How do you play blindfold?

I can do it okay using an empty board (like Luzhin). But I can’t picture 64 squares at once and their colors. Say black has N at b4. White can pin it to a black R on 8. Which file? What color square.

I can’t picture it instantly. I have to reason it. All I can do blindfold is based on reasoning. Eg, white KB is on a light square. I just memorize that. Or reason that it is 2 over from the light long diagonal which I just memorize is light. And I know white KB can unpin a f3 N, be blocked in by d3, defend e4, attack f7 from c4, pin a c6 N to e8, and infiltrate at a6. So I get that all those squares are light. And similarly or relatedly for black QB.

But what about the g1 to a7 diagonal. That one is a lot less “meaningful”. So to get b6 I might have to get its color from b5.

This isn’t direct visualization. Mental picturing. Now I'm sure everyone does a lot of what I just described to play blindfold. And I remember a comment once (which I can’t verify as fact) that for totally random chess positions on a board, GMs can’t memorize them at a glance much better than low level players do.

But still I assume some element of pure visualization is necessary that I lack. I know players rated much lower than me who do it much much much better than me. Maybe I can practice more. But I still end up doing more reasoning than picturing. Like subtracting two coordinates to calculate an odd or even difference to infer same color or not.

When you play blindfold, do you picture the whole board at once and concentrate on certain areas while still having the rest in view? Or is it you are using a flashlight that only illuminates small areas and specific relationships, and you have to scan around and think about what to check to know what’s going on? And do you practice testing or memorizing the colors of squares at random?

• Please clarify your specific problem or provide additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it's hard to tell exactly what you're asking.
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Jan 9 at 1:18
• I understand that this is not a very concrete question and answer. And maybe it will be killed. But I would note that there are threads on how or whether GMs play blindfold that seem much more speculative to me, without being killed. Jan 9 at 1:34
• Regarding Edit3, this has some merit: I remember playing a game against some strong player who really was blind. I played something like c5-c4 making a bit of kerfuffle on the queen side. And my opponent only "looked" there, totally "overseeing" that I opened a line for my bishop, and my next move was the standard Ng3+ hxg3 hxg3# sacrifice. Jan 9 at 9:58
• Not sure what you are asking but maybe this is relevant? chess.stackexchange.com/questions/38890/… Jan 9 at 14:10

How to improve at calculation and visualisation? is relevant but concerns itself with the slightly different question of playing a normal game with only a weak ability to visualize. Following up on the information given will reassure you that in general weak visualization is no barrier to high achievement. But in a few people it is a permanent and unalterable aspect of who they are. If you are one of them, you should ignore most of the advice given about blindfold play; this usually assumes some visualizing ability and is not helpful if you cannot visualize at all. A difficulty that you face here is that most people suppose that others have an imagination that works just like theirs. Someone whose imagination is very different from yours will think that this is a badly worded question.

One piece of advice often given that I think is useful is that if someone names a square on the board like g4, you must be able to say without hesitation what color it is. As someone with quite literally no power to visualize I find this good advice but further find it helpful to "make friends" with all the squares. Here are some of the many things that I know about my friend g4.

1. g4 is white
2. g4 is a playable but eccentric opening move that weakens the squares f4 and h4
3. Against the Sicilian and Caro Kann it is sometimes part of an early Pawn Storm.
4. It is a square from which a Black Knight can attack f2.
5. It is a square from which a Black Bishop can pin my Nf3
6. Qg4 is sometime an effective response if in the opening Black leaves g7 undefended (with a number of specific examples)
7. Nf3-h2-g4 is quite common in the Lopez or Giuoco Piano
8. Pg4 supports an outpost Nf5.And I know how to get there.
9. Pg4 threatens g5 to eject defender Nf6 or to open a line by hooking on Ph6.
10. If I play h3 and g4 after short castling Black might sacrifice a piece.
11. Or he might force open lines with ..h5.
12. g4 after Be2 is a square I sometimes use to trade off my light Bishop.

I have never deliberately drawn up such lists, but they are there in my mind and very useful on the rare occasions when I attempt blindfold play. Even so, I am much weaker without sight of the board, but by now that is not a thing that worries me.

• Thanks for the answer and for the link (and to the person above). It's encouraging that I have room to improve. Maybe the main impediment I notice now is that it's harder for me to read chess books. And I distinctly prefer descriptive notation! Jan 10 at 21:09
• Also it's interesting our range of abilities and inabilities. I can't really distinctly picture the colors of the first file, empty. But I can picture the face of all my 2nd grade classmates and all the teachers and professors I've had. I've stopped people in crowds who were barely acquaintances many years and miles ago. I can't picture the shape of Germany (maps are arrangements of ovals in my mind). But I can picture the passage where Dracula scuttles out the window and down the wall the first time, that I read two weeks ago, is on the right side, 2/3s down. Jan 10 at 21:12