Thursday, April 18, 2013

The black art of calculation - Blindfold Chess is easy!

It is easier than you think!

For some reason, I was always, right from the start, interested, if not fascinated by blindfold chess, probably because it seemed to me like a amazing "tour de force"!

So very early in my Chess journey, I tried and eventually succeeded in playing reasonably good blindfold chess.

In fact, I was able to play my first blindfold game as a 1500 elo player... and then 2 games simultaneously...and up to 4 games simultaneously! That was pretty cool!

Of course, the games' quality was not super high (even thought good enough to win more than several games against late 80's computers) but this was not the point: I was playing BLINDFOLD CHESS! ...and I was reasonably good at it!

More importantly, I was having fun and my Chess skills were improving in the process.

So...just try it!

You can play with the help of family and friends or against a club mate if you belong to a real-life Chess club. :-)
But probably, the easiest way to start is to play against a computer.

First off, you will need to weaken it a bit as you don't to get demoralized right of the bat!

Then, we've got 2 options:
  • Playing a computer program (like Fritz (Commercial)/Stockfish for iOS or Mac/Windows/Lunix (Open source, Free)) with a Graphical User Interface (GUI) that allows the user to play without showing the pieces: this is usually available in the settings. Then, you can play as usual except that you do not see the piece on the board, only when they move!
  • Playing against a Winboard Chess engine (like Delfi) where you need to enter the coordinates (i.e. e2e4, e7e5) of each move via a command line.For some, it might seems a bit hardcore but I found this is a better option for me as it helped me to be comfortable with the algebraic notation and removed the "distraction" of an empty board in front of me...but this is really a matter of taste.

How to play your first game

Now, you are all set up and ready to go for your first game...

Well, I hate to break the news but you'll unlikely play a whole game at your first attempt! It'll take many attempts (but not that many; actually less than 10 for me) before you can complete a full game (i.e. a ~ 40 moves game)

This is how I proceeded:
  • Play a certain number of moves depending on your comfort level (5, 10, 15, ...)
  • Stop and try to visualize
    • the position of each pieces as clearly as possible and more importantly interactions between them (who is threatening who / what)
    • the pawn structure as clearly as possible
    • the various threats and possible plans
  • Try to continue the game as much as possible but stop when you start to make "obvious" tactical mistakes or do not "see" the chessboard anymore
  • Repeat the process above until you play your first blindfold game!
Some additional tips:
  • For the first few games, start with the white pieces (should be a bit easier)...but, after some time, do not forget to play the black ones too!
  • Play an opening you are familiar with.
  • Ideally, this opening is rather solid and not too complex from a tactical perspective (forget those wild crazy poisoned pawn sicilian lines!)
  • Pace yourself! this can be a very tiring experience but...

Benefits are immense

  • Improve your calculation and visual representation abilities
  • Increase your capacity of concentration
  • Boost your self-confidence during over the board play.
  • This fun and rewarding! Playing (and winning) a blindfold game against a family casual player will establish your Chess reputation in the family for years to come! :-)
If you want to learn everything (and a little bit more) about blindfold Chess check out: some of the positions below are taken from the fantastic book "Blindfold Chess: History, Psychology, Techniques, Champions, World Records, and Important Games"

To wrap this post up, you will find below fantastic combinations and great blindfold chess games!

The longest combination ever played during a blindfold game: Blackburne announced mate in 16(!) in the position below:

This is one of A. Alekhine's most famous combination, played during a blindfold game!

Famous, high quality, spectacular blindfold games

So start practising and have fun!