Playing Blindfold

Another crackpot theory of mine is that tactical vision is strongly connected to the ability to play blindfold. Since chess is 99% tactics, this pretty much determines your whole career as a chessplayer. If you are able to play blindfold, you can do infinite calculations since every move leads to just another position that you can visualize perfectly. From then on, it’s a question how fast you are. Stamina and age also factor in, but more like an overall handicap.

I myself cannot play blindfold or at least I have not learned how to do so. I know where the pieces are, like they were all stored in some sort of file cabinet, but I cannot see whole board. I can visualize small chunks like 4×4 squares, but overall I get in trouble with the distance between files or ranks. For me it helps tremendously when I look at an empty board while trying to play “blindfold”. For some weird reason it seems to work when I am asleep though. It happened a lot that I woke up in the morning with the solution to a chess problem. Once awake I lose the ability similar to forgetting a dream. What I see is basically a small reflection of a chessboard on the water and when I try to look at it more closely it, the picture immediately blurrs like when a drop hits the water. Obviously I belong to to the group of people who don’t possess Eidetic Imagery.

Since Schöneck had a team in the 2nd Bundesliga, I was able to ask a few GMs and IMs about the subject over the years. All of them could see the board like a diagram from a chess book and all of them could play blindfold of course. With FMs the replies were mixed. Some of them could see the diagram, some of them could not. Some of them could play blindfold, some of them could not. Now here comes the shocker: Almost nobody below Elo 2200 could visualize the board nor play blindfold. The exceptions were players who didn’t bother about working on their game, who were simply too lazy to get better. Sure, correlation does not prove causation, but whenever there is causation there is also correlation.

Over the years I asked myself many times why I couldn’t produce any significant results in chess, despite working quite hard on it. The inability to play blindfold may explain it to some extent at least.

Here is an example from my own practice. In the game I had completely outplayed my opponent and obviously didn’t not expect him to play his next move, since it loses a piece. After he played it nevertheless, it occurred to me that I must have missed something, so I “looked” at it again to figure out his idea. This is also another weakness of mine, I tend to believe higher rated players because they calculate better than me and they shouldn’t risk any bluffs.

Here is what I calculated:

This is what my opponent calculated:

This is what Stockfish thinks about it:

Needless to say, I threw away my advantage and even had something like a “mouse-slip” in time trouble on move 40 where I wanted to play Bh5 but released the piece one square too early. Totally unnerved I blundered on the very next move…

Play it safe!