Monday, March 30, 2009

Blindfold chess

THE limelight now is on Amber, one of the major tournaments in the chess calendar. Now on its 18th edition, it is sponsored by legendary Dutch billionaire Joop von Oosteroom in honor of his daughter, Melody Amber, and only the top players of the world are invited. Aside from hefty appearance fees, the total prize is 216,000 Euros.

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Its most unique feature is that half of the games are played “blindfold”—the art of playing without seeing the pieces or chessboard—which to the uninitiated is difficult to comprehend. It is actually a piece of cake even for the ordinary master now, after some practice.

During the 18th century, when Philidor played two blindfold games of chess simultaneously, eyewitnesses were asked to sign affidavits attesting to this remarkable feat. Many famous psychologists thought then that playing blindfold would cause great harm, even madness.

In the former Soviet Union, simultaneous blindfold chess exhibitions were banned for they were decreed bad for your health! Perhaps there are some grounds for this belief since two of the greatest blindfold performers in the first half of this century, Pillsbury and Alekhine, died rather young (Pillsbury 31, Alekhine 54) and supposedly suffered great headaches after these “séances.”

Since then, blindfold chess has produced some of the greatest memory exhibitions in history. Here are some remarkable feats of simultaneous blindfold games played in modern times.

In 1937, George Koltanowski set the blindfold record by playing 34 opponents in Edinburgh, Scotland, scoring +20, -0, =14. This topped Alekhine’s 32, but was later broken by Miguel Najdorf (Argentina) at Sao Paulo, 1947, who played 45 (+39, -2, =4). Then Janos Flesch of Hungary broke this mark by playing 52 in 1960 (+31, - 18, =3), later in 1960 Koltanowski regained the record by playing 56 opponents (+50, -6, =0).

Other remarkable feats of simultaneous blindfold exhibitions have been by Paulsen, Morphy, Blackburne, Zukertort and Reti. Among the current crop Viswanathan Anand, Vladimir Kramnik, Alexander Morozevich, Levon Aronian and Magnus
Carlsen are constant top placers in Amber and Bilbao.

Playing blindfold requires a tremendous amount of visualization skills and analytical abilities, since the player has to remember the entire game in his mind.

You must be very familiar with algebraic notation to keep track of all 32 pieces on the 64-square board. Playing online chess also helps in improving your visualization skills.

Blindfold chess, in moderation, has been recommended by many adherents as a remarkable way to improve your game. It has become very popular among people in training because it forces one to visualize the board in the mind, encouraging better understanding of the position.

If you are interested in learning to play blindfold chess, the best way to start is to find two other people equally interested in the same. This way, two people can play at the same time while the third member moves the pieces on the board.

Play the first 10 or so games completely for fun, and expect to remove the blindfolds at some point during the game when one player becomes hopelessly lost. Continue this until every player can make it through complete games without losing track of the pieces. Essentially, you have to master the ability to keep all 32 pieces and their locations in short term memory, which is quite tricky at first.

After time, playing blindfold chess is almost like playing regular chess.

Blindfold chess is highly recommended to develop the ability to visualize. It is very useful for


rolly said...

Who plays blindfold here in the Phils?
What I know is there are many of them in Quiapo... they play blind!

rolly said...

You forgot to include Harry Nelson Pillsbury...
one of the greatest blindfold player ever