How to play blindfold chess
This article assumes that you know chess notation, either algebraic or descriptive.
If you don’t, a good description o algebraic notation is at http://www.chess.com/forum/view/general/notation-for-beginners
For the older descriptive notation, see
1) Know the colors of all the squares on the chessboard.
2) Be able to follow a game score or play a complete game without a board, so at any time you know the locations of all the pieces and their ranges of motion.
Learning objective 1 may seem superficial, but it is the basis for being able to “see” a chessboard in your mind.
LEARNING OBJECTIVE 1
To be able to visualize a chessboard, start with the lower left quadrant of 16 squares, with a1 at the lower left and d4 at the upper right. The other quadrants are the same visually – then you can quickly learn the squares of the other quadrants. This was the advice of George Koltanowski in “The Adventures of a Chess Master”. This is all you need for this exercise, but for more detail, and a fun read, check out
You can just draw a quadrant on paper occasionally, or imagine a Bishop traveling along the black or white diagonals as you fall asleep instead of counting sheep (Ba1-b2, Bb2-c3-d4, Bc1-d2, or Na1-c2-b4-d3), etc. This part of the exercise was recommended by David Blohm at the Mechanics Institute when I first when there as a sophomore in high school, and he won a blindfold skittles game against me.
LEARNING OBJECTIVE 2
If you find it challenging to play a game or follow a score after several mov’t es because you don’t remember the earlier moves (this may be a problem if you start playing more than one blindfold game at a time – giving “simuls”), you can go over scores repeating each half move from the beginning. For instance, a Ruy Lopez game would start as
1..e4, e5; 2.Nf3
1.e4, e5; 2.Nf3, Nc6
1.e4, e5; 2.Nf3, Nc6; 3.Bg5, etc.,
saying the moves in your mind until the last one that you say out loud if playing rather than reading a game score.) This was also the practice of George Koltawski described in his book.
This may seem tedious, but you most likely soon find that your mind starts producing images since that is more efficient, giving you “direct access” to the positions, when you can dispense with this intermediate exercise, that is like “training wheels” for bicycles).
After practicing these suggestions, I could limp though a weak blindfold game, sometimes visualizing pieces on the wrong squares, or moving though a piece I forgot, “retained images”(thinking a piece is still on an square after it has moved), a term due to Krogius. He categorizes errors and shows how to eliminate them in “Chess Psychology”, at
Quite some time later I devised a couple of remedial exercises of my own, that enabled me to give a blindfold simultaneous exhibition a few months later, winning 3-1, against an A player, a B player (the loss), a C player and a D player.
In addition to repeating the moves from the beginning to the current position each time, I practiced saying where each piece is, as well as its range of motion (beginning with the ranges of motion of the pieces in their starting positions).
This proved really tiring, so usually I would say where all the pieces were, and give the range of motion of only the pieces that changed their ranges of motion (for instance, on the first move, 1. e4 (“Now the white Bishop can move from f1 to a6, the White Queen can move from d1 to h 5, The white King can move to e2, the White King’s Knight can move to e2.
Black plays 1…e5 – I would go through all the pieces including Whites, where each black piece could move, and note that White’s pawn at e4 can no longer move to e5.m
I called all these tedious exercises “The method of seeing and saying” – eventually my brain got tired of all the algebra and started coughing up images (summoning the move efficient right hemisphere for its part of the task). The exercises coordinate the right and left hemispheres using the corpus collasum.
The last exercise, a suggestion of California Chess writer Richard Shorman, was to memorize some games. I decided to memorize the miniature games in “1000 Best Short Games of Chess” by Irving Chernev, going through them as in the previous exercises until they were memorized, so as to analyze them in more depth at odd times of the day (waiting in lines, for instance, find out why the game was so short – what was the decisive mistake). I got most of the value of the exercise after I remembered the first 67 games, when I abandoned the exercise and gave the “simul”.
Any short games with fairly simple tactics are fine for this exercise – I wouldn’t start with games having intricate interplay between tactics and strategy – you can take those on after you have consolidated your new “powers”.
A good choice would be games of Paul Morphy, one of the earlier blindfold players himself (after Philidor, who gave the first blindfold simultaneous exhibition on record).
Why learn to play blindfold?
The ability to play blindfold early separateed the GM’s tp be from the rest of the players.
After a game was over between these players in tournament, in the hallway they would say things like “On the 34th move 6 if you had played ee6, I could have answered with …fx36,
- Ne5, …” rattling off every long variation they had calculated during the game, and intimidating their next round opponents.
After you learn to play blindfold, you will probably find that you go up at least one class, unless you are already a master, when it will still climb some amount.
You will probably also have the pleasant experience that once you can play one game, you can suddenly plays several – the memory requirement takes care of itself after you master the mechanics of visualization.
Learning to play blindfold will allow you to calculate variations accurately over the board (or online) without moving the pieces, and without seeing the pieces on the wrong squares when you look a few moves ahead.
Benefits of learning to play blindfold chess
In addition to improving your tactics and increasing your rating, you will find an increased ability to concentrate and visualize, skills that transfer to other fields – visual arts and STEM skills requiring analysis and visualization.
Part of the idea of learning blindfold chess was to be able to visualize pages of algebra like Euler – I improved up to a few lines of algebra.
The feeling of blindfold chess was very much like to concentration taught by Arthur Benjamin in his book “Secrets of Mental Math, where he teaches, among other skills, to multiply two 5 digit numbers in your head.