The Open File
by Life Master Mike Petersen (Zug)
How many times have you found yourself going over a tournament game with a friend and exclaiming, "I didn’t see Rf7 followed by Rxg7!" or something similar? Just what does that mean? Of course you didn't "see" it, no more than you "saw" the other moves in the game. What you really should say is, "I didn't anticipate Rf7 followed by Rxg7!"
Semantics? Not really. Anyone who plays a game of chess never "sees" any of the moves in advance. What the player actually does is visualize them in his mind's eye. In reality, all the moves in a chess game are played "blindfolded". How else can you explain "looking ahead" five or six moves in a given position? It's not surprising, then, that all players who are fairly strong at the game (over 1800, say) can probably play an entire game of chess without sight of the board. They may not play very well, but they can do it. If you are rated near the 1800 level and have never tried it, why not give it a go? You might find you have a knack for it. Besides, it's fun.
I play blindfold chess and, according to my friends, am quite good at it. I have given simultaneous exhibitions where I play something like 25 opponents, but two of them without sight of the board. I have also given an exhibition where I played five games simultaneously blindfolded (lost three, won two). How do I do it? Well, to be truthful about it, I really don't know! I do know that I visualize the pieces and squares, but without any reference to "color". I picture the pieces basically as a set of geometric possibilities on a grid. Incidentally, I was very good in geometry in high school, so I tend to equate ability in geometry with the ability to play blindfold chess. As a matter of fact, I think that if you are good in geometry, you have the potential to be good at chess in general.
Many famous players were world class blindfold players. Morphy, Blackburne, Alekhine, Philidor, Pillsbury, Najdorf, and the renowned George Koltanowski, just to name a few. Because of what happened to Pillsbury, the theory exists that blindfold play is dangerous to your health. Sure, if you smoke while doing it!
George Koltanowski wrote a book on his blindfold escapades called "In the Dark", and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this type of play. According to Kolty, nothing brought the house down like a well engineered attack in blindfold play. I can certainly testify to the accuracy of that statement! I once had the opportunity to see Kolty perform his Knight's Tour exhibition. It was one of those rare chess events that I will remember forever! Oh yes, for your information, Kolty still holds the "real" record for blindfold simultaneous play: 34 games in 1937. Others have played more, but not under the same conditions: no notes, no early draws, no illegal moves allowed, etc. There have been numerous discussions on this topic, but now you know the official scoop.
Anyway, the use of blindfold chess is the quickest way to impress your friends who are not "real" chessplayers. Believe me, they will think you are a genius! But, what happens if you get confused and lose your Queen or something? Well, it’s simple. Tell 'em you didn't see it.
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