Some of you might have watched chess grandmasters perform blindfold chess in an exhibition, it is truly a fascinating display. The thought of playing without a chessboard seems to be so special that not everyone can do it.
Which brings us to the question of whether all chess grandmasters can play blindfold chess? There are a handful of chess grandmasters in the world after all and you may wonder if they all have this ability.
As a chess player here is what I know:
The majority of chess grandmasters can play blindfold chess decently but there is a small population that is not capable of such. This is because competitive tournaments where the GM title is granted are not done blindfolded. Supergrandmasters on the other hand can all play blindfolded.
There are a lot of questions about the strength of grandmasters, not all people can properly assess their status. How capable are these titled players truly when it comes to playing chess?
I will tackle this question by answering whether all of them can play blindfold chess, something that is quite astonishing to an average individual.
All grandmasters can play blindfold chess to an extent
To answer this question, we need to define the mechanism to which we determine someone who can actually play blindfold chess. Depending on our definition, the answer may be different.
If our definition of playing blindfold chess is that they can play a whole game without becoming messy, then yes, grandmasters can do that. These are all experts that have spent years learning and familiarizing the game.
All grandmasters to an extent can play blindfold chess without just blundering all over the place, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they could win though.
Some grandmasters would definitely perform weaker on their blindfold chess mode, and even players that are ranked below them can occasionally beat them at this format.
However, if we are to change the definition as being able to play blindfold chess decently then the answer would be different.
I am pretty sure that there is a small, microscopic population of grandmasters that couldn’t play blindfold chess decently. There’s not a lot of them but they do exist within the grandmaster population.
Grandmasters that cannot play blindfold chess
The majority of chess grandmasters are able to play blindfold chess decently due to the amount of time they have spent studying. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t any grandmasters that are not able to do this though.
In order to reach the grandmaster title, you need to have an extraordinary talent for visualization which is necessary for blindfold chess. However, it is not a requirement to be able to play blindfolded to get the title.
There are talented grandmasters out there that have acquired their title without trying to improve with a niche study such as a blindfold chess study, hence they couldn’t play even half their strength in blindfold mode.
This doesn’t mean that they couldn’t play blindfolded without making too many mistakes, they are probably still sensible, but it is not considered to be playing decently. Playing decently for professionals is a completely different term.
However the majority of grandmasters can play decently, it is important to note that a lot of them are still capable of playing in this format (though not all of them).
Blindfold chess is not necessary for a grandmaster title
There might be grandmasters out there that cannot play blindfold chess since it is not really the format in competitive chess tournaments. If there are any who can’t, it is likely that their population is really low.
In order to reach the grandmaster title you need to play in chess tournaments that host games played over the board, these are not formats for which the participants are blindfolded.
This means that comparing the strength of the grandmaster in blindfold format is pretty unfair since it is not the format that they have been training for. It is a good side skill but it is not an absolute requirement.
This is why a small (I mean very small, probably almost microscopic) population of grandmasters can still not play blindfolded since they don’t really need to in order to be good at the main format.
I think there is a common misconception in this topic to regular everyday people, playing blindfold chess is not necessary to acquire the grandmaster title nor is it necessary to become a strong chess player in general.
Why most grandmasters can play blindfolded
Grandmasters are likely to perform blindfolded chess decently since they are usually the players who memorize a lot of lines in their preparation. This helps with the visualization aspect of blindfold chess.
Modern chess competitions are usually won with a lot of preparation rather than over-the-board creativity, working with a chess engine is a key priority. This means that memorization is a huge factor.
Chess players couldn’t afford to memorize a very long line and spending a huge amount of time and effort only to forget it in the actual tournament. They need to be able to remember the things that they have prepared.
This helps in blindfold chess since as you receive more information you need to remember the moves that have been played previously, in other words, memorization is a factor in blindfold success.
Most grandmasters can play blindfolded since they have the right basic skills that are necessary to do so, it doesn’t mean that all of them could play it, but it does mean that they are likely to be able to do so.
All super grandmasters can play blindfold chess well
Previously we have only talked about grandmasters, which is the highest title in the Fide ranking system.
However there is also the unanimous super grandmaster title, which is basically a title specifically labeled for the strongest grandmasters.
If we are talking about super grandmasters then it is quite different, all of them are able to play blindfold chess decently. These are the best players in the world, chess competitors that have honed their skills to their fullest.
In order to reach the summit you need to at least be able to play blindfold chess well, all potential training that can improve one’s chess abilities are needed at this level.
If a super grandmaster cannot perform a somewhat high level of blindfolded chess, they are likely not going to last long at the pinnacle of the chess world.
So if your question is about super grandmasters then yes, all of them can play blindfold chess at a high level.
Super grandmasters that cannot play blindfold chess?
There is only a microscopic chance that there is a super grandmaster out there that cannot play blindfold chess though I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a case like that.
I know what you are thinking, I have just said the opposite from the explanation above but hear me out for a second.
I am not saying that it is impossible for a grandmaster to reach the super grandmaster level without learning blindfolded chess, I am saying that if they do, they will not last long.
By process of elimination (almost like natural selection) super grandmasters that cannot play blindfold chess will eventually be weeded out of the list.
They would either need to eventually learn blindfold chess in order to unlock their fullest potential or not be around too long that their presence counts. This is why I say that you should expect all super grandmasters to be able to play blindfolded.
Because most of the time this is true, all current super grandmasters can play blindfold chess. However in cases where it is not true, it will eventually become reality since the process of elimination will do its work.
Grandmasters of the past and blindfold chess
If we are talking about grandmasters of the past, which are significantly weaker than modern grandmasters, then there might be a huge percentage of them that cannot play blindfold chess well.
In all activities that host competitions, the majority of the players would naturally improve over time. The competitors of the past will naturally be weaker than the competitors of the present.
If you want to see an article detailing how chess players of today are actually way better than chess players of the past, this article can take you there (will open in a new tab).
Getting back to it, this means that grandmasters of the past are significantly more prone to not being able to play blindfolded well.
Today there is a bigger competition to face in order to get the grandmaster title, meaning stronger players that are likely to be capable of playing blindfold chess well.
So if the question is about the grandmasters of the past, then there is a huge chance that some of them cannot play blindfolded.
Grandmasters of the past that can play blindfolded
Do not get me wrong, there are a lot of old considered-to-be grandmaster-level players that can reportedly play blindfold chess well.
It is just that players have become stronger in general and their population has shrunk. It is likely that a lot of past grandmasters cannot play blindfolded chess since the competition is just not as high.
However there are a lot of considered to be grandmaster-level players (even at a time where the grandmaster title isn’t official yet) that are known to be able to play this format exceptionally well.
Paul Morphy is an example of this, being able to play in simultaneous exhibitions blindfolded, at a time where the grandmaster title doesn’t even exist yet.
There are also a lot of other strong chess players of the past that can do this, blindfold chess is also popular back in the day. It is just that there is a larger population of players that cannot play in this format compared to some contemporary players.
Modern chess grandmasters and blindfold chess
Modern chess grandmasters are very likely to be able to play blindfold chess well since the competition has become stronger with the rise of strong chess engines.
I think that grandmasters that cannot play blindfold chess are only minimal in the total population. Chess engines brought the era of memorization and it is a requirement to be able to visualize the preparations well.
It is still uncertain whether these basic skills make it more likely for modern grandmasters to be able to play blindfolded, but I personally think that it is.
Honestly, it wouldn’t surprise me if all grandmasters can after all play blindfold chess well, but it is just more sensible that there are one or ten grandmasters that are not in tune with this format.
Being able to play a full game of chess without having an actual board is truly a gift, we shouldn’t take it for granted since this takes years of dedicated study. It is so common nowadays that people think it is that easy.
It is not, it’s just that people have become more interested in chess and a lot of competitors are willing to put in the work. Being able to play blindfold chess takes a ridiculous amount of effort worthy of praise.
Just because most grandmasters can perform such a feature does not make it less special, in fact, it becomes more special.
Such an outstanding ability reminds us of what it takes to pursue and succeed at something that we love. I hope you have learned something from reading this article, sleep well and play chess.