Blindfold chess is a chess variant in which one or more of the players plays the game blindfolded, meaning that he or she cannot use vision to aid in playing the game. Instead, the player(s) must make moves with the help of an assistant, who performs the moves on the board as each blindfolded player requests. Except for this, the game is entirely the same as traditional chess.
History of Blindfold Chess
Blindfold chess originally developed as a way to help people move their hands with precision without the use of vision. In pre-medieval India, where it largely developed, blindfold chess was played where one player made his own moves on the board. The blindfolded player, in those days, was allowed to feel all of the pieces on the board to make a visual image in their mind of the situation before making a move.
Around 700, Sa'id bin Jubair (665-714), an African judge who lived in the Middle East, became famous for his blindfold play of chess. He became the first blindfold player to turn his back on the board and play without any direct knowledge of the contents of the board, letting an assistant make his moves for him. Jubair's play became renowned throughout the world, as top players tried to emulate it, discovering that it was quite difficult.
Over time, blindfold chess became a popular chess variant among masters, which it still is to this day. It also has become a very popular practice among people in training to become better chess players because it forces one to visualize the board in the mind, encouraging a broadening of thinking in relation to the game.
In modern times, the legendary player George Koltanowski (1903-2000) kept blindfold chess in the spotlight through many exhibitions of blindfold chess. His strong outgoing personality and amazing talent for playing blindfold chess has helped to revive the game in the modern era.
Techniques for Learning Blindfold Chess
If you are interested in learning to play blindfold chess, the best way to start is to find two other people equally interested in learning. This way, two people can play at the same time while the third member of the group moves the pieces on the board to keep track of the game.
The next thing to do is to make sure that you all understand the game and, more importantly, that you all understand one particular chess notation scheme. I recommend learning algebraic notation, but when I played this at first, I found that a more descriptive style was more effective, eventually settling on simplified algebraic notation. Make sure that all three players know this system down cold, because it is how both players will communicate their moves to the third person.
Play the first ten 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 thirty-two pieces and their locations in short term memory, which is quite tricky at first. Eventually, you discover patterns for yourself for remembering the pieces, but regardless, it remains a very vigorous exercise for your mind. Most importantly, until you master remembering the board, do not try to contemplate strategy! If you do so without complete mastery of remembering the board, elements of the position will almost assuredly slip your mind.
When you start to play with some degree of competition, the first few games will likely result in a number of flub-ups as players get nervous and lose track of the board. Essentially, the skill you need now is keeping facts straight under pressure.
After time, playing blindfold chess is almost like playing regular chess. In fact, I often find myself closing my eyes and visualizing things unfolding during non-blindfold matches.
Why You Should Give Blindfold Chess A Try
Blindfold chess is absolutely magnificent in helping to develop the ability to visualize. Anyone that works with or studies intangible topics can benefit greatly from this ability, and I have yet to find a pastime better at developing the skill than blindfold chess.
In particular, it is useful for helping to develop the skill of visualizing processes in action. Engineers and scientists in particular might find that playing blindfold chess increases their ability to understand some of the processes they work with and study, simply because they are exercising that capacity of their mind.
Blindfold chess is a fantastic mental exercise and an enjoyable game to boot. It has vastly improved my thinking and concentration skills, and I've had many great times playing the game.