May 25, 2012, 12:10 AM |

Earlier this week I played a simul against 14 kids, mostly first graders, at my son's school chess club.  This was by far the most people I've ever played at once.  If I recall, the only other simul I played was against 4 kids in high school (I won easily, but they weren't serious players).  14 first graders sounds easy, but did I mention that I only had about 30 minutes to finish all the games?  If each game lasted about 30 moves, that required me to use about 4-5 seconds each move (not counting time walking back and forth).

I had actually worked out most of the math beforehand and had meant to tell the instructor that I didn't want to do more than 10 at once, but never got around to it.  So when I showed up and he had already set up 14 boards, I was a bit nervous.  I was pretty sure I'd make mistakes moving that fast.

Playing in the simul was exciting, nerve-wracking, and stressful all at the same time.  I usually play 1. d4, but just to make sure kids didn't copy their neighbors' moves I decided to play 1. e4 and 1. d4 on alternating boards (I had white on all boards).  I zipped out the moves along all 14 boards, then walked back to the start.  Pretty much everyone made their move before I returned to their board, although I did have to correct a few kids who accidentally made illegal moves and I told them I'd come back around.

Early on, one kid was really happy as he shouted that he captured my queen!  Unfortunately for him, I pointed out that he couldn't capture my queen with my own knight! :)  Besides illegal moves, the thing you have to watch out against when playing a simul against kids is cheating.  I forked one girl's king, queen, and rook with my knight.  When I came back around 14 boards later, my knight was gone, her king had moved, and her rook was where my knight was.  She'd made three moves in a row, hoping I wouldn't notice.  Unfortunately for her, despite my frazzled state, I did notice and made her put it back.

The clock was ticking down, but the games started ending.  Most games I just played basic moves and waited for my opponents to play tactical blunders or leave pieces hanging.  In one game, I was up a knight and couldn't figure out a quick way to end the game, so I decided to just trade off the remaining pieces and get to an easily won endgame.  This was a mistake, as when I returned a few boards later and saw I could take a pawn with my knight, I did.  Less than a second after I took the pawn, I said "oops" (that was my second mistake -- never let them know you made a mistake).  My opponent had moved his g-pawn one square, right where my h-pawn could capture it.  Since I didn't, he captured my h-pawn and there was no way for me to stop it from becoming a queen.  Luckily for me the 30 minutes was up and one of the other parents said we should call it a draw.  My opponent happily agreed, and that was it.  I'm not sure what the result would have been, as it's possible he would have let me queen my own pawn (in which case I'd probably end up winning), but it's possible he might have won.  So I think a draw was fair.  13 wins and 1 draw, I can live with that.

Maybe next year I will play the 4th and 5th graders.  If I do, though, I'll try to make sure I have a full hour to play the games.