Playing chess 'blindfolded' is a good way to improve your chess skills. Blindfold chess is played by two players who communicate their moves to each other using chess notation, but without requiring a physical board. Players do not see or touch the pieces. 'Semi-blindfold' chess is another way to train your skills. For example, playing with only the pawns of both sides on the board and removing all other pieces. In that case, pawn moves will be made on the board, whereas moves by other pieces will be communicated using notation. Blindfold chess is one of the most impressive feats to show a non-chess-player, but typically any strong club player will be able to play blindfolded.
A player's blindfold skills will naturally improve as they move up the ranks. A beginner may have very little or even non-existent blindfold playing skills. However, they will likely develop some skills in this area by the time they reach an intermediate level, even if they have not played any blindfold chess before. A player trains their blindfold skills automatically by playing a regular chess game because they must anticipate possible variations while making their moves.
After a player reaches an intermediate level, they may want to occasionally play some blindfold chess to enhance their visualisation skills. This will improve a player's ability to spot tactical combinations.
In my opinion, a blindfolded player will almost never play as well as when they can see the board in front of them. Accordingly, it is often a reasonable handicap for the stronger player to play blindfolded against a weaker counterpart. Be warned, however, that it is considerably easier to blunder pieces and other material when playing blindfolded.
Some of the great masters of blindfold chess included Wilhelm Steinitz, André Danican Philidor, Paul Morphy, Louis Paulsen and Joseph Henry Blackburne.
One of the best books out on the topic is called Blindfold Chess: History, Psychology, Techniques, Champions, World Records, and Important Games by Eliot Hearst and John Knott. The book won the Fred Cramer Award for the Best Chess Book of 2009 and was a top 4 finalist in the English Chess Federation's 2009 Chess Book of the Year line-up. Click here to find an excerpt from Blindfold Chess.
Hearst and Knott claim that 4th World Champion Alexander Alekhine was the strongest ever blindfold player and Najdorf rightfully should hold the record for playing the most players simultaneously (45 games, in 1947).
I should mention an annual blindfold attraction is the Amber blindfold chess tournament (there is also an accompanying rapid event). Here, we see some of the world's strongest players competing against each other in a blindfold format.
Russian Grandmaster and 14th World Champion Vladimir Kramnik has won the blindfold tournament more than any other player (9 times) and has won the most overall titles with rapid and blindfold combined (6 times as of 2010). For completeness sake, I should note that Indian Grandmaster and 15th World Champion Viswanathan "Vishy" Anand has won the most rapid events at Amber (9 times) and is the only player to the rapid and blindfold events in the same year, having accomplished this feat twice, in 1997 and 2005.
Some of the games in the Amber blindfold tournaments occasionally feature hilarious blunders that would never occur if the players were using a physical board. See this ChessBase article for some annotated examples from the 2011 tournament. The first game Nakamura-Carlsen contains some particularly perplexing blunders.
To cap off this article, here's a funny story: In 1924, the well known inventor of the Réti Opening, chess master Richard Réti played blindfolded against 29 players simultaneously in São Paulo. After the event, he forgot his briefcase.
Blindfold chess is a rich subset of chess. While an impressive display to a person who does not play chess, blindfold play is often used as a training tool for improving players.
To purchase products, I recommend Wholesale Chess. They provide the highest quality chess products at the lowest prices (especially for US and Canadian players). They even offer to match prices with other chess websites! Even though I live overseas, this is where I choose to purchase chess goods.
For chess opening training and repertoire maintenance, I highly recommend the software that I personally use, Chess Openings Wizard. This software was approved by Grandmaster Peter Svidler (FIDE rating 2730 as of January 2012) many years ago.
Article originally written: Friday, April 24, 2009
edited (slightly): Saturday, February 5, 2012