Sunday, January 29, 2012

Blindfold Chess

While Chess itself is considered to be a game played by intelligent people, blindfold chess is much more glamorous, almost miraculous. Playing without looking at the board needs tremendous concentration, focus and strong visualization abilities.

Blindfold chess was first played quite early on in the history of chess, with perhaps the first game being played by Sa'id bin Jubair in the Middle East. In Europe, playing chess blindfolded became popular as a means of handicapping a chess master when facing a weaker opponent, or of simply displaying one's superior abilities. The first famous blindfold event in Europe took place when the great French player André Danican Philidor demonstrated his ability to play up to three blindfold games simultaneously in 1783 with great success, with newspapers highlighting his achievement. Paul Morphy held in 1858 a blindfold exhibition against the eight strongest players in Paris with the stunning result of six wins and two draws.

As time went by the records for blindfold exhibitions increased. In 1900 Harry Nelson Pillsbury played 20 games simultaneously in Philadelphia. In 1924 at the Alamac Hotel of New York, Alekhine played 26 simultaneous blindfold games against very strong opponents, with the score of 16 wins 5 losses and 5 draws. The next year, Réti bettered this record by playing 29 players simultaneously in São Paulo. On July 16, 1934 in Chicago, Alekhine set the new world record by playing 32 blindfold games, with 19 wins, 5 losses, and 5 draws (Edward Lasker was the referee for this event).

George Koltanowski set the world's blindfold record on 20 September 1937, in Edinburgh, by playing 34 chess games simultaneously while blindfolded, winning 24 games and losing 10, over a period of 13 hours. The record was included in the Guinness Book of Records and was generally accepted as the world record until November 2011.

Later Miguel Najdorf claimed to have broken that record, when he played 45 opponents in São Paulo in 1947, with the result of 39 wins, four draws and two losses. However The Guinness Book does not acknowledge Najdorf's record due to inconsistent conditions.

The last increase in the record was claimed by the Hungarian Janos Flesch in Budapest in 1960, playing 52 opponents with 31 wins, 3 draws, and 18 losses. However, this record attempt has been somewhat sullied by the fact that Flesch was permitted to verbally recount the scores of the games in progress. It also took place over a remarkably short period of time, around 5 hours, and included many short games. One other notable blindfold record was set in 1960 by Koltanowski in San Francisco, when he played 56 consecutive blindfold games at a rate of 10 seconds a move. The exhibition lasted 9 hours with the result of 50 wins and 6 losses. His specialty was conducting a blindfold Knight's Tour on boards of up to 192 squares.

Recently a new world's record was set by the German Marc Lang in November 2011 in Sontheim/Germany by playing 46 opponents simultaneously and blindfolded, with 25 wins, 19 draws and just 2 losses.

This form of chess has led to considerable research in psychology, starting with the research of Alfred Binet in 1893, continuing with the work of chess grandmaster and psycho-analyst Reuben Fine in 1965, and culminating in the last two decades with several scientific articles describing experiments on the psychology of blindfold chess. In general, this research shows that what is crucial for blindfold chess are both the knowledge that chess players have acquired and their ability to carry out extraordinary visuo-spatial operations in the mind’s eye with a photographic memory.

Today there are Blindfold Chess Tournaments held throughout the year, with the highest profile event being the Melody Amber Tournament, held in Monte Carlo. This event is partly funded by the billionaire Correspondence Chess Champion Joop van Oosterom and attracts many of the world's chess elite to compete in unique circumstances. Of the modern day players, Vladimir Kramnik, Viswanathan Anand, Alexei Shirov and Alexander Morozevich have proven themselves to be particularly strong at blindfold chess, being alternating winners of the Amber Tournaments between 1996 and 2006.

Below is one of Kolanowski's game from the Blindfold simul.
White: Georges Koltanowski
Black: H Gemmell
1.c4 Nf6 2.Nc3 c5 3.Nf3 Nc6 4.d4 cxd4 5.Nxd4 g6 6.e4 d6 7.Be2 Bg7 8.Be3 Nd7 9.O-O O-O 10.Qd2 Nxd4 11.Bxd4 Ne5 12.Rad1 b6 13.f4 Nc6 14.Be3 Qc7 15.Rc1 e6 16.Nb5 Qd7 17.Rfd1 Rd8 18.Nxd6 Qe7 19.c5 e5 20.f5 gxf5 21.exf5 bxc5 22.Bxc5 Qd7 23.Bc4 Rf8 24.Qg5 Qd8 25.Nxf7 1-0

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