The mystery of blindfold chess Chess
By Errol Tiwari
Stabroek News
December 17, 2006

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World Chess Championship title contender Veselin Topalov scored an impressive victory in a six-game blindfold match over Hungarian grandmaster Judit Polgar in Bilbao last week.

Topalov won the match 3/½ points to 2/½ points, although the score includes a final game win for Polgar when the match was already lost. The time control registered for the match was 25 minutes per player per game. If the game was not completed in the allotted time, players were given 10 seconds each for every additional move.

The win over Polgar must have given Topalov sweet satisfaction since earlier in the year he faced Vladimir Kramnik in a World Chess Championship Unification match and lost. Notwithstanding his loss against Kramnik, Topalov is still the highest ranked active player in the world at 2813, according to the latest rating list released by the World Chess Federation (FIDE). Kramnik is rated at 2750 in the number three spot behind India's Viswanathan Anand (2779).

Polgar is the strongest woman chess player on the planet and is currently ranked number 17 at 2710. She ceased competing against other females years ago, and has refused to participate in the Women's World Cham-pionship matches. Polgar is the only female player to have defeated Garry Kasparov in his golden years when he was considered unbeatable, and the only female player to have made the top ten list of FIDE grandmasters.

Blindfold chess has become something of a rarity on the international circuit. Not many people can play blindfold chess. In Guyana I have seen only Maurice Broomes, Edward Greenman and Edan Warsali playing blindfold chess. These three experts played blindfolded against opponents who had the chessboard and pieces in full view in front of them and won.

But what is blindfold chess? Blindfold play does not mean literally blindfolded; it means that one player does not have sight of the board or boards. He may be sitting with his back to his opponent/s, or be in another room. Moves are relayed to him and he responds.

As early as 1226 there was blindfold play. One of the tricks of those early grandmasters, as it was with the later ones, was to startle the bourgeoisie with exhibitions of blindfold play. In 1226, one Buzzeca, a Sicilian, took on two simultaneous opponents while blindfolded, and at the same time he played a third opponent over the board.

To the layman this ability is an inexplicable gift bordering on witchcraft; obviously the practitioners have to be helped by diabolical intervention. When Franois-André Philidor revived the practice in 1783 and played two boards simultaneously in London, it was described in a publication, the World as "a phenomenon in the history of man."

But many great chess players, and some not so great, have had this ability. It comes as naturally to them as perhaps mentally solving complicated equations was to Gauss. Through the years the records at blindfold play have been broken. Paul Morphy could have played eight simultaneous games. Harry Pillsbury, twenty-two; Richard Reti twenty-nine; Dr Alexander Alekhine thirty-two; and in 1960 a Hungarian named Janos Flesch took on fifty-two players in a twelve-hour session, winning thirty-one, losing three, and drawing the rest. In 1970, Flesch pushed his world record up to sixty-two simultaneous games. The question that intrigues me, the layman, is: How can anyone play fifty games of chess simultaneously without sight of his opponents' pieces or their chess boards?

How can Topalov and Polgar play world class chess in a time controlled situation without sight of their pieces or boards?

Perhaps such a player, undoubtedly a chess genius, much like the mathematical or musical genius, sees certain inherent positions in a situation that less gifted intellects cannot begin to envisage. The chess genius thinks differently from others.

In blindfold chess one has to create a picture of the chess board and pieces in one's mind. And as the game begins one has to 'see' everything that is happening mentally and respond efficiently and effectively. Imagine someone playing chess in such a mind-boggling manner and taking on fifty players at the same time. When he was the English-speaking Caribbean chess champion, Maurice Broomes told me he used to seriously train himself at home to play blindfold chess.

He said it was a challenge to him and he badly yearned to master the art of playing at least one game at a time.

We hardly see blindfold chess games today, so it was very refreshing to learn of the Topalov-Polgar match and to replay the games.

Event: Blindfold Rapid

Site : Bilbao, Spain.

Date: December 7, 2006

Round: 6

White: Judit Polgar-2710

Black: Veselin Topalov-2813

Result: 1-0

Sicilian Defence

1. e4 c5 2. Nf3 e6 3. d4 cxd4 4. Nxd4 a6 5. Bd3 Ne7 6. O-O Nec6 7. c3 Be7

8. Be3 O-O 9. Nd2 d6 10. f4 Nd7 11. Rf3 g6 12. Rg3 Nxd4 13. cxd4 e5 14. Nf3

exd4 15. Nxd4 Nc5 16. Nf5 d5 17. Bd4 Bxf5 18. exf5 Nxd3 19. Rxd3 Bf6 20.

fxg6 hxg6 21. Qb3 Re8 22. Rad1 b5 23. Qc3 Bxd4+ 24. Qxd4 Re6 25. Qxd5 Qe8

26. Qxa8 Qxa8 27. Rd8+ Qxd8 28. Rxd8+ Kg7 29. Kf2 Re4 30. Kf3 Rc4 31. Rd2

a5 32. Rd5 Ra4 33. a3 b4 34. Rd3 bxa3 35. bxa3 Rc4 36. g4 Kh6 37. h4 f5 38.

Kg3 fxg4 39. Kxg4 a4 40. Rd6 Kg7 41. Ra6 Rd4 42. Ra7+ Kf6 43. Ra5 Kg7 44.

Kg5 Kf7 45. Ra7+ Kf8 46. Kxg6 Rxf4 47. Ra8+ Ke7 48. h5 Rg4+ 49. Kf5 Rc4 50.

h6 Rc5+ 51. Ke4 Black Resigns! 1-0.

This is the only win Polgar scored in the match. Topalov got two wins and the remaining three games were drawn.