Everything you Need to Know About Blindfold Chess
What is Blindfold Chess?
As the name suggests, blindfold chess is played while one or both opponents are prevented from seeing the pieces or the chess board (though in most cases the players simply face away from the board – wearing an actual blindfold is not a rule).
Blindfold chess is a challenging version of the game that ups the ante on multitasking and memory skills. One of the novel things about blindfold chess is it allows full chess games to be played without any visual input. This is interesting because it can level the playing field between a high-ranking player that is blindfolded and a lower ranking player who has full view of the board. As this article will explore, experts at blindfold chess will play “simuls” where they go up against multiple opponents at the same time.
Technically, blindfold chess could also be thought of as a way to play without owning a board or pieces. It has been said knights in the Middle Ages played in their minds’ eye while riding their horses from place to place. Regardless of the how, where and why players decide to blindfold themselves, it’s an interesting tactic to hone your skills as a chess player. You’re about to learn all about it, the benefits of it, and how to play blindfold chess as a beginner.
The player will remember positions, visualize moves, and announce what they want to happen. Staring at a blank board, they’ll announce “rook to A4”. Either an intermediary will perform the action on a separate, live board (out of view from the players), or both players will sit there and assess the next move.
For events with an audience, a screen or live board will show the moves of the players so a spectator can follow along.
At any rate, the idea is that you can’t look at any pieces on a board to gauge your next move. It requires a lot of focus, attention, memory, and ability to visualize a board.
It’s a unique training tactic because it teaches you to approach the game in a different way. This way gives you further insight into the sport and can even hone your skills as an over-the-board player.
All About Kriegspiel
There is a certain chess variant called Kriegspiel that uses the idea of blindfold chess. The player can only see their own pieces, not their opponent’s. A third party will act as an umpire, but the game is played entirely from memory and visualization of their opponent’s moves.
The umpire will announce whose turn it is to move along with when checks are encountered, pieces are taken, or moves are illegal.
The Benefits of Blindfold Chess
There are plenty of benefits when it comes to blindfold chess. Here are some of the bigger ones.
Better Visualization of the Board
Arguably the biggest advantage is the improvement to your visualization. By picturing the chess board and imagining the different moves that you can make, you’re gaining better chess vision.
This skill directly translates to a standard chess game. When you play blindfold chess, you’re not focusing on pieces or physical constraints anymore. You’re playing chess in its purest form which revolves around the core ideas of chess.
Teaching You How to “Zoom Out”
Along the same vein, you’re learning how to “zoom out” how you look at a board. You’re no longer distracted by physical pieces that get in the way. When you play blindfold chess, you’re imagining the board as a whole.
When you play a traditional game, you might get caught up bouncing your gaze from one piece to the next, imagining what they can do. With blindfold chess, you’re imagining how your entire board plays as a whole.
Improves Your Memory
Your brain is a muscle. Blindfold chess is a heavy weightlifting session for your brain and your memory. The sheer amount of things you need to remember during a blindfold chess game is hard to explain until you’ve played a full game.
Over time, you’ll get much better at remembering.
Allows You to Practice Chess Anywhere
After playing blindfold chess enough, it becomes something you can do in your free time. You no longer need a board or pieces to practice chess.
While you’re just sitting around you can close your eyes and play a quick game of blitz (if you’re really good). If you saw Queen’s Gambit, you remember Beth Harmon’s blindfold chess sessions on her ceiling. That’s the idea.
Who Can Learn Blindfold Chess?
The good news is that anyone can play blindfold chess. Whether a player can play blindfold chess near the same level they can play standard chess is another question. In fact, anyone who knows the legal moves of chess pieces can attempt to play blindfold chess.
With anything else in chess, it’s a matter of practice. To get good at blindfold chess takes a lot of practice.
Keep in mind, this is a tiring exercise. If you’re looking to practice blindfold chess, be prepared to get really tired really fast. Try practicing in little, bite-sized pieces.
Tips and Tricks to Learn Blindfold Chess
If you’re interested in learning blindfold chess, we put together some tips and tricks to get you started.
Step #1: Learn the Board
The first step is to learn the board. Understand where the pieces start and the names of every square. Keep studying the board until you can see it when you close your eyes.
Without being able to visualize the board, you’ll never be able to visualize a chess game.
Step #2: Set Up the Board then Close Your Eyes
Another good way to practice blindfold chess is with this simple drill: set up the board to a random position then close your eyes and visualize it.
A good start would be an endgame position. Lay out the board with the kings and maybe a few pawns and rooks. Look at the board, then close your eyes until you can visualize it.
Keep doing this drill over and over again.
When you’re ready, move a piece on the board then move it in your mind. What you’re doing is making the connection between the board and your mind. Since you’re used to physical chess games, you’re now taking the physical chess and introducing it to mental chess.
Step #3: Play Blind Online Chess
Your favorite online chess site might have an option to play blind chess. When you feel comfortable from the previous exercises, try out a game of blind chess against a computer.
The stakes are low and there’s an ability to play again and again.
Step #4: Play Blindfold Chess Against a Person
Finally, you’re ready to play against a real person. Understand that your chess rating for blindfold is going to be much lower than your actual Elo rating – especially when you’re first starting out.
With that said, try to challenge someone whose blindfold ability is about the same as yours.
Tip #1: Take it Slow
As mentioned earlier, this style of play is really mentally draining. On top of that, it’s an incredibly hard skill to perfect.
With that being said, make sure you’re patient and take it slow. Try to remember back to the days that you were learning over-the-board chess. It didn’t happen overnight.
Blindfold chess is another talent that you need to take slow.
Tip #2: Talk to Other Players
Other players might be willing to teach you their specific methods and even play against you. Even if you’re not as good as them, it’s a great ability to get hours under your belt. Practice makes perfect and this is no exception.
Grandmasters and Blindfold Chess
Some people wonder if playing blindfolded makes you a better player. Naturally, you’ll wonder what the top players in the world are doing. Surely, if they’re practicing blindfold chess, then it must be the secret to their success.
A large majority of Grandmasters can play blindfold chess – but it isn’t because they practice. It is an ability that comes naturally after getting so good at the sport. Think about it. Can you do simple addition with your eyes closed?
When you’re learning addition, you’ll have to manually add 3 + 5 on a piece of paper. When you’ve practiced enough and learned enough about math, you can do it with your eyes closed.
The same is true about Grandmasters and blindfold chess. It isn’t a skill that has to be learned to get to that level of play, but it’s an ability that gets picked up along the way. With that being said, not all Grandmasters have to know how to play blindfolded.
Notable Grandmasters Who Use Blindfold Chess
There are a lot of Grandmasters that use the ideas of blindfold chess without explicitly endorsing the method.
For example, watch Hikaru Nakamura or Magnus Carlsen when they play a game of chess. When contemplating a move, their eyes will look to the ceiling or they’ll close their eyes. These two players are great examples because of how often they do this.
When they’re looking away from the board, do you know what they’re doing? They’re visualizing moves, playing out scenarios, and zooming out. They’re playing blindfold chess.
Just in case playing blindfolded isn’t challenging enough, people also push the envelope by blindfolfing themselves, then going head- to- head against multiple opponents at the same time, on a bunch of different boards.
Accounts of blindfold chess games go back over 1,000 years! The world record for most simultaneous blindfold chess games played is currently held by the American Grandmaster Timur Gareyev.
In December 2016, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Gareyev played 48 games over the course of just under 19 hours – electing to wear an actual blindfold for the experience. Of these games, he won 35, drew 7, and lost only 6.
Gareyev goes by the (well-earned!) nickname “Blindfold King” and publishes a monthly newsletter about his adventures, in chess and otherwise.
Timur Gareyev during his blindfold chess game in Las Vegas, where he set the world record in 2016.
Now you know more about blindfold chess. It’s a tough way to play chess, but it will help your game on many levels. Try out our tips and tricks and try them out for yourself!