Mastering the Unseen
Like most people, when I started playing chess, everything was difficult. I didn't win a game for a long time and seeing anything over the board like tactics or pieces left unprotected was unheard of. Eventually I started to win the odd game and also discovered that there were books about chess. A whole new world opened up.
With more experience and much reading and study, visualising things became a little easier. Calculation of variations was not something that became comfortable for a long time. Trying to do the puzzles in the books, working out why the masters played what they did, or even to follow the annotations took a lot of effort. And trying to apply those lessons in my own games even more.
In my early to mid teens, one puzzle, which you will see soon, particularly fascinated me. Not so much because of the clever combination, but for the fact that it was played blindfold and was only one of a number played simultaneously. The idea that someone could play a game without using a board and pieces, let alone more than one blindfold game at a time, seemed miraculous. I have managed to play one game at a time blindfold and found it rather difficult. But that was many years ago now, my brain would likely explode if I tried it now.
There is a long and rich history of blindfold play, with records going back over 1200 years. The record for blindfold simultaneous play includes some illustrious names – Philidor, Morphy, Pillsbury, Alekhine, Fine, Najdorf, Koltanowski to name just a few. There are many fine games played by them all to be found with a little research.
I thought this month we would marvel some of their creations, including the one that caught my imagination decades ago. That these combinations could be found without sight of the board and along with many other games being played at the same time is surely magic!
Let's start with a game by Philidor in London (Bruhl vs Philidor, year unknown). Well known as a musical composer, Philidor is probably better known to most of us as one of the very strongest players of his day. He is one of the earliest players whose blindfold games have been preserved at least in part. Can you find his wining attack in this position?
The next position is from a game A. Fritz vs A. Hensel, Darmstadt, 1877. The winner is unknown to me but he is reputed to have been a fine blindfold player, able to handle as many as 12 games simultaneously. This position comes from a 4 board exhibition. The cramped black position and the black king stuck in the centre demand action. Let's see what you find.
Morphy needs no introduction and that he was also a fine blindfold player will also not be a surprise. This position, from a game played in an 8 board exhibition of which he won 6, drew 1 and lost only 1 game. His performance was considered almost godly, and it was said that “Morphy is above Caesar, for he came and conquered without seeing!”
Morphy vs Littleton, Birmingham, 1858. In the hands of Morphy, a lead in development is deadly. I hope you can his winning plan.
Now it's time for that position I mentioned earlier. I would be very pleased to have been able to find the winning combination over the board, but Alekhine found this while playing 4 other games. Not a lot of games by his later standards; he was later able to play up to 32 simultaneous games, this game was played while he was recuperating in a military hospital in Tarnopol, Poland. This is a well know game so don't be too surprised if this position looks familiar. Alekhine vs Feldt, Tarnopol, 1916
Now I'm sure it won't surprise you that I present another Alekhine blindfold position. He is my favourite player so he's likely to be represented a little more than other players in the puzzles I offer you. This time, the game was one of 6 played simultaneously. The black square weaknesses around the white king suggest something is in the air. What can you find?
Gonssiorovsky vs Alekhine, Odessa, 1918
For our final puzzle, we have one from an exhibition in Budapest in 1960. The player in the hot seat was the 27 year old Janos Flesch, later to become a grandmaster but at the time untitled. I still find it quite amazing that on this occasion, he played no less than 52 simultaneous blindfold games. Yes, that is not a typo – 52 games. The whole show took about 13 and a half hours, and he won 31 games, drew 18 and only lost 3. Here is one of his wins. This hardly looks like a position where there is a quick win, but black only survives for a few more moves.
Flesch vs Grumo, Budapest, 1960
I hope you enjoyed those, and that if you didn't already, you now have an appreciation of what I consider one of the wonders of chess. See you again next month.