An 87-year-old Hungarian woman aims this weekend to set a world record by beating 1920s Cuban chess grandmaster Jose Raul Capablanca at his own game: simultaneous play.
Since the 1950s, Brigitta Sinka, a former top amateur player, has played around 13,000 documented games of simultaneous chess across Hungary, usually on dozens of boards at the one time, taking on all-comers, many of them schoolchildren.
With preparations underway for a weekend-long event she calls a “final push”, she hopes to play the final few hundred games needed to overtake a total — 13,545 — attributed to Capablanca (1888-1942), one of the world’s best-ever players.
“Chess is my life, simultaneous play is my passion,” grey-haired Sinka told AFP during a short break from a playing excited teenagers inside a circle of 16 tables in a Budapest high school.
“In one hour, I’ve gone round 30 times, you can count how many metres that is, soon it will be kilometres,” she laughed.
Sinka, whose nickname is Auntie Bici (pronounced “Bitzi”), clocked up thousands of games around Hungary playing at summer camps for schoolchildren hosted by her employer for many decades, a communist-era metal recycling firm.
“I love seeing the twinkle in the children’s eyes when they play, chess develops their brains like no other game,” says Sinka, who gives each of her young opponents a miniature rosette she sews at home as a memento.
– Practice makes perfect –
Thirteen-year-old Martin is impressed.
“She always sees ahead where I’m going to move, it seems the older you are, the better player you become,” the schoolboy told AFP.
Neither Sinka’s energy nor ambition has been deterred by three heart operations in recent years.
In hospital — where she recorded 14 simultaneous games with the nurses — she recalls the doctors advising her to quit playing.
“They gave me a walking stick, but it kept falling over when I leant on the tables with one hand and made my moves with the other, then they realised chess keeps my body strong and my mind sharp”.
In 2010, with her total around 9,000 games, a chess historian told her that he had spotted Capablanca’s total in a biography of the Cuban great.
“I was unaware of it before then, so I thought I’d have a go at beating it,” she said.
Around a century ago Capablanca played high-speed simultaneous exhibition chess for money but his games, despite being counted, were undocumented.
Sinka however has meticulously recorded in scrapbooks every game she has played — where, when, opponent, and result — each signed off by a witness.
She hopes the Guinness Records adjudicators will acknowledge her feat as an official world record.
Born in 1928 and raised on a remote farm on the Great Hungarian Plain, her father taught her the chess moves by the age of four.
She was twice selected to play at the women’s Chess Olympiads, but missed out both times.
At the inaugural event in 1957 her passport to leave her then-communist homeland was delayed in the post, then in 1960 Hungary was part of an Eastern Bloc boycott.
Arriving too late to compete in the 1957 event in the Netherlands had a silver lining however, as she was invited to play in a sidelines chess event, her first ever six simultaneous games.
“She’s been unstoppable ever since,” smiles Eszter Erdei, her childhood friend now helping her document the game details.
And her victory rate? A whopping 86 percent, with your correspondent — although it won’t count for the record — added with impressive ease to her many scalps.