This was one of the most puzzling of psychological illusionist Derren Brown’s latest feats in his new TV series “Trick of the Mind”, yet it is one of the most simple. Derren Brown sometimes reveals how he does his tricks afterwards, and in many ways this is more entertaining than the trick itself.

Brown gathered together nine highly skilled chess players, including grandmasters, international masters, and fide masters. He then sat them around in a circle with dividing walls so that they could not see each other. Brown, who claimed he had no skill at chess, then moved around the circle playing all nine men simultaneously. His results were four wins, three losses, and two draws.

So how did Brown come out on top?

Simple – he didn’t actually play any chess at all!

To explain how he did it, I will label the nine players A through to I. Brown’s first step was to pair the players off. So, player A was paired with player B, C with D, E with F, and G with H. We will leave player I for now.

So, Brown began with player A’s game in which A moved first. Brown did not make his move yet. Instead he moved to the next game. He had memorised player A’s first move and in his game with player B, Brown moved first and simply copied A’s opening move. Brown repeated this tactic with each pairing, effectively creating the situation where the pairs were simply playing each other, not Brown. By proceeding in this fashion, Brown would be guaranteed to win, or at least draw, against these top chess players.

But wait a minute!

What about player I? Surely Brown can only break even when playing the eight paired off players? Yet he came out on top.

Here is where Derren Brown kicks you in the nuts with something amazing just when you think you know how he did it. Brown picked the weakest of the group of players as player I, and actually played a real game of chess with him. Even though player I was not a grandmaster and only a young player, he was still one of the best young players in Britain.

How Brown beat this man remains a mystery. Is he much more skilled at chess than he claims? Did he use some of his psychological trickery to overcome the superior player? I guess the only person who knows for certain is Derren Brown himself.

Oh yes – Brown also opened a sealed envelope at the end of the trick in which he had predicted the exact number of pieces left on each player’s board.

Even though he has explained much of the trick to you, you are still left wondering:

“Now how did he do that…?”

With some minor adaptations, this makes the great basis of way to trick your friends who think they are better at chess than you!

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