a wink of sleep, not even for a moment! He was afraid that important facts about the game might slip his mind even during a short nap.

What was the result? Ton Sijbrands finished the simul with 72%, breaking Prosman's previous record! He won 14 games and drew 18; he did not lose a single match. Several of the opponents gave up during the event.

We can only imagine how intense and gruelling the experience was!

Who will set the next record?

This question remains a mystery so far. As of now, the 2014 record has not been broken by anyone. What's more, there was not even an attempt to beat it.

Despite the fact that we have plenty of great players and multiple world champions in the checkers world, it turns out that it takes incredible talent, or perhaps even a "gift", to play so many blindfold games in the 100-square draughtboard game. Chapeau bas!


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