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Blindfold Chess

In blindfold chess, one of the players makes each move normally but announces it, while the other player, sometimes blindfolded, but usually just facing away from the board, announces his moves. An intermediary makes the move which the blindfold player has announced.

Blindfold chess is not easy, but wait!

In simultaneous blindfold play there are several boards. The blindfold player announces a move on one board, then listens for the opponent's move on the next board. After consideration, the blindfold player announces his move, and then listens for the move on the next board, and so on. Although the boards are sometimes identified by number, the sound of the opponent's voice is often a useful key to differentiate the games in the blindfold player's mind.

In world chess, famous simultaneous blindfold players include Philidor, Pillsbury, Reti, Alekhine, Koltanowski, Najdorf, and Flesch.

Blindfold Chess in Canada

Blindfold Chess in Canada or by Canadians - Time line

Thanks to Hugh Brodie, Erik Malmsten, Stephen Wright, David Cohen ... for sharing their researches. If you view the source (.htm) of this page, you will find some references hidden in html comments.

Date Where Who Boards Story
1873.05.19 Toronto Albert Ensor ? Between rounds at the Canadian Championship
1884.01.25 Toronto Zukertort 12 +6=1-5 With a dinner break in the middle.
1884.01.31 Ottawa Zukertort 11 +10=1
1884.02.12 Montréal Zukertort 12 +10=1-1
1884.02.?? Québec City Zukertort ?
1899.01.?? Toronto Pillsbury 8 While playing Whist and 4 games of Checkers, sighted.
1910.01.25 Toronto RGH vs JMS 1-0 RGH might be Robert Gregg Hunter. MS might be Malcolm Sim.
1914.12.10 Montreal Frank Marshall vs G.Marechal 0-1 At the same session, Marshall played 3 consultation games sighted.
1916 Toronto Sidney E. Gale 1 won a game against Toronto Star chess editor
1923.12.01 Montréal Alekhine 21 +12=5-4 Draws A.Almothe, J.Pelletier, DM.LeDain, Dr.MacArthur, F.Beique; Losses G.Gaudet, L.Blanchard, R.Duberger, W.Descartes
1924.01.23 Toronto Alekhine 2 +2 36 board simul including 2. M.Alpert
1936.09.19 Toronto Jules Thérien 6 +3=1-2 Canadian amateur record - Yanofsky
1937.09.17 Edinburgh, Scotland George Koltanowski 34 +24=10 No Canadian content, but this is the greatest number of boards that is recognized by all authorities, so a World Record.
1938.09.18 Montréal Koltanowski 19 +15=4 at Bell Telephone. 6 hours. Draws: S.Kitces, A.Tanguay, E.Phaneuf, A.Leclaire. Koltanowski in his book claimed only +11 =4, and this was his first Blindfold in Canada. See La Patrie of Sept 19th.
1938.09.26 Toronto Koltanowski 16 +10=4-2 Keith Kerns
1938 Québec City Koltanowski 6 +5=1 .
1938 London Koltanowski 10 +8=2 .
1938 Winnipeg Koltanowski 10 +8=2 .
1938.10.04 Winnipeg Koltanowski 8 +5=2-1 Caller P.Chiswell. Two opponents consulting on each board. Free Press 10.05.
1938.11.?? Toronto Koltanowski 5 +3-2 .
1938.12.28 Moose Jaw Koltanowski ? Game against Jordan in book.
1940.03.28 Ottawa Philippe Brunet 6 +4=1-1 3 hours Ottawa Chess Club
1946.10.10 Vancouver Koltanowski 8 +3=3-2 5 hours. A.Engleman
1947.03.06 Victoria Koltanowski 8 Robert Wyllie game
1952.02.08 Toronto George Berner 5 or more
1953.01.19 Vancouver Koltanowski 12 +9=3 Hotel Vancouver, 5½ hours,
1953.03.19 Longueuil Lionel Joyner 15 +15
1955.02.23 Vancouver Koltanowski 12 +7=3-2 Established record for player aged 50+
1970.01 Montréal Jacques Labelle 7 +7
1970 Vancouver Peter Biyiasas 5 +4-1 UBC Open House
1970 Vancouver Jonathan Berry 5 +4=1 UBC Open House
1970.03 Montréal Jacques Labelle 9 +7=2
1970.03 Montréal Leo Williams 10 +8=1-1
1970.05 Montréal Leo Williams 12 +11-1
1970.05 Montréal Jacques Labelle 15 +8=6-1
1970.08 Montréal Labelle vs
6 +3-3 Games played consecutively
1970.10.16 Vancouver Peter Biyiasas 9 +5=1-3 Vancouver Chess Club
1972.07 Montréal Leo Williams 18 +12=5-1
1973.03 Montréal Leo Williams 22 +17=3-2 Unity Boys' Club
1974.08.29 Winnipeg Jonathan Berry 10 +5=2-3 at U of W
1974.10.18 Vancouver Jonathan Berry 6 +3=2-1 Rembrandt Hotel. All participants blindfold
1976.09.24 Kingston Jonathan Berry 7 +6=1 Kingston Shopping Centre, celebrities,
1977.02.05 Brockville Jonathan Berry 6 +4=1-1 Thousand Islands Mall; 2 hours 3 minutes
1977.03.23 Ottawa Jonathan Berry 8 +8 U of O, 2½ hours
1980.02.03 Vancouver Larry Christiansen 10 +9-1
1982.07.15 Montréal Leo Williams 25 +21=3-1 Canadian Record; Complexe Desjardins, 16 hours
1986.11 Baie Comeau Leo Williams 27 +16=9-2 Canadian Record; 18h45m
1992 Hull Marc Cazelais 12 +11=1 Salon du livre de l'Outaouais, 4 hours
1993.03.12 London Hans Jung 16 +16 3:23 playing time. White Oaks Mall.
1993.04.24 London Hans Jung 22 +18 =3 -1 4:42 playing time. Westmount Mall.
1993.06.12 London Hans Jung 26 +18 =6 -2 5:32 playing time. White Oaks Mall
1993.06.26 London Hans Jung 12 +11 =1 Galleria Mall. 30 board attempt interrupted by heavy metal band in the mall. When the band had finished 40 minutes later, only a dozen opponents were left.
1993 London Hans Jung 10 +7 =1 -2 2:20 playing time. Open air at Victoria Park. Opposition average rating over 1800.
1997 Toronto Hans Jung 2 Eaton Centre
2001.05.03 Mississauga, ON Hans Jung 8 +2=1-5
2003.08.05 Haines Junction, YT Jonathan Berry 2 +2
2004.11.06 Bettendorf, IA Jonathan Berry 12 +9=2-1 8½ hours. Ties world record for age 50+
2004.11.23 Montréal Andrei Moskvitch 6 +4=2 90 minutes, McConnell Engineering, McGill University CFCF-TV, fundraiser for McGill team
2006.10.19 Ottawa Hans Jung 8 +4=2-2 Noise problems. After 6.5 hours and about 30 moves, at the suggestion of the players, Hans took off the blindfold, as it was a school night.
2008.11.01 Halifax Antoni Wysocki 3 +3 Chess for Alzheimer's charity event

The first recorded blindfold game in Canada may be this:

Ascher, Jacob G. - Shaw, J.W [C58]
White Blindfold, Montreal, 1880 or maybe late 1879
[as reported in the Toronto Globe 24 Jan 1880]

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bc4 Nf6 4.Ng5 d5 5.exd5 Na5 6.Bb5+ Bd7 7.Qe2 Nxd5
8.Qxe5+ Qe7 9.Bxd7+ Kxd7 10.Qxe7+ Bxe7 11.Nxf7 Rhf8 12.Ne5+ Kd8 13.d4
c5 14.Be3 Nxe3 15.fxe3 Bd6 16.Nd2 Ke7 17.0-0-0 Rf5 18.Ndf3 Rd8 19.Rd2
Rdf8 20.a3 g5 21.e4 R5f6 22.Rhd1 b6 23.Nxg5 Rh6 24.Ngf7 Rf6 25.Nxd6
Kxd6 26.Nf3 Kc6 27.d5+ Kd7 28.e5 Rf4 29.Re2 Re8 30.Ng5 Rf5 31.e6+ Kd6
32.Nf7+ Ke7 33.d6+ Kf8 34.d7 Rb8 35.e7+ Kxf7 36.e8Q+ 1-0

The following foray was less successful for the exhibitor:

Ascher,J - Shaw,J [C58]
White Blindfold, Montreal, 11.07.1881
[Toronto Globe,  6 Aug 1881]

1.e4 e5 2.Bc4 Bc5 3.Nf3 d6 4.0-0 Nf6 5.d4 exd4 6.Nxd4 0-0 7.Nc3 Ng4
8.h3 Ne5 9.Bb3 Bxh3 10.f4 Bg4 11.Nce2 Nbc6 12.Be3 Nxd4 13.Bxd4 Bxd4+
14.Qxd4 Bxe2 15.Rf2 Ba6 16.Rd1 Nc6 17.Qc3 Qe7 18.Bd5 Nd8 19.e5 c6
20.exd6 Qf6 21.Qxf6 gxf6 22.Bb3 Ne6 23.c4 Nc5 24.Bc2 Bxc4 25.g4 Bd5
26.Rh2 Be4 27.Rhd2 Bxc2 28.Rxc2 Ne4 29.f5 Rad8 30.Rd4 Rfe8 31.d7 Re5
RGH - MS [C61]
both Blindfold, Toronto, 1910

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 Nc6 3.Bb5 Nd4 4.Nxd4 exd4 5.0-0 c6 6.Be2 Nf6 7.d3 d5
8.e5 Nd7 9.f4 Be7 10.Rf3 0-0 11.Nd2 Re8 12.Nf1 f6 13.e6 Nf8 14.f5 g6
15.Rg3 Kh8 16.Bh6 gxf5 17.Bg7+ Kg8 18.Bh5 Ng6 19.Bxg6 hxg6 20.Rxg6
Bxe6 21.Qh5 Bf8 22.Bh6+ Kf7 23.Rg7# 1-0

Source: Toronto Globe, 25 June 1910, via Erik Malmsten. RGH is probably Robert Gregg Hunter, as Erik speculates. I'm guessing that MS is Malcolm Sim.

An early reference to simultaneous blindfold in Canada is from the notebooks of Dudley M. LeDain, by Alexander Alekhine against 21 players at the National Chess Club, 1 December 1923. Here is the game he recorded:

Alekhine,A - LeDain,D [C62]
Montreal Blindfold Simul, 1 Dec, 1923

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.Bc4 Bc5 4.d3 d6 5.f4 Nc6 6.Nf3 Bg4 7.Na4 Bb6 8.Nxb6
axb6 9.0-0 0-0 10.h3 Bxf3 11.Qxf3 Nd4 12.Qf2 b5 13.Bb3 Nxb3 14.cxb3 Nd7
15.Be3 f5 16.Qc2 fxe4 17.dxe4 exf4 18.Bxf4 Ne5 19.Bxe5 Rxf1+ 20.Rxf1
dxe5 21.Rd1 Qe7 22.Rd5 c6 23.Qc5 Qxc5+ 24.Rxc5 Re8 Draw

This was not a world record attempt, as Réti had played 24 games in Haarlem (Netherlands, not Harlem, NY, NY) on 1919.08.06. Alekhine did set the record on 1924.04.27 in New York.

LeDain recorded a series of non-simul blindfold games in his notebooks of 1925. Alekhine's feats had inspired emulation. LeDain played blindfold and some opponents (Sharp, Richard) did also.

Hugh Brodie reports that in May 1936: Redpath Drummond (from Toronto - later from Montreal) announced a 35- board blindfold simul at Le Parisien, but cancelled it when only 20 players showed. One can only guess that it wasn't worth the effort if he wasn't going to set a world record (besting Koltanowski's 34). About 1970, I played Drummond. He would only play for money (a $2 stake) and only at a speed of 15 minutes per side.

In the fall and winter of 1938, Bernard Freedman brought George Koltanowski to Canada. His first exhibition (not blindfold) was at Quebec, 16 September 1938. He devotes Chapter 7 of his 1956 book Adventures of a Chess Master to the Canadian leg of the trip. All of the exhibitions he relates are in the table above, but since a number of exhbitions not in the book have also been found, it is likely that more will turn up. Typically, if Koltanowski was giving exhibitions on 8 boards, he could do one per day, but larger displays might require rest days.

Keith Kerns, in his obituary of IM Frank Anderson, reported that (in the 1950s): Frank played blindfold chess from time to time, and could conduct several 10 second/move games at once.

Canada's golden age of blindfold chess starts about the time that the rest of the world wasn't so interested any more. The three most famous are Leo Williams, Jacques Labelle, and Hans Jung. Leo Williams' mark of 27 boards seems to make him the Blindfold World Champion, as Alekhine, Koltanowski, Flesch, Najdorf ... are all dead. Leo is definitely not, and he is open to proposals for new blindfold conquests. Email me.

The blindfold prowess of Alex Panayotou was legendary, but perhaps not well documented (yet!). Bob Bowerman writes:

I did participate in a (blindfold) simul against Alex Panayotou. As I recall he played 3 games at Hart House some time around 1970/71. The opposition was fairly strong -- 3 games against A class or better players. I believe Peter Bokhout and possibly David Handelmann or maybe it was David Broughton were the two other players. I think the score was one win one loss and one draw although it may have been two wins and a draw. Our game was a draw and I recall that when we reached a position in which there was a clear positional draw he took the time to explain how it was drawn all the time not looking at the board. Alex was quite a character with a good sense of humour. He played regularly and sucessfully for the U of T team with players like Dobrich, Grimshaw and Ian Martin.
Ray Stone, Peter Biyiasas and yours truly are part of the same story, if in a less numerous way than Williams, Labelle and Jung. Biyiasas gave a 10-board exhibition, possibly in 1970 or 1971 when a couple of his blindfold games (each year) appear in a Canada database.

Hugh Brodie reports that Leo Williams and Jacques Labelle tried to best each other's record at blindfold simul chess. Here is the "race" (number of games in parentheses). He believes that all were held in/near Montreal except the last one, which was held in Baie Comeau (it lasted 18.75 hours):

 (7) Jan. 1970: Labelle   +7-0=0
 (9) Mar. 1970: Labelle   +7-0=2
(10) Mar, 1970: Williams  +8-1=1
(12) May, 1970: Williams +11-1=0
(15) May, 1970: Labelle   +8-1=6
(18) July 1972: Wllliams +12-1-5
(22) Mar. 1973: Williams +17-2=3
(27) Nov. 1986: Williams +16-2=9

Leo Williams and Jacques Labelle played a blindfold match, tied 3-3 in Montreal in August 1970, coincidentally in the same building in which the Montreal 1979 Tournament of the Stars was held. The giant pieces (moved by TD Hugh Brodie) were hippies versus business. The time control was 40 or 50 moves in 3 hours! Leo Williams writes: The games were played consecutively. The match was at Man and His World, and open to the general the spectacle aspect was all-important. At one point I raised my blindfold to rub my eyes, (we were back-to-back across a mini-amphi-theatre) and a little girl started screanming that I wasn't blind!

David MacLeod writes: Peter Matsi used to do five blindfold games against his Victoria Park High School team mates and score either 5/5 or 4/5. The strength of the players would probably be 1 A player, 2 B players and 2 C players. Peter Matsi played in the 1970 Canadian Junior, so the time would be late 1960s.

Jonathan Berry away from the board

Age World Record

November 6, 2004. I, Jonathan Berry, may just have equalled the world record for players who have reached the age of 50. At the Thinkers' Press Chess Festival in Bettendorf, Iowa, I played 12 opponents, ranging in rating from 1000 to 2240, winning 9, drawing 2 and losing 1 game, over 8½ hours of play. Earlier, I thought that I might have broken the record, but Stephen Wright revealed in an email that peripatetic blindfolder George Koltanowski gave a 12-board blindfold simul in Vancouver on February 23, 1955, at age 51 (+7 =3 -2). Since he was born September 17, 1903, that would make him 51 years old, same as I am.

Frankly, I was worried, because the most I had ever tried before was 10 games, and that was 30 years earlier (Winnipeg 1974). In addition, I had just arrived from a month in Europe, and every morning woke up like clockwork--at 2 am. After some nervousness at the beginning, a pawn gambited for nothing, I settled down to the long haul. I drank a jug of water, no food. There were 5 rest breaks of about 3 minutes each.

I made 396 moves in 510 minutes, for an average of about 77 seconds per move. That ranged from about nothing to a long long time, as I found myself in many tough situations. But just like a face-to-face simul, as the games cleared out, it was tougher for the other players. I (or rather the emcee) was coming around more often.

Most of the time, IM Andrew Martin was the emcee, and he was very good at it, announcing the moves in a loud and clear voice.

I took White against the six strongest, and Black against the others. This was mostly a way to keep the games separate in my mind. Otherwise, I would probably have played 1.a3 or 1.c3 in a lot of games.

Here is an early draft of the game scores from my memory. Obviously, my memory for the moves is better than of the opponents' names. Bob Long of Thinkers' Press did collect the game scores, but who knows when those might be collated and digitized. Game 9 (with the bizarre gambit) is the one I'm least sure about the exact moves.

According to Hans Jung, even peripatetic blindfolders such as George Koltanowski and J.H. Blackburne never attempted more than 10 games while in their 6th decades (though see the first paragraph for a counterexample). However, Kolty did take on 12 when he was 49, via the BCCF email Bulletin #54.

My thanks to Bob Long and Thinkers' Press for this opportunity.

Rules for Blindfold Chess

Here are the rules from Bettendorf:

Rules for Jonathan Berry Blindfold Simul, November 6, 2004

BP is the blindfold player. SP is a sighted player; MC is the Master of Ceremonies. In brief: Each board has a number (1-12). The BP calls out the board number ("Board 7"), the SP moves at once, and the MC announces the move. After thinking, the BP will announce the reply.

If the move is ambiguous or illegal, the MC will say "ambiguous" or "illegal" and the BP will announce another move. The MC will make the move, and the BP will announce the next board number. So there is no implicit penalty in my making illegal moves. The bigger penalty would be in leaving a Queen en prise. In more detail:

  1. Each SP and spectator will receive a copy of these rules.
  2. The MC is to make all of the BP's moves on the boards.
  3. The SP may touch the pieces only to move them, as described below.
  4. Spectators or other SPs may not offer any help to the SPs.
  5. The penalty to a SP or spectator for discussing the position is expulsion from the room and, for a SP, loss of the game.
  6. SPs and spectators must maintain silence, except for the following three instances.
  7. If there is a disagreement as to the position, the BP and MC will settle it verbally. If the input of a SP is needed, it will be requested.
  8. If the MC states a move incorrectly, the SP may correct.
  9. If the MC makes the BP's move incorrectly on the board, the SP may query him.
  10. Touch move or voice move does not apply to the BP; The BP's move is finalized when he asks for the next board. However, the MC may make the move on the board after it is spoken.
  11. If the BP makes an illegal or ambiguous move, the MC will inform him: "Illegal move" or "Ambiguous move", nothing more. The BP may make another move.
  12. The SP is to move when the BP's move from the previous board is finalized.
  13. The BP may decide to let a player pass late in the game. Otherwise, the SP's move must be made immediately.
  14. The BP may not receive any other assistance.
  15. The SP will keep score of the game, in any notation.
  16. The default notation for verbal use is Algebraic or Full Algebraic notation.
  17. If the MC has made a move different from what the BP said, the position will be restored (even if it means going back moves) and the correct move made.
  18. If the BP understood a move differently from what the MC thought he said, the position will be restored (even if it means going back moves) and the SP's correct move made.
  19. For any situation not covered by these rules, the MC's decision will be final.

I learned chess at age 8 from my eldest brother Nick. Once every few months we would bring out the chess board and play the odd game, but chess was only one of many pleasures. I joined the school chess club (under Mr. Z. B. Syrnick) at age 12 and quickly became obsessed.

After reading about blindfold play in a chess book, I first tried it in school, at age 13. It was some effort, but I was reassured by the empty chess board in front of me. That allowed me to imagine each piece on its square. Playing blindfold remained an effort, but one day I decided to remove the board. Suddenly, it was easier! The next day I graduated to two boards and did not experience problems. I also played blindfold against the club sponsor, Mr. Syrnick. I believe that I won all the blindfold games played at age 13, but there were no more than about half a dozen in all.

Through the magic of not throwing out any paper, no matter how useless, here are my only early recorded blindfold efforts:

Berry,J - Syrnick,Z [B00]
blindfold (white), 1967.05.03
1.e4 Nc6 2.d4 e6 3.c4 b6 4.d5 exd5 5.cxd5 Ne5 6.f4 Ng6 7.Nf3 d6 8.Nc3 Bg4 9.h3 Bxf3 10.Qxf3 Qh4+ 11.g3 Qd8 12.Bb5+ Ke7 13.h4 Nf6 14.h5 a6 15.Bd3 Nxf4 16.Bxf4 b5 17.e5 dxe5 18.Bxe5 b4 19.Bxf6+ gxf6 20.Ne2 Bh6 21.Nd4 Re8 22.0-0 Bg5 23.Nc6+ Kd6 24.Nxd8 Raxd8 25.Rae1 Rg8 26.Be4 Bh4 27.Qf4+ Kc5 28.Qxh4 1-0

Berry,J - Russell [B02]
blindfold (white), 1967.05.11
1.e4 Nf6 2.e5 Nd5 3.c4 Nf4 4.d4 Ne6 5.d5 Nc5 6.Be3 b6 7.b4 Ne4 8.Qd4 f5 9.f3 Na6 10.fxe4 fxe4 11.Qxe4 Nxb4 12.Na3 Bb7 13.Nf3 e6 14.Be2 exd5 15.cxd5 Nxd5 16.0-0 Bxa3 17.Bc4 Bb2 18.Bxd5 Bxd5 19.Qxd5 Bxa1 20.Ng5 Qe7 21.Qxa8+ Qd8 22.Qxd8+ Kxd8 23.Nf7+ Ke7 24.Nxh8 Bxe5 25.Rf7+ Kd6 26.Bf4 c5 27.Bxe5+ Kxe5 28.Rxg7 c4 29.Rxd7 c3 30.Rd1 Ke4 31.Kf2 c2 32.Rc1 Kd3 33.Ke1 a5 34.Nf7 1-0

Some elements of provocation in the opponents' play. Resignation in the second game is premature because if I dawdle... a winning line is 34...b5 35.Nd6 b4 36.Nb7, but that took a few seconds to find even with sight of the board. These were not notated during play. At home after school, I would write down in a notebook any lunchtime games that caught my fancy, thus preserving many forgettable contests. Blindfold games were generally not notated by the exhibitor, except sometimes when both players were blindfold.

Three years passed, and then in 1970, the University of British Columbia was celebrating its once-in-five-years Open House. The chess club organized a peculiar demonstration. It was a blindfold chess match between future Grandmaster Peter Biyiasas and me, Jonathan Berry. But we did not play each other. We each played five games against members of the club. Lot decided that Peter played the five first. He won four games, but lost to Hee Seid. Then I played the same opponents, winning four and drawing with the same Hee Seid. The ratings were between about 1600 and 2000. So I won the match, a rare rare rare victory for me in chess contests against Peter Biyiasas.

The Chess Club used to meet at the Vancouver YMCA at Burrard and Nelson on Friday nights. Afterwards we tended to retire to a public house on Granville Street. On one of those occasions we had a Beery Simul.

Here is a sheet with moves, written afterwards those many years ago. And here is the PGN score of the six games. On 18 October 1974, I gave a six-board blindfold simul at the Rembrandt Hotel over a few beers. The opponents also played sans voir. My score was +3 -1 =2.

The games are not very good. I suppose the best is the draw against Fullbrook. Did I say we were drinking beer in a pub? I had to enter five of these six games a second time. Chess Assistant, which was once safe from user insanity, should for Version 7 have an Undo button. I tried to duplicate a Remark across all six games, but instead duplicated everything in the game, wiping out the other five games I had entered.

After entering the games a second time, I made a backup. Horse. Bolted. Gate. Shut.

At the Pan American Championship in Winnipeg, 1974, I was Chief Arbiter (tournament director), but gave a blindfold simul on 10 boards at the University of Winnipeg. The score was 5 wins, 2 draws and 3 losses against young opposition rated, oh, 1500 to 1900. I remember that I played quickly, leading to some blunders, but thirty years later played excruciatingly slowly, with way fewer blunders. Here is the PGN file, but unfortunately, only one opponent, Mike Hopper, has a name. Tony Boron and Don Campbell were among the others, but we haven't figured out which game belongs to whom. Except for the Hopper game, they are all from a sheet produced by me later that night, unable to sleep.

In the fall of 1976, the Kingston (Ontario) Chess Club had a Chess Weekend, with my blindfold simul against local celebrities and dignitaries as the centrepiece. The event is reported in CFC Bulletin #22, May-June 1977, pp 6-7. Kalev Pugi did a really good job of organizing the event. Among the opposition were the mayor, university deans, radio and newspaper guys. I won six and drew one.

On 23 March 1977 between 12:20 and 3:00 pm I appear to have given an 8-board blindfold simul at Ottawa University, and to have won every game! In 2003 I don't remember it at all. I wrote down the moves afterwards without remembering the names of the opponents. The games are not stellar. My approach looks like develop your pieces and wait for a blunder.

1.e4 e5 2.Nf3 d6 3.d4 Nf6 4.dxe5 Nxe4 5.Bc4 Nc6 6.Qd5 Be6
7.Qxe4 d5 8.Bxd5 f5 {?} 9.Bxc6+ Bd7 10.Bxd7+ Qxd7 11.Qxb7 Rd8
12.O-O Be7 13.Nc3 c6 14.Qxd7+ Rxd7 15.Be3 O-O 16.Rad1 1-0

1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nf6 3.Nc3 d6 4.Nf3 Bg4 5.h3 Bxf3 6.Qxf3 a6 7.Bc4
Nc6 8.d3 Nd4 9.Qf2 h6 10.O-O Be7 11.Be3 b5 12.Bd5 c6 13.Bxd4
cxd5 14.fxe5 dxe5 15.Bxe5 Bd6 16.Bxd6 Qxd6 17.Nxd5 Nxd5
18.Qxf7+ Kd8 19.exd5 Qc5+ 20.Kh1 Ra7 21.Qf5 Qxc2 22.Rac1 Qxb2
23.Rc8+ Ke7 24.Qe6# 1-0

1.c4 e6 2.e4 c6 3.Nc3 Na6 4.d4 d5 5.Nf3 Bb4 6.cxd5 cxd5 7.Bxa6
bxa6 8.Qa4+ Qd7 9.Qxb4 dxe4 10.Ne5 a5 11.Qc4 Qd5 12.Nxd5 1-0

1.c4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.d3 Nc6 4.g3 Bb4 5.Bd2 d6 6.Bg2 Bd7 7.a3
Bxc3 8.Bxc3 Ng4 9.Nf3 Bf5 10.O-O Qe7 11.b4 a6 12.a4 a5 13.b5
Nd8 14.Ne1 Qg5 15.e4 Be6 16.h3 Nh6 17.Nf3 Qe7 18.Qd2 f6 {?}
19.Bxa5 b6 20.Bc3 Nb7 21.a5 O-O 22.a6 Nc5 23.Qc2 Nd7 24.Bd2 Qf7
25.Nh2 Qg6 26.Be3 Ra7 27.Nf3 f5 28.Nh4 Qf6 29.Bxh6 Qxh6 30.Nxf5
Bxf5 31.exf5 Rxf5 32.Rae1 Kh8 33.f4 Qe6 34.Bd5 Qe7 35.fxe5
Rxf1+ 36.Rxf1 Nxe5 37.Qe2 h6 38.d4 Ng6 39.Qxe7 Nxe7 40.Rf8+ Kh7
41.Be4+ g6 42.Rf7+ Kg8 43.Rxe7 Kh8 44.Bb7 Kg8 45.Rxc7 g5
46.Bd5+ Kh8 47.Rxa7 h5 {And White announced mate in three.} 1-0

1.d4 d5 2.e4 dxe4 3.Nc3 Nf6 4.Bg5 b6 5.f3 Bb7 6.fxe4 Nxe4
7.Nxe4 Bxe4 8.Nf3 f6 9.Bh4 Nc6 10.Bd3 Bxd3 11.Qxd3 Qd7 12.O-O
O-O-O 13.c3 e5 14.Qa6+ Kb8 15.dxe5 g5 16.Bg3 Bc5+ 17.Kh1 fxe5
18.b4 Be7 {?} 19.b5 Qc8 {?} 20.Qxc8+ Rxc8 21.bxc6 e4 22.Ne5
Rhe8 23.Nd7+ Ka8 24.a4 a5 25.Rae1 Bc5 26.Nxc5 bxc5 27.Rf5 Ka7
28.Rxc5 h6 29.Rb5 Re6 30.Bf2+ Ka6 31.Rb7 Ra8 32.Rxc7 h5 33.Be3
Re5 34.Rd1 g4 35.Rdd7 1-0

1.d4 d5 2.Nf3 Nf6 3.Bg5 e6 4.e3 c5 5.c3 c4 6.Nbd2 Be7 7.b3 b5
8.a4 Bd7 9.axb5 Bxb5 10.bxc4 dxc4 11.Bxc4 Bxc4 12.Nxc4 O-O
13.O-O Nc6 14.Nce5 Rc8 15.c4 Ne4 16.Bxe7 Qxe7 17.Nxc6 Rxc6
18.Ne5 Rcc8 19.Qd3 Nd6 20.c5 Nf5 21.Ra6 f6 22.Nf3 Rfd8 23.Qe4
Re8 24.Rfa1 Rc7 25.h3 g6 26.Qc2 Qd7 27.Qa2 Re7 28.Rb1 Re8
29.Qa4 Qe7 30.Ra1 Ra8 31.Rc6 Rb7 32.Qa6 Kf7 33.Rxe6 Qc7 34.e4
Ng7 35.Rxf6+ Kg8 36.Ng5 Rf8 37.Qc4+ Rf7 38.Rxf7 1-0

1.e4 e5 2.Nc3 Nf6 3.f4 Nc6 4.Nf3 exf4 5.d4 d5 6.exd5 Nxd5
7.Nxd5 Qxd5 8.Bxf4 Bd6 9.Bxd6 Qxd6 10.Be2 Be6 11.O-O O-O-O
12.c3 h5 13.b4 f6 14.b5 Ne7 15.a4 Nd5 16.Qd2 Nb6 17.a5 Nc4
18.Bxc4 Bxc4 19.b6 a6 20.bxc7 Qxc7 21.Rfb1 Bb5 {?!} 22.Rb4
Rd6 23.Rab1 Qc6 {?} 24.c4 Bxc4 25.Rc1 Qd5 26.Rbxc4+ Rc6
27.Rxc6+ bxc6 28.Rc5 Qd7 29.Qc3 Kb7 30.Qb4+ Ka8 31.Qb6 Qb7
32.Rxc6 Rc8 33.Qxb7+ Kxb7 34.Rxc8 Kxc8 35.Kf2 Kd7 36.Ke3 Ke6
37.Ne1 g5 38.Nd3 Kd6 39.Nc5 Kc6 40.Ke4 Kb5 41.Nb3 Kb4 42.d5
Kxb3 43.d6 Kb4 44.d7 Kxa5 45.d8Q+ Kb5 46.Kd5 a5 47.Qb8+ Ka6
48.Kc6 1-0

1.e4 e5 2.f4 Nf6 3.fxe5 Nc6 4.exf6 gxf6 5.Nf3 Qe7 6.Nc3 Qe6
7.d4 f5 8.d5 Qf6 9.dxc6 Qxc6 10.Bb5 Qc5 11.Nd5 Qxb5 12.Nxc7+
Kd8 13.Nxb5 fxe4 14.Ne5 a6 15.Nxf7+ Ke7 16.Nxh8 axb5 17.O-O Ra6
18.Rf7+ Ke8 19.Qh5 Rg6 20.Nxg6 Kxf7 21.Nxf8+ Ke7 22.Bg5+ Kxf8
23.Rf1+ Kg8 24.Qf7+ Kh8 25.Bf6# 1-0

Many years later, perhaps 1985, I was back in Vancouver. A chance remark by Bruce Harper prompted another memorable blindfold moment. He said that blindfold play was fun and could be interesting, but the quality of play was not as good as, say, a Blitz (5-minute) game. As Bruce and I are pretty much equals in chess, and he is in fact better than me at Blitz, I felt it fair to challenge him to a game where he had 5 minutes and I had 15, but played blindfold. He readily accepted, and I won the game.

I also played against Grandmaster Yasser Seirawan a couple of games where both of us were blind. Although Yasser had no experience with formal blindfold play, he is a couple of categories better than me as a player, and it showed, as he crushed me like an egg in both games. Would you like to play again, Jonathan? What a nice man!

These are some of my blindfold memories. Between them, they represent most of my blindfold chess experience. I was, and remain, willing to play more blindfold chess, either for compensation or to promote a special cause but, frankly, there just isn't much call for blindfold chess. An ordinary simultaneous, where you walk from board to board making your moves, seems miraculous enough for most people. When you take away the board, some people either can't figure out what is happening, or begin to think it is a trick.

I have more game scores. They might be added when I find them. After an exhibition of 5 or more boards I am keyed up and find it difficult to sleep, so what better thing to do than write out the games just played?

After years of no blindfold simuls, I gave a 2-board exhibition at Haines Junction, Yukon, on 5 August 2003. One game was particularly tricky, because my opponent kept sacrificing pieces and not recapturing, i.e., Bf4xRb8 was not replied to with Rf8xBb8, but with some move elsewhere. I got to the stage where I couldn't believe that I had so many pieces (2 rooks and 3 pieces extra), but finally I managed to checkmate without attempting an illegal move through an extra piece I might have scattered about.

The other game was a control performance.

Berry,J - McRobb,G [B07]
Blindfold simul Haines Junction (2), 2003

1.e4 g6 2.d4 Bg7 3.Nc3 d6 4.Be3 Nf6 5.f3 e5 6.Nge2 Nc6 7.d5 Ne7 8.Qd2
0-0 9.0-0-0 Bd7 10.g4 b5 11.h4 b4 12.Nb1 Bxg4 13.fxg4 Nxe4 14.Qxb4 f5
15.gxf5 [15.h5] 15...gxf5 16.Nbc3 a5 17.Qc4 Nf6 18.Rg1 Rb8 19.a3 f4
20.Bf2 Rb7 21.Na4 Qd7 22.Nec3 Rfb8 23.Bd3 Kh8 24.Be4 Qh3 25.Rh1 Qd7
26.h5 Bh6 27.Bh4 Ng4 28.Rdg1 Ng8 29.Bf3 N4f6 30.Bg5 Bf8 31.h6 Ne8
32.Bg4 Qf7 33.Be6 Qg6 34.Bh4 Qxh6 35.Rxg8# 1-0

I might also add a discussion: what is the most difficult stage of a blindfold chess game?

Hans Jung writes...

[...] Another part of blindfold chess is its appeal to the general public. I have always given my largest displays in shopping malls where there has always been excessive noise but also large crowds of people. The most amazing example was doing an impromptu display in Eatons Centre Mall off Yonge Street in downtown Toronto (1997) I had just come to do some shopping with my son when I was flagged down to do an exhibition for the Chess'n Math Association display booth. I did a two board (White and Black) against 2 students selected from passersby and it took 20 minutes (including announcements and presentation). When I took off my blindfold there were crowds 10 deep around me and on the 3 floors of balconies above (at least 2 thousand - probably more people watching). I used to think so what? they won't become tournament players but I now think if given the right opportunity in the right environment a grass roots can be established. Why do I think that? In a very short time (about 2 years) in Michigan a coffee house chess league has been established, in a small town and they now have 12,000 members. Yes we can draw them, yes we can establish social leagues (I had over 10,000 participants in my outdoor program in Kitchener last summer) we just have to learn how to hook'em (in old fishermens terms) and I really do think it is possible (even 2% counts for alot!). Food for thought.

A blast from 1996

I wrote...

It would be interesting if there were any correlation between longevity and playing blindfold simuls. On the plus side we have Kolty (aged 92) and Najdorf (85), both still going strong. On the minus side, Alekhine (53, choked on a piece of meat, possible alcohol influences); Pillsbury (33, syphilis); Janos Flesch (50, highway accident in England).

Somebody replied ...

Interesting post Jonathan. Here are some more all-time blindfold greats and longevity:

Philidor  (1726-1795)   69
Paulsen   (1833-1891)   58 (diabetes)
Morphy    (1837-1884)   47 (congestion of the brain following
                            cold bath shock to overheated body)
Blackburne(1841-1924)   83
Zukertort (1842-1888)   46 (stroke)
Reti      (1889-1929)   40 (scarlet fever)
Breyer    (1893-1921)   28 (heart disease)

Maybe Blackburne, Kolty, and Najdorf have bucked the trend! The following story, which is one of my favourite chess stories ever, illustrates in a funny way how blind simul players can get into trouble when they have no footholds for memorizing:

Several years ago there was a Yugoslavian GM called Udovcic, who one day visited a small remote village to give a blind simul on ten boards. He was expecting it to be a piece of cake, as he didn't have much confidence in the playing abilities of the simple village people. Well, the simul started and of course Udovcic played white in all games. When he had executed his first move on each board, his opponents all answered with 1...b7-b6. "This must be local fashion here", he thought, and played his second move on each board. To his surprise 5 of his opponents answered with 2...Bc8-b7, while the other 5 played 2...Bc8-a6. "Strange", he thought, "but not really dangerous". After his third move, to his bewilderment half of the people who had played their bishop to b7 played 2...Bb7-a6, while the other half played 2...Bb7-c8. And to confuse things even more, half of the people who had played their bishop to a6 played 2...Ba6-b7, while the other half played 2...Ba6-c8. Frantically Udovcic tried to memorize in which games the bishop was on a6, in which games on b7 and in which games on c8. But how much he did his best,he started confusing one game with the other, when more moves were played and the bishops kept on moving back and forth. It was not surprising that Udovcic felt a sudden urge to go to the toilet. He escaped through the toilet window and was never seen again in the small remote village. Needless to say, after his departure the village people started a big party with lots of slivovits in order to celebrate their victory. Is this really true, or is it a made-up story? Either way, it's hilarious.

George Koltanowski

In the Mechanics Institute Chess Club Newsletter #288, 03/21/2006, Bob Burger wrote: He did a magnificent blindfold simul at the Fairmount Hotel about 1960 (sequential, not truly simul), and continued to the end to maintain his title of world's blindfold champion, though many contested the details.

Tom Dorsch replied: His claim to the world's blindfold title was a good one. The two events that claim to have "broken" the title, the one by Najdorf in Argentina and the one by Fleisch in Hungary, were scrupulously researched by Kolty. It turns out that Najdorf was allowed to record moves, and that a number of [Flesch]'s opponents resigned immediately. Kolty's effort in [Edinburgh], 34 boards on his 34th birthday, was quite legitimate, although it must be admitted that the strength of his opposition was very weak compared to the opponents of Alekhine when he played 32 boards. But the feat of memory was indeed exceptional, and the nfact that nobody else has tried it since testifies to the level of difficulty. In fact, he almost single-handedly destroyed sans voir chess with that feat. It had been a regular staple of master repertoires since at least the middle of the nineteenth century, and many famous masters made it part of their exhibitions. After the record reached 34 games, nobody was willing to continue to attempt it. Kolty liked to say he was paid one thousand pounds sterling, a hefty sum in 1937, and it made him one of the richest chessplayers in the world.

JB note: Perhaps the best recommendation for 34 to be considered the record is its recognition by the Oxford Companion to Chess. Personally, though, I think the matter could be debated a bit more. A detailed account of Najdorf's record exists in Spanish (and I have read it), so why not a point-by-point comparison?


This page was prompted by a request (link now dead) from John Knott. He and Eliot Hearst are reportedly writing a book about blindfold chess.

Discussion of George Koltanowski Mechanics Institute Newsletter (long, bottom part)

A PDF article on Blindfold Chess entitled When Blindfold Chess Became Easy by Jeremy Spinrad at Chess Cafe.

(c) 2002-2006 by Jonathan Berry

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Last modified January 29, 2010