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Sunday, March 24th, 2013

Blindfold Chess

Blindfold chess refers to regular chess, but played without seeing the chess board. The blindfold player (not really blindfolded, just out of sight of the boards) is told the opponent’s move, then announces his own, usually to a referee, who makes the move on the opponent’s board.

Perhaps the first blindfold game was played by Sa’id bin Jubair (665-714), a Black judge and Muslin scholar, who was to play one game of chess without site of board, and not feel the pieces while playing. A contemporary of Jubair was Muhammad bin Sirin, who also played blindfold chess. There were also reports of blindfold chess players in India and Baghdad. One observer thought that a blindfold chess player was in the league of the devil.

Around 970 AD, Joseph Tchelebi of Greece played chess blindfolded.

Central Asian horsemen used to play chess without using a board or pieces while riding side by side and calling out the moves.

Around 1266 the Muslim player Buzecca was playing chess blindfolded. It was said that he played two games blindfolded and one game over-the-board while visiting Florence, Italy at the palace of Count Popoli. He won two games and drew one game. This is the earliest recorded report of blindfold play in Europe.

In 1331, an-Nizam al-‘Ajami played a game of blindfold chess in Damascus.

Other early chess players who played blindfolded include Ruy Lopez, Mangiolini of Florence, the Spanish player Zerone,the Spanish player Medrano, Leonardo da Cutro, Paoli Boi, Salvio, and Girolamo Saccheri, a priest.

Paoli Boi (1528-1598) of Syracuse was said to have played 3 games blindfolded and occasionally played blindfold chess with Turks while riding horseback.

In 1744, Francois-Andre Danican Philidor (1726-1795) played two opponents blindfold simultaneously in public in Paris. This was the first time blindfold play against two opponents was recorded. He said he had learned how to play blindfold chess when he could not sleep at night, so he played chess in his head without site of a chess board.

In 1750 Philidor played 3 opponents blindfold simultaneously while in Berlin. He won all three games. He was actually blindfolded in the exhibition.

On May 27, 1782, Philidor played 2 games blindfolded simultaneously at Parsloe’s Chess Club in London, drawing one (to Count Hans Bruhl) and losing one (to Dr. Thomas Bowdler).

On May 9, 1783 Philidor played 3 blindfold games simultaneously at the chess club in James Street in London. He won two and drew one.

Philidor’s last blindfold performance, at age 69, was on June 20, 1795 at the Parsloe’s chess club. He played 2 games blindfolded and a third game with sight of the board. One of his opponents was George Atwood (1746-1807), the mathematician and churchman. Philidor died two months later.

In 9 blindfold performances, Philidor won 10, drew 4, and lost 6. He usually took the Black pieces in his blindfold games, sometimes with pawn odds, and with strong chess players.

In 1840, Louis-Charles Mahe de La Bourdonnais (1795-1840) played 3 games simultaneously blindfolded in London. He died a few months later. Earlier, he was doing blindfold exhibitions in France. Some blamed his blindfold play to his early death and his doctors warned him not to play blindfold chess as it over-strained the blood vessels in his brain. His death a few months after his last blindfold exhibition led to the widespread opinion that blindfold chess was dangerous.

In 1843, Laigle, the proprietor of the Café de la Paris, played one game of blindfold chess against 4 players and won after 43 moves. Laigle then played 2 blindfold games at the same time against Lionel Kieseritzky (1806-1853), who also played blindfolded. It may be the first documented example where players played two games against each other at the same time, with both playing blindfolded.

In the late 1840s, Daniel Harrwitz (1821-1884) was giving blindfold exhibitions regularly.

On June 22, 1849, Paul Morphy (1837-1884), on his 12th birthday, played a blindfold game against his uncle, Ernest Morphy, and won. It was Paul’s first blindfold game.

In 1851, Kieseritzky played 4 opponents blindfold simultaneously during an exhibition in Paris. He called out his moves for each game in a different language: French, German, English, and Italian.

Starting on October 10, 1857, Louis Paulsen (1833-1891) played four people blindfolded. Morphy was one of his opponents who also played blindfolded against Paulsen. Morphy won. Paulsen drew one other and won two games. Paulsen and Morphy played two more blindfold games against each other. Morphy won one game and the second game was a draw.

On October 21 and 22, 1857, Paulsen played 5 opponents blindfold simultaneously in New York.

Paulsen was the first person to popularize blindfold chess. He started giving blindfold exhibitions in Chicago.

In early 1858, Paul Morphy played 6 opponents blindfold simultaneously in New Orleans. He later played 7 opponents blindfold simultaneously in New Orleans.

In February 1858, Paulsen played 7 opponents blindfold simultaneously in Dubuque, Iowa. He won all 7 games.

In March 1858, Paulsen played 8 opponents blindfold simultaneously.

Starting on May 10, 1858, Paulsen played 10 opponents blindfold simultaneously at the Chicago Chess Club. He won 9 and drew 1. He then went to Davenport, Iowa and played 10 opponents blindfold simultaneously.

In June 1858, Paulsen played 12 opponents blindfold simultaneously in St. Louis.

On August 27, 1858, Morphy gave an 8-board blindfold exhibition at Queen’s College in Birmingham, England. The players were Lord Lyttelton (president of the British Chess Association), Thomas Avery, Rev. G. Salmon, Mr. Carr, Dr. Jabez Freeman, Mr. Rhodes, J.S. Kipping, and W.R. Wills. The exhibition took over 6 hours. Morphy won 6, lost to Kipping, and drew with Avery.

In 1858, Paul Morphy played 8 opponents blindfold simultaneously. The 8 players were the strongest players in Paris. The games were played in the Cafe de la Regence. The players were Baucher, Bierwith, Guibert, Lequesne, Morneman, Potier, Pret, and Seguin. The exhibition lasted 10 hours. Morphy won 6 and drew 2.

On September 27, 1858, Morphy gave an 8-board blindfold exhibition at the Café de la Régence, winning 6 games and drawing 2 games. The owner of the café wanted to charge a spectator fee of 5 francs for the exhibition, but Morphy said he would not give the exhibition unless the café was open to anyone who walked in. So the event was free for anyone who could get inside the establishment. His opponents were Baucher, Bierwith, Borneman, Guibert, Lequesne, Potier, Preti, and Seguin (and 50 other players in the room to give advice to Morphy’s eight opponents). Morphy was seated in the billiard room of the café, with his back to the chess table in the other room . The blindfold exhibition lasted for 10 hours, without anything to eat or drink for Morphy. When the event was over, it took 30 minutes for Morphy to get outside of the café after being congratulated by everyone inside. However, the crowd outside was greater than the one inside the café, and the shouting was more deafening. French Imperial guards, not knowing what was going on, thought a new revolution in Paris had broken out.

The next morning, Paul Morphy dictated to Frederick Edge all the moves of his 8 blindfold games, including possible variations. For two hours, Morphy dictated the moves and hundreds of variations of all eight games. When asked about his blindfold play, Morphy responded, “It proves nothing.”

In November 1858, Paulsen was supposed to have played 15 blindfold simultaneous games, but the display was stopped after 9 hours (the opponents were tired) and the exhibition ended. Reporters wrote that Paulsen would have won all the games.

In December 1858, played 10 blindfold simultaneous games at the Pittsburgh Chess Club. He won 6 and lost 4.
On April 13, 1859, Morphy gave an 8-board blindfold exhibition at the London Chess Club.

On April 20, 1859, Morphy played 8 blindfold simultaneous games against the top players of each chess club he visited. The event was held at the St. George Chess Club in London. He won 5 and drew 3 games.

On November 11, 1859, Morphy gave a 4-board blindfold exhibition at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia for the benefit of the Mt. Vernon Fund. The fund was used to restore and preserve Mount Vernon. He won all his games.

1861, Paulsen played 10 opponents blindfold simultaneously in London. He won 9 and lost 1 after six hours of play.

In 1861, Joseph Henry Blackburne (1841-1924) became interested in blindfold chess after being one of Paulsen’s opponents in a 10-board simul in Manchester, England.

In 1863, Paulsen was quoted as saying that he tried blindfold chess first with one game and finished with 10 games at once. As he got older, he gave up blindfold chess, saying, “The corners of the board are slipping away from me.”

In 1867, future world champion Wilhelm Steinitz (1836-1900), played 6 simultaneous games at Dundee, winning 3 and drawing 3. He later gave exhibitions, playing 7 games blindfolded simultaneously.

In January, 1868, Johannes Zukertort (1842-1888) gave his first public exhibition of blindfold chess, playing 7 opponents blindfold simultaneously.

In January, 1873, Zukertort played 12 opponents blindfold simultaneously in Glasgow. The exhibition was adjourned for dinner. After dinner and before continuing the games, he name the precise position of every piece on all 12 boards.

On December 16, 1876, Zukertort played 16 opponents blindfold simultaneously at the West End Chess Club in London. The players were the strongest 16 players of the St. George’s and West End chess clubs. After the first five hours of play, the exhibition was interrupted and resumed on December 21. He won 12, drew 3, and lost 1 (to W. Ballard).

In November 1880, Blackburne played 12 opponents blindfold simultaneously at Cheadle, England.

In 1884, The New York Sun in its obituary notice on Morphy said that blindfold chess had made him insane and killed him. “The strain in his brain produced a brain fever, from which he never recovered.”

In 1885, Blackburne played 12 opponents blindfold simultaneously during an exhibition in Australia.

In 1894, Alfred Binet conducted one of the first psychological studies into chess. He investigated the cognitive facilities of chess masters. Binet hypothesized that chess depends upon the phenomenological qualities of visual memory. He found that only chess masters were able to play chess successfully without seeing the board and intermediate players found it impossible to play a game of blindfold chess. Binet found that experience, imagination, and memories of abstract and concrete varieties were required in master chess. His work was titled: Psychologie des Grands Calculateurs et des Joueurs d’Echecs. Binet relied much on chess masters such as Alphonse Goetz (French Champion in 1914), Rosenthal, Arnous de Riviere, Janowski, and Taubenhaus.

In the late 19th century, Harry Nelson Pillsbury (1872-1906) was playing 15 games of chess and 15 games of checkers blindfold simultaneously.

Other 19th century players known to play strong blindfold chess include J.H. Sarratt, Adolf Anderssen, Alexander McDonnell, Henry Thomas Buckle, Paul Rudolf von Bilguer and Johann Lowenthal.

In 1900, Pillsbury played 17 (New Orleans) then 20 (Philadelphia) opponents blindfold simultaneously.

On June 4, 1916, Boris Kostic (1887-1963) played 20 opponents blindfold simultaneously in New York at the rooms of the Isaac Rice Progressive Chess Club. He won 19 and drew 1 (with M. Stoner). The exhibition lasted 6 hours and 11 minutes.

On August 6, 1919 Richard Reti (1889-1929) played 24 opponents blindfold simultaneously in Haarlem, the Netherlands.

On January 30, 1921, Gyula Breyer (1893-1921) played 25 opponents blindfold simultaneously at Kosice, Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia). He won 15, drew 7, and lost 3 games.

After his exhibition at Kosise, he went to Nitra, Czechoslovakia, and played 15 opponents blindfold simultaneously . He won 10, lost 1, and drew 4. The exhibition took 4 and a half hours. A few months later, he died from tuberculosis and heart disease.

On April 27, 1924 Alekhine played 26 strong opponents (including Isaac Kashdan and Herman Steiner) blindfold simultaneously at the Alamac Hotel in New York. He won 16, lost 5, and drew 5. This exhibition is considered the strongest of any blindfold exhibition ever held.

Alekhine learned how to play blindfold chess when he was confined in a hospital in World War II after a spine injury. He was given standard memory tests and did no better than an average person when it game to memorizing words, geometric shapes, or objects. But when it involved memory of a chess position placed on a chess board in front of him, he performed exceptionally well.

In February 1925, Alekhine played 28 teams of four players blindfold simultaneously in Paris. He won 22, drew 3, and lost 3.

In 1925 Reti played 29 opponents blindfold simultaneously in Sao Paulo, Brazil. He won 20, lost 2, and drew 7. After the exhibition, he was going home and forgot his suitcase. When somebody reminded him about it, Reti said, “Thank you very much. My memory is so bad…”

In 1930 blindfold chess exhibitions were banned in the USSR because it was considered a health hazard on the brain. A Russian chess player may have died while attempting to beat the world record in blindfold chess.

On July 16, 1934, Alexander Alekhine played 32 opponents blindfold simultaneously in Chicago. He won 19, drew 9, and lost 4 games.

On September 20, 1937, George Koltanowski (1903-2000) played 34 opponents simultaneously without sight of board in Edinburgh, Scotland. He won 24 games and drew 10 games. The exhibition lasted 13 1/2 hours.

In 1943 Polish master (and later grandmaster) Miguel Najdorf (1910-1997) played 40 opponents blindfold simultaneously in Rosario, Argentina. He won 36, drew 1, and lost 3. He was trying to gain publicity to let his family members in Europe know that he was still alive in Argentina. Most of his family was killed in the holocaust.

In 1944, Reuben Fine (1914-1993) introduced playing many rapid blindfold chess games in succession, not simultaneously. He played 10 opponents blindfolded at 10 seconds a move in Washington, D.C., winning 9 and drawing 1.

In 1947 Miguel Najdorf broke the world record for blindfold chess by taking on 45 opponents simultaneously at Sao Paolo, Brazil. The display started at 8 pm on January 24, 1947 and finished at 7:30 pm on January 25, almost 24 hours (it took him only 11 hours to play 250 opponents at once in a regular simul play a few years later). He won 39 games, drew 4 games, and only lost 2 games. However, Najdorf had access to the opponents’ score sheets and there were multiple opponents per board.

In 1951, George Koltanowski played 50 opponents blindfolded in succession in San Francisco, winning 43, losing 2, and drawing 5. The display took over 8 hours.

In 1955, George Koltanowski, age 51, played 12 opponents blindfold simultaneously in Vancouver, British Columbia. This was the record for the most games blindfolded for a player that reached 50. The moves were made at 10 seconds a move. As soon as a game was over, another person took his place.

In October 1960 Janos Flesch (1933-1983) of Hungary played 52 opponents blindfold simultaneously in Budapest. He won 31 games, drew 3 games, and lost 18 games in 12 hours play. Flesch was permitted to verbally recount the scores of the games in progress.

In December 1960 Koltanowski played 56 opponents blindfold consecutive (not simultaneously) in San Francisco. He won 50 games and drew 6 games. The exhibition lasted 9 hours. The moves were made at 10 seconds a move. As soon as a game was over, another person took his place. Koltanowski later conduced a blindfold Knight’s Tour on board of up to 192 squares.

In 1975, Susan Polgar began playing blindfold chess at age 6. She learned how to play speed games while blindfolded.

In 1986 Leo Williams played 27 opponents blindfold simultaneously in 18 hours and 45 minutes in Montreal. This is a record for a Canadian player. He won 21, drew 3, and lost 1.

In 2004 Jonathan Barry, age 51, played 12 opponents blindfold simultaneously in Iowa. This tied the record for most games played blindfolded for a player over 50.

In November 2010, German FIDE master Marc Lang played 35 simultaneous blindfold games in Sontheim, Germany. He won 19, drew 13, and lost 3 in 23 hours of play.

In November 2011, Marc Lang played 46 simultaneous blindfold games in Sontheim, Germany. He won 25, drew 19, and lost 2 games.

The top blindfold players of today include Vladimir Kramnik, Vishy Anand, Alexei Shirov, Alexander Morozevich, Levon Aronian, and Magnus Carlsen.

Since 1993, the annual Melody Amber tournament has had a blindfold section. Kramnik has won it 9 times, followed by Anand and Morozevich with 5 first place wins, then Topalov and Aronin with 3 1st place wins. Other winners have included Karpov, Shirov, Carlsen, and Grischuk.

The record for blindfold checkers is 28 simultaneous blindfold games.

Since the 19th century (starting with Binet in 1893), psychologists have been very interested in blindfold chess due to its exceptionally high memory load. Blindfold chess provides much evidence of the extreme limits of the human memory. Almost all top chess players can play blindfold chess and have extremely good memories when it comes to chess.

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