Before he turned 15 last year, Clearwater’s Ray Robson became the youngest American to join that exclusive club. On Sunday, the 16-year-old hopes to extend his winning streak in a “simul” exhibition, which involves playing more than two dozen challengers at once. The teenage prodigy has never even been forced into a draw in this format.
“I’ve played five simuls so far,” says Robson, who lived in Sarasota for a year. “I don’t think they’re harder than regular games. They usually don’t take as long.”
But for Bob Schleppi of Osprey, who organized the group challenge, the ability to win 30 chess games simultaneously involves mind-boggling skills.
“I tried playing two people at once, and splitting my attention between two boards at once was extremely difficult for me,” he says. “Playing 30 at once? That goes beyond what 99.99 percent of us could do.”
Schleppi says Robson will face “a good mix” of opponents, including a 12-year-old, a septuagenarian, a woman — a rarity in this male-dominated sport — one ranked player, and a blogger who will file live reports at chess.com.
But contestants will not be the only ones attending. A large number of spectators may turn out as well, including a contingent from the Pine View School for the Gifted in Osprey. To minimize distractions, flash photography is prohibited and no sideline coaching is allowed.
Visitors will also get a broad perspective on the game.
An exhibit involving the evolution of chess, from rare antiques to reproductions, will be on display throughout the event.
Robson, who has been tutored by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, will be playing white pieces to keep things simple. Game tables will be arranged in a circular configuration at Selby’s Geldbart Auditorium.
“He usually winds up walking several miles” during simul exhibitions, says his father, Gary Robson, who will discuss his son’s successes before the competition and sign books throughout. “He purposefully plays different openings to give everyone a different look.”
“I guess the average game lasts maybe 30 moves,” Ray Robson says of simul play. “If I’m not sure of a move, I might take a minute or so. But my average move takes 20 seconds.”