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Blindfold Chess

By IM Danny Kopec

Blindfold chess, in moderation, has been recommended by many sources as a method for improving a player's analytical powers. In this article, Dr. Kopec gives his perspective along with a few games from his own experience in the realm of blindfold exhibitions.

In the former Soviet Union simultaneous blindfold chess exhibitions were banned, for they were decreed bad for your health! Perhaps there are some foundations for this belief in that two of the greatest blindfold performers through the first half of this century, Pillsbury and Alekhine, died rather young (Pillsbury 31, Alekhine 54) and supposedly they suffered great headaches after these "seances" (although it is well-documented that Pillsbury died from Syphilis contracted in Moscow).

Some years ago, Dr. Miguel Marin-Padilla, a leading neuro-pathologist at Dartmouth Medical School in New Hampshire, postulated to me that those world chess champions who devoted themselves only to chess tended to die young, while those whose interests were more diversified tended to live longer, healthier lives.

He explained that brain hemorrhaging could ultimately develop from continually straining on brain sector without remorse. Examples of the former were Morphy (47), Alekhine and Capablanca (53), while examples of the latter group are Lasker (74), Euwe (80), and Botvinnik (84).

In 1937, George Koltanowski, a Belgian who emigrated to the USA in 1940, (and Dean of American Chess) set the blindfold record by playing 34 opponents in Edinburgh, Scotland, scoring +20, -0, =14. This topped Alekhine's 32, but was later broken Miguel Najdorf (Argentina) at Sao Paulo, 1947, who played 45 (+39, -2, =4). Then Janos Flesch of Hungary broke this mark by playing 52 in 1960 (+31, =3, - 18). Flesch's mark was tainted by reports that he was allowed to verbally recount the scores of games played. In any case, later in 1960 Koltanowski regained the record by playing 56 opponents (+50, =0, -6).

In 1988 I achieved my personal record by playing 10 boards (over the course of 8 hours) at the Billerica Chess Club outside of Boston scoring +7, =1, -2. In 1985 in San Diego I scored +5, =2, -1 in a 8 board exhibition. I am pleased that in a number of my Blindfold Exhibition games I have been able to produce gems which I would not be ashamed of if sighted in a one on one game. Two examples follow below.

Danny Kopec - Steve Wagner, Seven Board Blindfold Exhibition, University of Illinois Dec, 1979

The game illustrates the importance of careful and correct assessment of pawn structures and opportunities in a position. The transformation of advantages is also illustrated. White translates a big lead in development, space and attacking chances with a combination that shatters Black's pawn structure and leaves him with a hopeless endgame.

In 1979 I gave a Seven Board Blindfold Chess exhibition which produced one game of particular notoriety.

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1 e4 e6 2 d4 d5 3 Nc3 Bb4 4 e5 Qd7 This is quite a worthwhile line of the Winnawer Variation of the French Defense in that Black prepares ...b6 and Ba6 to trade off his bad bishop and is ready to meet 6.Qg4 with ...f5. Black often gets a slightly cramped position somewhat compensated by a very sound solid pawn structure.

5 a3 Bf8 This is one way to play Black's forces in this variation, but I prefer 5. ...Bxc3+.

6 h4 b6 7 Nh3 I like to get this N to f4 from where it can eye critical squares and operate on both sides of the board. 7...Ne7 8 h5 Ba6?! It would be more prudent for Black to play ...h6 here to stop h6 by White weakening Black's K-side dark squares.

9 Bxa6 Nxa6 10 Qd3 Nb8 11 h6 This move assures White of play on the K-side. 11... gxh6 12 Nf4 The N heads to h5. 12... c5 Although Black wants to avoid being too passive, this early opening of the position can only favor the better developed player.

13 dxc5 bxc5 14 Nh5 Ng8

(Analytical Juncture after 14... Ng8)

Perhaps Black would like to start again?

15 Qg3 This may be the position where White could improve. White certainly enjoys 1) good development and 2) space on the K-side. The text assures that the Black King will be moving, but perhaps more consistent moves are 15.Rh4 or 15.Bf4 continuing to strive for a big lead in development. 15... Nc6 16 Ng7+ Kd8 17 Bf4 Nd4 A nasty intruder. Perhaps White should play 18.Rc1 and then Kf1.

18 0-0-0 Ne7? Black should play 18. ...Rb8 and ...Qb7 with play on the b-file. Five moves have transpired since 13. ...c5 was played and criticized. Here I suggest that Black should play 18. ...Rb8 followed by ...Qb7. If this is indeed the case, then the analyst in you (and me) should want to answer the question: Where did White go wrong? Perhaps 13...c5 was not a dubious move after all? Here is the typical example -- the annotator criticizes a move, but then suggests a variation whereby Black could still stand very well.

On 18... Rb8 Perhaps White could take the bull by the horns with 19.Rd3 Qb7 20.b3 and let Black sacrifice on b3.

19 Rxh6 Ndf5 20 Nxf5 Nxf5 21 Qg5+ Be7

It is this move which sets this game apart. I envisioned an ending whereby Black would have four isolated pawn islands, and although an exchange up, his rooks would be forced into passive positions. White could also play:

22 Qxf5!!

The other move I saw and considered in this position was 22.Rf6 ! If now 22... Bxf6 23.Qxf6+ Kc7 24.Nxd5+ exd5 25.e6+ And White wins easily.

22... exf5 23 Rxd5 Rc8? 24 Ra6 Ra8 Black could not play 24. ...Rc7 since 25.e6 would win back the Black Queen as well as the exchange and that is why 23. ...Rc8 was a mistake. Notice how White has made the transition from a complex middlegame to an endgame which offers excellent prospects due to Black's uncoordinated forces and permanently damaged pawn structure.

25 Rxd7+ Kxd7 26 Nd5 This is now an outstanding N, easily worth a Rook. N's outposted in the center are nearly always very strong. 26... Rhg8 27 g3 Rgc8 28 Rh6 Again attacking a weak r-pawn to force the Black Rook into a passive position. 28... Rh8 29 Ne3 Rac8 30 Ra6 Rc6 31 Rxa7+ Ke6 32 c4 Rhc8 33 Nd5 Bd8 White has full compensation for the exchange.

34 Kc2 Bc7 35 Kd3 Bd8 36 Rb7

Notice how throughout the play of this endgame Black's Rooks have not been allowed to find active squares on open or half-open files and that White's centrally outposted Knight is worth more than a Rook. 36... h5 37 Bd2 A switching maneuver. Now 38.Nf4 mate is threatened after Bc3. 37... Kxe5 38 Rxf7 Play stopped here (Black had to leave), but he would be in zugzwang after 38. ...h4 39.Rh7 hxg3 40.Bf4+ Ke6 41.fxg3 with b4 looming.

D. Kopec - Greg Halsall, "Control Game", Five Board Blindfold Dec. 27, 1994
King's Indian Defense

This game illustrates the conversion of advantages. First a ferocious central attack with an exchange sacrifice, then a quiet endgame with a minority attack leading to a final breakthrough.

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1. c4 Nf6 2. Nc3 g6 3. g3 Bg7 4. Bg2 0-0 5. Nf3 c6 6. 0-0 d6 7. d4 Nbd7 8. b3 e5 9. Qc2 Re8 10. Ba3 e4 11. Ng5 d5 12. cxd5 Nxd5 13. Nxd5 13.Ngxe4 Bxd4 [Better 14.Rad1] 14.Nxd5 Bxa1 15.Nd6 Re6 16.Nf4 [16.Rxa1 was also possible, e.g. cxd5 17.Bxd5 Rxd6 18.Bxd6 Qf6 19.Rd1] Rxd6 17.Rxa1 Nf8 18.Bxd6 Qxd6 19.Rd1 Qe7 20.e4 Bg4 21.f3 Be6 22.Nd3 Rd8 23.Bf1 Qd7 24.Qc3 Qd4+ 25.Qxd4 Rxd4 26.Kf2 b6 27.Ke3 Rd6 28.b4 Nd7 29.Rc1 f6 30.f4 Nb8 31.a3 Kf8 32.Bg2 Bb3 33.e5 fxe5 34.fxe5 Re6 35.Bh3 Re8 36.Kd4 Ke7 37.Bg2 Rd8+ 38.Ke3 Bd5 39.Bxd5 Rxd5 40.Ke4 Rd8 41.a4 Rf8 42.a5 Rc8 43.axb6 axb6 44.Ra1 Rc7 45.Ra8 Nd7 46.Nf4 Nf8 47.Rb8? (Rxf8 wins immediately) Nd7 48.Rh8 Nf8 49.Rxf8 (I didn't miss the opportunity twice!) Black Resigns.