Some chess players can play a single game of mental chess moderately well, but
Alekhine in 1933 played 32 games simultaneously! Then in 1937, Koltanowski
broke that record and played 34 games simultaneously! Now the record is held by J.
Flesch with 52 games in 1960. Not all blindfold players agree on how they play
mental chess and there is some difference of opinion regarding their methods. As
George Koltanowski points out in his book, In The Dark, ..."every blindfold player
develops his own technique of retaining positions in his mind. One player memorizes
all of the moves made in each game; another has a photographic mind; a third insists
that he himself doesn't know..."
Visual minded masters either visualize the actual shapes of pieces on an imagined
chessboard or their equivalent symbols on perhaps a flat, scaled down version like
that which is represented in a book. The picture of the board is retained in their mind
at any given point so that they can easily break off and do something else, then they
come back to the same mental image later without difficulty. Auditory minded
masters rely on reiterating the whole sequence of moves mentally before they make
any subsequent move. They only see the board momentarily in their mind after they
have done so. Kinesthetic minded players aren't sure how they play mental chess.
They just 'feel' their way through it.
Many strong players are unable to play blindfold games, because they cannot
visualize in their mind the location of the different colored squares. When they use an
empty chessboard in front of them though, they can play almost as well as when the
pieces are on the board. One trick to master the color of the squares better is to divide
the board up into 4 equal quarters. Since each quarter looks identical, memorizing
one quarter allows you to understand the square colors in the other 3 quarters as well.
Of course, all players use some form of mental chess during each normal game just to
look ahead a few moves at hypothetical positions.
Self-confidence and a belief that you have the ability to conjure up mental images
is important in blindfold chess. Although it is easy to visualize a naked person of the
opposite sex, you may be a bit surprised that with a little practice it is just as easy to
visualize a chessboard and its pieces.
The following drill is for the visual minded chess player. Place an empty
chessboard 2 feet in front of you. Take several deep, abdominal breaths and relax.
Now look directly at the chessboard and study the squares and their arrangement.
Feel comfortable with the flow of the diagonals across the board as well as the square colors. Now close your eyes and imagine the board still in front of you. See all the
same features in your mind's eye this time. Hold the image for 30 seconds; then
open your eyes. Compare the inner image with the outer one. Notice any aspects
you were not aware of when visualizing. Close your eyes again and repeat the
exercise. Next, repeat the same procedure with all the pieces on the board. After
completing this, close your eyes again and visualize the pieces from different angles.
Imagine yourself overtop of the chessboard looking down at the pieces or from the
side of the board or from the opponent's position. This teaches you that you can
move your inner conscious awareness around the chessboard at will.
In the next drill, take your position as white or black and look at your starting
position. Now close your eyes and make your first move. Make a comparable move
in your mind for your opponent (even if you have to visualize moving to his side of
the board). Do this for 6 more moves back and forth. Afterwards, open your eyes
and place the pieces where they should be on the chessboard. Then close your eyes
again and make 6 more moves. Open your eyes and reposition the pieces and repeat
the process. If 6 moves are too many, lessen the amount, but be consistent. With
practice, you should be able to increase the amount of moves gradually until a whole
game is played without looking at the board.
If you're having trouble holding the colored squares in your mind, you might
practice making your mental moves while looking at an empty chessboard in front of
you. With practice, thinking ahead 2 or 3 moves in various combinations, and
coming back to your original, mental position will also be eventually mastered.
Whereas ordinary visualizations are usually quite brief, blindfold chess in this manner
offers duration to your visualizing abilities. It is a powerful mind strengthening
exercise. As a side benefit to mastering blindfold chess, you will also improve your
memory with everyday matters as well.
For auditory minded players, have a friend play you a game of chess while your
back is to the board. Have your friend call out his move to you every time he plays.
Each time it is your turn to play, repeat mentally the whole series of moves that
preceded your current move. Since your mental picture of the chessboard will not be
as permanently in place in your mind as a visual minded player, you must rely on this
reiteration process to flash the current position of the board at any one time. With
practice, you'll find that it will only take a few seconds to do this reiteration process,
and your memory powers will be greatly enhanced as well.