Back in March 2010, I accompanied GM Maurice Ashley to a few schools where I coached chess and witnessed him play blindfold chess against the students. The students were fascinated and it inspired me to take up the challenge to learn to play blindfolded.
Since I wasn’t too impressed with the specific blindfold training exercises available at the time, I created my own. In my “Blindfold Course” I share the exercises that helped me the most in process.
You can get your own copy here (examples below):
Here’s how my own blindfold training experience went:
I thought it would simply be a matter of practicing for a few weeks. However, I quickly realized that this was going to be a lot harder than I expected. I had imagined that the hardest part would be to remember where all the pieces were, but I discovered that visualizing the diagonals, and the knight-moves, would initially be the biggest challenge.
I started doing various exercises that I thought would help me visualize the board. But after a few months of almost daily practice, I felt that my progress was too slow. In fact, I decided it wasn’t worth the effort and I gave up.
But then something very interesting happened. A few months later I decided to give it another try. And to my surprise, I realized that my blindfold ability magically improved a lot, even though I mostly stopped training it! How did that happen?
I learnt two very important lessons from my own blindfold training experience:
- Visualizing squares (particularly diagonals) will initially be harder than remembering the moves that were made. That is why the first step and critical path in blindfold training is to develop your board visualization skills.
- It takes time for your brain to adapt, grow and develop blindfold skills and there is not much you can do to speed up the process other than practicing and doing exercises.
It is encouraging to realize that you don’t have to visualize the whole board all at once. You only need to keep track of relevant information and visualize only certain areas of the board. This observation will make more sense to you once you start playing blindfold chess.
The hardest part of blindfold training is having the patience to keep on trying even when it feels like you are not making much progress. But be patient, you will improve!
Example Exercises From the Blindfold Course
Here’s a few examples of the exercises you will find in the blindfold course:
Example Exercise #10
Initially, the focus will be on training your ability to visualize an area of alternating light and dark squares:
Tip: Open your eyes, occasionally, to look at the actual image of what you are visualizing. This will help you a lot when you close your eyes.
Example Exercise #22
Dividing the chessboard into 4 quadrants is a great way to train board visualization. Note that the quadrants are identical in appearance. The only difference is the names (coordinates) of the squares inside the quadrants. This means the skill to visualize 1 quadrant can be carried over to the other quadrants and can therefore help you visualize any area of the board!
Example Exercise #55
Eventually you will practice to visualize 5×5 area. By focusing on the symmetry and with the help of the previous exercises, this step will be surprisingly easy.
Example Exercise #63
The queen and the knight represent all the possible movements that you must be able to visualize. This means if you can visualize their moves, you will also be able to visualize all the moves of the rook, bishop, king and pawn.
Once you’ve mastered the ability to visualize, in your mind, the moves of the queen and knight, you will be in a good position to practice playing an actual blindfold game.
Here’s the answers to a few questions you may have:
How difficult is blindfold chess?
Blindfold chess is an advanced mental skill but it can be trained. Patience, and the exercises in this document, will help you get there.
Can anyone learn blindfold chess?
With dedication and practice, most people will be able to do it.
Why do I need specific exercises, can’t I just start playing blindfold?
Your first big challenge will be to visualize the board, particularly the knight moves and long diagonals. If you try to play blindfold chess, you will discover that you will need to improve your board visualization skills before you can play blindfold. And this is where the right exercises can be very helpful.
Will blindfold training improve my game?
Blindfold training will benefit your chess, mostly by improving to your ability to concentrate for a long time and to calculate complex variations.
What do you “see” in your mind when you try to visualize the board, pieces and moves?
Most people will not see a clear image of the board and pieces in their mind and you shouldn’t expect it to be that way. It will feel very vague initially, but it will improve in due time.
How long will it take?
This will differ from person to person, but expect to see a remarkable improvement within 6-12 months from the time you start blindfold training.
A few important tips
- It is important to be thoroughly familiar with the chess board coordinates before you start the exercises. Lichess.org has a great tool for training coordinates (link).
- From the very beginning, train your mind to always think of a square in terms of its name and its color (light or dark).
- When you try to visualize the board or moves, close your eyes or look away but, occasionally, open your eyes to look at the actual image of what you are visualizing.
- If an exercise is too difficult, don’t spend a lot of time on it. Rather come back to the exercise every couple of days.
- Expose your brain to the challenges of blindfold chess as soon as possible.
- Associating a move with its purpose will also help you remember the move.
- It is better to consistently train a few minutes every day, than to try force the process by training harder, hours on end.
- At the end of the course I provide a list of the exercises that you should repeat on a regular basis.