BLINDFOLD play without sight of the board and pieces has intrigued spectators for centuries. The exponent relies on specialised chess memory and complementary attributes such as imagination and concentration.
In the 18th century, France’s leading player, Francois-Andre Danican Philidor, played two games simultaneously without sight of the board, an event seemingly so unbelievable that witnesses were asked to sign affidavits attesting to his feat.
In the 19th century, American chess phenomenon Paul Morphy took on the eight strongest Parisians in an engagement lasting more than 10 hours. He defeated six and drew with the other two. A journalist waxed lyrical, writing that Morphy had proved himself superior to Caesar, in that he came, he did not see, he conquered.
There was a quantum leap in the number of blindfold games played simultaneously in the 20th century. World records were established and broken, though the strength of the opposition affected the intrinsic merits of the performances. World champion Alexander Alekhine capped his two earlier displays by playing 32 opponents (score +19 =9 -4) at the world exhibition in Chicago in 1933, in a session lasting 12 hours.
George Koltanowski played 34 blindfold games simultaneously (score +24 = 10) at Edinburgh in 1937, over nearly 14 hours with three short breaks.
Miguel Najdorf lifted this to 45 (result +39 =4 -2) at a demonstration at Sao Paulo, Argentina, in 1947, lasting nearly 24 hours.
Janos Flesch played 52 opponents (score
Spassky v Petrosian: White to play and win +31 =18 -3) at Budapest in 1961, reportedly over only 12 hours, attempting to set a new record, which has been disputed.
There is a general belief that the intensive, prolonged concentration required for these displays is detrimental to health. But it has been suggested that, played in moderation, blindfold games can improve visualisation.
During his professional career, Australian grandmaster Ian Rogers gave many displays of multiple game blindfold chess.
The blindfold, rapid-play Amber tournament, held annually in Europe, requires games to be played quickly but not simultaneously. A new treatise on the subject is
by Eliot Hearst and John Knott. The women’s world team championship
C. Mansfield: White mates in two in Ningbo, China, was narrowly won by China on 21.5/36, ahead of Russia 21 and Ukraine 20.5.
Next year’s Australian Championship and associated events will take place at Norths Club, Cammeray, Sydney, in January. More: www.australianchesschampionship.com.
Last week’s solutions: (1) 1.Ng5! (not 1.b7+? Qxa5+ 2.Rd2+ Kc7 3.bxa8=Q Qxa8 4.Rd7+ Kxc6 5.Rxe7 Qa1+ 6.Ke2 Qb2+ and black wins) 1 . . . Qxg5 2.Rh8+ Ng8 3.Rxg8+ Qxg8 4.b7+ Ke7 5.Bd8+! Qxd8 6.c7!, and white forces a draw. (2) Key 1.Qc6, threat 2.Qd6#. If 1 . . . N(d5)f6 2.Ne2#, or 1 . . . N(d5)c3 2.Ne6#, or 1 . . . N(d5) random 2.Qe4#, or 1 . . . g4 2.Qh6#, or 1 . . . N(e7)xc6 2.Rxf5#, 1 . . . Bxd4+ Rxd4#. Phil Viner