Battles Of The Blindfold Chess Wars
George Koltanowski was a blindfold chess pioneer.

Battles Of The Blindfold Chess Wars‎

Silman
IM Silman
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33 | Chess Players

My last article was about how George Koltanowski slowly got better and better as a chess player; first in the early/mid 1920s (boring and slow), and then in 1928 when he embraced dynamics. Though he was a strong player at that point, he was even better with his eyes shut!

It was thought that Francois Philidor (French, 1726-1795) was the first person to challenge in two or three games without being able to see. However, blindfold chess was known far earlier by Arabian, Persian, Greek, Italian and even Spanish players. According to Muhammad bin Omar Kajina, there had been several players who would contest four or five blindfold games simultaneously in the 16th century.

After Philidor, Alexander McDonnell (Irish, 1798-1835) settled in London in 1820 and became a very strong blindfold player. A famous quote by McDonnell is the joke that “the only things which spoil chess are the board and men.”

George KoltanowskiGeorge Koltanowski. Photo via Wikipedia.

Though there are many ways to play blindfold, eventually certain basic rules were accepted. Here is what Koltanowski said about blindfold exhibitions:

Let me try to explain what a blindfold exhibition represents. I sit with my back to the players and tell my moves to the teller, who goes from board to board making the moves for me. He tells me that moves my opponents have made. I give my replies as quickly as possible. I see no board and write nothing down on paper. This is pure memory, a king of momentary memory which has been developed to such an extent that I can now play 15 games simultaneously each day without feeling the strain.

Eventually, using those particular rules (there are other rules too), the chess gods jumped into the fray!

  • Morphy (at New Orleans) = 8 games, 1858
  • Zukertort (London) = 16 games, 1876
  • Pillsbury (Moscow) = 22 games, 1901
  • Reti (Haarlem) = 24 games, 1919
  • Breyer (Kaschau) = 25 games, 1921
  • Alekhine (New York) = 26 games, 1925
  • Alekhine (Paris) = 28 games, 1925
  • Alekhine (Chicago) = 32 games, 1934
  • Reti (Sao Paulo) = 29 games, 1925
  • Koltanowski (Antwerp) = 30 games, 1931
  • Koltanowski (Edinburgh) = 34 games, 1937
  • Najdorf (Argentina) = 40 games, 1939
  • Najdorf (Sao Paulo) = 45 games, 1947
  • Marc Lang (Germany) = 46 games, 2011
  • Timur Gareyev (Las Vegas) = 48 games, 2016

Finally, I have to mention Janos Flesch (Budapest), who played 52 games blindfold in 1960. However, it wasn’t accepted since he was allowed to consult the scoresheets during the games.

In my first article about Koltanowski, I only looked for tournament games and nothing about blindfold. However, Kolty was not just playing tournament chess; he was also starting to train himself for blindfold. He played some blindfold games (to really see what he could do) and in 1921 he and some of his friend were addicted.

This is what Koltanowski said:

We played blindfold chess wherever we were—dancing, hiking, on buses and trains; wherever two of us happened to be, we would begin a blindfold game. All over Antwerp people shook their heads at this babbling crew.

A year later I was playing 16 games blindfold, which represented a new Belgian record. In 1924, while in the Belgian army, I played 20 at Naur, a sorts of pay-off for having nothing to do but peel potatoes for two hours a day.

Here are some of Koltanowski’s best (or most fun) blindfold games. Oh, every time you see a "Mynheer X" or "Senor X," it means Kolty didn't know the man's name.

GAME 1:

GAME 2:

GAME 3:

 GAME 4:

Black played very well, but a blunder gave Kolty the chance that he was hoping for.

GAME 5:

Kolty said, “This was an exhibition in which I played against eight consulting teams of two players each.” Don’t forget that White was blindfolded, while his two opponents could see.

GAME 6:

GAME 7:

GAME 8:

GAME 9:

Kolty really enjoyed this game, and he gave quite a few notes. You will like the game and notes!

GAME 10:

GAME 11:

GAME 12:

GAME 13:

GAME 14:

GAME 15:

Kolty: “The 1937 tour created some sort of a world record. I played 26 exhibitions in 26 days in 26 different cities, each night’s event being a 10-board blindfold demonstration. I made a score of 94 percent in the 260 games, a result which is comparable to the best obtained in any chess master’s tour on any country!”

GAME 16:

GAME 17:

GAME 18:

Koltanowski, who had adventures in all of Europe and South America, permanently moved to San Francisco in 1947. He died in 2000 (96 years old).

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