87-year-old in 'final push' for chess record

Ms Brigitta Sinka, a former top amateur player, has an 86 per cent victory rate.
Ms Brigitta Sinka, a former top amateur player, has an 86 per cent victory rate. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

BUDAPEST - An 87-year-old Hungarian woman aims to set a world record by beating 1920s Cuban chess grandmaster Jose Raul Capablanca at his own game: simultaneous play.

Since the 1950s, Ms 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 one time, taking on all-comers, many of them schoolchildren.

With preparations under way 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 Mr Capablanca (1888-1942), one of the world's best players.

"Chess is my life, simultaneous play is my passion," grey-haired Ms Sinka said during a short break from playing with 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.

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.

Ms Sinka, whose nickname is Auntie Bici (pronounced "Bitzi"), clocked up thousands of games around Hungary, playing for many decades at summer camps for schoolchildren. "I love seeing the twinkle in the children's eyes when they play; chess develops their brains like no other game," says Ms Sinka, who has an 86 per cent victory rate.

Neither her energy nor ambition has been dimmed 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 leaned 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."

Around a century ago, Mr Capablanca played high-speed simultaneous exhibition chess for money but his games, despite being counted, were undocumented.

Ms 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.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2015, with the headline '87-year-old in 'final push' for chess record'. Subscribe