Multitasking grandmaster takes Laurier to chess school
Mark Bluvshtein is not the average chess player. The 22-year-old international grandmaster recently played – and defeated – 32 opponents simultaneously at a Laurier demonstration event held in celebration of the university’s centennial. The event was organized by Hasan Shodiev, a lab coordinator in Laurier’s Department of Physics and Computer Science.
For the average chess player, each and every game is an occasion of intense stress and borderline desperation – of striving to see just one more move ahead while avoiding head-slapping mistakes. Mark Bluvshtein is not the average chess player. The 22-year-old international grandmaster recently played – and defeated – 32 opponents simultaneously at a Laurier demonstration event held in celebration of the university’s centennial.
“This is fun because it’s more relaxing than a tournament,” Bluvshtein said while sizing up the competition before the contest, which took place in the Science Building Atrium. “Everyone looks feisty,” he added, seeming pleased.
The event was organized by Hasan Shodiev, a lab coordinator in Laurier’s Department of Physics and Computer Science and a passionate advocate for the game.
“Regular chess training develops skills related to critical thinking and also complex reasoning and communication,” he said. “We don’t need robots, we need creative people for today’s society. It’s exactly what we’re trying to teach at the university.” As the contest got underway, it was clear that Bluvshtein does not adhere to the Bobby Fisher stereotype of the nerdy, antisocial chess prodigy. Dressed in a rakish summer suit, he strode calmly from board to board, pausing now and then to chat with players and spectators along the way. Not that he wasn’t also brutally efficient. As he moved a piece on one board, usually within a few seconds of arriving, his head was often already turned to study the position on the next board. Cameron Davidson-Pilon, a fourth-year math major, had set himself the goal of getting the grandmaster into check at least once, but he was soon withering under his opponent’s attacks. “I could take hours at this game to make one move, and it would seem redundant after his next move,” he said. Forty minutes or so into his game, Davidson-Pilon succumbed. Did he achieve his goal of putting the grandmaster in check? “That was not accomplished, unfortunately.” As play progressed into the mid- and end-games, Bluvshtein sometimes lingered to study a position in detail before acting. “He’s stalled here a bit longer than some other games, so it means he had a decision to make,” said Hazel Smith, a Laurier business student and vice-president of the chess club, as the grandmaster stepped back to contemplate a move. “In simuls you really have to allocate your time to the key moves and dangerous players.” Smith is herself an accomplished master of the game. A former member of Canada’s Chess Olympics team, she is one of the five or so best female players in the country, by Bluvshtein’s estimation. Several of the challengers managed to put up strong fights, he said. Foremost among those was one Laurier undergraduate who was able to put him in a dangerous position during their endgame. The grandmaster fought his way back, however, eventually bedeviling his opponent with a show of false weakness that lured him into overextending himself. “I spent a lot more time in that game than other games, because I knew it would take a lot more energy,” Bluvshtein said. “That was the game with the most concern.” After about two hours, chemistry Professor Vladimir Katiev was the last player still at his board. He played a “position game,” focusing on building a strong, mutually protective structure of pieces on the board as the grandmaster pummelled him with attacks. When Katiev resigned, Bluvshtein had two bishops to the former’s bishop and knight, a slightly inferior combination that spelled doom at the hands of a high-calibre player. “It just flew by,” the grandmaster said, after the event’s conclusion. “I was so zoned in that I didn’t notice it was coming to an end. Suddenly there were only two players left.” He said he had enjoyed himself, and that the event was a nice break from the rigors of tournament play, where the smallest mistake can be fatal and where single games sometimes drag on for hours. “I had a game in Moscow that went almost seven hours,” he said. “It was a draw, but at least I didn’t lose. Playing for seven hours and losing – there’s not a lot of worse things than that in chess."