Über Marc Lang
Interview with a Cognitive Magician
Albert Ziegler (Germany), Hannelore Palau Govela (Mexico) &
Nicolette Talbott Helling (United States)
Chess is a board game that is played with 32 chess pieces on 64 squares. The possibilities for moving the chess pieces are so complex that even the most powerful computers have not been able to come close to finding all the potential options. After the first six moves, there are nine million variations and combination possibilities which "explode" over the course of the game. Playing a single chess game without seeing the board significantly overwhelms the normal human memory and human information processing.
Marc Lang played 35 games of chess, simultaneously, while blindfolded. He lost only two games. It is no exaggeration to describe this as one of the most well-known human cognitive accomplishments. It’s reason enough for Talent Talks to ask him for an interview.
TALENT TALKS: You have recently played 35 simultaneous games of chess and given the third best performance ever. Until now, no previous world champion has ever done this. How long did it take until all games were played?
MARC LANG: The event lasted 23 hours. After the deduction of four breaks of 30 minutes, it was about 21 hours of playtime.TALENT TALKS. To keep the same 35 games in your memory seems impossible, like it would blow up your memory. How often did you forget your position during the record attempt?
MARC LANG: Fortunately, I never forgot a position completely. But there were times that I omitted details temporarily. When this happens, I try to replay the entire game again in my mind. If that is no longer possible, I hope that something from the history of the game will be shown, like when the opponent makes a move.TALENT TALKS: Your record makes great demands on physical fitness. What do you do for your fitness?
MARC LANG: I believe that a good constitution is essential for such an event. Therefore, in preparing for the challenge I spent little time playing chess, but I spent lots of time exercising. Specifically, six times a week I would bike 50 km and then swim a mile.TALENT TALKS: Does a blindfolded simultaneous player need special talents? What are these special talents?
MARC LANG: It’s hard to say because there is no "colleague“ with whom I could compare myself or exchange. But surely you should have a well-functioning optical memory, otherwise it will be difficult. In addition, some experience and playing strength in the game of chess is needed - it makes no sense if one can remember all the positions, but loses all the games.
TALENT TALKS: Edison coined the famous phrase; genius is based on 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. How would you distribute the percentages for blindfolded simultaneous chess playing?
MARC LANG: "Genius" means only that one can do something that the vast majority cannot do or cannot quite accomplish, which, in my opinion, has various causes. One of the causes is random physical ability, which makes it easier to develop and discover one’s own “talent”. In addition, being a genius requires a certain consciousness, ambition and talent in this area. During the blind simultaneous record attempt, I have heard from many the proposition that they never would have been ready to attempt such a marathon event, - who knows, perhaps some of them would have been able to accomplish similar event. Because I have fun doing this, it makes it possible for me to continue even when “it hurts” and this is another element of genius.
TALENT TALKS: Do you train everyday, and how many times per week?
MARC LANG: For the Blind simultaneous record I did four weeks of very intense sport. Otherwise, I just like to play chess and keep myself busy with it, such as looking at old, master games on the Internet or skimming through a good chess book. But I don’t do a structured training with a fixed schedule. My job would not allow this, nor my wife and children.
TALENT TALKS: Does training for blindfolded chess require playing chess blindfolded, or can you train in another way?
MARC LANG: I have never tried to train blindfolded chess actively, but I suspect that part of my own laziness is due to my natural ability or interest. I have always enjoyed studying chess books, but as a child I was usually too lazy to build the game situation on a chess board. So I just read these books and followed the games or problems in my mind, which has certainly trained my optical memory and imagination. To play blindfolded chess games would be the best training, however, this is a rare opportunity, because one needs at least one partner. At blindfolded simultaneous events is an even rarer situation; even for an event with only ten chess boards, all participants must devote at least 6 to 8 hours.TALENT TALKS: The development of exceptional levels of performance usually requires a exceptional training environment, ranging from adequate time resources to understanding friends and generous sponsors. How much does your environment support you?
MARC LANG:: My environment is first and foremost my family; sponsors who support me on a regular basis are little, just like the amount of time I spend training for these events. The European record attempt was the first time that I seriously trained. Time away from my career was financed out of my pocket and my wife made supported me greatly by taking care of our daily life and looking after our two small children.
TALENT TALKS: Usually it is assumed that you need a minimum of ten years to reach an international standard of play. How long have you been playing blind chess?
MARC LANG: The first blind simultaneous game I played was in a Stuttgart café 15 years ago. I have only played blindfolded simultaneous chess nine times, starting with 10 games, the moving to 15, then 23, and finally increasing up to 35 games. I have played chess itself a lot longer, for about 32 years.
TALENT TALKS: What role has chance played in your career?
MARC LANG: Doesn’t everything in history happen by chance? [Interviewer's note. At this point Marc Lang laughed heartily]. For my CV as a "blind simultaneous player", chance probably played a big role, because the first contact was really so random. 15 years ago I arranged to meet a fellow chess player in a Stuttgart café where we wanted to play a couple of games with a small magnetic chess board. After only a few moves, the waiter came to our table and told us that chess was not welcome in that cafe. Presumably he was afraid that we would play all night and not drink anything. So we put the chess board away and decided to play without it, in our heads. And while we were at it, we decided to play seriously: ten games, in which each player was black five times and also white five times.
TALENT TALKS: What are your next plans for blindfolded chess?
MARC LANG: After the 35 simultaneous games of blindfolded chess worked so well, it would be a pity not to take it one step further and attempt the 64-year-old world record of the Argentine chess grandmaster Miguel Najdorf. Therefore, I will begin in late November 2011 to play against 46 opponents, so I can beat Najdorf’s record by one board. In order for me to have a realistic chance, I have to do a more intense workout, which will require two months minimum. The money I will lose from not working will have to be supplemented somehow, so the World record attempt will also depend significantly on whether we can find sponsors to support the event financially.
TALENT TALKS: Do you think that you can get a Sponsor for this event?
MARC LANG: Of course! Even at the European record in November 2010, the media coverage was enormous, in addition to radio; the two even reported live from the event. Reports appeared in various regional and national newspapers and even a documentary on television. Since amateur chess is currently very well received and causes astonishment, the related image transfer for the sponsor is very positive. Those who are interested can see more information and contact details at www.blindsimultan.de
Marc Lang was born on 12.23.1969 in Bad Mergentheim. After graduating from high school in Ditzingen (near Stuttgart), he initially studied mathematics at the University of Stuttgart, but he dropped out this course after two semesters and transferred a year later to the faculty of computer science. Since 2000 he works as a freelance programmer with a focus on the Internet. He came to chess at the age of 8 years old thanks to his father. Although in his youth he won a few regional and national titles, and he had a great love for the game of chess, he never pursued a professional career because he didn’t think he had enough talent. Work and family life always takes priority for Lang. He is currently ranked about 8,000 in the world chess rankings.