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From Wikipedia,

While blindfold chess has been recommended in moderation by many sources as a method of increasing one's playing strength, simultaneous blindfold exhibitions were officially banned in 1930 in the USSR as they were deemed to be a health hazard. Mikhail Botvinnik also warned against it.

Should I actively not play blindfold chess? Are there any health risks?

  • Are you asking about health risks of playing blindfolded chess in general or health risks of giving simultaneous blindfold exhibitions? It seems that nobody is suggesting that the former poses any health risks, even the quote in your question says: "blindfold chess has been recommended in moderation ", – Akavall Jan 25 at 0:07
  • Part of me wants to make the joke that blindfold chess is so draining it would leave me no energy to exercise, and that's unhealthy. But on the other hand, once you've had enough, you've had enough--it certainly wouldn't be the immobilizing time sink that, say, Candy Crush Saga is. Also, the Soviets banned a lot of reasonable fun things. – aschultz Jan 25 at 21:52
  • apart from headaches and nailbiting as you try to remember board positions accurately? :) – jwenting Jan 26 at 7:13
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No.

The main reason behind this train of thought was that they thought that blindfold chess may contribute to going crazy. They looked at Morphy and Pillsbury as their primary examples. Lasker, specifically, thought that blindfold chess made Pillsbury go mad, but we now know it was syphilis. Other than just plain incorrect assumptions like Lasker's, this is an incredibly small sample size no matter how you cut it, and we are talking about judging this on 90+-year-old "science", if you can call it that.

This not only does not make any sense in the modern day, but it has been debunked by at least USCF NM, and noted psychologist, Christopher Chabris from Harvard. The paper can be found here.

Blindfold chess is good for your chess vision, so feel free to practice it in moderation.

P.S. We have in more recent times, from 1992-2011, had the Melody Amber blindfold tournaments for the the top players in the world including Karpov, Kramnik, Anand, and Carlsen. If modern science even remotely believed that blindfold was bad for you, these guys would not have played.

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    Good answer. I think I had also read about some 20th century cases of players specializing in simultaneous blindfold play with many scores of opponents and suffering (as a result of this practice or for whatever other reason) psychological disorder. Possibly Georges Koltanovsky was such a case. Anyway, the sample would still be way too narrow ! – Evargalo Jan 24 at 11:12
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    The last paragraph seems a bit naïve. Professional sports is full with people doing stuff that really isn't very healthy, at least not in the long term. – leftaroundabout Jan 24 at 16:34
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    @leftaroundabout There is a big difference between this and the typical examples you might cite like steroids, or CTE in American football, for example. Even there, they know, but they just choose to take the risks. – PhishMaster Jan 24 at 17:14
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    What is the big difference? – leftaroundabout Jan 24 at 17:19
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    @leftaroundabout: The big difference is that blindfold chess is an optional extra you can do for fun, and doesn't increase your success (not significantly more than other ways of training) at the thing top players really care about: regular tournaments / word championships. But in American Football or boxing, the danger of brain injury comes during the actual main event time itself, and is thus unavoidable as part of playing at a top level. Steroids are optional but help your training more than any safe (and fair) option. Unless blindfold chess gives steroid-level results, big difference. – Peter Cordes Jan 25 at 18:48
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No. Not the way the Russians thought anyway. It may raise your BP as you have trouble playing well.

I have played, and won, blindfold games. They do not increase your strength. But they are harder and not in a useful way.

The truth is that you have to play well first, to be able to do blindfold chess at all.

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