5/28/17 - Blindfold Chess Tips So Far
I am noticing steady growth and am very near to my goal of playing a full game blindfolded. Honestly, I feel I could have accomplished this in a shorter amount of time if I had been more diligent and regular about my study and practice, but life has been a bit crazy lately.
Still, when I set out, I thought this was an endeavor that would take months, and I'm pleasantly surprised at how much I've been able to accomplish in a relatively short amount of time. In addition, I have noticed a marked improvement in my chess vision in regular play, and calculation feels "cleaner" (I'm not sure how else to describe it).
It should not come as a surprise, the best way to practice blindfold chess has been to play blindfold games. Playing the computer on the chess.com app with the pieces set to blindfold has been great, as well as playing blindfolded against my wife.
What follows are merely some tips I have found to be helpful to me. I'm sure that there are tricks that I've missed and some that are less helpful to me that could be more helpful to you, but hopefully there is useful information here regardless. A bullet-list is at the bottom.
Going slow on a move-by-move basis has been key, and re-visualizing after every move has been a must. I don't know how many times rushing ahead without updating my visualization after every move caused me to lose my position and grasp of the board. I thought I could just remember the opening look. I was wrong.
Also helpful to me was one resource saying to replay the entire game with each move (d4. d4 d5. d4 d5 c4. d4 d5 c4 Nf6 and so on). My ability to annotate games from memory has steadily improved, but (more importantly to the task at hand) it has helped me to remember the flow of the game and significant positional features. For example, remembering the struggle for the isolated d-pawn is very telling with regard to pawn chains and positioning of pieces relative to their attack and defense of a pawn on d5. This also helps if/when you get lost.
Staying patient with memory lapses has also been very helpful. While growth overall has been slow, it has also been steady. The first few times I was only able to track about 5 moves per side, then 7, then 10, then I would lose traction, and need to check back more often. By maintaining perspective on a growing skill, losing track of a position has been seen more as a small hurdle. Being okay with re-checking the board, and still completing a game has been tremendously satisfying. (A caveat: when re-cementing a position in your mind by looking at the actual board and pieces, you can analyze the position, making observations that help create useful data in your mind, however DO NOT calculate moves. Whenever I found myself doing this, I often sat back down away from the board and realized I didn't remember the board as it was. My recommendation is to calculate moves from your visualization as much as possible, and less from actually seeing the board.)
Other times, I've had to accept that my brain needed a break and stopped for the day.
Starting with splitting the board into quarters was a very beneficial first step. The surprising thing is how useful this has become both with and without pieces. Identifying light/dark squares as I noted in a previous blog has been very helpful in tracking diagonals and mentally linking the board together.
"Chunking" is a process of combining smaller bits of data into collectable pieces, which gives you fewer individual pieces of data to remember. Chunking features of the position together has also helped with analysis and overall visualization of the board. Tying these chunks together and reinforcing these pictures in my mind further aids my recall and visualization. Remembering the shapes of pawn chains, clumps of pieces (like castled positions, fianchettoes, or other easily identifiable structures), and the who's-attacking-who all help with the interlinking process.
I also take the time to re-visualize and chunk each quadrant, almost as an overlay in my mind, then use the long-range pieces to link the quadrants to remember open files, columns, and diagonals. For example, remembering that the white rook on b1 has an open file tells me several useful bits of visual information across 2 quadrants, or that the fianchettoed black bishop on b7 on a light square is attacking a white pawn on e4 tells me loads of corroborating data. This helps tie the board together into a cohesive whole.
Something helpful to me is repeating the chunks to myself, aloud if possible ("I have pawns on a7, c5, d5, e6, and f-h are untouched. I'm freshly castled, queen and a-rook haven't moved, I have bishops on b6 and b7, knight on f6," and I just recreated my position from last night). And again, I have to do this after every move.
So a bullet-list to help with blindfold chess:
-Grow in blindfold by playing blindfold
-Re-visualize after every. single. move.
-"Fail" often and embrace it
-Don't calculate off your check-backs
-Teach yourself to identify light/dark squares
-Chunk everything (quadrants, pawns, unique/common patterns, etc.)
-Tie your chunks together
-Repeat your chunks to yourself
I hope this is helpful to you. If you have never tried yourself, I hope that this encourages you to give it a shot and impress your friends :-) You can do it! Happy training!