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Chess master beats 10 jail inmates — while he’s blindfolded

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Updated: December 3, 2013 6:10AM

A stubbly Timur Gareyev was still wearing his Halloween costume from the night before when he found himself blindfolded inside the Cook County Jail Friday morning.

By choice.

So the Uzbekistan native, who flew in from New York before sunrise, can perhaps be forgiven for very occasionally forgetting which opponent he was playing in chess.

In perhaps the most amazing display of mental agility ever witnessed inside the jail, Gareyev — ranked No. 4 in the United States — simultaneously took on 10 inmate chess opponents with a bandanna covering his eyes.

Gareyev struggled to explain his technique to a lesser brain Friday, as he sat down and prepared to face his opponents — all medium security inmates and participants in jail chess tournaments that began in spring 2012.

“You don’t get stuck on any particular game, you just let things kind of naturally settle down,” said Gareyev, 25, who lives in San Diego. “It’s challenging to describe. It’s more of an experience than a system.”

With that, Gareyev sat down, allowed himself to be blindfolded and then faced the players, each one sitting at a table with a chess board in front of him. The inmate at board one made the first move — announcing it out loud — before Gareyev called out his move, with Mikhail Korenman, the jail chess coach, nudging the pieces for him. It continued this way, until a move had been made at all 10 boards, before the action returned to the first board.

Despite Gareyev’s credentials, inmate Anthony Wooden, 29, confidently predicted victory.

“I’m the best chess player on earth,” boasted Wooden, who said he’s been playing since sixth grade. Gareyev “messed up today. I’ve been training day and night for a month.”

Gareyev took the occasional sip of water as he called out move after move, soon leaving his sighted opponents shaking their heads in disbelief at his astonishing skills.

A little more than an hour into the match, they began to fall. And by about noon, Gareyev had beaten everyone in the room.

“All I can say is, wow!” said Wooden, who was the second to last to lose.

After he pulled away his blindfold, Gareyev then explained to the inmates his winning strategy at each board.

“I wouldn’t have lasted five moves, if he didn’t have his blindfold,” joked inmate Demetrius Hartfield, 40, who said he nevertheless enjoyed the experience.

Gareyev, who sometimes falls asleep playing chess matches in his head, began doing it blindfolded about two years ago — as an extra challenge.

He says he hopes to set a world record in 2015, playing 50 matches simultaneously.

He came to the jail at Korenman’s invitation and said it was a good warm-up for his world record try.

“Events like this, several times a month, are an amazing workout for my mind,” he said.

Gareyev showed up Friday, after leaving a Halloween party in New York and immediately hopping on a airplane. He said he napped only an hour on the plane. He was still wearing a costume — that brought to mind a Russian villager. Gareyev wasn’t sure of the costume’s origin.

He said he had no plans to take a nap.

“This somehow freshened me up,” he said. “I guess it’s a form of meditation.”


Twitter: @slesposito

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